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6. AWK > Transformative Technologies

Transformative Technologies

You mentioned that yacc made experimentation with the syntax of a language easier, because you could update your grammar and run that again, rather than tweaking a hand-rolled direct descent parser. Was yacc a transformative technology?

Brian: Certainly for language development, yacc was an enormous influence. Speaking personally, I would never gotten off the ground doing language work without it, because for whatever reason, I wasn’t any good at writing recursive descent parsers. I always had trouble with precedence and associativity.

With yacc you didn’t have to think about that. You could write down a grammar that made sense, and then you could say “This is the precedence and the associativity, and here’s how you handle ugly cases like unary operators that are spelled the same as binary operators.” All of those things were so much easier. Just the existence of that tool made it possible to think about doing things from a language point of view that otherwise would have been too hard.


  

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