Declarative Language Definition

Notes on a general approach to declarative language definition. The goal is to separate the concerns of language definition from language implementation. A language definition states the specific rules for a language. Language implementations typically have much in common. By factoring out the language-specific rules into a declarative meta-language, the language-independent aspects of implementations can be automatically generated.

A Language Designer’s Workbench

  • Objective: A workbench supporting design and implementation of programming languages
  • Approach: Declarative multi-purpose domain-specific meta-languages
  • Meta-Languages: Languages for defining languages
  • Domain-Specific: Linguistic abstractions for domain of language definition (syntax, names, types, …)
  • Multi-Purpose: Derivation of interpreters, compilers, rich editors, documentation, and verification from single source
  • Declarative: Focus on what not how; avoid bias to particular purpose in language definition

Meta-Language Design


  • Standardized representation for <aspect> of programs
  • Independent of specific object language

Specification Formalism

  • Language-specific declarative rules
  • Abstract from implementation concerns

Language-Independent Interpretation

  • Formalism interpreted by language-independent algorithm
  • Multiple interpretations for different purposes
  • Reuse between implementations of different languages