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FAQ - Why sparse?
Q. Why not just use gcc?
A. Gcc is big, complex, and the gcc maintainers are not interested in
other uses of the gcc front-end. In fact, gcc has explicitly
resisted splitting up the front and back ends and having some common
intermediate language because or religious license issues - you can
have multiple front ends and back ends, but they all have to be part
of gcc and licensed under the GPL.
This all (in my opinion) makes gcc development harder than it should
be, and makes the end result very ungainly. With "sparse", the
front-end is very explicitly separated into its own independent
project, and is totally independent from the users. I don't want to
know what you do in the back-end, because I don't think I _should_
know or care.
Q. Why not GPL?
A. See the previous question: I personally think that the front end
must be a totally separate project from the back end: any other
approach just leads to insanity. However, at the same time clearly
we cannot write intermediate files etc crud (since then the back end
would have to re-parse the whole thing and would have to have its
own front end and just do a lot of things that do not make any sense
from a technical standpoint).
I like the GPL, but as rms says, "Linus is just an engineer". I
refuse to use a license if that license causes bad engineering
decisions. I want the front-end to be considered a separate
project, yet the GPL considers the required linking to make the
combined thing a derived work. Which is against the whole point
of 'sparse'.
I'm not interested in code generation. I'm not interested in what
other people do with their back-ends. I _am_ interested in making a
good front-end, and "good" means that people find it usable. And
they shouldn't be scared away by politics or licenses. If they want
to make their back-end be BSD/MIT licensed, that's great. And if
they want to have a proprietary back-end, that's ok by me too. It's
their loss, not mine.
At the same time, I'm a big believer in "quid pro quo". I wrote the
front-end, and if you make improvements to the semantic parsing part
(as opposed to just using the resulting parse tree), you'd better
cough up. The front-end is intended to be an open-source project in
its own right, and if you improve the front end, you must give those
improvements back. That's your "quid" to my "quo".
Q. So what _is_ the license?
A. I don't know yet. I originally thought it would be LGPL, but I'm
possibly going for a license that is _not_ subsumable by the GPL.
In other words, I don't want to see a GPL'd project suck in the
LGPL'd front-end, and then make changes to the front end under the
GPL (this is something that the LGPL expressly allows, and see the
previous question for why I think it's the _only_ thing that I will
not allow).
The current front-runner is the OSL ("Open Software License", see, together with a note on
what makes source derivative and what does not to make it clear that
people can write back-ends for it without having to make those
back-ends available under the OSL.
Q. Does it really parse C?
A. Yeah, well... It parses a fairly complete subset of "extended C" as
defined by gcc. HOWEVER, since I don't believe in K&R syntax for
function declarations or in giving automatic integer types, it
doesn't do that. If you don't give types to your variables, they
won't have any types, and you can't use them.
Similarly, it will be very unhappy about undeclared functions,
rather than just assuming they have type "int".
Note that a large rationale for me doing this project is for type
following, which to some degree explains why the thing is type-anal
and refuses to touch the old-style pre-ANSI non-typed (or weakly
typed) constructs. Maybe somebody else who is working on projects
where pre-ANSI C makes sense might be more inclined to care about
ancient C. It's open source, after all. Go wild.
Q. What other sparse resources are available?
A. Website:
Mailing list:
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Git repo: git://