7 minute read

With the AAST simplified, the only step remaining is generating the actual turing machine. The first step was to create a new data structure for holding the information about the machine. I decided to just store an array of transitions and represent states with integers, where:

  • the initial state is 0;
  • the accepting state is 1;
  • the rejecting state is 2;

Generating the machine

For generating the machine itself, I split the program into the following parts:

  • generate_function(exp, in, out): takes an in and out state and generates the necessary transitions and states for computing the tape -> tape function exp.
  • generate_from_tape(exp, in, out, tape_id): same as above but exp is an expression which evaluates to tape, where the variable tape_id is a tape.
  • generate_application(exp, in, out, tape_id): a special case of the previous function for applications which return tapes.
  • generate_match(exp, in, out, tape_id): a special case for match expressions.
  • generate_set(...), generate_move(...), generate_halt(...): special cases of the generate_function function for handling the builtin functions set, next, prev, accept and reject.
  • generate_y(...): a special case of the generate_function which handles the Y combinator builtin function and thus allows recursion, creating loops in the machine.

Since the simplified AST must evaluate to a tape -> tape function, we just need to call generate_function on the root expression to generate the entire machine.

Simplifying the generated machine

Unfortunately, the generated machine contains lots of redundant states and transitons. For example, the sample flip_single.tmc, which flips a single bit in the input, which simplified becomes t: match t { 0 > set 1 t, 1 > set 0 t }, outputs the machine:

0 * * * 1
1 0 0 * 2
1 _ _ * 4
1 1 1 * 5
2 * * * 3
3 * 1 * halt-accept
5 * * * 6
6 * 0 * halt-accept

Where 0 is the initial state, and the first line states that there is a transition from 0 to 1, for any (*) symbol, which doesn’t write (*) and doesn’t move (*). If theres no change whatsoever when changing from the state 0 to 1, we should just merge them. Adding this step and some other minor simplifications, we can get the following simplified machine:

0 0 1 * halt-accept
0 1 0 * halt-accept

Which is much smaller than the original machine and is easier to understand. Once again, 0 is the initial state. If the current symbol is 0, 1 is written and the tape isn’t moved, and the state changes to accept. Otherwise, if it 1, 0 is written, just like intended.

Standard library

With the compiler finished, I decided to write a tiny standard library (which can be imported using import 'std/...). The following standard library imports are available:

  • std/bool.tmc: defines the true and false values, boolean logic operators such as not and and, and also the functions is and isnt, which take a union pattern and a symbol, and return true if and only if the symbol is in the pattern, or isn’t in the pattern, respectively.
  • std/iter.tmc: defines the iter function which simplifies the process of iterating over the tape. It takes an end condition (symbol -> symbol, which receives the current symbol and should return either true or false) and a step function (tape -> tape) which is called for every iterating step. One example usage would be for example the function iter (is '0') next, which goes right until it finds a 0 symbol.
  • std/check.tmc: defines the check function which standardizes the way to do complex checks on the tape. It takes a tape -> tape function which is called at the start of the check, a symbol -> symbol function which is used to determine if the check is successful, and two tape -> tape functions which are called, one if the check is successful, and another if it isn’t. It also defines check_all which allows us to do a simple check on all symbols in a section of the tape.
  • std/math.tmc: defines the inc and dec functions, which increment and decrement a binary number in the tape.

Sample programs

I also wrote a few sample programs. One of the simplest but still interesting is the flip.tmc program, which takes a binary integer as input and flips every bit. This program is split into two files, flip.tmc and flip_lib.tmc.

# flip_lib.tmc
    flip = x: match x {
        '0' > '1',
        '1' > '0',
# flip.tmc
# Flips all bits in the given binary number.
# Alphabet used: '0' | '1'

import 'flip_lib.tmc'
Y f: t: match get t {
    x @ '0' | '1' > f (next (set (flip x) t)),
    any           > t,

This works the following way: while the current symbol is either 0 or 1, set the current symbol to the opposite, and move the tape to the right. Then, repeat the process. If the current symbol is anything else, we just return the tape as it is. Running tmc ./samples/flip.tmc -a 0 1 will output the following machine:

0 0 1 r 0
0 1 0 r 0
0 _ _ * halt-accept

Which does exactly what we wanted. The most complex sample is add.tmc. It takes two binary integers separated by a + and adds them together. The following is the sample program code:

# Adds two binary numbers from the input, separated by a +.
# Alphabet used: '0' | '1' | '+'

import 'std/check.tmc'
    # Increments the first number by one.
    inc = t:
        let t = prev (find '+' next t), in
        let t = iter (is ('0' | '')) (t: prev (set '0' t)) t, in
        let t = set '1' t, in
        next (find '' prev t),

    # Decrements the second number by one.
    dec = t:
        let t = prev (find '' next t), in
        let t = iter (is '1') (t: prev (set '1' t)) t, in
        let t = set '0' t, in
        next (find '' prev t),

    # Checks if the second number contains only 0.
    check_zero = e1: e2: t: check_all
        (is '0') next (is '')
        (t: e1 (next (find '' prev (prev t))))
        (t: e2 (next (find '' prev (prev t))))
        (next (find '+' next t)),

    # Removes the + and the second number, and then positions the cursor at the start of the first number.
    finish = t:
        let t = find '' next t, in
        let t = iter (is '+') (t: prev (set '' t)) t, in
        let t = prev (set '' t), in
        next (find '' prev t),
    Y f: check_zero
        (t: f (inc (dec t)))

The main logic behind the program, which you can see in the last three lines, is:

  • check if the second number is zero
    • if it is, delete the + and the second number, and position the cursor at the start of the first number.
    • otherwise, decrement the second number, and increment the first, and then repeat.

Running tmc ./samples/add.tmc -a 0 1 + will output a pretty large machine, but when you run it in an emulator like this one, it will output the correct answer.

Its also possible to create classifier machines with tmc. The sample is_binary.tmc exemplifies this. It takes a string as input and checks if it is a binary number.

# Checks if all symbols on the tape right until an empty symbol is found are binary digits.
# Alphabet used: '0' | '1'

import 'std/check.tmc'
check_all (is ('0' | '1')) next (is '')

This sample uses the std/check.tmc library. It checks if all symbols until is '' evaluates to true (i.e. until an empty symbol is found) fulfill the condition is ('0' | '1'). If it does, it calls accept, otherwise it calls reject. This way, if any non-binary symbol is found, the machine rejects the input, otherwise it accepts it. Running tmc ./samples/is_binary.tmc -a 0 1 x will output the following machine:

0 a a * 1
0 _ _ * 1
0 0 0 * 2
0 1 1 * 2
1 _ _ * halt-accept
1 0 0 * 3
1 1 1 * 3
1 a a * 3
2 * * r 0
3 _ _ * halt-reject
3 0 0 * 4
3 1 1 * 4
3 a a * 4
4 * * r 3

This machine isn’t easy to understand, but you can test it by running it in the emulator I referenced above.

Wrapping up

There is still room for improvement. The resulting machines could still be simplified further, I could also add more functions to the library and create more complex samples, but I think that the project has reached a state where it is okay to leave it as it is. Since the compiler is finished and usable, I’m going to move on to other projects.

It ended up being a great learning experience, since this was my first real project in Rust and now I don’t feel limited anymore by the language while programming (I don’t have to fight the borrow checker anymore!). I also learnt a lot about compilers and lambda calculus, which is something I had interest in for some time.