15.3. The Input Unit

A key concept that we've used since Day 1 has been the idea of an input stream with one lookahead character. All the parsing routines examine this character, without changing it, to decide what they should do next. (Compare this approach with the C/Unix approach using getchar and unget, and I think you'll agree that our approach is simpler). We'll begin our hike into the future by translating this concept into our new, unit-based organization. The first unit, appropriately called Input, is shown below:

unit Input;

var Look: char;                 { Lookahead character }
procedure GetChar;              { Read new character  }


{ Read New Character From Input Stream }
procedure GetChar;

{ Unit Initialization }

As you can see, there's nothing very profound, and certainly nothing complicated, about this unit, since it consists of only a single procedure. But already, we can see how the use of units gives us advantages. Note the executable code in the initialization block. This code "primes the pump" of the input stream for us, something we've always had to do before, by inserting the call to GetChar in line, or in procedure Init. This time, the call happens without any special reference to it on our part, except within the unit itself. As I predicted earlier, this mechanism is going to make our lives much simpler as we proceed. I consider it to be one of the most useful features of Turbo Pascal, and I lean on it heavily.

Copy this unit into your compiler's IDE, and compile it. To test the software, of course, we always need a main program. I used the following, really complex test program, which we'll later evolve into the Main for our compiler:

program Main;
uses WinCRT, Input;

Note the use of the Borland-supplied unit, WinCRT. This unit is necessary if you intend to use the standard Pascal I/O routines, Read, ReadLn, Write, and WriteLn, which of course we intend to do. If you forget to include this unit in the "uses" clause, you will get a really bizarre and indecipherable error message at run time.

Note also that we can access the lookahead character, even though it's not declared in the main program. All variables declared within the interface section of a unit are global, but they're hidden from prying eyes; to that extent, we get a modicum of information hiding. Of course, if we were writing in an object- oriented fashion, we should not allow outside modules to access the units internal variables. But, although Turbo units have a lot in common with objects, we're not doing object-oriented design or code here, so our use of Look is appropriate.

Go ahead and save the test program as Main.pas. To make life easier as we get more and more files, you might want to take this opportunity to declare this file as the compiler's Primary file. That way, you can execute the program from any file. Otherwise, if you press Cntl-F9 to compile and run from one of the units, you'll get an error message. You set the primary file using the main submenu, "Compile," in the Turbo IDE.

I hasten to point out, as I've done before, that the function of unit Input is, and always has been, considered to be a dummy version of the real thing. In a production version of a compiler, the input stream will, of course, come from a file rather than from the keyboard. And it will almost certainly include line buffering, at the very least, and more likely, a rather large text buffer to support efficient disk I/O. The nice part about the unit approach is that, as with objects, we can modify the code in the unit to be as simple or as sophisticated as we like. As long as the interface, as embodied in the public procedures and the lookahead character, don't change, the rest of the program is totally unaffected. And since units are compiled, rather than merely included, the time required to link with them is virtually nil. Again, the result is that we can get all the benefits of sophisticated implementations, without having to carry the code around as so much baggage.

In later installments, I intend to provide a full-blown IDE for the KISS compiler, using a true Windows application generated by Borland's OWL applications framework. For now, though, we'll obey my #1 rule to live by: Keep It Simple.