What is the difference between LL and LR parsing?

Can anyone give me a simple example of LL parsing versus LR parsing?

At a high level, the difference between LL parsing and LR parsing is that LL parsers begin at the start symbol and try to apply productions to arrive at the target string, whereas LR parsers begin at the target string and try to arrive back at the start symbol.

An LL parse is a left-to-right, leftmost derivation. That is, we consider the input symbols from the left to the right and attempt to construct a leftmost derivation. This is done by beginning at the start symbol and repeatedly expanding out the leftmost nonterminal until we arrive at the target string. An LR parse is a left-to-right, rightmost derivation, meaning that we scan from the left to right and attempt to construct a rightmost derivation. The parser continuously picks a substring of the input and attempts to reverse it back to a nonterminal.

During an LL parse, the parser continuously chooses between two actions:

1. Predict: Based on the leftmost nonterminal and some number of lookahead tokens, choose which production ought to be applied to get closer to the input string.
2. Match: Match the leftmost guessed terminal symbol with the leftmost unconsumed symbol of input.

As an example, given this grammar:

• S → E
• E → T + E
• E → T
• T → `int`

Then given the string `int + int + int`, an LL(2) parser (which uses two tokens of lookahead) would parse the string as follows:

``````Production       Input              Action
---------------------------------------------------------
S                int + int + int    Predict S -> E
E                int + int + int    Predict E -> T + E
T + E            int + int + int    Predict T -> int
int + E          int + int + int    Match int
+ E              + int + int        Match +
E                int + int          Predict E -> T + E
T + E            int + int          Predict T -> int
int + E          int + int          Match int
+ E              + int              Match +
E                int                Predict E -> T
T                int                Predict T -> int
int              int                Match int
Accept
``````

Notice that in each step we look at the leftmost symbol in our production. If it’s a terminal, we match it, and if it’s a nonterminal, we predict what it’s going to be by choosing one of the rules.

In an LR parser, there are two actions:

1. Shift: Add the next token of input to a buffer for consideration.
2. Reduce: Reduce a collection of terminals and nonterminals in this buffer back to some nonterminal by reversing a production.

As an example, an LR(1) parser (with one token of lookahead) might parse that same string as follows:

``````Workspace        Input              Action
---------------------------------------------------------
int + int + int    Shift
int              + int + int        Reduce T -> int
T                + int + int        Shift
T +              int + int          Shift
T + int          + int              Reduce T -> int
T + T            + int              Shift
T + T +          int                Shift
T + T + int                         Reduce T -> int
T + T + T                           Reduce E -> T
T + T + E                           Reduce E -> T + E
T + E                               Reduce E -> T + E
E                                   Reduce S -> E
S                                   Accept
``````

The two parsing algorithms you mentioned (LL and LR) are known to have different characteristics. LL parsers tend to be easier to write by hand, but they are less powerful than LR parsers and accept a much smaller set of grammars than LR parsers do. LR parsers come in many flavors (LR(0), SLR(1), LALR(1), LR(1), IELR(1), GLR(0), etc.) and are far more powerful. They also tend to have much more complex and are almost always generated by tools like `yacc` or `bison`. LL parsers also come in many flavors (including LL(*), which is used by the `ANTLR` tool), though in practice LL(1) is the most-widely used.

As a shameless plug, if you’d like to learn more about LL and LR parsing, I just finished teaching a compilers course and have some handouts and lecture slides on parsing on the course website. I’d be glad to elaborate on any of them if you think it would be useful.