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Debugging Your Parser

If a Bison grammar compiles properly but doesn't do what you want when it runs, the yydebug parser-trace feature can help you figure out why.

To enable compilation of trace facilities, you must define the macro YYDEBUG when you compile the parser. You could use `-DYYDEBUG=1' as a compiler option or you could put `#define YYDEBUG 1' in the C declarations section of the grammar file (see section The C Declarations Section). Alternatively, use the `-t' option when you run Bison (see section Invoking Bison). We always define YYDEBUG so that debugging is always possible.

The trace facility uses stderr, so you must add #include <stdio.h> to the C declarations section unless it is already there.

Once you have compiled the program with trace facilities, the way to request a trace is to store a nonzero value in the variable yydebug. You can do this by making the C code do it (in main, perhaps), or you can alter the value with a C debugger.

Each step taken by the parser when yydebug is nonzero produces a line or two of trace information, written on stderr. The trace messages tell you these things:

To make sense of this information, it helps to refer to the listing file produced by the Bison `-v' option (see section Invoking Bison). This file shows the meaning of each state in terms of positions in various rules, and also what each state will do with each possible input token. As you read the successive trace messages, you can see that the parser is functioning according to its specification in the listing file. Eventually you will arrive at the place where something undesirable happens, and you will see which parts of the grammar are to blame.

The parser file is a C program and you can use C debuggers on it, but it's not easy to interpret what it is doing. The parser function is a finite-state machine interpreter, and aside from the actions it executes the same code over and over. Only the values of variables show where in the grammar it is working.

The debugging information normally gives the token type of each token read, but not its semantic value. You can optionally define a macro named YYPRINT to provide a way to print the value. If you define YYPRINT, it should take three arguments. The parser will pass a standard I/O stream, the numeric code for the token type, and the token value (from yylval).

Here is an example of YYPRINT suitable for the multi-function calculator (see section Declarations for mfcalc):

#define YYPRINT(file, type, value)   yyprint (file, type, value)

static void
yyprint (file, type, value)
     FILE *file;
     int type;
     YYSTYPE value;
  if (type == VAR)
    fprintf (file, " %s", value.tptr->name);
  else if (type == NUM)
    fprintf (file, " %d", value.val);

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