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A deterministic parsing algorithm for ambiguous regular expressions

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We introduce a new parser generator, called Berry–Sethi Parser (BSP), for ambiguous regular expressions (RE). The generator constructs a deterministic finite-state transducer that recognizes an input string, as the classical Berry–Sethi algorithm does, and additionally outputs a linear representation of all the syntax trees of the string; for infinitely ambiguous strings, a policy for selecting representative sets of trees is chosen. To construct the transducer, the RE symbols, including letters, parentheses and other metasymbols, are distinctly numbered, so that the corresponding language becomes locally testable. In this way a deterministic position automaton can be constructed, which recognizes and translates the input into a compact DAG representation of the syntax trees. The correctness of the construction is proved. The transducer operates in a linear time on the input. Its descriptive complexity is analyzed as a function of established RE parameters: the alphabetic width, the number of null string symbols and the height of the RE tree. A condition for checking RE ambiguity on the transducer graph is stated. Experimental results of running the parser generator and the parser on a large RE collection are presented. The POSIX RE disambiguation criterion has also been applied to the parser.

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  1. 1.

    The code is available at https://github.com/FLC-project/BSP together with the input data used for the experiments.

  2. 2.

    The benchmark and generator codes are available at https://github.com/FLC-project/BSP.

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    On a computer AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ with clock 2.2 GHz and operating system Windows 10.

  4. 4.

    Since RE2 outputs one tree and is coded in C\(++\), to offset the difference due to the programming language we implemented a version of BSP that uses POSIX disambiguation for selecting one tree and is coded in C\(++\) as well; some experimental results are available at https://github.com/FLC-project/BSP. A systematic experimental comparison between existing RE parsing algorithms would be interesting, but it requires more research and presents practical difficulties. Only a few published algorithms come with well-engineered and available programs, and such programs may be coded in different languages. Moreover, the parsing process may return incomparable information on the syntax trees. Lastly, such a research has to face the problem of choosing an unbiased collection of REs as a benchmark.


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To the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and references.

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Correspondence to Luca Breveglieri.

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Borsotti, A., Breveglieri, L., Crespi Reghizzi, S. et al. A deterministic parsing algorithm for ambiguous regular expressions. Acta Informatica (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00236-020-00366-7

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