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Prosumma/Parsimonious v2.3.0
A parsimonious little parser combinator framework for Swift
⭐️ 1
🕓 5 weeks ago
.package(url: "https://github.com/Prosumma/Parsimonious.git", from: "v2.3.0")


Parsimonious is a parser combinator library written in Swift. While there are several others now, Parsimonious is one of the oldest, started in early 2019.

Parsimonious used functional programming concepts from the start, but the latest version is the most functional yet, emphasizing composability and immutability.

A Parsimonious parser is a type of the form Parser<Source: Collection, Output>, where Source is the collection we're parsing, and Output is the type of the value the parser returns.

In most cases, Source is a String, but it can be any Collection type. It's entirely possible to parse arrays of integers, for example. (See the unit tests.)

Parser combinators are large topic which I cannot cover here. If you're already familiar with parser combinators, Parsimonious shouldn't be too difficult. The unit tests contain almost all you need to know, including the implementation of a complete JSON parser.

Collection Parser vs Stream Parser

Most parser combinators, such as those found in Haskell, are stream parsers. Stream parsers are a great way to parse large amounts of data efficiently. For example, if you have a very large file and want to parse it without loading the entire thing into memory at once, a stream parser is a great way to go.

Parsimonious, however, is a Collection parser. The primary disadvantage of a Collection parser is that the entire collection must be loaded into memory. (Theoretically, a Swift Collection does not have this requirement, but in practice it always does.) The advantage of a Collection parser is that it is easy to write and easy to use: It supports backtracking out of the box.

Because of this, Parsimonious is great for tokenizing, writing DSLs, and even doing further processing on the tokens to produce an AST. For example, the first collection parsed could be a String (a Collection of Character instances.) These could be parsed into an array of Token instances (i.e., a Collection of tokens). But because Parsimonious can parse a Collection of any type, the tokens can then be parsed to create an AST.

Basic Combinators & Operators

The fundamental combinator is match, which matches a single element in the underlying collection using a predicate:

public func match<C: Collection>(_ test: @escaping (C.Element) -> Bool) -> Parser<C, C.Element>

All other combinators ultimately build atop this one.


When working with strings, match can be a bit inconvenient, because it returns a Character, and combinators built on it will often return [Character]. Most of the time, that's not what we want, so there are specialized combinators for working with Character and String. These always return a String.

public func char<C: Collection>(
  _ test: @escaping (Character) -> Bool
) -> Parser<C, String> where C.Element == Character {

This is essentially the same as match, but it consumes a Character and gives a String.


What parser combinator library would be worth its salt without operators?

Parsimonious has only a few.

postfix operator *

This operator is exactly the same as the many combinator, which matches 0 or more of the underlying parser. For example, to match 0 or more of the character "a":


This will return [Character]. Postfix * is overloaded to work with combinators which return Character or String, in which case it always returns String:


This will return a String containing the matched characters.

postfix operator +

This operator is the same as the many1 combinator, which matches 1 or more of the underlying parser.


The above matches 1 or more "a" characters.

Everything I said about * above applies to +.

prefix operator *

This is the same as the optional combinator:


The above returns 0 or 1 "a". The returned value must implement the Defaultable protocol. In the event of a failed match, the default value is returned. In this case, that's an empty String.

infix operator <|>

This is the choice operator:

string("foo") <|> string("bar")

This first attempts to match the string "foo". If that fails, it attempts to match "bar". If that fails, then parsing fails with the error of the last attempted match. The fail combinator can be used to customize errors:

string("foo") <|> string("bar") <|> fail(MyError.oops)

infix operator +

The built-in + operator has been overloaded to join together arrays and strings respectively.

string("foo")* + string("bar")

This matches 0 or more of the string "foo" followed by 1 instance of the string "bar", so it would match "bar", "foobar", "foofoobar", etc.

Element Predicates

The match and char combinators have overloads which take element predicates. An element predicate matches an element and, if the match is successful, the parser returns that element.

The most fundamental element predicate is (C.Element) -> Bool. There are two others. First, a KeyPath of type KeyPath<C.Element, Bool> and second, a model element of type C.Element where C.Element is Equatable.

Here are some simple examples:

char { $0 == "e" } // Matches and returns the character "e"
char(\Character.isWhitespace) // Matches a whitespace character and returns it
char("e") // Matches and returns the character "e"

This can be expanded using a small DSL:

// Match any character which is not whitespace or a newline.
char(!any(\.isWhitespace, \.isNewline))

When model elements, keypaths and predicates are mixed, the prefix ^ operator can convert the elements and keypaths to a predicate, e.g.,

char(!any(^"e", ^\.isWhitespace))

When negating, ^ is not needed:

char(all(!"e", !\.isWhitespace))


Wherever possible, combinators which take other parsers as arguments use @escaping @autoclosure for this.

This is important in a parser combinator library because combinators are often recursive. Consider the following from the unit tests:

var jarray: JParser = bracketed(many(json, separator: ",")) >>> JSON.array
let json = whitespacedWithNewlines(jstring <|> jnumber <|> jobject <|> jarray <|> jbool <|> jnull)

Notice that jarray refers to json and vice versa. Without laziness, this wouldn't be possible. The Swift compiler would complain.

If you write your own combinators, I highly recommend this practice.

There are a few places where @escaping @autoclosure cannot be used, such as variadic parameters. Most of the time, this should not be a problem, but in the rare circumstance when it is, the deferred combinator can be used to make any parser lazy:

let bar = chain(deferred(foo), baz)
let foo = chain(deferred(bar), boo)

Since chain uses variadic parameters, they cannot be autoclosures. Using deferred here allows the two definitions to reference each other. Since baz and boo presumably don't reference bar and foo, using deferred with them is not necessary.

An overload of deferred allows the definition of an ad hoc, lazy parser:

let nothing: Parser<String, Void> = deferred { source, index in
  return .success(State(output: (), range: index..<index>))

This parser consumes nothing and returns Void, but illustrates the point.


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4 years ago

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