Spoofax has several cross-cutting concepts that are used within Spoofax Core. This manual describes those concepts.


Spoofax runs and builds languages, so it has several concepts related to languages.


We will explain these concepts by using the structure of a Java compiler as example in the following image:


Part of the internal structure of the JDK7 and 8 compilers.

A Java compiler has a front-end that parses and analyzes Java programs. The front-end is specified as a PDF or (hopefully) as an executable specification. It also has a back-end that compiles Java programs into Java bytecode, with a specification. The front-end and back-end together compose a Java compiler, such as the Java Development Kit version 7 (JDK7). Similarly, a front-end and back-end for Java 8 form JDK8. Together, JDK7 and JDK8 are part of the Java series of compilers, with JDK8 being the latest one.

Language Component and Facets

In Spoofax, the front-end and back-end are language components (ILanguageComponent in the source code). A language component implements a part of the language. They have an identifier and are versioned, which together form a unique identifier.

The functionality inside a language component, such as the parser and analyzer in the front-end, are language facets (IFacet). A language facet is an implementation of a facet of a language, that Spoofax knows how to execute.

Language Specifications

The specification of the front-end and back-end components are language specifications (ISpoofaxLanguageSpec). A language specification implements or specifies (in meta-languages) a part of the language. A single language specification is compiled by Spoofax into a single language component.


Language specifications have two types of dependencies. A compiler dependency (compileDeps) indicates that when a language specification is compiled, the compiler of a different language component should be executed first. For example, if JDK7 and JDK8 were specified in SDF, the specifications need a compiler dependency on the SDF compiler, to translate the SDF grammar into a parse table.

A source dependency (sourceDeps) indicates a dependency on source files of another language specification. For example, a JDK back-end needs to depend on the AST signatures of the front-end, to be able to pattern match parsed terms. We can also use source dependencies to depend on libraries. For example, a JDK front-end can depend on the NaBL analysis library, which contains reusable functionality for executing name analysis with NaBL.

Composing Language Implementations

The JDK7 and JDK8 compositions of their front and back-ends are language implementations (ILanguageImpl) in Spoofax. A language implementation is simply a collection of language components. Like language components, language implementations have an identifier and version, which together form a unique identifier.

Most of the user-facing Spoofax Core API works with language implementations, such that using a language does not require manual composition of components. The main exceptions to this are the compiler dependencies described earlier, and loading a language into Spoofax, which loads language components. The internals of Spoofax Core deal with the composition of language facets in language components of language implementations. For example, a language implementation with multiple components could provide multiple menu facets, which the the menu service composes into one menu that is shown to the user.

Language Series

Finally, the Java series of compilers is called a language (ILanguage) in Spoofax. A language is a collection of language implementations. It does not have an identifier or version, just a name. Within a language, there is the concept of the active language implementation (activeImpl) , which is the language implementation with the highest version. This is JDK8 in the example.


Projects in Spoofax are used to host language specifications and programs of a language.

An end-user project (IProject) is a project that contains programs of languages, intended to be developed by an end-user of those languages.

A language specification project (ISpoofaxLanguageSpec), sometimes called a language project, is a project that contains a languages specification. A language specification contains programs of meta-languages, intended to be developed by a language developer. A language specification project is a specialization of an end-user project.