Host System Interface

Q’Nial is designed as a portable language processor that runs in a very similar way on different operating systems. This design goal leads to an abstract ap proach to accessing system functions. A second design goal is to make many of the internal capabilities of the interpreter accessible through operations which permit the user to exploit the underlying mechanisms. Some of the latter operations are dependent on the specific implementation details.

Use of Files

In Q’Nial there are four ways that files can be used:

  1. conventional sequential files accessed by line
  2. direct access files accessed by byte position,
  3. Nial direct access files where components are Nial strings,
  4. Nial direct access files where components are arbitrary arrays.

The first method can be used to access and create text files that are used by other applications. The actions on the file equate a Nial string with a record of text in the file. The end-of-line indication is stripped off on input and restored on output, allowing Nial programs to work compatibly across different host systems. Q’Nial supports input/output operations to a console or terminal as accessing the sequential system files stdin and stdout. This means that readscreen is implemented by writing the argument to stdout and then doing a read of a record of data from stdin.

The second method is used for direct manipulation of a file using the standard Posix systems functions. A file is viewed as a sequence of bytes and two operations readfield and writefield are provided to read bytes from a file or write bytes to one.

The Nial direct access methods use two host system binary files to represent a conceptual file, one to hold the index and the other to hold the data records. An example of the use of direct files can be seen in the library file simpledb.ndf.

The console versions of Q’Nial also supports a window capability for character-based windows. This is integrated with the normal sequential keyboard input, screen output so that programs that use simple input and output can work with or without windows. An extensive editor capability is provided with the windowing capability.

Interpreter Mechanisms

The internal features of the Q’Nial interpreter made available to the user include:

Name Function
scan scan a string of program text into a token stream
parse parse a token stream into a parse tree.
eval evaluate a parse tree
execute evaluate a string of program text
descan convert a token stream to a list of strings
deparse convert a parse tree to an annotated token stream
picture create data pictures as character tables
paste. paste a collection of character tables together
positions give coordinates of the position of items in a picture
assign assign a value to a variable name or cast
value look up the data value associated with a variable
apply apply an operation to a value the operation being given by its name or as a parse tree
update do an indexed assignment

These capabilities permit an application to manipulate a program as data and to control its execution. For example, in a rule-based artificial intelligence system, the rules can be stored as text while the system is being designed. The operation execute can be used to evaluate the rules during this stage. Later, when the application has stabilized, a more efficient version can be built using parse scan to process the rules into parse trees and using eval to evaluate them. The equation:

execute Str = eval parse scan Str

which holds for every string that denotes a Nial array expression, drives this approach.

The operation apply can be used in combination with a selection process to permit dynamic application of one operation from a set of operations. This can be used to simulate method application in a object-oriented system.

The operations associated with the picture operation allow the user to build output screens and reports by pasting together component parts using the operation paste.