Megaparsec 7

Published on August 27, 2018

For a while now I’ve been working on Megaparsec 7. Due to the fact that my schedule is more saturated these days, the work hasn’t been progressing as quickly as I expected, but nevertheless I tried to spend my rare free hours on advancing it, and finally I can say that Megaparsec 7 is close to release.

The post is about the most obvious things a user will run into when upgrading. It does not attempt to walk through all the changes, for that there is a detailed changelog available. Thus, we will talk about breaking changes and new ways of doing certain things. Finally, there a bit of benchmarking bravura, because yes, we’re now faster than ever (sometimes a bit faster than Attoparsec).

Simple changes

The good but boring changes you need to know about are the following…

parser-combinators grows, megaparsec shrinks

Megaparsec always contained quite a bit of code that could work with any Parsec-like library. I felt like a shame not to make it available for other packages to use. So, some time ago I started the parser-combinators package which provides common parsing commbinators that work with any instance of Applicative, Alternative, Monad. It’s quite general and depends virtually only on base. Recently I included the code to do parsing of permutation phrases and expressions, so we’re now able to drop Text.Megaparsec.Perm and Text.Megaparsec.Expr from Megaparsec itself:

  • Text.Megaparsec.PermControl.Applicative.Permutations
  • Text.Megaparsec.ExprControl.Monad.Combinators.Expr

This actually means that you can use these modules with e.g. Attoparsec (I haven’t tried though). I think it’s pretty cool.

General combinators have been moved

There were a few combinators in Text.Megaparec.Char and Text.Megaparsec.Byte that are actually not specific to input stream type and should live in the Text.Megaparsec module. So they have been moved. And renamed.

  • Now there is the single combinator that is a generalization of char for arbitrary streams. Text.Megaparsec.Char and Text.Megaparsec.Byte still contain char as type-constrained versions of single.

  • Similarly, now there is the chunk combinator that is a generalization of string for arbitrary streams. The string combinator is still re-exported from Text.Megaparsec.Char and Text.Megaparsec.Byte for compatibility.

  • satisfy does not depend on type of token, and so it now lives in Text.Megaparsec.

  • anyChar was renamed to anySingle and moved to Text.Megaparsec.

  • notChar was renamed to anySingleBut and moved to Text.Megaparsec.

  • oneOf and noneOf were moved to Text.Megaparsec.

Parse errors story

Megaparsec 6 added the ability to display offending line from original input stream when pretty-printing parse errors. That’s good, but the design has always felt as an afterthought to me:

  • There are three functions to pretty-print a ParseError: parseErrorPretty, parseErrorPretty', and parseErrorPretty_. The last was added because parseErrorPretty' actually doesn’t allow specifying tab width which is necessary to know for proper displaying of lines with tabs.

  • The functions that try to display the relevant line from input stream require the input stream to be passed to them. Having to keep input stream around just to be able to display nice error messages is a bit inconvenient. In one package I even had to define a product of ParseError and Text to work around this.

  • I think mmark is a nice example of what Megaparsec can do. But it also showed the limitations of the parsing library. mmark can report several ParseErrors at once, and when they are pretty-printed, we display an offending line per error from the original input stream. If we just use the functions that are provided out-of-the-box, we’ll be traversing the input stream N times, where N is the number of ParseErrors we want to display. Not nice at all!

It looks like we want:

  • A bundle type ParseErrorBundle that functions like parse will return.

  • The type should include everything that is necessary to pretty-print a parse error: tab width, input stream to use, etc.

  • There will be only one function to pretty print such a bundle, let’s call it errorBundlePretty.

  • The bundle should be able to contain several ParseErrors which are sorted. During pretty-printing it should traverse input stream only once.

So here we go:

-- | A non-empty collection of 'ParseError's equipped with 'PosState' that
-- allows to pretty-print the errors efficiently and correctly.

data ParseErrorBundle s e = ParseErrorBundle
  { bundleErrors :: NonEmpty (ParseError s e)
    -- ^ A /sorted/ collection of 'ParseError's to display
  , bundlePosState :: PosState s
    -- ^ State that is used for line\/column calculation
  } deriving (Generic)

PosState is defined like so:

-- | Special kind of state that is used to calculate line\/column positions
-- on demand.

data PosState s = PosState
  { pstateInput :: s
    -- ^ The rest of input to process
  , pstateOffset :: !Int
    -- ^ Offset corresponding to beginning of 'pstateInput'
  , pstateSourcePos :: !SourcePos
    -- ^ Source position corresponding to beginning of 'pstateInput'
  , pstateTabWidth :: Pos
    -- ^ Tab width to use for column calculation
  , pstateLinePrefix :: String
    -- ^ Prefix to prepend to offending line (out of scope for this post)
  } deriving (Show, Eq, Data, Typeable, Generic)

This is a helper data type that allows to pretty print several ParseErrors in one pass. Functions like runParser or parse always return only one ParseError in a bundle, but we can add more ourselves, which is what I think mmark will be doing.

There is a but more about PosState though, and it has to do with the performance improvements in Megaparsec 7.

Performance improvements

I was thinking how to make Megaparsec 7 faster and simpler. One thing I did is dropping stacks of source positions, which felt good, but not enough. So I figured: updating SourcePos in State is expensive, but pretty much a useless thing to do if a parser doesn’t fail.

Why is it useless?

  • We only care about SourcePos when we want to present ParseErrors to humans. For everything else a simple Int offset as the number of consumed tokens so far is perfect.

  • Given input stream and things like tab width, an offset determines uniquely the corresponding SourcePos anyway, so keeping stateTokensProcessed and statePos at the same time is a waste.

  • We already traverse input stream when we pretty-print parse errors. We could at the same time calculate SourcePos from offsets while doing that.

So that’s the idea:

  • Store Int offset instead of SourcePos position in ParseErrors.

  • Infer SourcePos when necessary on pretty-printing.

Guess what, this gives about 100% of speed-up on microbenchmarks (not on all of them, but on many, and that’s impressive), and this does transform into performance improvements for real parsers too.

Here is the older benchmark comparing Attoparsec and Megaparsec. I used it to compare Attoparsec vs Megaparsec 6 vs Megaparsec 7. Here is a table which shows simplified results (run on my laptop):

BenchmarkAttoparsec 6.5.0Megaparsec 7.0.0
CSV (40)99.62 μs137.2 μs82.75 μs
Log (40)429.4 μs577.4 μs453.8 μs
JSON (40)27.01 μs48.81 μs33.68 μs

Notably, Megparsec 7 beats Attoparec on the CSV benchmark now. It’s written quite naively of course, if I remember correctly I stole it from some Attoparsec or Parsec tutorial, but still it demonstrates that the machinery in the foundation of the library is getting quite speedy.

Memory (showing allocations because max residency is constant and quite low in all cases):

BenchmarkAttoparsec 6.5.0Megaparsec 7.0.0
CSV (40)397,952557,312357,208
Log (40)1,181,1201,485,7761,246,496
JSON (40)132,488233,328203,824

Now you probably understand the temptation. But there was also the conservative part of me which said: “but hey, people are going to want to get source position from a working parser to attach it to AST or something, and what about indentation-sensitive parsing which needs to know column numbers…”.

Hell, that’s right. But we’re not going to let that spoil the party, are we?

We could always calculate SourcePos incrementally and on demand. Re-using PosState we plug it into parser State:

data State s = State
  { stateInput :: s
    -- ^ The rest of input to process
  , stateOffset :: {-# UNPACK #-} !Int
    -- ^ Number of processed tokens so far
  , statePosState :: PosState s
    -- ^ State that is used for line\/column calculation
  } deriving (Show, Eq, Data, Typeable, Generic)

Exploiting the fact that we can only move forward in input stream, we can write:

getSourcePos :: MonadParsec e s m => m SourcePos
getSourcePos = do
  st <- getParserState
  -- We're not interested in the line at which the offset is located in
  -- this case, but the same 'reachOffset' function is used in
  -- 'errorBundlePretty'.
  let (pos, _, pst) = reachOffset (stateOffset st) (statePosState st)
  setParserState st { statePosState = pst }
  return pos

Where reachOffset is a new method of Stream that replaces all the old methods that had to do with keeping track of source position. At the same time reachOffset fetches String representation of the right line in input to show in parse errors. And it’s tuned to be incremental, so only not-previously-traversed part of input will be processed. I have confirmed on projects like mmark that even if you use getSourcePos, there is no performance regressions, performance stays the same in that case (that’s if you don’t call getSourcePos on every token, which is a bad idea).


I think that these two changes (parse error bundles and using offsets) complement each other rather well and make the library a lot nicer.

Let me know what you think. It’ll take some time to finish up the whole thing, so if you have a concern about the changes I described, please tell me about it. Once again, the full changelog (so far) is here.