natemoo-re / eslexer

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WIP: eslexer

A WIP lexical scanner for JavaScript and TypeScript code. Written in Rust, compiled to WASM.

Why not RegExp?

RegExp is not a good solution for scanning JS/TS code! It cannot account for any syntactic nuance in your sourcecode.

For example, you may naively write something like the following to check if a file references foo

const matches = /foo/g.test(code);

Unfortunately, this would return false positives for any of the following...

// foo
/* foo */
const a = "foo";
const b = 'foo';
const c = `foo`;

When what you wanted to match was:

const foo = "bar";
const template = `not string foo but identifier ${foo}`;

Why not a full parse?

Packages like babel, acorn, and meriyah are awesome! I personally use them all the time. But for a straightforward scan of code, they can be overkill. There are two main problems I see with full AST parsing:

  • Performance. A full AST parse can be expensive on its own, but then you have to add a recursive walk pattern to actually traverse the code. This can easily become a bottleneck.
  • Context. You might not know what kind of JavaScript the sourcefile contains. Is it valid ES2015? Valid ES2020? TypeScript? Maybe the module isn't even valid! That can definitely happen if you're working with a Language Server and the file is still being edited. Parsers aren't great in this situation because they expect a fully valid module and will throw if they encounter some syntax they don't understand.

Why Lexical Scanning?

Lexical scanning is exciting because it is:

  • Fast. It's performed in a single linear pass of your file. In the case of eslexer, this is performed in WASM for an extra speed boost.
  • Flat. Lexers output an array of tokens. This makes it straightforward to traverse and manipulate.
  • Forgiving. Lexers (typically) won't throw on invalid syntax, they'll just output an Invalid token. This means your sourcefile is not required to be a fully valid module, which is perfect for scan-as-users-type situations like Language Servers or for files that might contain non-standard syntax.

Goals / TODO

  • Build in support for common use cases like renaming an identifier.
  • Build in construct-aware scanning, like variable or function declarations (in all the unique forms they can take). I think tokens will be enough to handle these, but I could be wrong. This is treading pretty close to AST territory.
  • Some type of query syntax (similar to document.querySelector()). I don't want to use SQL. Maybe something glob-like... eslexer.query('import.meta.resolve(*)')?
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License:MIT License


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