ReSharper DevGuide

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Custom Languages

In this part of the guide we’ll look at developing ReSharper support for a new language. We shall take a look at the following:


ReSharper supports a wide variety of language and also supports a mixture of languages (e.g., .cshtml files are a mixture of C# and HTML). Plugin writers can use existing infrastructure in order to support new languages within ReSharper. A language implementation can be a plugin or part of a plugin, and in most cases no special action is required for it to be picked up and recognized by ReSharper.


The parsing and lexing of languages requires specialized tools. This is why, as of the 7.0 release, the ReSharper SDK comes with a set of tools and target files as well as a fully worked-out example of supporting a new language. The following items are included:

  • CsLex - a tool for creating lexical analysers for different languages.
  • Java - contains IKVM infrastructure which permits the running of the Java-based parser generator.
  • MSBuild - contains build tasks that can be used to automate lexer and parser construction.
  • parserGen - a tool for creating ReSharper-compatible parsers.

In addition to the tools, the SDK also comes with a full language plugin example located in the Samples/PsiPlugin folder. This sample is a full implementation of a language plugin for supporting .psi files, which are parser definition files used by parserGen. As a result, plugin developers interested in using parserGen for new language development are advised to compile and install PsiPlugin, which can greatly simplify the process of working with parser definition files.

Let’s go through the tools one by one, since all of them are critical in putting together a language plugin.


CsLex is a freely available lexical analyzer generator that comes packaged in the SDK. CsLex can be found in the Tools/CsLex folder, which includes the following files:

  • CsLex.Targets contains a set of targets that need to be included in the .csproj file using an <Import> directive:
<Import Project="$(ReSharperSdkTools)\CsLex\CsLex.Targets" />
  • CsLex.Tasks contains the definition for a CsLex build task. It is automatically included by CsLex.Targets
  • lex.exe is the executable that generates the lexical definitions. lex.xml is the XML documentation for the tool. You do not need to interact directly with these two files, as the build task takes care of that for you.

In order to generate lexical structures, your project needs to have a .lex file. You can learn more about the format of lexical definition files in the CsLex documentation page, but your definition also needs to have ReSharper-specific elements. To learn more about these elements, please take a look at the psi.lex file in the sample PsiPlugin that comes with the SDK.

The .lex file is compiled with a build action of CsLex. After compilation, CsLex generates from it a _lex.cs file that contains a generated lexer.

One of the building blocks of the lexer is the unicode definition file Unicode.lex. While this file currently lives in the Tools/parserGen folder, its purpose is to provide detailed information about various unicode rangers that the lexer can consume to correctly distinguish identifiers. In order to use this file, it needs to be copied into the /obj folder inside the project. The simplest way to do this is to add the following MSBuild directive to the project:

<Target Name="BeforeBuild"> <MakeDir Directories="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\obj" /> <Copy SourceFiles="$(ReSharperSdkTools)\parserGen\Unicode.lex" DestinationFolder="$(MSBuildProjectDirectory)\obj" /> </Target>


parserGen is a parser generator that is used to define parsers for various languages. It lives in the tools/parserGen folder and happens to be written in Java, which is why there is also a tools/Java folder in the SDK that provides IKVM bindings. Let’s go briefly through some of the non-java files that parserGen comes with:

  • ParserGen.Targets and ParserGen.Tasks contain the MSBuild targets and build task respectively. Plugin writers need to add the following to the .csproj file:
<Import Project="$(ReSharperSdkTools)\parserGen\ParserGen.Targets" />
  • ParserGenTask.dll provides a .NET shim for using a Java-based ParserGen build task.
  • Unicode.lex is a file that actually relates to lexer construction. (See above.)

A parser is defined in a proprietary format in a file with a .psi extension and a specified build task of ParserGen. This is precisely the format for which PsiPlugin provides support, and thus you should compile and install PsiPlugin if you intend to work with .psi files. While no formal documentation exists, we recommend that you look at the psi.psi grammar file in PsiPlugin for a detailed example of a grammar definition.

Language Definition

First of all, you need to create a class inheriting from KnownLanguage. The constraints on this class (let’s call it MyLanguage here) are that it should:

  • Be declared public
  • Have one public static non-readonly, non-initialized field of a MyLanguage type
  • Must have a parameterless constructor
  • Should have a set of protected constructors to allow language inheritance.

The MyLanguage class must also be marked with the [LanguageDefinition] attribute. This attribute takes two parameters:

  • The first and only required parameter is the name of the language.
  • (Optional) The Edition parameter specifies the ReSharper edition that this language supports. If you need to constrain the language to a particular R# edition, use an element of the ReSharperEditions.Ids enumeration here. Reminder: R# currently comes in three editions - C#, VB.NET and Full.

Here is an example of a language definition for the C# language:

[LanguageDefinition(Name, Edition = ReSharperEditions.Ids.Csharp)] public class CSharpLanguage : KnownLanguage { public new const string Name = "CSHARP"; [CanBeNull] public static readonly CSharpLanguage Instance; private CSharpLanguage() : base(Name, "C#") { } protected CSharpLanguage([NotNull] string name) : base(name) { } protected CSharpLanguage([NotNull] string name, [NotNull] string presentableName) : base(name, presentableName) { } }

Project File Type

Now, we need to tell ReSharper how to support a project of a particular type. This is another class that contains primarily metadata, and is used mainly to indicate the file extensions that correspond to a particular language. Just like the Language Definition class, this class (let’s call it MyLanguageProjectFileType) requires that:

  • It is declared public
  • It has a public, static, non-readonly field of type MyLanguageProjectFileType
  • It has a parameterless constructor. This constructor calls its base class’ constructor, passing the array of file extensions that this project file type supports.
  • It has a set of protected methods for inheritance

In addition, the project file type class has to be decorated with the ProjectFileTypeDefinition attribute. This attribute has the following parameters:

  • The Type parameter requires name of the language (as per language definition)
  • (Optional) The Edition parameter determines the R# edition that supports this project file type.
  • (Optional) The Internal boolean parameter determines whether this project file type is only supported in internal mode. Plugin writers should not define this parameter.

Here is an example of a project file type class for HTML files:

[ProjectFileTypeDefinition(Name)] public class HtmlProjectFileType : KnownProjectFileType { public new const string Name = "HTML"; public new static readonly HtmlProjectFileType Instance; private HtmlProjectFileType() : base(Name, "Html", new[] {HTML_EXTENSION, HTM_EXTENSION}) { } protected HtmlProjectFileType(string name) : base(name) { } protected HtmlProjectFileType(string name, string presentableName) : base(name, resentableName) { } protected HtmlProjectFileType(string name, string presentableName, IEnumerable<string> extensions) : base(name, presentableName, extensions) { } public const string HTML_EXTENSION = ".html"; public const string HTM_EXTENSION = ".htm"; }

Project File Language Service

Let’s create a project file language service. This entity is used to tell us which language tree needs to be constructed for a particular file. For example, the XamlProjectFileLanguageService would create a XAML tree of the XAML file is part of the project, and only an XML tree if it is not.

The project file language service is a class which implements the IProjectFileLanguageService interface and is decorated with the ProjectFileType attribute relating to the project file type. The attribute takes a single parameter - the typeof(MyLanguageProjectFileType) that we created earler.

We are now getting in the thick of language development, this being the last stop before we go to define the overall language service (the one that exposes lexers, parsers and other supplementary information). Let us go through the members of our MyProjectFileLanguageService implementation.

  • First of all, we need to have a public constructor that will take a parameter of the MyProjectFileType type. We’ll need to store this parameter for returning it later.
  • The LanguageType property is precisely the location where we would typically return the above stored value.
  • The Icon property needs to return the icon for this type of file. If you are storing the icon internally as an embedded resource, use ImageLoader.GetImage("", null) to return the icon.
  • The GetPsiLanguageType() method takes an IProjectFile parameter. If the LanguageType property of this parameter matches our language, then we return the Instance field of our language. Otherwise, we return UnknownLanguage.Instance. Here is an example:

    public PsiLanguageType GetPsiLanguageType(IProjectFile projectFile) { if (projectFile.LanguageType.Is<MyLanguageProjectFileType>()) return MyLanguage.Instance; else return UnknownLanguage.Instance; }
  • There is also an overload of the GetPsiLanguageType() method that takes a ProjectFileType as a parameter. The implementation of this method is similar to the one above:

    public PsiLanguageType GetPsiLanguageType(ProjectFileType languageType) { if (languageType.Is<MyLanguageProjectFileType>()) return MyLanguage.Instance; else return UnknownLanguage.Instance; }
  • The GetMixedLexerFactory() method returns the mixed lexer factory. The mixed lexer (mixed refers to the possibility of having mixed languages in a file) is returned by the language service, which we haven’t defined. The typical implementation of this method is as follows:

    public ILexerFactory GetMixedLexerFactory(IBuffer buffer, IPsiSourceFile sourceFile, PsiManager manager) { return MyLanguage.Instance.LanguageService().GetPrimaryLexerFactory(); }
  • The GetPreprocessorDefines() method is used to return a set of PreProcessingDirective definitions. If your language doesn’t have preprocessing directives, in which case you can simply return EmptyArray<PreProcessingDirective>.Instance.
  • The GetPsiProperties() method is used to return a new instance of the PSI properties type for this file as follows:

    public IPsiSourceFileProperties GetPsiProperties(IProjectFile projectFile, IPsiSourceFile sourceFile) { Assertion.Assert(projectFile.LanguageType.IsProjectFileType(LanguageType), "projectFile.LanguageType == LanguageType"); return new MyLanguagePsiProperties(projectFile, sourceFile); }

We haven’t seen the PSI Properties class, so that’s coming up next.

PSI Properties

Yet another service entity that is required for successful language support is the PSI Properties entity. In order to understand it why it is needed, it’s important to understand that when working with files, we essentially operate on two different entities: IProjectFile and IPsiSourceFile:

  • IProjectFile is part of the project model, i.e., it holds information about the file in the context of the project it’s in. Among other things, it yields information regarding its ProjectFileType (we have defined this earlier), and also yields an IProjectFileProperties value that contains the types of file properties you see when you open the Properties window (or press F4) in Visual Studio.
  • IPsiSourceFile is part of the PSI. It also yields a ProjectFileType as one of its properties, but it also yields a language (a PsiLanguageType inheritor such as MyLanguage) as well as a set of IPsiSourceFileProperties. These properties correspond to the code model, i.e., the AST that represents the file.

Thus, the PSI Properties entity is a kind of glue that manages takes as parameters both an IProjectFile and a IPsiSourceFile and manages to bind the two together.

The PSI Properties class is a class deriving from DefaultPsiProjectFileProperties, and is often located as an inner class of the above language service type. This class takes two parameters - the project file and the PSI source file. Typically, its constructor simply passes them up to the parent:

private class MyLanguageFileProperties : DefaultPsiProjectFileProperties { public MyLanguageFileProperties(IProjectFile projectFile, IPsiSourceFile sourceFile) : base(projectFile, sourceFile) { } }

The above is a minimal implementation. Often, the PSI Properties type contains overrides for some of the properties defined by the base class. Here are a few such properties:

  • ShouldBuildPsi determines whether the PSI tree needs to be built for this file. By default, the value is true for any type that isn’t null or unknown. This property should be overridden in certain cases where it’s not worth building a PSI - for example, in the case where you have a XAML file that’s not part of a project.
  • ProvidesCodeModel determines whether the file provides a code model. Not all files do - for example, an XML file does not. By default, this has the value of ShouldBuildPsi.
  • IsNonUserFile determines whether this is a file is owned by the user or not. Typically this has the value of \!IsCompile, i.e. depends on the file’s build action.
  • IsGeneratedFile determines whether this file is generated or not. By default, R# tries to get this information from the provided projectFile.

Language Service

We are finally ready to create is a language service – an entity that finally lets us work with the language AST. This is a class inheriting from LanguageService. The requirements for this class are:

  • It must be declared public
  • It must have a public constructor taking at least the language definition (i.e., the MyLanguage type) and an IConstantValueService.
  • It must call the base constructor with the above parameters.

The language service is where all the activity occurs. In particular, the language services exposes both the lexer and the parser, as well as a number of complementary services that may or may not be required for the particular language.

We begin our language implementation with the lexer. The language service type has two members relating to the creation of lexers.

The first is the GetPrimaryLexerFactory() method. This method returns a lexer factory, which is simply a class that implements the ILexerFactory interface and whose CreateLexer() method returns an instance of a lexer (which we’ll define in a moment):

private class MyLanguageLexerFactory : ILexerFactory { public ILexer CreateLexer(IBuffer buffer) { return new MyLanguageLexer(buffer); } }

Thus, the implementation of MyLanguageService.GetPrimaryLexerFactory() reduces to:

public override ILexerFactory GetPrimaryLexerFactory() { return new MyLanguageLexerFactory(); }

Of course, we have not yet mentioned the ILexer. Before we get on to actually making a lexer, it’s also worth mentioning another LanguageService member - the CreateFilteringLexer() method. Now, just as the name suggests, a filtering lexer is a lexer that filters (i.e. ignores) certain token types. A filtering lexer inherits from the FilteringLexer class. Apart from having to have an ILexer as a constructor parameter passed up to its base class, it has a single method called Skip() that you need to override.

The Skip() method is simple: it takes a TokenNodeType and determines whether this is the kind of token that needs to be skipped. Typical tokens to be skipped often include whitespace, line breaks, comments or code within certain preprocessor directives. Now, the simplest way to provide support for this is to create a NodeTypeSet of all the tokens that you intend to skip as follows:

internal static readonly NodeTypeSet TokensToSkip = new NodeTypeSet( new NodeType[] { MyLanguageTokenType.WHITE_SPACE, MyLanguageTokenType.NEW_LINE } );

With this definition in place, the implementation of the Skip() method can be as follows:

protected override bool Skip(TokenNodeType tokenType) { return MyLanguageService.TokensToSkip[tokenType]; }
Last modified: 10 July 2017