As mentioned in the section on terminology, context-free grammar consists of rules (usually called nonterminals), productions, and terminals. This section will cover their syntax in the Syntax Language, and the languages they match.

Formally, a language is a set of strings that conforms to a given specification. In the context of context-free languages, the specification can be written using a set of rules and productions. All strings in the language can then be constructed by starting at the starting rule, and applying productions until all rules have been turned into nonterminals. Since there are typically many possible productions that can be applied at each step, context-free languages typically define very large languages. In Storm, the start rule is not defined in the grammar, but instead when a parser is instantiated.

One may also think of grammars in reverse. One can think of the parser as starting by trying to match the start rule. It attempts to match each production in turn until it finds one that matches a part of the input string. It then continues to match any rules in the matched production until the entire input string is matched by the grammar. Of course, this would be an inefficient way to implement a parser, but the rough idea is not too far from the thruth.

In general, the order of declarations in the Syntax Language is not important. There are, however, two exceptions to this. First, any use or extend statements must appear first in the file. Similarly, declarations for the meaning of delimiters must appear before the delimiter is used.


The Syntax Language supports single-line comments. These start with // and end at the end of the line. Multi-line comments are not supported.

Use Statements

Use statements have the form: use <name>;. The name is expected to refer to a package. The use statement has the effect that the package <name> will be searched for any rules, types, or functions that are referred in the file. For example, if the type will be used frequently, including use; at the top of the file makes it possible to refer to the rule by simply writing SExpr instead of the fully qualified name.

Extend Statements

Extend statements have the form: extend <name>;, where <name> refers to a package. This statement has the effect that the syntax in the package <name> will be used when parsing the remainder of the file. As such, the extend statement is used to load syntax extensions to the Syntax Language itself.

Since the Syntax Language is parsed to extract syntax from a package, some care need to be taken with syntax extensions to the Syntax Language in order to avoid circular dependencies. For this reason it is best to always place syntax extensions to the Syntax Language in a separate package from where it is used.


Storm, and thus the Syntax Language, require rules to be defined. The main reason for this is to implement type-safe syntax transforms, but it is also helpful in avoiding typos. As we shall see, the syntax transformations treat rules similarly to functions. As such, rules are defined using a syntax similar to functions in Basic Storm:

<result> <name>(<parameters);

Where <result> is the name of the type returned by the transform function, <name> is an identifier that names the rule, and <parameters> is a comma-separated list of formal parameters to the transform function. As in Basic Storm, each parameter consists of the type of the parameter followed by the name of the parameter. As such, a rule definition might look as follows:

core.Array<Int> SIntArray(Int first);

Since we will not introduce syntax transforms until later, we will define all rules as accepting no parameters, and returning void for the time being:

void SMyRule();

As we can see, most of the libraries in Storm follow the convention to name rules starting with an uppercase S. This is not enforced by Storm, but since rules become visible in the name tree as types, it helps to make the distinction between the syntax for a concept, and the actual implementation of the concept. As an example, the rule that matches expressions in Basic Storm is named SExpr to distinguish it from the class that implements expressions, called Expr.


Productions define the actual language by defining one way in which a rule can be replaced with a sequence of other rules and/or nonterminals. Productions are thus where the language itself is defined. Ignoring syntax transforms, rules are defined as follows:

<rule name>[<priority>] : <tokens> = <name>;

Above, <rule name> is the name (possibly qualified) of a rule that this production extends. The part <priority> optionally specifies the priority of the production to resolve any ambiguities in the syntax. Note that the square brackets are a part of the syntax, and they need to be included if <priority> is specified. <tokens> is a list of zero or more tokens that the rule may be expanded to. Finally, <name> is the optional name of the production. If the name is not included, the equal sign = before it is also omitted. Productions typically only need a name if other code needs to manipulate the parse tree, and it is therefore usually omitted.

The list of tokens (<tokens>) is a list of tokens separated by delimiters. These are covered below.


There are two types of tokens: terminal tokens and rule tokens. Terminal tokens can be thought of as literal strings that appear in the input. They are, however, regular expressions that are matched to the input. They are therefore often referred to as regex tokens. Rule tokens simply refer to a rule to indicate that they can be substituted by any production in the referred rule.

Regex Tokens

A regex token is written in double quotes ("), similarly to a string literal in Basic Storm. The string is expected to contain a regular expression. In particular, the following elements of regular expressions are supported:

It is possible to escape any character with a special meaning to match that character, including the double qoute that would end the literal.

For example, a rule that matches a number could look as follows:

SNumber : "[0-9]+";

It is worth noting that regular expressions are not matched as a single unit, opaque to the parser. This means that regular expressions are always greedy. For example, the following production would never match, since the first regex token will always consume all available a:s:

SNoMatch : "a*" - "a";

It will, however, work properly the token repetition syntax (see below) is used:

SMatch : ("a")* - "a";

Rule Tokens

Rule tokens are simply written as the (possibly qualified) name of a rule in the system. For example, another way to match numbers is to use recursion to match a single digit at a time:

void SNumber();

SNumber : "[0-9]" - SNumber; // Match a single digit followed by a number.
SNumber : "[0-9]";           // ...or just a single digit.


Each token is separated by one of three possible delimiters. While all of them have the role of separating different tokens, they have different meanings and are useful in different situations.

The dash (-) is the simplest of the separators. It simply separates different tokens in a production, and does not impact the meaning of the rule. For example, the two productions below are equivalent and both match the string ab:

void A();
A : "a" - "b";

void B();
B : "ab";

The other two separators match a pre-defined rule whenever they appear in a production. Since there is no tokenizer in Storm, it is a common operation to match a rule that matches optional- and required whitespace. As such, the two other separators give this common operation a convenient shorthand.

The comma separator (,) is intended for cases where whitespace is allowed but not required. As such, it is called the optional delimiter. In order to use it, it is necessary to specify which rule shall be used to match optional whitespace. This is done in the top of the file as follows:

optional delimiter = <rule name>;

For example, the rules A and B below are equivalent. Both are equivalent to the regular expression a[ \t]*b (i.e. a and b separated by zero or more tab- or space characters):

optional delimiter = Whitespace;

void Whitespace();
Whitespace : "[ \t]*";

void A();
A : "a", "b";

void B();
B : "a" - Whitespace - "b";

The final separator, the tilde (~) is intended to be used to match cases where at least some whitespace is required. It is therefore called the required delimiter. The rule matched by the required delimiter is specified as follows:

required delimiter = <rule name>;

For example, it can be used to match simple class definitions as follows. The rule ClassDecl in the grammar below matches class A { }, class A{}, and class A {}, but not classA{}:

optional delimiter = Optional;
required delimiter = Required;

void Optional();
Optional : " *";

void Required();
Required : " +";

void ClassDecl();
ClassDecl : "class" ~ "[A-Za-z]+", "{", "}";

The rule ClassDecl can also be written as follows:

void ClassDecl();
ClassDecl : "class" - Required - "[A-Za-z]+" - Optional - "{" - Optional - "}";


It is possible to express repetition in context-free grammars using only recursion. The Syntax Language does, however, provide the ability to express some common repetition patterns more compactly.

Tokens in a production can be repeated by surrounding them in parentheses followed by a character that indicates how the contents of the parantheses could be repeated. Supported characters are ?, +, and *. They have the same meaning as in the regular expressions described above.

For example, it is possible to match a block of zero or more statements as follows (assuming that delimiters are defined, and that the rule SExpr exists).

void SBlock();
SBlock : "{", (SExpr, )* - "}";

Note that the comma separator is placed inside the parenthesis. This is not required by the syntax language, but it means that the optional separator will be a part of the repetition. Separator may also appear after the start parenthesis, but before the first token.

To illustrate the benefits of the repetition syntax, the rule above could also be defined as follows:

void SBlock();
SBlock : "{", SBlockRep - "}";

void SBlockRep();
SBlockRep : SExpr, SBlockRep;
SBlockRep : ; // Match the empty string.

It is only possible to have a single pair of parentheses in each production.

Production Priorities

The parsers designed to parse source code provided by Storm support ambiguous grammars. While this makes parsing a bit more difficult, the upside is that allowing ambiguous grammars makes it possible to compose grammars for different languages easily (i.e. context-free languages are closed under composition if ambiguous grammars are allowed). This does, of course, introduce some problems. Namely, it is necessary to disambiguate any ambiguities in a sensible way. Storm solves the problem by using priorities for productions. A production with higher priority is selected before a production with lower priority. Priorities are resolved as if the grammar was parsed using a recursive descent parser.

For example, priorities can be used to disambiguate the following ambiguous grammar to prefer the first match for the string aa:

void SRule();
SRule[4] : "aa";
SRule[1] : "a.";

Context Sensitivity

Storm supports a simple form of context sensitive syntax in order to improve extensibility of grammars from different origins without causing different extensions to accidentally interfere with each other.

A concrete example of where this ability is used is in the implementation of patterns in Basic Storm. This extension introduces a new block to Basic Storm, which can contain arbitrary Basic Storm expressions. However, inside this block it is also possible to use the syntax ${...}, which only makes sense inside these blocks. In order allow other extensions to be used inside the blocks, and to avoid duplicating the grammar of Basic Storm, the pattern block can contain any expressions described by the regular SExpr rule, and the additional syntax is added by an additional production to SAtom.

Without context sensitivity, the new syntax would be usable outside the pattern blocks, meaning that the new syntax needs to check for the proper context manually. Furthermore, this could cause problems when using other extensions that potentially use the same syntax for something else. In this case, Storm does not define which extension takes precedence (unless priorities are used), which could result in unexpected results. This problem is easily solved by making the new production usable only in the context of the pattern block, much like the last production in the example above.

Storm solves this problem by allowing productions to be specified as only applicable if another rule has appears as a parent in the parse tree. This is done by prepending the name of a production followed by two dots to the start of the production definition:

void Root();
Root : A;
Root : B;

void A();
A : "a" - B;

void B();
B : "b";
A..B : "c";

In this example, the last production is only usable if the rule A is a direct or indirect parent to an application of the rule B. Therefore, the string c is not matched by this grammar, but the string ac is. Thus, c is only usable in the context of the rule A.

While these requirements generally do not incur a great performance penalty, the parser in Storm is implemented based on the assumption that the number of unique rules used as requirements to productions (i.e. appearing to the left of the dots) is fairly small. If many requirements and many unique rules are used, parsing performance could suffer, even though it should not be much worse than parsing and resolving the ambiguities in the context free grammar created by removing all context sensitivity.