Using Loyc trees in .NET (C#)

5 Nov 2016 (updated Feb 2019)

You can create Loyc trees programmatically using the LNodeFactory class. You have to provide a “source file” object that will be associated with each of the LNodes created by the factory; since you are creating nodes programmatically, just use EmptySourceFile.Default or create a new EmptySourceFile("my source file's name"). (If you feed your nodes into a compiler programmatically, the source file name may be used by the compiler to display error messages regarding the nodes you created.)

An LNodeFactory is often named F:

LNodeFactory F = new LNodeFactory(new EmptySourceFile("Foo.cs"));
// Create a call to foo(xyz, 123)
LNode callFoo = F.Call("foo", F.Id("xyz"), F.Literal(123));
// Create a function definition: void foo(int x, string y) { return; }
LNode fooDecl = F.Fn(F.Void, F.Id("foo"), 
                     F.Tuple(F.Var(F.Int32, F.Id("x")), F.Var(F.String, F.Id("y"))),

An easier way to create nodes is to parse LES or C#/EC# code, although this can be costly because it happens at runtime. If you’re using EC# then you can use quote {...} to produce code at compile time that will construct a Loyc tree directly.

To parse EC# into a Loyc tree, call Loyc.Ecs.EcsLanguageService.Value.Parse("your code here;") (this is an extension method so you’ll also need using Loyc.Syntax;). To treat a node (or list of nodes) as EC# code and print them with the EC# printer, call EcsLanguageService.Value.Print(node). Don’t worry, the EC# printer is fairly reliable at printing Loyc trees that do not represent EC# code; Loyc trees almost always round-trip correctly from a Loyc tree to EC# code and back.

Similarly, to parse LES into a Loyc tree, call LesLanguageService.Value.Parse("your expression here;").

The LES printer is the default when you call LNode.ToString(). To print code as C#/EC# instead, use code like this:

    using (LNode.SetPrinter(EcsLanguageService.Value.Printer)) {
      /* print Loyc trees with `tree.ToString()` here */

Important properties of Loyc nodes

A Loyc tree node (LNode) consists of the following main properties:

Identifier names are stored in Symbols; a Symbol is a singleton string. One purpose of symbols is performance; in order to compare "foo1" == "foo2", the actual characters much be compared one-by-one. Symbol comparisons, on the other hand, are lightning-fast reference comparisons. To get a symbol from a string s in C#, just use a cast: (string) s. To get the string out of a Symbol, call the Symbol.Name property or ToString() which is an alias for Name.

Common symbols for keywords and datatypes are defined in the Loyc.Syntax.CodeSymbols class in Loyc.Syntax.dll. Throughout the Loyc codebase, a using S = Loyc.Syntax.CodeSymbols; statement is often used to abbreviate CodeSymbols as S, so you can write things like S.While (which represents the #while symbol), S.Class (#class) S.And (&&), S.AddSet (+=), and so on. See the source code of CodeSymbols.

You should also be aware of these helper methods:

Node comparisons with Equals() test for structural equality rather than reference equality, and tend to be expensive. GetHashCode() can be expensive when first called, but the hashcode is cached.

Loyc tree imitators

Any .NET class can “pretend” to be a Loyc tree by implementing the ILNode interface. By implementing this interface you can print your custom syntax tree as if it were a Loyc tree.

ILNode is a read-only interface that omits much of the functionality of LNode itself; most notably, it is meant for read-only use and has none of the “With” or “Plus” methods for creating modified nodes. This interface also lacks the Attrs and Args properties, although they are available as the extension methods Attrs() and Args(). ILNode has an indexer, which allows you to access both arguments and attributes as explained here.

Most code in the Loyc libraries is designed to work with LNode, not ILNode, but the LESv2 and LESv3 node printers can print ILNode objects directly, and there is a method, LNodeExt.ToLNode(ILNode), to convert any ILNode to LNode.

Implementing this interface requires a couple of methods that might seem challenging at first. For example, ILNode inherits INegListSource from the Loyc.Essentials library, which has a Slice() method that returns an IRange object - where the heck can you get one of those? That’s actually easy, you can just use the same implementation as LNode itself, which creates a NegListSlice adapter that implements IRange:

IRange<ILNode> INegListSource<ILNode>.Slice(int start, int count)
    return new NegListSlice<ILNode>(this, start, count);

Another challenge you’ll face is the Range property which is supposed to return the range of characters in the source file from which the node originated. That’s easy if you happen to be using Loyc.Syntax.SourceFile<CharSource> to represent your source files, but if not you could fake it using a dummy source file such as EmptySourceFile.Unknown or a new EmptySourceFile:

// Assuming you have fields _fileName, _startIndex, _endIndex
public SourceRange Range => 
  new SourceRange(new EmptySourceFile(_fileName),
    _startIndex, _endIndex - _startIndex);

Let’s go through a full example to see how to implement ILNode.

Let’s say your custom syntax tree is rooted at Expr, and among its many nodes is Number and AddOperator, with base classes Literal and BinaryOperator respectively. So you have something like this:

abstract class Expr {
   // Location of the expression in source code
   protected string _filename = "Unknown";
   protected int _startIndex, _endIndex;

abstract class Literal : Expr {

class Number : Literal {
   double _n;
   public Number(double n) { _n = n; }

abstract class BinaryOperator : Expr {
   protected BinaryOperator(Expr lhs, Expr rhs) 
      { _lhs = lhs; _rhs = rhs; }
   protected Expr _lhs, _rhs;
   public Expr Left => _lhs;
   public Expr Right => _rhs;

class AddOperator : BinaryOperator {
   public AddOperator(Expr lhs, Expr rhs) : base(lhs, rhs) { }

You should implement most of the interface in your base class(es), with just a few overrides in derived classes as necessary:

using Loyc;
using Loyc.Syntax;

abstract class Expr : ILNode
   protected string _filename = "Unknown";
   protected int _startIndex, _endIndex;

   #region ILNode implementation

   public abstract LNodeKind Kind { get; }
   public abstract Symbol Name { get; }
   public abstract ILNode Target { get; }
   public abstract object Value { get; }
   public abstract int Min { get; }
   public abstract int Max { get; }
   public abstract ILNode TryGet(int index, out bool fail);

   public ILNode this[int index] {
      get {
         bool fail;
         var r = TryGet(index, out fail);
         if (fail) throw new ArgumentOutOfRangeException("index");
         return r;
   public IEnumerator<ILNode> GetEnumerator()
      for (int i = Min; i <= Max; i++)
         yield return this[i];

   public int Count => Max - Min + 1;
   public SourceRange Range 
      => new SourceRange(new EmptySourceFile(_filename), 
             _startIndex, _endIndex - _startIndex);
   NodeStyle ILNode.Style { get => NodeStyle.Default; set {} }
   object IHasLocation.Location => Range;
   public bool Calls(Symbol name, int argCount)
      => Name == name && Max + 1 == argCount;
   public bool CallsMin(Symbol name, int argCount)
      => Name == name && Max + 1 > argCount;
   public bool Equals(ILNode other) 
      => other == this;
   IEnumerator IEnumerable.GetEnumerator() 
      => GetEnumerator();
   public IRange<ILNode> Slice(int start, int count = int.MaxValue)
      => new NegListSlice<ILNode>(this, start, count);
   public LNode ToLNode() => LNodeExt.ToLNode(this);


abstract class Literal : Expr
   #region ILNode implementation

   public override LNodeKind Kind => LNodeKind.Literal;
   public override Symbol Name => GSymbol.Empty;
   public override ILNode Target => null;
   public override abstract object Value { get; }
   // Literals always have Max==-2 since they have no Target nor Args
   // (Target would have index -1, Args start at index 0). Assuming 
   // no attributes, Min should be -1 so that the number of children
   // is zero (given that Count is defined as Max - Min + 1).
   public override int Min => -1;
   public override int Max => -2;
   public override ILNode TryGet(int index, out bool fail) {
      fail = true; // No children so always fail
      return null;

class Number : Literal
   double _n;
   public Number(double n) { _n = n; }

   public override object Value => _n;

abstract class BinaryOperator : Expr
   protected BinaryOperator(Expr lhs, Expr rhs)
      { _lhs = lhs; _rhs = rhs; }
   protected Expr _lhs, _rhs;
   public Expr Left => _lhs;
   public Expr Right => _rhs;

   #region ILNode implementation

   public override LNodeKind Kind => LNodeKind.Call;
   public override abstract Symbol Name { get; }
   // Assuming your syntax tree has identifiers, you could return 
   // one of those instead. Note: Range is wrong here, as the Target's
   // range should be the range of the target alone, e.g. the + sign
   // in an AddOperator. But for printing as LES, Range doesn't matter.
   public override ILNode Target => LNode.Id(Name, Range);
   // A Call has no value, not even null
   public override object Value => NoValue.Value;
   // If the node has no attributes, Min must be -1
   public override int Min => -1;
   public override int Max => 1;
   public override ILNode TryGet(int index, out bool fail)
      fail = false;
      if (index == 0) return Left;
      if (index == 1) return Right;
      if (index == -1) return Target;
      fail = true;
      return null;


class AddOperator : BinaryOperator
   public AddOperator(Expr lhs, Expr rhs) : base(lhs, rhs) { }

   public override Symbol Name => CodeSymbols.Add;

As you can see, although implementing ILNode requires a nontrivial amount of code, the “leaf” classes in your class hierarchy often require very little code per-class.

You should then be able to print your custom syntax tree like you would an LNode:

var expr = new AddOperator(new AddOperator(
    new Number(1), new Number(2)), new Number(3));
// Output: 1.0 + 2.0 + 3.0

And, of course, you can call expr.ToLNode() to convert it to a real Loyc tree.

Modifying nodes

Since LNodes are immutable, you don’t modify them directly. Instead you’ll typically use one of the “With” (or Plus) methods to create modified nodes:

 // For modifying Id nodes (WithName(x) can also be used with call
 // nodes; in that case it means WithTarget(Target.WithName(x))).
 public virtual  LNode WithName(Symbol name)
 // For modifying Literal nodes
 public abstract LiteralNode WithValue(object value);
 // For modifying Call nodes (note: you can add arguments to a non-call node,
 // which produces a call node.)
 public virtual  CallNode WithTarget(LNode target);
 public virtual  CallNode WithTarget(Symbol name);
 public abstract CallNode WithArgs(LNodeList args);
 public virtual  CallNode With(LNode target, LNodeList args);
 public          CallNode With(Symbol target, params LNode[] args);
 public          LNode PlusArg(LNode arg); // add one parameter
 public          LNode PlusArgs(LNodeList args);
 public          LNode PlusArgs(IEnumerable<LNode> args);
 public          LNode PlusArgs(params LNode[] args);
 public          LNode WithArgChanged(int index, LNode newValue);
 // For modifying the attribute list
 public virtual  LNode WithoutAttrs()
 public abstract LNode WithAttrs(LNodeList attrs);
 public          LNode WithAttr(LNode attr)
 public          LNode WithAttrs(params LNode[] attrs)
 public          LNode WithAttrChanged(int index, LNode newValue)
 public          CallNode WithArgs(params LNode[] args)
 public          LNode PlusAttr(LNode attr); // add one attribute
 public          LNode PlusAttrs(LNodeList attrs);
 public          LNode PlusAttrs(IEnumerable<LNode> attrs);
 public          LNode PlusAttrs(params LNode[] attrs);
 // Other
 public         LNode WithRange(SourceRange range) { return With(range, Style); }
 public         LNode WithStyle(NodeStyle style)   { return With(Range, style); }
 public virtual LNode With(SourceRange range, NodeStyle style)

Argument lists are stored in VList data structures.

Find, find-and-replace, and pattern matching

ReplaceRecursive(node => {...}) performs a recursive find-and-replace operation; see the documentation for full details, but here is an example that replaces all instances of 0xFFFF or 65535 with ushort.MaxValue:

code = code.ReplaceRecursive(node => {
    if (node.Value is int && ((int)node.Value) == 0xFFFF)
        return LNode.Call(CodeSymbols.Dot, 
           LNode.List(LNode.Id(CodeSymbols.UInt16), LNode.Id("MaxValue")));
    return null;

If all you want to do is search for something, you can still use ReplaceRecursive; just return null to avoid creating new trees.

When using ReplaceRecursive, the MatchesPattern method is sometimes useful. This allows you to use a Loyc tree (e.g. supplied by an end-user) to specify what to search for. For example, the Loyc tree represented by this LES code:

$x * $y + $z;

Lets you find multiplications followed by additions. For example:

using Loyc;
using Loyc.Syntax;
using Loyc.Syntax.Les;

var pattern = LesLanguageService.Value.Parse("$x * $y + $z").First();
var code = LesLanguageService.Value.Parse(@"{
  x = a * b + c; 
  y = A * B + c * (p * q + r); 

Symbol x = (Symbol)"x", y = (Symbol)"y", z = (Symbol)"z";
code = code.ReplaceRecursive(node => {
    IDictionary<Symbol, LNode> captures;
    if (node.MatchesPattern(pattern, out captures))
        return LNode.Call((Symbol)"MulDiv", LNode.List(captures[x], captures[y], captures[z]));
    return null;

This produces the following output:

  x = MulDiv(a, b, c);
  y = MulDiv(A, B, c * (p * q + r));

Notice that p * q + r has not been changed. That’s because when the lambda returns a changed node, ReplaceRecursive does not continue searching into the changed node. Currently, the only way to accomplish that is to factor out the lambda into a variable and manually call ReplaceRecursive like this:

Symbol x = (Symbol)"x", y = (Symbol)"y", z = (Symbol)"z";
Func<LNode, LNode> lambda = null; lambda = node => {
    IDictionary<Symbol, LNode> captures;
    if (node.MatchesPattern(pattern, out captures))
        return LNode.Call((Symbol)"MulDiv", LNode.List(captures[x], captures[y], captures[z]))
    return null;
code = code.ReplaceRecursive(lambda);

List/node duality

Often, a single node can be treated as a list. For example, in C-like languages you can have a single statement attached to a while loop, or a braced block:

while (c) single_statement();
while (c) { zero_or_more_statements(); ... }

The AsList extension method helps you treat that single statement as a list:

public static LNodeList AsList(this LNode block, Symbol listIdentifier)

If block is the second argument to #while then block.AsList(CodeSymbols.Braces) would return a one-item list containing single_statement() in the first example, and in the second example it would return a list containing the contents of the braced block. The inverse operation is AsLNode:

public static LNode AsLNode(this LNodeList list, Symbol listIdentifier)

This returns list[0] if the list has one item; otherwise creates a node that calls listIdentifier with the specified argument list.


Occasionally a “splicing” operation is useful:

// in LNodeExt class
public static LNodeList WithSpliced(this LNodeList list, LNode node, Symbol listName = CodeSymbols.Splice)
public static LNodeList WithSpliced(this LNodeList list, int index, LNode node, Symbol listName = CodeSymbols.Splice)

“Splicing” refers to conditionally inserting the arguments of one node into another node, if the node calls an identifier with a particular Name. For example, if you have a list 10, 11, 12 and a node #splice(1, 2, 3) then list.WithSpliced(0, node) returns the list 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12. But if the node does not call #splice then it is simply added to the list, e.g. if the node is foo(1, 2, 3) then list.WithSpliced(0, node) returns the list foo(1, 2, 3), 10, 11, 12.

There are helper methods in LNode to do splicing:

public CallNode WithSplicedArgs(int index, LNode from, Symbol listName)
    return WithArgs(LNodeExt.WithSpliced(Args, index, from, listName));
public LNode WithSplicedAttrs(int index, LNode from, Symbol listName)
    return WithAttrs(LNodeExt.WithSpliced(Attrs, index, from, listName));