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How To Create Your Own Programming Language (Using Ruby and/or Java)

Create Your Own Programming Language

Create Your Own Programming Language is an interesting new information product and community by Marc-André Cournoyer (of Thin fame) that promises to teach you how to create a simple programming language. The official site is well worth checking out, even if you don't want to buy it, as it's a great example of how to sell a product like this. Create Your Own Programming Language costs $39.99 and has a two-month money-back guarantee.

What You Get - 2 Different Approaches

The package includes a 53-page PDF (only 44 pages in the earlier copy I received), a pile of source code (for two different types of bootstrapped languages), and a screencast, along with access to a community of other users. Out of the box, you can create your own "programming language" (of sorts) with a single shell script.

Two different types of approaches are provided. The first is a pure Ruby lexer, parser, and interpreter that lets you build your programming language using mostly Ruby. This is what the PDF covers. The second is a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) based language that provides a bootstrap and execution environment upon which you can build a higher performance language; this is what the screencast covers. In both cases, the default languages are ultra-bare Ruby variants of sorts.

Quick Results Rather Than Detail

The PDF is short but well produced. It leads you through building a new Ruby-like language called "Awesome" upon the Ruby-powered lexer, parser, and interpreter supplied in the package. It lacks detail but covers the broad concepts well with a focus on quick results rather than detail or inane computer science.

Likewise, the screencast video isn't an "everything from start to finish" production in the PeepCode manner. It's only 11 minutes long and moves incredibly quickly. The screencast covers adding a "while" construct to the JVM-backed language, as well as a "substring" string method and "eval". The video is good to get a "high level" view of what's involved (and is probably worth watching before opening the book, just to get a feel) but to get the most out of it you need to be either familiar with the terminology and concepts being covered (partially covered in the PDF) or ready to hit the pause button a lot.

It Whets The Appetite; Great For Dabblers

Create Your Own Programming Language is suitably titled but potentially misleading since although it does let you create your "own" programming language, the resulting language is within a small gamut of what could be considered to be a "programming language." No, CYOPL isn't going to meet lofty technical expectations but it provides a great way to dip your toes into the waters of creating a language, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to those who want to have a dabble and learn a few things.

If, however, you consider yourself a bit of a hotshot and want to really dig deep into building compilers and programming languages, the materials in CYOPL lack the detail and the frankly intimidating level of knowledge you'd need to really design and build a robust programming language. If that's you, buy a copy of Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools by Aho, Lam, Sethi, and Ullman and enjoy the ride - it's an awesome book and considered canonical in the compiler construction field. 

Alternatively, read Loren Segal's awesome (free) online Writing Your Own Toy Compiler Using Flex, Bison, and LLVM series.


Programming Language - Free Sample Chapter

Free Sample Chapter

Let’s say you have the following code: 

1 print( 2 "I ate", 3 3, 4 pies 5 ) 

Once this code goes through the lexer, it will look something like this: 

1 [IDENTIFIER print] ["("] 

2 [STRING "I ate"] [","] 

3 [NUMBER 3] [","] 

4 [IDENTIFIER pies] 

5 [")"]

 

What the lexer does is split the code into atomic units (tokens) and tag each one with the type of token it contains. This job can be done by some parsers, as we’ll see in the next chapter, but separating it into two distinct processes makes it simpler for us developers and easier to understand. 

 

Lexers can be implemented using regular expressions, but more appropriate tools exist. Each of these tools take a grammar that will be compiled into the actual lexer. The format of these grammars are all alike. Regular expressions on the left-hand side are repeatedly matched, in order, against the next portion of the input code string. 


When a match is found, the action on the right is taken. Learn more about Programming Code.

Create Your Own Programming Language

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