Create A Compiler Step-By-Step | Hackaday

Create A Compiler Step-By-Step | Hackaday

While JavaScript might not be the ideal language to write a production compiler, you might enjoy the “Create Your Own Compiler” tutorial that does an annotated walkthrough of “The Super Tiny Compiler” and teaches you the basics of writing a compiler from scratch.

The super tiny compiler itself is about 200 lines of code. The source code is well, over 1,000 but that’s because of the literate programming comments. The fancy title comments are about half as large as the actual compiler.

The compiler’s goal is to take Lisp-style functions and convert them to equivalent C-style function calls. For example: (add 5 (subtract 3 1) would become add(5,subtract(3,1)).

Of course, there are several shortcut methods you could use to do this pretty easily, but the compiler uses a structure like most full-blown modern compilers. There is a parser, an abstract representation phase, and code generation.

Even if you don’t like the slide-show approach, the literate commented JavaScript is easy to read and very instructive. If you don’t know JavaScript it should still be fairly easy to work it out if you know any common programming language.

At the bottom left of the page are two buttons: Verbose and Internals. You can press these at any time. Text due to the verbose button will have a blue line next to it and text about internals will have a red line. This allows you to tune the experience depending on how much detail you’d like to read.

This isn’t the first compiler we’ve seen chopped up for exposition. If you are interested in what existing compilers generate for source input, we were always impressed with Compiler Explorer.