The Boa Programming Guide - Visitors

Boa provides a custom syntax for easily performing mining tasks on source code. This syntax is inspired by the object-oriented visitor pattern. Users may declare a visitor:

id := visitor { visitClause* };

Visitors are typically assigned to a variable and provide one or more visit clauses. A visit is started using a call to the visit function. This function takes two arguments: the starting node n and a visitor v:

visit(n, v);

This call then starts a visit at the node n using the specified visitor v. By default, a depth-first search (DFS) traversal strategy is used. The visitor defines visit clauses, which execute either before or after visiting a node's children.

Visit Clauses

There are two different kinds of visit clauses: before and after clauses:

before id: T -> body; after id: T -> body;

Visit clauses specify an identifier and a node type. When the visitor visits any node matching the specified node type, the clause's body executes (with the node bound to the specified identifier). A before visit clause runs before the node's children are visited and an after visit clause runs after all of the node's children were visited.

Visit clauses may also specify a list of node types:

before T1, T2, .. -> body; after T1, T2, .. -> body;

When specifying a list of node types, no identifier is given and the node is not accessible from the clause's body.

Each node type may appear in at most 1 before clause and at most 1 after clause.


Visitors may also contain a visit clause with a wildcard:

before _ -> body; after _ -> body;

A wildcard visit clause will match any node type that does not already have a visit clause. This allows providing a default behavior for the visitor, with custom node-specific behavior overriding the default. Note that unlike pattern matching in functional languages, the order of the clauses does not matter as each node type will have exactly 0 or 1 matching visit clause.

Custom Traversal Strategies

By default visitors use a depth-first traversal strategy. If your analysis requires a different strategy you may specify it. Before visit clauses allow a special statement, called a stop statement:


This statement tells the visitor to stop the depth-first traversal and return to the parent node. This is useful when you know you don't need to visit the sub-tree rooted at the current node or if you need to visit the sub-tree with a custom traversal strategy. Note that if a stop statement executes, the after clause (if any) for that node will not execute.

You may also specify to visit a specific child node, by using the single-argument form of the visit function:


This states to visit the child node, using the current visitor. A combination of stop statements and visit calls can be used to implement a custom traversal strategy.