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Last updated: September 18, 2020

What Does Parser Mean?

A parser is a compiler or interpreter component that breaks data into smaller elements for easy translation into another language. A parser takes input in the form of a sequence of tokens, interactive commands, or program instructions and breaks them up into parts that can be used by other components in programming.

A parser usually checks all data provided to ensure it is sufficient to build a data structure in the form of a parse tree or an abstract syntax tree.


Techopedia Explains Parser

In order for the code written in human-readable form to be understood by a machine, it must be converted into machine language. This task is usually performed by a translator (interpreter or compiler). The parser is commonly used as a component of the translator that organizes linear text in a structure that can be easily manipulated (parse tree). To do so, it follows a set of defined rules called “grammar”.

The overall process of parsing involves three stages:

  1. Lexical Analysis: A lexical analyzer is used to produce tokens from a stream of input string characters, which are broken into small components to form meaningful expressions. A token is the smallest unit in a programming language that possesses some meaning (such as +, -, *, “function”, or “new” in JavaScript).

  2. Syntactic Analysis: Checks whether the generated tokens form a meaningful expression. This makes use of a context-free grammar that defines algorithmic procedures for components. These work to form an expression and define the particular order in which tokens must be placed.

  3. Semantic Parsing: The final parsing stage in which the meaning and implications of the validated expression are determined and necessary actions are taken.

A parser's main purpose is to determine if input data may be derived from the start symbol of the grammar. If yes, then in what ways can this input data be derived? This is achieved as follows:

  • Top-Down Parsing: Involves searching a parse tree to find the left-most derivations of an input stream by using a top-down expansion. Parsing begins with the start symbol which is transformed into the input symbol until all symbols are translated and a parse tree for an input string is constructed. Examples include LL parsers and recursive-descent parsers. Top-down parsing is also called predictive parsing or recursive parsing.

  • Bottom-Up Parsing: Involves rewriting the input back to the start symbol. It acts in reverse by tracing out the rightmost derivation of a string until the parse tree is constructed up to the start symbol This type of parsing is also known as shift-reduce parsing. One example is an LR parser.

Parsers are widely used in the following technologies:

  • Java and other programming languages.

  • HTML and XML.

  • Interactive data language and object definition language.

  • Database languages, such as SQL.

  • Modeling languages, such as virtual reality modeling language.

  • Scripting languages.

  • Protocols, such as HTTP and Internet remote function calls.


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