Language extension and composition with language workbenches

Markus Völter, Eelco Visser. Language extension and composition with language workbenches. In William R. Cook, Siobhán Clarke, Martin C. Rinard, editors, Companion to the 25th Annual ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications, SPLASH/OOPSLA 2010, October 17-21, 2010, Reno/Tahoe, Nevada, USA. pages 301-304, ACM, 2010. [doi]


Domain-specific languages (DSLs) provide high expressive power focused on a particular problem domain. They provide linguistic abstractions and specialized syntax specifically designed for a domain, allowing developers to avoid boilerplate code and low-level implementation details.

Language workbenches are tools that integrate all aspects of the definition of domain-specific or general-purpose software languages and the creation of a programming environment from such a definition. To count as a language workbench, a tool needs to satisfy basic requirements for the integrated definition of syntax, semantics, and editor services, and preferably also support language extension and composition. Within these requirements there is ample room for variation in the design of a language workbench.

In this tutorial, we give an introduction to the state of the art in textual DSLs and language workbenches. We discuss the main requirements and variation points in the design of language workbenches, and describe two points in the design space using two state-of-the-art language workbenches. Spoofax is an example of a parser-based language workbench, while MPS represents language workbenches based on projectional editors.