In computing, a parser is one of the components in an interpreter or compiler that checks for correct syntax and builds a data structure (often some kind of parse tree, abstract syntax tree or other hierarchical structure) implicit in the input tokens. The parser often uses a separate lexical analyser to create tokens from the sequence of input characters. Parsers may be programmed by hand or may be (semi-)automatically generated (in some programming languages) by a tool.

The most common use of a parser is as a component of a compiler or interpreter. This parses the source code of a computer programming language to create some form of internal representation. Programming languages tend to be specified in terms of a context-free grammar because fast and efficient parsers can be written for them. Parsers are written by hand or generated by parser generators.

Context-free grammars are limited in the extent to which they can express all of the requirements of a language. Informally, the reason is that the memory of such a language is limited. The grammar cannot remember the presence of a construct over an arbitrarily long input; this is necessary for a language in which, for example, a name must be declared before it may be referenced. More powerful grammars that can express this constraint, however, cannot be parsed efficiently. Thus, it is a common strategy to create a relaxed parser for a context-free grammar which accepts a superset of the desired language constructs (that is, it accepts some invalid constructs); later, the unwanted constructs can be filtered out.




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