lexy is a parser combinator library for C++17 and onwards. It allows you to write a parser by specifying it in a convenient C++ DSL, which gives you all the flexibility and control of a handwritten parser without any of the manual work.

IPv4 address parser
namespace dsl = lexy::dsl;

// Parse an IPv4 address into a `std::uint32_t`.
struct ipv4_address
    // What is being matched.
    static constexpr auto rule = []{
        // Match a sequence of (decimal) digits and convert it into a std::uint8_t.
        auto octet = dsl::integer<std::uint8_t>;

        // Match four of them separated by periods.
        return dsl::times<4>(octet, dsl::sep(dsl::period)) + dsl::eof;

    // How the matched output is being stored.
    static constexpr auto value
        = lexy::callback<std::uint32_t>([](std::uint8_t a, std::uint8_t b, std::uint8_t c, std::uint8_t d) {
            return (a << 24) | (b << 16) | (c << 8) | d;


Full control
  • Describe the parser, not some abstract grammar: Unlike parser generators that use some table driven magic for parsing, lexy’s grammar is just syntax sugar for a hand-written recursive descent parser. The parsing algorithm does exactly what you’ve instructed it to do — no more ambiguities or weird shift/reduce errors!

  • No implicit backtracking or lookahead: It will only backtrack when you say it should, and only lookahead when and how far you want it. Don’t worry about rules that have side-effects, they won’t be executed unnecessarily thanks to the user-specified lookahead conditions. Try it online.

  • Escape hatch for manual parsing: Sometimes you want to parse something that can’t be expressed easily with lexy’s facilities. Don’t worry, you can integrate a hand-written parser into the grammar at any point. Try it online.

  • Tracing: Figure out why the grammar isn’t working the way you want it to. Try it online.

Easily integrated
  • A pure C++ DSL: No need to use an external grammar file; embed the grammar directly in your C++ project using operator overloading and functions.

  • Bring your own data structures: You can directly store results into your own types and have full control over all heap allocations.

  • Fully constexpr parsing: You want to parse a string literal at compile-time? You can do so.

  • Minimal standard library dependencies: The core parsing library only depends on fundamental headers such as <type_traits> or <cstddef>; no big includes like <vector> or <algorithm>.

  • Header-only core library (by necessity, not by choice — it’s constexpr after all).

Designed for text (e.g. json.cpp , xml.cpp , email.cpp )
  • Unicode support: parse UTF-8, UTF-16, or UTF-32, and access the Unicode character database to query char classes or perform case folding. Try it online.

  • Convenience: Built-in rules for parsing nested structures, quotes and escape sequences. Try it online.

  • Automatic whitespace skipping: No need to manually handle whitespace or comments. Try it online.

Designed for programming languages (e.g. calculator.cpp , shell.cpp )
  • Keyword and identifier parsing: Reserve a set of keywords that won’t be matched as regular identifiers. Try it online.

  • Operator parsing: Parse unary/binary operators with different precedences and associativity, including chained comparisons a < b < c. Try it online.

  • Automatic error recovery: Log an error, recover, and continue parsing! Try it online.

Designed for binary input (e.g. protobuf.cpp )
  • Bytes: Rules for parsing N bytes or Nbit big/little endian integer.

  • Bits: Rules for parsing individual bit patterns.

  • Blobs: Rules for parsing TLV formats.


Why should I use lexy over XYZ?

lexy is closest to other PEG parsers. However, they usually do more implicit backtracking, which can hurt performance and you need to be very careful with rules that have side-effects. This is not the case for lexy, where backtracking is controlled using branch conditions. lexy also gives you a lot of control over error reporting, supports error recovery, special support for operator precedence parsing, and other advanced features.


The main difference: it is not a Boost library. Otherwise, it is just a different implementation with a different flavor. Use lexy if you like lexy more.


PEGTL is very similar and was a big inspiration. The biggest difference is that lexy uses an operator based DSL instead of inheriting from templated classes as PEGTL does; depending on your preference this can be an advantage or disadvantage.

Hand-written Parsers

Writing a handwritten parser is more manual work and error prone. lexy automates that away without having to sacrifice control. You can use it to quickly prototype a parser and then slowly replace more and more with a handwritten parser over time; mixing a hand-written parser and a lexy grammar works seamlessly.

How bad are the compilation times?

They’re not as bad as you might expect (in debug mode, that is).

The example JSON parser compiles in about 2s on my machine. If we remove all the lexy specific parts and just benchmark the time it takes for the compiler to process the datastructure (and stdlib includes), that takes about 700ms. If we validate JSON only instead of parsing it, so remove the data structures and keep only the lexy specific parts, we’re looking at about 840ms.

Keep in mind, that you can fully isolate lexy in a single translation unit that only needs to be touched when you change the parser. You can also split a lexy grammar into multiple translation units using the dsl::subgrammar rule.

How bad are the C++ error messages if you mess something up?

They’re certainly worse than the error message lexy gives you. The big problem here is that the first line gives you the error, followed by dozens of template instantiations, which end at your lexy::parse call. Besides providing an external tool to filter those error messages, there is nothing I can do about that.

How fast is it?

Benchmarks are available in the benchmarks/ directory. A sample result of the JSON validator benchmark which compares the example JSON parser with various other implementations is available here.

Why is it called lexy?

I previously had a tokenizer library called foonathan/lex. I’ve tried adding a parser to it, but found that the line between pure tokenization and parsing has become increasingly blurred. lexy is a re-imagination on of the parser I’ve added to foonathan/lex, and I’ve simply kept a similar name.