Reference resolving expression language (RREL)

RREL allows to specify scope provider (lookup) specification in the grammar itself (grammar example and an example test).

The idea is to support all current builtin scoping providers (e.g., FQN, RelativeName etc.; see scoping) while the user would have to resort to Python only to support some very specific cases or referring to models not handled by textX.

A RREL expression is written as a third part of the textX link rule reference.

For example:

Attribute: 'attr' ref=[Class|FQN|^packages*.classes] name=ID ';';

This grammar rule has a ref attribute which is a reference to the Class rule. This is a link rule reference as it is enclosed inside of square brackets. It consists of three parts separated by |. The first part defines the target object type or its grammar rule. The second part defines what will parser match at the place of the reference. It would be a fully qualified name of the target object (thus FQN). The third part of the reference is RREL expression (^packages*.classes). Second and third part of the reference are optional. If second part is not given ID is assumed. If RREL expression is not given the default resolver, which search the reference in the global scope, will be used.

Each reference in the model, by default, forms a dot separated name, which is matched by the second part of the link rule reference in the grammar, where a plain ID is just a special case. For example, a reference could be package1.component4 or just component4. We could further generalize this by saying that a reference is a sequence of names where a plain ID is just a sequence of length 1. It doesn't have to be dot separated. A user could provide a custom match rule (like FQN in the above example) and a match processor to convert the matched string to a sequence of names. There is also the possibility to define the separator sequence (by default a dot), as demonstrated in sub-section "RREL reference name deduction" bellow.

For reference resolving as an input we have:

  • A dot separated name matched by the parser, where ID is a special case
  • A RREL expression

We evaluate RREL expression using the name in the process and we yield referenced object or an error.

RREL operators

Reference resolving expression language (RREL) consists of several operators (see test):

  • . Dot navigation. Search for the attribute in the current AST context. Can be used for navigation up the parent chain, e.g. . is this object, .. is parent, ... is a parent of a parent. If the expression starts with a . than we have a relative path starting from the current AST context. Otherwise we have an absolute path starting from the root of the model unless ^ is used (see below). For example, .a.b means search for a attribute at the current level (.) and than search for b attribute. Expression a.b would search starting from the root of the model.
  • parent(TYPE) - navigate up the parent chain until the exact type is found.
  • ~ This is a marker applied to a path element to inform resolver that the current collection should not be searched by the current name part but that all elements should be processed. For example, to search for a method in the inheritance hierarchy one would write ~extends*.methods which (due to *, see below) first searches methods collection of the current context object, if not found, all elements of the current extends collection are iterated in the order of defintion without consuming name part, and then name would be searched in the methods collection of each object from the extends collection. If not found * would expand extends to extends.extends if possible and the search would continue.
  • 'name-value'~ The ~ operator takes an additional optional string to indicate that the part of the name is not consumed, but is expected to be the value indicated by the passed string: 'myname'~myattribute means follow attribute myattribute, if it is named 'myname'.

    The following example sketches parts of a meta-model, where the lookup rules indicate a fallback to some types_collection entry with the name 'builtin' (of course such an object must be present to successfully resolve such references, e.g., by adding a builtin model with that information (see tests/test_scoping/, test_rrel_with_fixed_string_in_navigation):

      Using: 'using' name=ID "=" type=[Type|ID|+m:
            ~active_types.types,                // "regular lookup"
            'builtin'~types_collection.types    // "default lookup" - name "builtin" 
                                                // hard coded in grammar
  • * - Repeat/expand. Used in expansion step to expand sub-expression by 0+ times. First expansion tried will be 0, then once, then twice etc. For example, ~extends*.methods would search in methods collection in the current context object for the current name part. If not found expansion of * would took place and we would search in ~extends.methods by iterating over extends collection without consuming part name (due to ~) and searching by ref. name part inside methods collection of each iterated object. The process would continue (i.e. ~extends.~extends.methods ...) until no more expansion is possible as we reach the end of inheritance chain.

  • ^ - Bottom-up search. This operator specifies that the given path should be expanded bottom-up, up the parent chain. The search should start at the current AST context and go up the parent chain for the number of components in the current expanded path. Then the match should be tried. See the components example above using ^ in extends. For example, ^a.b.c would start from the current AST level and go to the parent of the parent, search there for a, then would search for b in the context of the previous AST search result, and finally would search for attribute c. ^ is a marker applied to path search subexpression, i.e. it doesn't apply to the whole sequence (see below).
  • , - Defines a sequence, i.e. a sequence of RREL expressions which should tried in order.

Priorities from highest to lowest: *, ., ,.

~ and ^ are regarded as markers, not operators.

RREL evaluation

Evaluation goes like this:

  1. Expand the expression. Expand * starting from 0 times.
  2. Match/navigate the expression (consume part names in the process)
  3. Repeat

The process stops when either:

  • all possibilities are exhausted and we haven't find anything -> error.
  • in * we came to a situation where we consume all part names before we finished with the RREL expression -> error.
  • We have consumed all path name elements, finished with RREL expression and found the object. If the type is not the same as the type given in the grammar reference we report an error, else we found our object.

RREL reference name deduction

The name of a referenced object is transformed into a list of non-empty name parts, which is processed by a RREL expression to navigate through the model. Possible names are defined in the grammar, e.g. FQN in the following example (used in rule Attribute to reference a model class:

Model:     packages*=Package;
Package:   'package' name=ID '{' classes*=Class '}';
Class:     'class' name=ID '{' attributes*=Attribute '}';
Attribute: 'attr' ref=[Class|FQN|^packages*.classes] name=ID ';';
Comment:   /#.*/;
FQN:       ID('.'ID)*;

The name of a reference (Attribute.ref) could then be, e.g., P1.Part1 (the package P1 and the class Part1), separated by a dot. The dot is the default separator (if no other separator is specified).

package P1 {
    class Part1 {
package P2 {
    class Part2 {
        attr C2 rec;
    class C2 {
        attr P1.Part1 p1;
        attr Part2 p2a;
        attr P2.Part2 p2b;

The match rule used to specify possible reference names (e.g., FQN) can specify a separator used to split the reference name into individual name parts. Use the rule parameter split, which must be a non-empty string (e.g. split='/'; note that the match rule itself should produce names, for which the given separator makes sense):

Model:          packages*=Package;
Package:        'package' name=ID '{' classes*=Class '}';
Class:          'class' name=ID '{' attributes*=Attribute '}';
Attribute:      'attr' ref=[Class|FQN|^packages*.classes] name=ID ';';
Comment:        /#.*/;
FQN[split='/']: ID('/'ID)*;  // separator split='/'

Then the RREL scope provider (using the match rule with the extra rule parameter split) automatically uses the given split character to process the name.

RREL and multi files model

Use the prefix +m: for an RREL expression to activate a multi file model scope provider. Then, in case of no match, other loaded models are searched. When using this extra prefix the importURI feature is activated (see scoping and grammar example).

Accessing the RREL 'path' of a resolved reference

Use the prefix +p: for an RREL expression to access the complete path of named elements for a resolved reference. For that, the resolved reference is represented by a proxy which is transparent to the user is terms of attribute access and textx_instanceof semantics.

The proxy (textx.scoping.rrel.ReferenceProxy) provides two extra fields: _tx_obj and _tx_path. _tx_obj represent the referenced object itself and _tx_path is a list with all named elements traversed during scope resolution. The last entry of the list is _tx_obj.

The following model shows how to employ the +p: flag and is used in the unittest referenced for the following use case:

    'struct' name=ID '{' vals+=Val '}';
    'val' name=ID (':' type=[Struct])?;
    'instance' name=ID (':' type=[Struct])?;
    'reference' ref=[Val|FQN|+p:instances.~type.vals.(~type.vals)*];
FQN: ID ('.' ID)*;

The use case for that feature is that you sometimes need to access all model elements specified in a model reference. Consider a reference to a hierarchically modelled data element like in this unittest example, e.g. reference d.c.b.a.x:

struct A {
    val x
struct B {
    val a: A
struct C {
    val b: B
    val a: A
struct D {
    val c: C
    val b1: B
instance d: D
reference d.c.b.a.x
reference d.b1.a.x

In this example you need all referenced intermediate model elements to accurately identify the modelled data for, e.g., code generation because reference d.c.b.a.x is not distinguishable from reference d.b1.a.x without the path (both point to the field x in A).

Using RREL from Python code

RREL expression could be used during registration in place of scoping provider. For example:

        "*.*": scoping_providers.FQN(),
        "Connection.from_port": "from_inst.component.slots"  # RREL
        "Connection.to_port": "from_inst.component.slots"      # RREL

RREL processing (internal)

RREL expression are parsed when the grammar is loaded and transformed to AST consisting of RREL operator nodes (each node could be an instance of RREL prefixed class, e.g RRELSequence). The expressions ASTs are stateless and thus it is an important possibility to define the same expression for multiple attributes by using wildcard as the same expression tree would be used for the evaluation.

In the process of evaluation the root of the expression tree is given the sequence of part names and the current context which represent the parent object of the reference in the model AST. The evaluation is then carried out by recursive calls of the RREL AST nodes. Each node gets the AST context consisting of a collection of objects from the model and a current unconsumed part names collection, which are the result of the previous operation or, in the case of the root expression AST node, an initial input. Each operator object should return the next AST context and the unconsumed part of the name. At the end of the successful search AST context should be a single object and the names parts should be empty.