Image for post
Image for post
ANTLR Project Logo

Build your own programming language with ANTLR

There are numerous programming languages available nowadays. Each one comes with different kind of coding styles; In compiler design we call it grammar which describes the coding style of particular language


Eg: C source code will be translated in to assembly

Basic Components of a Compiler

Parser : Identifies patterns of token set and build Abstract Syntax Tree(AST).

Generator : Generates the syntax of target language

When there are new changes in grammar above components need to be changed. Therefore writing a compiler from the scratch is somewhat difficult.



a = 100
b = 150
show 10
show a
show b

simpler language only can store and display integer variables 😋



Getting Started

Setting up environment

  1. Add ANTLR library location to path variable

Very first you need to define your language’s grammar. Create simplerlang.g4

grammar simplerlang;program : statement+;statement : let | show ;let : VAR ‘=’ INT ;
show : ‘show’ (INT | VAR) ;
VAR : [a-z]+ ;
INT : [0–9]+ ;
WS : [ \n\t]+ -> skip;

let and show are statements used to assign value a variable and used to display value(or value of a variable) respectively. INT means integer and VAR means variable

Generate Lexer and Parser sources

java -cp antlr-4.7.1-complete.jar org.antlr.v4.Tool simplerlang.g4

if you need to set custom package name use -package option 😀

java -cp antlr-4.7.1-complete.jar org.antlr.v4.Tool -package simplerlang simplerlang.g4

Do the things you want

Create simplerlangCustomListener and extend simplerlangBaseListener. override methods as per below.

We need HashMap to store our variables 😎.

HashMap<String, Integer> variableMap = new HashMap();

Handle show statement

public void exitShow(simplerlangParser.ShowContext ctx) {
if(ctx.INT() != null){
else if(ctx.VAR() != null){

exitShow is giving you ctx which holds INT or VAR if there is an integer with show we just print it. otherwise if there is variable name we will fetch value from HashMap and print.

Handle let statement

public void exitLet(simplerlangParser.LetContext ctx) {

ctx gives you INT and VAR both. So we put in HashMap 🤪

Thereafter Create another java class Simperlang with main method to work as compiler of your own language.

public static void main(String[] args) {
try {
CharStream input = (CharStream) new ANTLRFileStream("test.simpler");
simplerlangLexer lexer = new simplerlangLexer(input);
simplerlangParser parser = new simplerlangParser(new CommonTokenStream(lexer));
parser.addParseListener(new simplerlangCustomListener());
} catch (IOException ex) {
Logger.getLogger(Simplerlang.class.getName()).log(Level.SEVERE, null, ex);


here test.simpler is your source file. parser.program() will start executing your statements.

Create test.simpler and write something with your own language

a = 100
b = 150
show 10
show a
show b

Hey.. you played with your own language. Congrats! see the output 🔥


This is my first medium article. I hope you enjoyed by reading this. You can download source code of this activity also. Since it is on GitHub your PRs will be appreciated too.

ANTLR is very powerful tool. Ballerina uses the ANTLR too.

Happy coding!

Written by

Software Engineer at 99x | Apache PMC member | Open Source Contributor (Author of Neutralinojs) | Technical Writer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store