[cfe-dev] Design: clang-format

Manuel Klimek klimek at google.com
Fri May 11 09:27:27 PDT 2012


we're working on the design of clang-format; there are quite a few open
questions, but I'd rather get some early feedback to see whether we're
completely off track somewhere.

The main doc is on google docs:

For those of you who prefer good old email, here is a copy of the current
state. Feel free to add comments in either.
*Design: clang-format This document contains a design proposal for a
clang-format tool, which allows C++ developers to automatically format
their code independently of their development environment.
ContextWhile many other languages have auto-formatters available, C++ is
still lacking a tool that fits the needs of the majority of C++
programmers. Note that when we talk about formatting as part of this
document, we mean both the problem of indentation (which has been largely
solved independently by regexp-based implementations in editors /
IDEs) and line
breaking, which proves to be a harder problem.

There are multiple challenges to formatting C++ code:

   - a vast number of different coding styles has evolved over time
   - many projects value consistency over conformance and dislike
   style-only changes, thus making it important to be able to work with code
   that is not written according to the most current style guide
   - macros need to be handled properly
   - it should be possible to format code that is not yet syntactically


   - Format a whole file according to a configuration
   - Format a part of a file according to a configuration
   - Format a part of a file while being consistent as best as possible
   with the rest of the file, while falling back to a configuration for
   options that cannot be deduced from the current file
   - Integrating with editors so that you can just type away until you’re
   far past the column limit, and then hit a key and have the editor layout
   the code for you, including placing the right line breaks


   - Indenting code while you type; this is a much simpler problem, but has
   even stronger performance requirements - the current editors should be good
   enough, and we’ll allow new workflows that don’t ever require the user to
   break lines
   - The only lexical elements clang-format should touch are: whitespaces,
   string-literals and comments. Any other changes ranging from ordering
   includes to removing superfluous paranthesis are not in the scope of this
   - Per-file configuration: be able to annotate a file with a style which
   it adheres to (?)

Code locationClang-format is a very basic tool, so it might warrant living
in clang mainstream. On the other hand it would also fit nicely with other
clang refactoring tools. TODO: Where do we want clang-format to live?
Parsing approachThe key consideration is whether clang-format can be
based purely
on a lexer, or whether it needs type information, and we need the full AST.

We believe that we will need the full AST information to correctly indent
code, break lines, and fix whitespace within a line.


AST-dependent indentation:
                ^ line up here, if foo is a template name
             ^ line up here otherwise

AST-dependent line breaking:
Detecting that ‘*’ is an binary operator in this case requires parsing; if
it is a binary operator, we want to line-break after it, if it is a unary
operator, we want to prevent line breaking

result = variable1 * variable2;

AST-dependent whitespace inside lines:
a * b;
  ^ Binary operator or pointer declaration?
a & f();
  ^ Binary operator or function declaration?

Challenge: Preprocessor
Not every line in a program is covered by the AST - for example, there are
unused macro definitions, various preprocessor directives, #ifdef’ed out
code, etc.

We will at least need some form of lexing approach for the parts of a
source file that cannot be correctly indented / line broken by looking at
the AST.

Algorithm Visit all nodes on the AST; for each node that is part of a macro
expansion, consider all locations taking part in that macro expansion. If
the location is within the range that need to be indented, look at the code
at the location, the rules around the node, and adjust whitespace as
necessary. If the node starts a line, adjust the indent; if a node
overflows the line, break the line. TODO: figure out what to do with the
lines that are not visited that way.
ConfigurationTo support a majority of developers, being able to configure
the desired style is key. We propose using a YAML configuration file, as
there’s already a YAML parser readily available in LLVM. Proposals for more
specific ideas welcome.
Style deductionWhen changing the format of code that does not conform to a
given style configuration, we will optionally try to deduce style options
from the file first, and fall back to the configured layout when there was
no clear style deducible from the context.
TODO: Detailed design ideas.
Interface This is a strawman. Please shoot down.

Command line interface:
Command line interfaces allow easy integration with existing tools and

USAGE: clang-format <build-path> <source> [<column0> <line0> <length0>
[...]] [-- list of command line arguments to the parser]

<columnN> <lineN> <lengthN>: Specifies a code range to be reformatted; if
no code range is given, assume the whole file.

Code level interface:
Reformatting source code is also a prerequisite for automated refactoring
tools. We want to be able to integrate the reformatting as a
post-processing step on top of other code transformations to make sure as
little human intervention is needed as possible.
CompetitionTODO: List other formatting tools we’re aware of and how well
they work

   - GNU ident - C only;
   - BCPP (http://invisible-island.net/bcpp/bcpp.html) - “it does (by
   design) not attempt to wrap long statements”; written in about 1995, since
   then had very few changes;
   - Artistic Style (http://astyle.sourceforge.net/) - one of the most
   frequently used, but “not perfect”;
   - Uncrustify (http://uncrustify.sourceforge.net/) - has lots of
   configuration options;
   - GreatCode (http://sourceforge.net/projects/gcgreatcode/) - not
   supported since 2005;
   - Style Revisor (http://style-revisor.com) - commercial; claims to
   understand C++, but it isn’t released yet, so no way to try; uses code
   snippets to specify rules.

All of them except Style Revisitor seem to have simplistic regexp-based c++
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