Marpa::R2::NAIF::Semantics::Infinite(3) How the NAIF deals with infinite ambiguity

Infinitely ambiguous grammars

This document deals with Marpa's low-level NAIF interface. If you are new to Marpa, or are not sure which interface you are interested in, or do not know what the Named Argment InterFace (NAIF) is, you probably want to look instead at the document on semantics for the SLIF interface.

Marpa will parse using an infinitely ambiguous grammar. (In the technical literature, an infinite ambiguity is more usually called a cycle or a loop.)

An example of an infinitely ambiguous grammar is the following:

    S ::= A
    A ::= B
    B ::= A
    B :: 'x'

Given the input 'x', this grammar will produce these parses

    S -> A -> B -> x
    S -> A -> B -> A -> B -> x
    S -> A -> B -> A -> B -> A -> B -> x

Because of the two rules "A ::= B" and "B ::= A", this list of parses could go on forever. The two rules "A ::= B" and "B ::= A" form what is called a cycle.

Typically, if a user has written an grammar with an infinite cycle, it was a mistake and he wants to rewrite it before proceeding. By default, an infinitely ambiguous grammar is a fatal error. This is the behavior most users will want.

To produce parse results from an infinitely ambiguous grammar, the user must set the grammar's "infinite_action" named argument to a value other than ""fatal"``. The other choices are ''"warn"`` and ''"quiet"".

Cycle-free parse results

Obviously, Marpa cannot list all of an infinite number of parse results. When Marpa iterates through the parse results returned by a grammar with cycles, it produces only those which are cycle-free. For examples, in the above list of derivations, Marpa would return only the parse result corresponding to this derivation:

    S -> A -> B -> x

More specifically, Marpa guarantees to eliminate all parse results that contain nulling-sensitive cycles. Intuitively, a nulling-sensitive cycle is a case where the same rule, with the same pattern of nulled and non-nulled symbols, is applied at the same locations.

More carefully, a ``nulling-sensitive cycle'' is defined as a derivation which contains the same nulling-sensitive rule instance twice. A ``rule instance'' is an application of a rule, with the same start location, and the same end location. A ``nulling-sensitive rule instance'' is a rule instance in a specific nulling variant. ``Nulling-indifferent rule instance'' is another term for ``rule instance.''

``Nulling variants'' apply to rules with properly nullable symbols. When these rules are applied in a parse, the properly nullable symbols will sometimes be nulled, and sometimes not. Each pattern of nulled and non-nulled symbols is a nulling variant. Note that Marpa does not implement empty rules directly, so that there will never be a nulling variant which creates an empty rule.

While the author expects Marpa to continue to eliminate cycles as defined by ``rule instance'', applications should be prepared for Marpa's elimination of parse results with cycles to change in its treatment of null variants. In particular, it is possible that Marpa may switch to a system that treats parses as cycle-free if and only if they contain no cycles as defined by nulling-indifferent rule instance.

Copyright and License

  Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Kegler
  This file is part of Marpa::R2.  Marpa::R2 is free software: you can
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