6. Rules and Strategies

Pure term rewriting is not adequate for program transformation because of the lack of control over the application of rules. Attempts to encode such control within the pure rewriting paradigm lead to functionalized control by means of extra rules and constructors, at the expense of traversal overhead and at the loss of the separation of rules and strategies. By selecting the appropriate rules and strategy for a transformation, Stratego programmers can control the application of rules, while maintaining the separation of rules and strategies and keeping traversal overhead to a minimum.

We saw that many transformation problems can be solved by alternative strategies such as a one-pass bottom-up or top-down traversals. Others can be solved by selecting the rules that are applied in an innermost normalization, rather than all the rules in a specification. However, no fixed set of such alternative strategies will be sufficient for dealing with all transformation problems. Rather than providing one or a few fixed collection of rewriting strategies, Stratego supports the composition of strategies from basic building blocks with a few fundamental operators.

On this page we define the basic notions of rules and strategies, and we will see how new strategies and strategy combinators can be defined.

6.1. What is a rule?

A rule defines a transformation on terms. A named rewrite rule is a declaration of the form:

L : p1 -> p2

where L is the rule name, p1 the left-hand side term pattern, and p2 the right-hand side term pattern. A rule can be applied through its name to a term. It will transform the term if the term matches with p1, and will replace the term with p2 instantiated with the variables bound during the match to p1. The application fails if the term does not match p1. Thus, a transformation is a partial function from terms to terms.

Let’s look at an example. The SwapArgs rule swaps the sub-terms of the Plus constructor. Note that it is possible to introduce rules on the fly in the Stratego Shell.

stratego> SwapArgs : Plus(e1,e2) -> Plus(e2,e1)

Now we create a new term, and apply the SwapArgs rule to it by calling its name at the prompt. (The build !t of a term replaces the current term by t, as is explained here.)

stratego> !Plus(Var("a"),Int("3"))
stratego> SwapArgs

The application of SwapArgs fails when applied to a term to which the left-hand side does not match. For example, since the pattern Plus(e1,e2) does not match with a term constructed with Times the following application fails:

stratego> !Times(Int("4"),Var("x"))
stratego> SwapArgs
command failed

A rule is applied at the root of a term, not at one of its subterms. Thus, the following application fails even though the term contains a Plus subterm:

stratego> !Times(Plus(Var("a"),Int("3")),Var("x"))
stratego> SwapArgs
command failed

Likewise, the following application only transforms the outermost occurrence of Plus, not the inner occurrence:

stratego> !Plus(Var("a"),Plus(Var("x"),Int("42")))
stratego> SwapArgs

Finally, there may be multiple rules with the same name. This has the effect that all rules with that name will be tried in turn until one succeeds, or all fail. The rules are tried in some undefined order. This means that it only makes sense to define rules with the same name if they are mutually exclusive, that is, do not have overlapping left-hand sides. For example, we can extend the definition of SwapArgs with a rule for the Times constructor, as follows:

stratego> SwapArgs : Times(e1, e2) -> Times(e2, e1)

Now the rule can be applied to terms with a Plus and a Times constructor, as illustrated by the following applications:

stratego> !Times(Int("4"),Var("x"))
stratego> SwapArgs

stratego> !Plus(Var("a"),Int("3"))
stratego> SwapArgs

Later we will see that a rule is nothing more than a syntactical convention for a strategy definition.

6.2. What is a Strategy?

A rule defines a transformation, that is, a partial function from terms to terms. A strategy expressions is a combination of one or more transformations into a new transformation. So, a strategy expressions also defines a transformation, i.e., a partial function from terms to terms. Strategy operators are functions from transformations to transformations.

In the previous chapter we saw some examples of strategy expressions. Lets examine these examples in the light of our new definition. First of all, rule names are basic strategy expressions. If we import module prop-laws, we have at our disposal all rules it defines as basic strategies:

stratego> import prop-laws
stratego> !Impl(True(), Atom("p"))
Impl(True, Atom("p"))
stratego> DefI

Next, given a collection of rules we can create more complex transformations by means of strategy operators. For example, the innermost strategy creates from a collection of rules a new transformation that exhaustively applies those rules.

stratego> !Eq(Atom("p"), Atom("q"))

stratego> innermost(DefI <+ DefE <+ DAOL <+ DAOR <+ DN <+ DMA <+ DMO)


(Exercise: add rules to this composition that remove tautologies or false propositions.)

Here we see that the rules are first combined using the choice operator <+ into a composite transformation, which is the argument of the innermost strategy.

The innermost strategy always succeeds (but may not terminate), but this is not the case for all strategies. For example bottomup(DefI) will not succeed, since it attempts to apply rule DefI to all sub-terms, which is clearly not possible. Thus, strategies extend the property of rules that they are partial functions from terms to terms.

Observe that in the composition innermost(...), the term to which the transformation is applied is never mentioned. The ‘current term’, to which a transformation is applied is often implicit in the definition of a strategy. That is, there is no variable that is bound to the current term and then passed to an argument strategy. Thus, a strategy operator such as innermost is a function from transformations to transformations.

While strategies are functions, they are not necessarily pure functions. Strategies in Stratego may have side effects such as performing input/output operations. This is of course necessary in the implementation of basic tool interaction such as provided by io-wrap, but is also useful for debugging. For example, the debug strategy prints the current term, but does not transform it. We can use it to visualize the way that innermost transforms a term.

stratego> !Not(Impl(Atom("p"), Atom("q")))
stratego> innermost(debug(!"in:  "); (DefI <+ DefE <+ DAOL <+ DAOR <+ DN <+ DMA <+ DMO); debug(!"out: "))
in:  p
in:  Atom("p")
in:  q
in:  Atom("q")
in:  Impl(Atom("p"),Atom("q"))
out: Or(Not(Atom("p")),Atom("q"))
in:  p
in:  Atom("p")
in:  Not(Atom("p"))
in:  q
in:  Atom("q")
in:  Or(Not(Atom("p")),Atom("q"))
in:  Not(Or(Not(Atom("p")),Atom("q")))
out: And(Not(Not(Atom("p"))),Not(Atom("q")))
in:  p
in:  Atom("p")
in:  Not(Atom("p"))
in:  Not(Not(Atom("p")))
out: Atom("p")
in:  p
in:  Atom("p")
in:  q
in:  Atom("q")
in:  Not(Atom("q"))
in:  And(Atom("p"),Not(Atom("q")))

This session nicely shows how innermost traverses the term it transforms. The in: lines show terms to which it attempts to apply a rule, the out: lines indicate when this was successful and what the result of applying the rule was. Thus, innermost performs a post-order traversal applying rules after transforming the sub-terms of a term. (Note that when applying debug to a string constant, the quotes are not printed.)

6.3. Strategy Definitions

Stratego programs are about defining transformations in the form of rules and strategy expressions that combine them. Just defining strategy expressions does not scale, however. Strategy definitions are the abstraction mechanism of Stratego and allow naming and parametrization of strategy expressions for reuse.

6.3.1. Simple Strategy Definition and Call

A simple strategy definition names a strategy expression. For instance, the following module defines a combination of rules (dnf-rules), and some strategies based on it:

module dnf-strategies
imports libstrategolib prop-dnf-rules

  dnf-rules =
    DefI <+ DefE <+ DAOL <+ DAOR <+ DN <+ DMA <+ DMO

  dnf =

  dnf-debug =
    innermost(debug(!"in:  "); dnf-rules; debug(!"out: "))

  main =

Note how dnf-rules is used in the definition of dnf, and dnf itself in the definition of main.

In general, a definition of the form

f = s

introduces a new transformation f, which can be invoked by calling f in a strategy expression, with the effect of executing strategy expression s. The expression should have no free variables. That is, all strategies called in s should be defined strategies. Simple strategy definitions just introduce names for strategy expressions. Still, such strategies have an argument, namely the implicit current term.

6.3.2. Parametrized Definitions

Strategy definitions with strategy and/or term parameters can be used to define transformation schemas that can instantiated for various situations.

A parametrized strategy definition of the form

f(x1,...,xn | y1,..., ym) = s

introduces a user-defined operator f with n strategy parameters and m term parameters. Such a user-defined strategy operator can be called as f(s1,...,sn|t1,...,tm) by providing it n strategy arguments and m term arguments. The meaning of such a call is the body s of the definition in which the actual arguments have been substituted for the formal parameters. Strategy arguments and term arguments can be left out of calls and definitions. That is, a call f(|) without strategy and term arguments can be written as f(), or even just f. A call f(s1,..., sn|) without term arguments can be written as f(s1,...,sn). The same holds for strategy definitions.

In most cases the term parameters are simple variable names to which the argument will be bound when the strategy is called. However, it is also possible to use a term pattern in place of a term parameter, to which the argument will be matched. The strategy will fail when one or more term arguments could not be matched to their corresponding term pattern. These term patterns have the same freedoms as those used at left-hand side of a rule. For example, the following strategies act like a switch-case:

  to-english(|1) = !"one"
  to-english(|2) = !"two"
  to-english(|_) = !"many"

Or a more complex example:

  get-type(|<is-list>)      = !"A list"
  get-type(|<not(is-list)>) = !"Not a list"

As we will see, strategies such as innermost, topdown, and bottomup are not built into the language, but are defined using strategy definitions in the language itself using more basic combinators, as illustrated by the following definitions (without going into the exact meaning of these definitions):

  try(s)      = s <+ id
  repeat(s)   = try(s; repeat(s))
  topdown(s)  = s; all(topdown(s))
  bottomup(s) = all(bottomup(s)); s

Such parametrized strategy operators are invoked by providing arguments for the parameters. Specifically, strategy arguments are instantiated by means of strategy expressions. Wherever the argument is invoked in the body of the definition, the strategy expression is invoked. For example, in the previous chapter we saw the following instantiations of the topdown, try, and repeat strategies:

module prop-desugar
// ...

  desugar =
    topdown(try(DefI <+ DefE))

  impl-nf =
    topdown(repeat(DefN <+ DefA2 <+ DefO1 <+ DefE))

Multiple definitions with the same name but with a different numbers of parameters are treated as different strategy operators.

6.3.3. Local Definitions

Strategy definitions at top-level are visible everywhere. Sometimes it is useful to define a local strategy operator. This can be done using a let expression of the form let d* in s end, where d* is a list of definitions. For example, in the following strategy expression, the definition of dnf-rules is only visible in the instantiation of innermost:

let dnf-rules = DefI <+ DefE <+ DAOL <+ DAOR <+ DN <+ DMA <+ DMO
 in innermost(dnf-rules)

The current version of Stratego does not support hidden strategy definitions at the module level. Such a feature is under consideration for a future version.

6.3.4. Extending Definitions

As we saw in ?, a Stratego program can introduce several rules with the same name. It is even possible to extend rules across modules. This is also possible for strategy definitions. If two strategy definitions have the same name and the same number of parameters, they effectively define a single strategy that tries to apply the bodies of the definitions in some undefined order. Thus, a definition of the form

  f = s1
  f = s2

entails that a call to f has the effect of first trying to apply s1, and if that fails applies s2, or the other way around. Thus, the definition above is either translated to

  f = s1 <+ s2

or to

  f = s2 <+ s1

6.4. Calling Primitives

Stratego provides combinators for composing transformations and basic operators for analyzing, creating and traversing terms. However, it does not provide built-in support for other types of computation such as input/output and process control. In order to make such functionality available to Stratego programmers, the language provides access to user-definable primitive strategies through the prim construct. For example, the following call to prim invokes the SSL_printnl native function:

stratego> prim("SSL_printnl", stdout(), ["foo", "bar"])

In general, a call prim("f", s* | t*) represents a call to a primitive function f with strategy arguments s* and term arguments t*. Note that the ‘current’ term is not passed automatically as argument.

This mechanism allows the incorporation of mundane tasks such as arithmetic, I/O, and other tasks not directly related to transformation, but necessary for the integration of transformations with the other parts of a transformation system.

6.4.1. Implementing Primitives

The Stratego Library provides all the primitives for I/O, arithmetic, string processing, and process control that are usually needed in Stratego programs. However, it is possible to add new primitives to a program as well. That requires linking with the compiled program a library that implements the function. See the documentation of ? for instructions.

6.5. External Definitions

The Stratego Compiler is a whole program compiler. That is, the compiler includes all definitions from imported modules (transitively) into the program defined by the main module (the one being compiled). This is the reason that the compiler takes its time to compile a program. To reduce the compilation effort and the size of the resulting programs it is possible to create separately compiled libraries of Stratego definitions. The strategies that such a library provides are declared as external definitions. A declaration of the form

external f(s1 ... sn | x1 ... xm)

states that there is an externally defined strategy operator f with n strategy parameters and m term parameters. When compiling a program with external definitions, a library should be provided that implements these definitions.

The Stratego Library is provided as a separately compiled library. The libstrategolib module that we have been using in the example programs contains external definitions for all strategies in the library, as illustrated by the following excerpt:

module libstrategolib
// ...
  // ...
  external io-wrap(s)
  external bottomup(s)
  external topdown(s)
  // ...

When compiling a program using the library we used the -la stratego-lib option to provide the implementation of those definitions.

6.5.1. External Definitions cannot be Extended

Unlike definitions imported in the normal way, external definitions cannot be extended. If we try to compile a module extending an external definition, such as

module wrong
imports libstrategolib
  bottomup(s) = fail

compilation fails:

$ strc -i wrong.str
[ strc | info ] Compiling 'wrong.str'
error: redefining external definition: bottomup/1-0
[ strc | error ] Compilation failed (3.66 secs)

6.5.2. Creating Libraries

It is possible to create your own Stratego libraries as well. Currently that exposes you to a bit of compilation gibberish; in the future this may be incorporated in the Stratego compiler. Lets create a library for the rules and strategy definitions in the prop-laws module. We do this using the --library option to indicate that a library is being built, and the -c option to indicate that we are only interested in the generated C code.

$ strc -i prop-laws.str -c -o libproplib.rtree --library
[ strc | info ] Compiling 'proplib.str'
[ strc | info ] Front-end succeeded         : [user/system] = [4.71s/0.77s]
[ strc | info ] Abstract syntax in 'libproplib.rtree'
[ strc | info ] Concrete syntax in 'libproplib.str'
[ strc | info ] Export of externals succeeded : [user/system] = [2.02s/0.11s]
[ strc | info ] Back-end succeeded          : [user/system] = [6.66s/0.19s]
[ strc | info ] Compilation succeeded       : [user/system] = [13.4s/1.08s]
$ rm libproplib.str

The result is of this compilation is a module libproplib that contains the external definitions of the module and those inherited from libstrategolib. (This module comes in to versions; one in concrete syntax libproplib.str and one in abstract syntax libproplib.rtree; for some obscure reason you should throw away the .str file.) Furthermore, the Stratego Compiler produces a C program libproplib.c with the implementation of the library. This C program should be turned into an object library using libtool, as follows:

$ libtool --mode=compile gcc -g -O -c libproplib.c -o libproplib.o -I <path/to/aterm-stratego/include>
$ libtool --mode=link gcc -g -O -o libproplib.la libproplib.lo

The result is a shared library libproplib.la that can be used in other Stratego programs. (TODO: the production of the shared library should really be incorporated into strc.)

6.5.3. Using Libraries

Programmers that want to use your library can now import the module with external definitions, instead of the original module.

module dnf-tool
imports libproplib
  main = main-dnf

This program can be compiled in the usual way, adding the new library to the libraries that should be linked against:

$ strc -i dnf-tool.str -la stratego-lib -la ./libproplib.la

$ cat test3.prop

$ ./dnf-tool -i test3.prop

To correctly deploy programs based on shared libraries requires some additional effort. ? explains how to create deployable packages for your Stratego programs.

6.6. Dynamic Calls

Strategies can be called dynamically by name, i.e., where the name of the strategy is specified as a string. Such calls can be made using the call construct, which has the form:

call(f | s1, ..., sn | t1, ..., tn)

where f is a term that should evaluate to a string, which indicates the name of the strategy to be called, followed by a list of strategy arguments, and a list of term arguments.

Dynamic calls allow the name of the strategy to be computed at run-time. This is a rather recent feature of Stratego that was motivated by the need for call-backs from a separately compiled Stratego library combined with the computation of dynamic rule names. Otherwise, there is not yet much experience with the feature.

In the current version of Stratego it is necessary to ‘register’ a strategy to be able to call it dynamically. (In order to avoid deletion in case it is not called explicitly somewhere in the program.) Strategies are registered by means of a dummy strategy definition DYNAMIC-CALLS with calls to the strategies that should called dynamically.


6.7. Summary

We have learned that rules and strategies define transformations, that is, functions from terms to terms that can fail, i.e., partial functions. Rule and strategy definitions introduce names for transformations. Parametrized strategy definitions introduce new strategy operators, functions that construct transformations from transformations, and support term patterns as parameters.

Primitive strategies are transformations that are implemented in some language other than Stratego (usually Java), and are called through the prim construct. External definitions define an interface to a separately compiled library of Stratego definitions. Dynamic calls allow the name of the strategy to be called to be computed as a string.