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Abstract syntax

Abstract syntax is a representation of data (typically either a message passing over a communications link or a computer program being compiled) which is independent of machine-oriented structures and encodings and also of the physical representation of the data (called "concrete syntax" in the case of compilation or "transfer syntax" in communications).

A compiler's internal representation of a program will typically be specified by an abstract syntax in terms of categories such as "statement", "expression" and "identifier". This is independent of the source syntax (concrete syntax) of the language being compiled (though it will often be very similar). A parse tree is similar to an abstract syntax tree but it will typically also contain features such as parentheses which are syntactically significant but which are implicit in the structure of the abstract syntax tree.

This article is based on material from FOLDOC, used with permission. Update as needed.