# Shunting Yard (Part 2)

Let’s continue building a general purpose Shunting Yard algorithm.

We left off with bare-bones skeleton that implements a shunt to delay building of the abstract syntax tree (AST). Our skeleton left a lot to be desired. For this article, we’ll implement operator precedence.

Please read Part 1 first, since the code here builds directly on the source from that article.

Series: Part 1, **Part 2**, Part 3…

## The Problem

What is *operator precedence*, anyways?

Consider the following expression:

`20 + 30 * 40`

Most people are so hard-wired to perform math, it can be hard to see what is happening here with the symbols. Let’s swap out some symbols, so we can view the example more abstractly:

`<num1> FOO <num2> BAR <num3>`

I’ve replaced all numbers with `<numX>`

, the `+`

with `FOO`

, and the `*`

with `BAR`

.

The problem is: how do we build the AST? We have two options:

Apply FOO or BAR first?

It’s like `FOO`

and `BAR`

are competing for the `<num2>`

value… who will win this competition?

We can easily apply `FOO`

first – that’s what our code from last time did (always). What would it
look like to apply `BAR`

first?

## Stacked Shunt

Let’s go to the extreme. What would it look like if we *always* applied the right operator?

`<num1> FOO <num2> BAR <num3> BAZ <num4> QUX <num5>`

In order to apply `FOO`

, we need to apply `BAR`

first.

But in order to apply `BAR`

, we need to apply `BAZ`

first.

But in order to apply `BAZ`

, we need to apply `QUX`

first.

But that’s the end – so we apply `QUX`

.

Then we can apply `BAZ`

…

Then apply `BAR`

…

Then `FOO`

.

In our previous code sample, we had a variable `lastOp`

that stored the last operator we parsed, so
that we could apply it after getting the following expression.

But now we need multiple `lastOp`

variables… and we need to be able to unwind them. Looks like a
job for a stack!

## Stacked Values

The next question is: when we apply `QUX`

, how do we know what to apply it *to*?

In our first piece of code, we always had the left expression, and the right expression. The
left expression was inside the `lastValue`

variable, and the right expression was in `nextValue`

.

Which makes sense if we’re always applying the left operator first: the tree was always being
built on the left side. The `lastValue`

variable stored the root of the tree.

But now we can have multiple roots. For example, in this expression:

`2 * 3 + 4 / 5`

We would build the tree like this:

`(2 * 3) + (4 / 5)`

The `+`

has a tree to its left *and* right. The left is `2 * 3`

, and the right is `4 / 5`

.

Looks like we need *another* stack! This stack is for values, and represents the roots of the
trees up until the expressions need to be combined by an operator.

## The Code

Enough blather – let’s look at the code. It’s helpful to compare it to the first version, from the previous article.

```
function PrecedenceShuntingYard(tokens){
// helper function to get the next token and validate its type
var tokenIndex = 0;
function NextToken(requiredType){
if (tokenIndex >= tokens.length)
throw 'invalid expression: missing token';
var tok = tokens[tokenIndex];
tokenIndex++;
if (tok.type != requiredType)
throw 'invalid expression: expecting ' + requiredType;
return tok;
}
// helper function to apply a binary operator based on a symbol
function ApplyBinOp(symbol, left, right){
var sym_to_type = {
'+': 'add',
'-': 'sub',
'*': 'mul',
'/': 'div'
};
if (!sym_to_type[symbol])
throw 'invalid expression: unknown operator ' + symbol;
return {
type: sym_to_type[symbol],
parms: [left, right]
};
}
// determines if we should apply the left operator before the right
function ApplyLeftFirst(leftSymbol, rightSymbol){
var sym_to_prec = { // map symbol to precedence
'+': 0,
'-': 0,
'*': 1,
'/': 1
};
return sym_to_prec[leftSymbol] >= sym_to_prec[rightSymbol];
}
var tok, nextValue;
var opStack = [];
var valStack = [];
function ApplyTopOp(){
var op = opStack.shift();
var rightValue = valStack.shift();
var leftValue = valStack.shift();
valStack.unshift(ApplyBinOp(op, leftValue, rightValue));
}
while (1){
// grab a terminal (which is always type 'num', for now)
tok = NextToken('num');
// create the terminal node
nextValue = {
type: 'val',
value: tok.value
};
// save the value to be operated on
valStack.unshift(nextValue);
// if we're out of tokens, then exit
if (tokenIndex >= tokens.length)
break;
// otherwise, we must have a binary operator
// grab an operator (which is always type 'sym', for now)
tok = NextToken('sym');
// check to see if we have previous operations to apply
while (opStack.length > 0 && ApplyLeftFirst(opStack[0], tok.value))
ApplyTopOp();
// save the new operator to be applied later
opStack.unshift(tok.value);
}
// apply any left over operators
while (opStack.length > 0)
ApplyTopOp();
// all done, so return the top of the tree
return valStack[0];
}
```

It might look a little intimidating at first, but if you look closely, there were only a few strategic changes from the previous version.

Does it work? You bet!

```
var tokens = [
{ type: 'num', value: 2 },
{ type: 'sym', value: '*' },
{ type: 'num', value: 3 },
{ type: 'sym', value: '+' },
{ type: 'num', value: 4 },
{ type: 'sym', value: '/' },
{ type: 'num', value: 5 },
];
PrecedenceShuntingYard(tokens);
=> {
type: 'add',
parms: [{
type: 'mul',
parms: [{
type: 'val',
value: 2
}, {
type: 'val',
value: 3
}
]
}, {
type: 'div',
parms: [{
type: 'val',
value: 4
}, {
type: 'val',
value: 5
}
]
}
]
}
```

What sort of black magic is this?!

Let’s ignore `NextToken`

and `ApplyBinOp`

– they haven’t changed.

## ApplyLeftFirst

The `ApplyLeftFirst`

function is fairly simple – it takes two symbols, and returns `true`

if the
left symbol should be applied first. Otherwise, the right symbol should be applied first.

This decision is made using precedence information. The `+`

and `-`

have a precedence of `0`

, and
`*`

and `/`

have a precedence of `1`

.

The comparison at the end is important:

```
return sym_to_prec[leftSymbol] >= sym_to_prec[rightSymbol];
```

Why was `>=`

used here? Why not `>`

?

Think about what the right answer is. If the two precedence levels are the same, then we should favor the left operator, because all the operators we support are left-associative.

Therefore, we should return `true`

, since we want the left operator applied first.

## opStack and valStack

Notice that our variables `lastOp`

and `lastValue`

have been transformed into stacks – now named
`opStack`

and `valStack`

.

Also notice that throughout the function, the top of the stacks are at index `0`

. This doesn’t
really matter – it’s just less typing. But it means that we use `unshift`

and `shift`

(instead of
`push`

and `pop`

).

Another important piece to notice is that we don’t really need the `nextValue`

variable. We
immediately unshift the value on top of the value stack, and just use the value stack in the rest
of the algorithm.

## ApplyTopOp

Our first piece of magic comes from transforming `ApplyLastOp`

to `ApplyTopOp`

.

Instead of always applying the last operator, now the function applies the operator on top of the operator stack.

More importantly: it applies the operator by shifting off the values from the value stack, and
unshifts the result *back onto the value stack*.

That means that every time `ApplyTopOp`

is called, one less operator exists on the operator stack,
and one less value exists on the value stack (two values unshifted, one value shifted).

This is important to realize because it can be confusing at first to wonder how the stacks always empty correctly, with no operators on the operator stack, and always one value on the value stack.

This is accomplished because one value is always added at the top of the loop
via `valStack.unshift(nextValue)`

. If there is an operator, then it gets pushed on the operator
stack via `opStack.unshift(tok.value)`

, and another value is unshifted immediately afterwards (due
to the loop).

Since `ApplyTopOp`

always removes one element from each stack, we are guaranteed that there
is always one extra value on top of the value stack at the end of the function.

## The Heart

Lastly, we come to the heart, in the middle of the loop:

```
// check to see if we have previous operations to apply
while (opStack.length > 0 && ApplyLeftFirst(opStack[0], tok.value))
ApplyTopOp();
```

What is going on here?!

This is where it helps to view the problem as a *competition* between two operators. Who wins? Who
gets to apply first?

If the left operator wins, then we execute `ApplyTopOp()`

, which applies the operator on the top of
the stack (the left operator).

Since `ApplyTopOp()`

will remove an operator from the operator stack, when the condition executes
again, we are comparing the *next* left operator against the current operator. Which one wins?

As long as the left operator wins, it is applied via `ApplyTopOp()`

.

Then, either we run out of left operators (detected because `opStack.length`

will be `0`

), or the
right operator wins (detected via `ApplyLeftFirst(...)`

returning `false`

).

In that case, we are back to our base case with our sample code from Part 1. We need to *delay*
application of the right operator, because there might be operators *further* to the right that
take precedence.

In order to delay application of the operator, we save it for later. Previously we did that using
the `lastOp`

variable. This time, we have a stack. Therefore, we do:

```
opStack.unshift(tok.value);
```

When we loop around, the previously unshifted operator is now the *left* operator that is compared
to things to *its* right.

## Cleanup

Lastly, if we run out of tokens, then the main loop will exit. At that point, we need to apply any operators that were deferred until later.

```
// apply any left over operators
while (opStack.length > 0)
ApplyTopOp();
```

There are no right operators to compete for the value, so it’s safe to apply the remaining operators on the operator stack.

And if you’ve been following along, then you know at this point, we will have exactly ONE value on the value stack. We return this final value as our completely built AST:

```
// all done, so return the top of the tree
return valStack[0];
```

Fantastic, isn’t it?

## Better News

This is really thrilling. By adding the two stacks, and making decisions about which operators to apply at any moment, we are really starting to feel the power of the Shunting Yard algorithm.

As a matter of fact, this algorithm is completely valid for binary operators, and will remain unchanged for the rest of the series.

But we’re not done. We are missing some serious features. Parenthesis don’t work, prefix and postfix operators are missing, and we have a long way to go to unlock the mystery of the ternary operator. I’ll see you next time!

posted 4 Sep 2014 by Sean

tags: shunting yard, javascript