Beta-release of the CBS framework

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CBS is a framework and meta-language for component-based specification of programming languages. The main idea is to translate languages to so-called ‘funcons’ (fundamental programming constructs). The behaviour of the funcons has already been specified, so translating a language to funcons determines the behaviour of programs in that language.

Specifications of translations to funcons can be significantly simpler – both to read and to write – than direct specifications of program behaviour. In fact CBS aims to make specification of language behaviour as easy as specification of context-free syntax! Specifications of translations to funcons are also highly modular, to support co-evolution of languages and their specifications.

Funcons are reusable components: the same funcon can be used, unchanged, in the specifications of many different languages. Funcons correspond closely to concepts of high-level programming languages such as data and control flow, scopes of bindings, mutable variables, streams, abrupt termination, procedural abstraction, etc. Funcon names are strongly suggestive of the corresponding concepts.

The PLanCompS project has developed an initial collection of funcons: Funcons-beta. Crucially, adding new funcons does not require any changes to the specifications of existing funcons, thanks to the use of a modular variant of structural operational semantics.

Current tool support for CBS (not yet released) includes a CBS editor with syntax highlighting, hyperlinks from references to declarations, and generation of parsers, translators, and interpreters from specifications of languages and funcons. Using these tools, programs can be executed according to their specified behaviour, allowing rapid prototyping and empirical validation of language design.


The funcons provided by the CBS library are to have fixed definitions, so no version control will be needed for their safe reuse in CBS language specifications. The aim of this beta-release of CBS and its initial library of funcons is to allow review of the current definitions, and subsequent adoption of suggestions for improvement, before their full release.

The beta-release review period is expected to end in October 2018.

The current funcon definitions have been validated by empirical testing of generated interpreters for several programming languages, as well as by unit testing of individual funcon definitions. Further testing during the beta-release period may however reveal issues that require changes to definitions; lack of expected algebraic properties of funcons might also motivate some changes. Language specifications that use the affected funcons may then need to be updated to take account of the changes.

The current names of funcons have been chosen to be suggestive, but proposals for improvements are welcome. The tension between conciseness and suggestiveness has been addressed by defining short aliases for longer names. Bias towards keywords used in particular language families has been avoided. Many funcons are directly related to fundamental concepts of programming languages, and their names try to reflect current terminology.

New funcons are likely to be introduced in the beta-release period, and further examples of language definitions will be provided. Demonstration of scaling-up to major languages (e.g., C#) is a longer-term goal. The current funcon definitions cover only their dynamic semantics, but are to be extended to static semantics.

All additions and changes will be listed in the beta-release change log, as well as in the version history of this project site.

Tool support for using CBS will be released as soon as it is sufficiently robust and well-documented. The CBS editor has been implemented as a Spoofax language project in Eclipse; generation of interpreters from funcon definitions has been implemented as a Haskell package Funcon.Tools.

PLanCompS: Programming Language Components and Specifications

CBS has been developed by the PLanCompS project. From 2011 to 2016, the research was funded by EPSRC in the UK. The PLanCompS project is now continuing as an open international collaboration, and welcomes new contributors.

If you would like to contribute to PLanCompS (e.g., by using CBS to define a new or existing language, or by suggesting new or improved funcons) please email