C++ Blog

Domain Specific Embedded Langauge

Posted in boost by Umesh Sirsiwal on January 6, 2009

We typically program in a general purpose programming language like C, C++, Java, Perl, etc. These languages are designed to solve all the problems of the world and no problem in particular. However, it will be a lot more elegant if sound processing library exposed a sound specific language, an image processing library exposed an image processing specific language not just API calls which is the case currently. In effect these will enhance overall general purpose language. These languages are called Domain Specific Embedded Language (DSEL).  For example:

result  = src * dest;

should multiply two numbers for arithmetic domain. For images, it may layer the two images, for music this expression may allow mixing of the two tunes. As you probably know, in C++ this can easily be achieved using operator overloading. But, the DSELs probably want to be significantly more expressive than depicted above. C++ is probably the best language for defining a DSEL since it allows rich set of operator overloading and metaprogramming constructs to implement your language. This article compares various programming language’s capability to define DSEL.

It is possible to define a complete DSEL manually in C++. However, anything beyond overloading of small set of operators can be time consuming. Boost 1.37.0 now includes Boost.Proto. The Boost.Proto provides facilities to quickly develop DSEL. From Boost.Proto documentation:

Expression Templates are an advanced technique that C++ library developers use to define embedded mini-languages that target specific problem domains. The technique has been used to create efficient and easy-to-use libraries for linear algebra as well as to define C++ parser generators with a readable syntax. But developing such a library involves writing an inordinate amount of unreadable and unmaintainable template mumbo-jumbo. Boost.Proto eases the development of domain-specific embedded languages (DSELs). Use Proto to define the primitives of your mini-language and let Proto handle the operator overloading and the construction of the expression parse tree. Immediately evaluate the expression tree by passing it a function object. Or transform the expression tree by defining the grammar of your mini-language, decorated with an assortment of tree transforms provided by Proto or defined by you. Then use the grammar to give your users short and readable syntax errors for invalid expressions! No more mumbo-jumbo — an expression template library developed with Proto is declarative and readable.

In short, Proto is a DSEL for defining DSELs.

Boost.Proto uses template meta-programming to implement the help bild DSELs quickly and efficiently. Boost.Proto can be slightly overwhelming for the first time users and specifically those who are not used to of templates meta-programming. If you want to use Boost.Proto remember to read the user’s guide a couple of times before trying it out.

Good luck.

Happy DSELing.


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