Oscar Forner Martinez bio photo

Oscar Forner Martinez

I am software engineer at VCA Technology. Learning Linux Kernel, passionate about GNU/Linux and OSS, enjoying algorithms and data structures and coding in C and C++.

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Why do you want to create your own compiler?

To answer this question I have to give you some background. For Christmas I got a BeagleBone Black, perfect to learn ARM assembly. After a few weeks of doing the usual stuff I decided I wanted a bigger project to improve my knowledge. However, the idea to start the development of a compiler comes from http://www.sigbus.info/how-i-wrote-a-self-hosting-c-compiler-in-40-days.html.

The only aim of this project is to improve my knowledge of the ARM assembly, the C language and Compilers. The project can be found in GitHub.

What is the target of the project?

My target is to have a self-hosting compiler of C. For this reason I want to keep it simple. Moreover, I will only develop the features I need to accomplish the target of the project. As you can imagine the choosen language is C (ANSI C to be specific).

I decided not to use Flex, Bison, Lex or Yacc because I want to work in all stages of the compiler. Yes, it sounds crazy and maybe I will regret it in the future, but at least I will try it.

What is the current state of the project?

Currently, I have implemented a very basic compiler, this version is available in GitHub as v0.1. It just generates code for a file containing the main function without parameters and the body only contains a return statement of a positive integer.

Structure of the project

The project contains three folders:

  • inc: holds the external libraries needed. Right now, it has the files of Unity for unit testing.
  • unittest: has the unit tests for the project. It has just one, but once I find a good framework to do mocks in C, it will have more unit tests.
  • src: contains the actual source code of the project.

This compiler is made of a Lexer that creates Tokens. These Tokens are used by the Grammar to create AST nodes. Finally, the AST nodes will be used by the Generator to generate the assembly.

Lexer and Tokens

The available Tokens are: int_value, int_type, function, open_parenthesis, close_parenthesis, open_bracket, close_bracket, return, semicolon and end_of_file. These can be found in the file tokens.h: These Tokens are returned by the method next from the Lexer in the file lexer.h:

Grammar and AST nodes

The available AST nodes are: id, int, function and return. These can be found in the file ast.h: The AST is returned by the method build_ast from the Grammar in the file grammar.h:

Generation of assembly

The Generator has a Grammar that will be used to generate the assembly with the method generate_code:

Example of the current functionality:

The code to be compiled into ARM assembly is: Compile the example with our compiler (ACC): The assembly generated is: Use GCC to translate that assembly into a executable binary: Execute and check the result:


As you can see this project is going to take a long time to be completed. My plan is to work adding small features at a time. The next step is to add conditionals (if and else). Afterwards, I will add operators such as <, <=, >, >=, == and !=. Everytime I achieve a new goal in this project I will create a post like this one to show the feature and how it has been implemented.