Software Meta-language Engineering and CBS

By Peter D. Mosses


The SLE conference series is devoted to the engineering principles of software languages: their design, their implementation, and their evolution. This paper is about the role of language specification in SLE. A precise specification of a software language needs to be written in a formal meta-language, and it needs to co-evolve with the specified language. Moreover, different software languages often have features in common, which should provide opportunities for reuse of parts of language specifications. Support for co-evolution and reuse in a meta-language requires careful engineering of its design.

The author has been involved in the development of several meta-languages for semantic specification, including action semantics and modular variants of structural operational semantics (MSOS, I-MSOS). This led to the PLanCompS project, and to the design of its meta-language, CBS, for component-based semantics. CBS comes together with an extensible library of reusable components called ‘funcons’, corresponding to fundamental programming constructs. The main aim of CBS is to optimise co-evolution and reuse of specifications during language development, and to make specification of language semantics almost as straightforward as context-free syntax specification.

The paper discusses the engineering of a selection of previous meta-languages, assessing how well they support co-evolution and reuse. It then gives an introduction to CBS, and illustrates significant features. It also considers whether other current meta-languages might also be used to define an extensible library of funcons for use in component-based semantics.

Publication info

Journal: Journal of Visual Languages and Computing
Volume: 50, February 2019, Pages 39-48
Publisher: Elsevier

The CBS meta-language

CBS-beta, beta release of the CBS meta-language (GitHub).
Funcons-beta, beta release of reusable funcons defined in CBS (GitHub).