ANTLR3 C Runtime API and Usage Guide.


Version 3.1

This documentation is specifically for the C rutime version 3.1.x.x, which is specifically for use with version 3.1.x.x of the ANTLR recognizer generation tool. While some of the documentation may well apply to prior or future versions you should consult the manuals for the correct version whenever possible.

Changes from 3.0 to 3.1

Some changes in 3.1 may require small changes in your invoking programs or in the grammar itself. Please read about them here before emailing the user group, where you will be told to come and read about them here, unless they were missed from this list.


The ANTLR3 recognizer generation tool is written in Java, but allows the generation of code targeted for a number of other languages. Each target language provides a code generation template for the tool and a runtime library for use by generated recognizers. The C runtime tracks the Java runtime releases and in general when a new version of the tool is released, a new version of the C runtime will be released at the same time.

The documentation here is in three parts:

Background Information

The ANTLR 3 C runtime and code generation templates were written by Jim Idle (jimi|at|temporal-wave|dott/com) of Temporal Wave LLC.

The C runtime and therefore the code generated to utilize the runtime reflects the object model of the Java version of the runtime as closely as a language without class structures and inheritance can. Compromises have only been made where performance would be adversely affected such as minimizing the number of pointer to pointer to pointer to function type structures that could ensue through trying to model inheritance too exactly. Other differences include the use of token and string factories to minimize the number of calls to system functions such as calloc().This model was adopted so that overriding any default implementation of a function is relatively simple for the grammar programmer.

The generated code is free threading (subject to the systems calls used on any particular platform being likewise free threading.)

Runtime Model

As there is no such thing as an object reference in C, the runtime defines a number of typedef structs that reflect the calling interface chosen by Terence Parr for the Java version of the same. The initialization of a parser, lexer, input stream or other internal structure therefore consists of allocating the memory required for an instance of the typedef struct that represents the interface, initializing any counters, and buffers etc, then populating a number of pointers to functions that implement the equivalent of the methods in the Java class.

The use and initialization of the C versions of a parser is therefore similar to the examples given for Java, but with a bent towards C of course. You may need to be aware of memory allocation and freeing operations in certain environments such as Windows, where you cannot allocate memory in one DLL and free it in another.

The runtime provides a number of structures and interfaces that the author has found useful when writing action and processing code within java parsers, and furthermore were required by the C runtime code if it was not to depart too far from the logical layout of the Java model. These include the C equivalents of String, List, Hashtable, Vector and Trie, implemented by pointers to structures. These are freely available for your own programming needs.

A goal of the generated code was to minimize the tracking, allocation and freeing of memory for reasons of both performance and reliability. In essence any memory used by a lexer, parser or tree parser is automatically tracked and freed when the instance of it is released. There are therefore factory functions for tokens and so on such that they can be allocated in blocks and parceled out as they are required. They are all then freed in one go, minimizing the risk of memory leaks and alloc/free thrashing. This has only one side effect, being that if you wish to preserve some structure generated by the lexer, parser or tree parser, then you must make a copy of it before freeing those structures, and track it yourself after that. In practice, it is easy enough just not to release the antlr generated components until you are finished with their results.

Target Platforms

The C project is constructed such that it will compile on any reasonable ANSI C compiler in either 64 or 32 bit mode, with all warnings turned on. This is true of both the runtime code and the generated code and has been summarily tested with Visual Studio .Net (2003, 2005 and 2008) and later versions of gcc on Redhat Linux, as well as on AIX 5.2/5.3, Solaris 9/10, HPUX 11.xx, OSX (PowerPC and Intel) and Cygwin.



It is C :-). Basic testing of performance against the Java runtime, using the JDK1.6 java source code, and the Java parser provided in the examples (which is a tough test as it includes backtracking and memoization) show that the C runtime uses about half the memory and is between 2 and 3 times the speed. Tests of non-backtracking, non-memoizing parsers, indicate results significantly better than this.

Downloading Examples

The downloads page of the ANTLR web site contains a downloadable zip/tar of examples projects for use with the C runtime model. It contains .sln files and source code for a number of example grammars and helps to see how to invoke and call the generated recognizers.

Generated on Mon Nov 29 17:22:55 2010 for ANTLR3C by  doxygen 1.5.5