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High-Level Description of GNU gperf

The perfect hash function generator gperf reads a set of "keywords" from a keyfile (or from the standard input by default). It attempts to derive a perfect hashing function that recognizes a member of the static keyword set with at most a single probe into the lookup table. If gperf succeeds in generating such a function it produces a pair of C source code routines that perform hashing and table lookup recognition. All generated C code is directed to the standard output. Command-line options described below allow you to modify the input and output format to gperf.

By default, gperf attempts to produce time-efficient code, with less emphasis on efficient space utilization. However, several options exist that permit trading-off execution time for storage space and vice versa. In particular, expanding the generated table size produces a sparse search structure, generally yielding faster searches. Conversely, you can direct gperf to utilize a C switch statement scheme that minimizes data space storage size. Furthermore, using a C switch may actually speed up the keyword retrieval time somewhat. Actual results depend on your C compiler, of course.

In general, gperf assigns values to the characters it is using for hashing until some set of values gives each keyword a unique value. A helpful heuristic is that the larger the hash value range, the easier it is for gperf to find and generate a perfect hash function. Experimentation is the key to getting the most from gperf.

Input Format to gperf

You can control the input keyfile format by varying certain command-line arguments, in particular the `-t' option. The input's appearance is similar to GNU utilities flex and bison (or UNIX utilities lex and yacc). Here's an outline of the general format:


Unlike flex or bison, all sections of gperf's input are optional. The following sections describe the input format for each section.

struct Declarations and C Code Inclusion

The keyword input file optionally contains a section for including arbitrary C declarations and definitions, as well as provisions for providing a user-supplied struct. If the `-t' option is enabled, you must provide a C struct as the last component in the declaration section from the keyfile file. The first field in this struct must be a char * identifier called "name," although it is possible to modify this field's name with the `-K' option described below.

Here is simple example, using months of the year and their attributes as input:

struct months { char *name; int number; int days; int leap_days; };
january,   1, 31, 31
february,  2, 28, 29
march,     3, 31, 31
april,     4, 30, 30
may,       5, 31, 31
june,      6, 30, 30
july,      7, 31, 31
august,    8, 31, 31
september, 9, 30, 30
october,  10, 31, 31
november, 11, 30, 30
december, 12, 31, 31

Separating the struct declaration from the list of key words and other fields are a pair of consecutive percent signs, %%, appearing left justified in the first column, as in the UNIX utility lex.

Using a syntax similar to GNU utilities flex and bison, it is possible to directly include C source text and comments verbatim into the generated output file. This is accomplished by enclosing the region inside left-justified surrounding %{, %} pairs. Here is an input fragment based on the previous example that illustrates this feature:

#include <assert.h>
/* This section of code is inserted directly into the output. */
int return_month_days (struct months *months, int is_leap_year);
struct months { char *name; int number; int days; int leap_days; };
january,   1, 31, 31
february,  2, 28, 29
march,     3, 31, 31

It is possible to omit the declaration section entirely. In this case the keyfile begins directly with the first keyword line, e.g.:

january,   1, 31, 31
february,  2, 28, 29
march,     3, 31, 31
april,     4, 30, 30

Format for Keyword Entries

The second keyfile format section contains lines of keywords and any associated attributes you might supply. A line beginning with `#' in the first column is considered a comment. Everything following the `#' is ignored, up to and including the following newline.

The first field of each non-comment line is always the key itself. It should be given as a simple name, i.e., without surrounding string quotation marks, and be left-justified flush against the first column. In this context, a "field" is considered to extend up to, but not include, the first blank, comma, or newline. Here is a simple example taken from a partial list of C reserved words:

# These are a few C reserved words, see the c.gperf file 
# for a complete list of ANSI C reserved words.

Note that unlike flex or bison the first %% marker may be elided if the declaration section is empty.

Additional fields may optionally follow the leading keyword. Fields should be separated by commas, and terminate at the end of line. What these fields mean is entirely up to you; they are used to initialize the elements of the user-defined struct provided by you in the declaration section. If the `-t' option is not enabled these fields are simply ignored. All previous examples except the last one contain keyword attributes.

Including Additional C Functions

The optional third section also corresponds closely with conventions found in flex and bison. All text in this section, starting at the final %% and extending to the end of the input file, is included verbatim into the generated output file. Naturally, it is your responsibility to ensure that the code contained in this section is valid C.

Output Format for Generated C Code with gperf

Several options control how the generated C code appears on the standard output. Two C function are generated. They are called hash and in_word_set, although you may modify the name for in_word_set with a command-line option. Both functions require two arguments, a string, char * str, and a length parameter, int len. Their default function prototypes are as follows:

static int hash (char *str, int len);
int in_word_set (char *str, int len);

By default, the generated hash function returns an integer value created by adding len to several user-specified str key positions indexed into an associated values table stored in a local static array. The associated values table is constructed internally by gperf and later output as a static local C array called hash_table; its meaning and properties are described below. See section Implementation Details of GNU gperf. The relevant key positions are specified via the `-k' option when running gperf, as detailed in the Options section below. See section Options to the gperf Utility.

Two options, `-g' (assume you are compiling with GNU C and its inline feature) and `-a' (assume ANSI C-style function prototypes), alter the content of both the generated hash and in_word_set routines. However, function in_word_set may be modified more extensively, in response to your option settings. The options that affect the in_word_set structure are:

If the `-t', `-S', and `-p' options are omitted the default action is to generate a char * array containing the keys, together with additional null strings used for padding the array. By experimenting with the various input and output options, and timing the resulting C code, you can determine the best option choices for different keyword set characteristics.

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