The nanopass framework is an embedded-DSL for writing compilers in Scheme. The idea for the nanopass framework grew out of development of the micropass compiler, used in the compiler course originated by Dan Friedman and refined by Kent Dybvig and Oscar Waddell. The micropass compiler uses S-expressions for intermediate representation, along with a match form to pattern match input S-expression language forms and construct output S-expression language forms from quasiquoted templates. Writing a compiler in the micropass style makes it easier to understand the task each pass of the compiler performs. Using S-expressions as the intermediate representation has a few downsides. First, efficiency can be a problem due to pattern-matching overhead and the need to rebuild large S-expressions. Second, passes often contain boilerplate code to recur through otherwise unchanging language forms. Third, the S-expression representation lacks formal structure, and it is possible to create ill-formed output that might not be caught until several passes later in the compiler. The nanopass framework addresses these concerns by providing two main forms define-language and define-pass. The define-language form formally specifies the grammar of an intermediate language. The define-pass form defines a pass that operates on one language and produces output in another, possibly different, language. The output language forms are constructed in a way that ensures they match the output language specified by the pass.

The nanopass framework has seen a few iterations. An initial prototype was developed by Jordan Johnson. The paper “A Nanopass Infrastructure for Compiler Education” by Dipanwita Sarkar, Oscar Waddell, and R. Kent Dybvig (and subsequently Dr. Sarkar’s dissertation) describe a second prototype of nanopass framework, and its use for educational compiler development.

This tutorial will discuss a new version of the nanopass framework, intended for the development of commercial compilers. A nanopass version of the class compiler will provide examples of how to use the framework, and demonstrate some of the new features.