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The Definitive ANTLR Reference: Building Domain-Specific Languages (Pragmatic Programmers) 1st Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0978739256
ISBN-10: 0978739256
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Terence Parr is a professor of computer science and graduate program director at the University of San Francisco, where he continues to work on his ANTLR parser generator. Terence has consulted for and held various technical positions at companies such as IBM, Lockheed Missiles and Space, NeXT, and Renault Automation. Terence holds a Ph.D. in computer engineering from Purdue University and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Army High-Performance Computing Research Center at the University of Minnesota, where he built parallelizing FORTRAN source-to-source translators.

(edited by author)

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Product Details

  • Series: Pragmatic Programmers
  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf; 1 edition (May 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0978739256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0978739256
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #970,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joshua Benuck on June 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
If you have any interest in compiler design, building translators, building intelligent editors, code generation, understanding what goes into building your own computer language, or just how to use ANTLR v3 then you may want to get a copy of this book.

This book is all about ANTLR. ANTLR is a tool you can use to build compilers and interpreters for computer languages, but don't let that scare you off. With the increasing interest in domain specific languages, bulding intelligent editors, code generation, and model driven development books like this are becoming ever more important. Terence Parr has made the topic far more approachable than any other book I have read (or attempted to read) on the topic.

In the first few chapters the author walks readers through the phases of parser construction using language that is approachable and easy to understand. He explains the needed principles and demonstrates their application with well chosen examples.

This is followed by a quick tour of how one might use ANTLR. I love the approach taken in this chapter as it takes a small example and shows two different ways to approach the problem using ANTLR. This is coupled with explanations describing when you want to use one approach over another.

The middle section of the book goes into depth on the various aspects of ANTLR. This is the reference section. Don't expect to be able to read these chapters one after another in quick succession. There's just too much to take in all at once!

The text is littered with references both forward and back to other sections and topics of interest. You can tell the author has spent a lot of time working with compiler construction by the breadth and depth of information presented.
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Format: Paperback
If you're working with ANTLR then you need "The Definitive ANTLR Reference". It's a reference work, but only in part; the vast majority of the book consists of explanations and examples rather than dry reference material. The reference material is in there, of course, but there's really not a lot of it because ANTLR itself has a very minimal design.

But despite the fact that ANTLR looks like a simple tool on the surface (the rules for building a grammar are few and simple) in reality it is fiendishly difficult to use until you get the knack for it. This book will help you through the difficult early stages of learning how to write ANTLR grammars; it really is the only resource out there that does this in a comprehensive way. Terence Parr somehow manages to take the incredibly dry subject matter of lexer and parser generation and turn it into a witty and entertaining conversation; you really feel as though Terence is speaking to you from across the table.

My only complaint about the book is that it is almost totally Java-centric (all the examples are in Java) despite the fact that ANTLR can target multiple languages (if the book had a little more information about other target languages then it would be a five-star title).
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Format: Paperback
The release of ANTLR version 3 represents a major milestone in compiler-compiler technology. LALR and LL(k) parsers, useful as they are, are difficult to master, and often require significant effort to overcome simple problems. Not only does ANTLR's LL(*) parser technology allows one to churn out problem-specific parsers with amazing speed, it also provides an arsenal of tools not found in other compiler-compiler tools: easy AST generation, tree parsers, rewrite rules, multiple language backends, templating. The scope and breadth of ANTLR puts it in a category all by itself.

I'm convinced that ANTLR will become an indispensible tool in any programmer's toolbox. And, by extension, the Definitive ANRL Reference will become an indispensible part of serious programmers' bookshelf.

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Well, really, how many *casual* ANTLR users are there? The ANTLR community might be broadly divided into three groups: (1) Terence Parr, the self-described maniac behind ANTLR; (2) the demigods of ANTLR who are slightly more numerous than Terence and have already learned at the School of Really Hard Knocks; and (3) the rest of us, who want to become productive with ANTLR. It's that last group of us who can benefit from this text which softens some of the knocks. To be sure, this book is not a shortcut or substitute for getting your hands dirty and experiencing some frustration. Creating languages is not for slackers. No book can change that. The real value of this text is as an in-depth guide to the guts of ANTLR. It's a very "pragmatic" book and might have been called "The ANTLR Missing Manual" if another publisher had not already locked up that motif. Although the author tries to start from zero knowledge, I think you really need to have worked through at least the main examples at [...] first. Then, you'll be prepared to appreciate what this book has to offer. It's a great field manual for people in the thick of operating the tool.

The critiques (and criticisms) of the strong Java flavor of this book have some basis in fact. But this is, after all, a book about a programming tool written in Java. Professionals should be able to overcome this obstacle, and anyone who tries to find an equal to ANTLR without the Java baggage will quickly discover that learning enough Java to use ANTLR is a comparatively small price to pay.

Final words: Read the second book ("Language Implementation Patterns") first. Actually, read chapters 1, 2, 4, 9 and 10 of that book. Twice. That second book is hardly Java-centric at all and indeed only incidentally about ANTLR. Then get this first book ("The Definitive ANTLR Reference") and get to work. From there, you won't need any more advice from a book review.
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