Update 4/9

  • There was a pretty big mistake in the original post - I forgot to deallocate local variables! I’ve added the “Deallocating Variables” section, and added the example from that section to the test suite.

This is the seventh post in a series. Read part 1 here.

In this post we’re adding support for compound statements, which are a little weird because they don’t do very much. We’ll generate almost no new assembly in this post, but we’ll be able to compile new and exciting programs at the end of it. How is this possible? Let’s find out!

As usual, accompanying tests are here.

Part 7: Compound Statements

A compound statement is just a list of statements and declarations wrapped in curly braces. They’re normally used as substatements of if, while, and other control structures, like this1:

if (flag) {
    //this is a compound statement!
    int a = 1;
}

but they can also be free-standing, like this:

int main() {
    int a;
    {
        //this is also a compound statement!
        a = 4;
    }
}

You can have deeply nested compound statements:

int main() {
    //compound statement #1 (function bodies are compound statements!)
    int a = 1;
    {
        //compound statement #2
        a = 2;
        {
            //compound statement #3
            a = 3;
            if (a) {
                //compound statement #4
                a = 4;
            }
        }
    }
}

Like I mentioned in the last post, a compound statement is one type of block, and I’m going to use the terms synonymously for the rest of this post. C uses lexical scoping; a variable’s scope is dictated by the block where it’s defined. (By “scope”, I mean where in the program you’re allowed to refer to it.) More precisely, a variable’s scope starts at its definition, and ends when you exit the block where it’s defined2. Up until this point in the series, function bodies were the only blocks around, so a variable could be used at any point in main after it was defined. Now it’s more complicated. I’m going to talk a bit about how scoping works in C; if you’re already familiar with this, you can skip ahead to the next section.

If a variable is defined in an inner scope, it can’t be accessed in an outer scope:

// here is the outer scope
{
    // here is the inner scope
    int foo = 2;
}

// now we're back in the outer scope
foo = 3; // ERROR - foo isn't defined in this scope!

However, code in an inner scope can access variables in an outer scope:

int a = 2;
{
    a = 4; // this is okay
}
return a; // returns 4 - changes made inside the inner scope are reflected here

You can’t have two variables with the same name in the same scope:

int foo = 0;
int foo = 1; //This will throw a compiler error

But you can have two variables with the same name in different scopes. Once the variable in the inner scope is declared, it will shadow the variable from the outer scope; the outer variable will be inaccessible until the inner variable goes out of scope.

int foo = 0;
{
    int foo; // this is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT foo, unrelated to foo from earlier
    foo = 2; // this refers to the inner foo; outer foo is inaccessible
}
return foo; //this will return 0 - it refers to the original foo, which is unchanged

The key idea here is that the inner and outer foo variables are two totally unrelated variables that just happen to have the same name. When we’re in the inner block, the outer variable foo still exists, but we have no way to refer to it, because foo now refers to the inner variable.

Note, however, that outer foo is accessible in the inner block before the point where it’s shadowed:

int foo = 0;
{
    foo = 3; //changes outer foo
    int foo = 4; //defines inner foo, shadowing outer foo
}
return foo; //returns 3

Lexing

Compound statements don’t require any new tokens, so we don’t need to touch the lexing pass this week.

Parsing

Here’s the current definition of statements in our AST:

statement = Return(exp) 
          | Exp(exp)
          | Conditional(exp, statement, statement option) //exp is controlling condition
                                                          //first statement is 'if' block
                                                          //second statement is optional 'else' block

We just need to add a Compound statement to this definition. Also recall that we added a block_item construct to the AST in our last post:

block_item = Statement(statement) | Declaration(declaration)

A compound statement is just a list of statements and declarations, so our new definition of statements will look like this:

statement = Return(exp) 
          | Exp(exp)
          | Conditional(exp, statement, statement option) //exp is controlling condition
                                                          //first statement is 'if' block
                                                          //second statement is optional 'else' block
          | Compound(block_item list)

We’ll parse conditional expressions and conditional statements totally differently. Statements are easier, so let’s handle those first.

Now let’s update our grammar. The rule for blocks is extremely simple:

"{" { <block-item> } "}

Note that "{" "}" are literal curly braces, and { } indicates repetition. This is hard to read! But it just means we have an arbitrary number of block items wrapped in braces – if you refer back to the grammar for <function> you can see that we define function bodies exactly the same way.

Putting it all together, our updated grammar looks like this:

<statement> ::= "return" <exp> ";"
              | <exp> ";"
              | "if" "(" <exp> ")" <statement> [ "else" <statement> ]
              | "{" { <block-item> } "}

☑ Task:

Update the parsing pass to handle blocks. It should successfully parse all valid examples in stage 1-7. As in part 5, some invalid examples should fail during parsing and some should fail during code generation. At this point, your parsing pass should throw an appropriate error for all invalid stage 7 examples whose names start with syntax_err.

Code Generation

As we saw earlier, it’s possible to have two different variables, in two different scopes, stored at two different locations on the stack, with the same name. Here’s an example:

int foo = 3;
{
  int foo = 4;
}

So, whenever the program refers to variable foo, our generated code needs to access the correct foo on the stack – or raise an error if foo has gone out of scope. The code generation step this week is all about managing the variable map so we always look up the right foo.

The trick here is that every block has a separate copy of the variable map. That way, defining (or redefining) a variable in an inner scope won’t interfere with an outer scope. And if you’re using an immutable map (which you should be), every block will necessarily get its own variable map, so this approach is surprisingly easy.

Let’s look at some pseudocode. After Part 5, your code to generate a function body probably looked something like this:

def generate_function_body(body):
  // initialize variable map and stack index
  var_map = Map()
  stack_index = -4

  //process statements one at a time
  for statement in body:
    var_map, stack_index = generate_statement(statement, var_map, stack_index) 

Note that generate_statement has to return a new var_map. Every declaration updates the variable map (or, more precisely, creates a new variable map), and in part 5 generate_statement also handled declarations. Whenever we process a declaration, we need to return the latest, greatest variable map so future statements can reference the variable we just declared.

But in the last post, we separated statements from declarations in our AST, so you might have changed the last line to:

    var_map, stack_index = generate_statement_or_declaration(statement, var_map, stack_index) 

At this point, a declaration will create a new variable map, but a statement won’t. Whatever happens in a statement – including a compound statement, which may itself contain declarations – has no impact on the variable map for the enclosing scope. Once you understand that point, handling nested scopes is easy:

def generate_function_body(body):
  // initialize variable map and stack index
  var_map = Map()
  stack_index = -4

  //process statements one at a time
  for block_item in body:
    if block_item is a declaration:
        //update the variable map
        var_map, stack_index = generate_declaration(statement, var_map, stack_index)
    else:
        //don't update the variable map
        generate_statement(statement, var_map, stack_index)

Of course you’ll need to generalize generate_function_body into generate_block; the one difference between generating a function body and any other block is that you need to initialize your empty variable map and stack index at the start of the function body.

Now let’s walk through a small example to see how this maintains the right variable maps for different scopes:

int main(){
    // 1) function body
    {   // 2) block
        int a = 2; // 3) variable declaration
        a = 3; // 4) variable reference
    }
    return a; // 5) return statement
}
  1. We’ll process the function body with generate_block. Right now we’ve got an empty variable map.
  2. We call generate_block recursively to process the inner block. The variable map is still empty.
  3. This is a declaration, so we add a to the variable map (technically, we create a copy of the variable map that contains a, because all these maps are immutable).
  4. We look up a’s location on the stack in the variable map from step 3.
  5. Back in the outer scope, var_map refers to the original, empty variable map. Since a isn’t defined in this map, this will throw an error, as it should.

The code for handling declarations also needs to be changed. The pseudocode for processing declarations from part 5 included this line:

if var_map.contains("a"):
  fail() //shouldn't declare a var twice

This is now incorrect; it’s legal to declare two variables with the same name, as long as the declarations aren’t in the same scope. To solve this, we need a way to distinguish between variables defined in the current scope, and variables defined in an outer scope. My solution was to maintain a set of variables that are defined in the current scope, which means generate_block now looks something like this:

def generate_block(block, var_map, stack_index):

  current_scope = Set()

  //process statements one at a time
  for block_item in block:
    if block_item is a declaration:
        //update the variable map
        var_map, stack_index, current_scope = generate_declaration(statement, var_map, stack_index, current_scope)
    else:
        //don't update the variable map
        generate_statement(statement, var_map, stack_index)

Finally, we check current_scope, rather than var_map, for duplicate variable declarations, and add the variable to both structures on success:

if current_scope.contains("a"):
  fail() //shouldn't declare a var twice in the same scope
else:
  //emit assembly, update stack_index and var_map as before...
  new_scope = current_scope.add("a")
  return (var_map, stack_index, current_scope)

This solution feels hacky, but I haven’t come up with a better one.

Now, if a is redefined in an inner scope, it just overwrites the old a in the variable map, so this scope and any inner ones will use the correct stack location, corresponding to the innermost definition of a. This won’t affect the outer scope at all, because the outer scope is still using the original, unmodified variable map.

Deallocating Variables

We’ve carefully managed our variable map to prevent a block from interfering with any variable declarations in its enclosing scope. But there’s one side effect we couldn’t avoid: allocating a variable changes the stack pointer. This is a problem, because the stack pointer and our stack_index variable will get out of sync. Consider the following example:

int main() {
  {
    int i = 0;
  }
  int j = 1;
  return j;
}

At first, the variable map is empty and stack_index is -4, because the first empty spot on the stack is four bytes below EBP:

EBP and ESP point to the same location, the lowest address on the stack; the stack index points to the address just below it.

When we process the block in this example with generate_block, we’ll push i onto the stack:

    movl $0, %eax
    push %eax

Now ESP is at EBP - 4, and stack_index is -8:

ESP points at the address just below EBP on the call stack, which holds literal value 0. the stack index points just below that value. An entry in the variable map associates i with address EBP - 4

After we exit the block, we forget that we allocated i. That means i is no longer in our variable map, and we’re still working with our original stack index of -4; remember that generate_block doesn’t return a stack index. We should forget i, because it’s out of scope.

The problem is, i is still there, because ESP is still pointing at it.

ESP and stack index both point at EBP - 4, the address where i was allocated. The variable map is empty.

So when we push j, it will be just below i, at EBP - 8:

  movl $1, %eax
  push %eax

ESP and the stack index both point at EBP - 8, which contains literal value 1. However, the variable map associates j with EBP - 4.

But because the stack index was -4, we’ll add a mapping from j to -4 in our variable map. Any future references to j (like in the return statement) will incorrectly use the stack location of i instead.

We could solve this by having generate_block return a stack index, but it’s probably better to just pop variables off the stack when we’re done with them, right at the end of generate_block. Conveniently, the size of current_scope tells us how many variables we need to pop.

def generate_block(block, var_map, stack_index)

  current_scope = Set()
  ...as before...

  bytes_to_deallocate = 4 * current_scope.size()
  emit "    addl ${}, %%esp".format(bytes_to_deallocate)

☑ Task:

Update the code-generation pass to correctly handle compound statements. It should succeed on all valid examples and fail on all invalid examples for stages 1-7.

Up Next

In the next post, we’ll add for, do, and while loops. See you then!

If you have any questions, corrections, or other feedback, you can email me or open an issue.

1 I’ll use comments to clarify the code snippets throughout this post, even though we haven’t added support for comments yet.

2 Global variables work a bit differently but we haven’t added those yet.