Created: 2011-07-10 18:50
Updated: 2019-01-22 13:23
License: other


Parsley is a monadic parser combinator library inspired by Haskell's Parsec and F#'s FParsec. It can parse context-sensitive, infinite look-ahead grammars but it performs best on predictive (LL[1]) grammars.

Unlike Parsec/FParsec, Parsley provides separate lexer/parser phases. The lexer phase is usually performed with a prioritized list of regex patterns, and parser grammars are expressed in terms of the tokens produced by the lexer.


First, install NuGet. Then, install Parsley from the package manager console:

PM> Install-Package Parsley

Lexer Phase (Tokenization)

Strings being parsed are represented with a Text instance, which tracks the original string as well as the current parsing position:

    var text = new Text("some input to parse");

The lexer phase is implemented by anything that produces an IEnumerable<Token>. The default implementation, Lexer, builds the series of tokens when given a prioritized series of TokenKind token recognizers. The most common TokenKind implementation is Pattern, which recognizes tokens via regex patterns. TokenKinds can be skippable, if you want them to be recognized but discarded:

    var text = new Text("1 2 3 a b c");
    var lexer = new Lexer(new Pattern("letter", @"[a-z]"),
                          new Pattern("number", @"[0-9]+"),
                          new Pattern("whitespace", @"\s+", skippable: true));

    Token[] tokens = lexer.ToArray();

Above, the array tokens will contain 6 Token objects. Each Token contains the literal ("1", "a", etc), the TokenKind that matched it, and the Position (line/column number) where the token was found.

The collection of Token produced by the lexer phase is wrapped in a TokenStream, which allows the rest of the system to traverse the collection of tokens in an immutable fashion.

Parser Functions

A parser of thingies is a method that consumes a TokenStream and produces a parsed-thingy:

    public interface Parser<out T>
        Reply<T> Parse(TokenStream tokens);

A Reply<T> describes whether or not the parser succeeded, the parsed-thingy (on success), a possibly-empty error message list, and a reference to a TokenStream representing the remaining unparsed tokens.


Grammars should inherit from Grammar to take advantage of several Parser primitives. Grammars should define each grammar rule in terms of these primitives, ultimately exposing the start rule as some Parser<T>. Grammar rule bodies may consist of LINQ queries, which allow you to glue together other grammar rules in sequence:

See the integration tests for a sample JSON grammar.

Finally, we can put all these pieces together to parse some text:

    const string input = "{\"zero\" : 0, \"one\" : 1, \"two\" : 2}";
    var tokens = new JsonLexer(input);
    var jsonDictionary = (Dictionary<string, object>) JsonGrammar.Json.Parse(tokens).Value;
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