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Bison 1.875

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5.1 Look-Ahead Tokens

The Bison parser does not always reduce immediately as soon as the last n tokens and groupings match a rule. This is because such a simple strategy is inadequate to handle most languages. Instead, when a reduction is possible, the parser sometimes "looks ahead" at the next token in order to decide what to do.

When a token is read, it is not immediately shifted; first it becomes the look-ahead token, which is not on the stack. Now the parser can perform one or more reductions of tokens and groupings on the stack, while the look-ahead token remains off to the side. When no more reductions should take place, the look-ahead token is shifted onto the stack. This does not mean that all possible reductions have been done; depending on the token type of the look-ahead token, some rules may choose to delay their application.

Here is a simple case where look-ahead is needed. These three rules define expressions which contain binary addition operators and postfix unary factorial operators (`!'), and allow parentheses for grouping.

expr:     term '+' expr
        | term

term:     '(' expr ')'
        | term '!'
        | NUMBER

Suppose that the tokens `1 + 2' have been read and shifted; what should be done? If the following token is `)', then the first three tokens must be reduced to form an expr. This is the only valid course, because shifting the `)' would produce a sequence of symbols term ')', and no rule allows this.

If the following token is `!', then it must be shifted immediately so that `2 !' can be reduced to make a term. If instead the parser were to reduce before shifting, `1 + 2' would become an expr. It would then be impossible to shift the `!' because doing so would produce on the stack the sequence of symbols expr '!'. No rule allows that sequence.

The current look-ahead token is stored in the variable yychar. See section Special Features for Use in Actions.

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