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A brainfuck interpreter for R

24th April, 2013 2 comments

The deadline for my book on R is fast approaching, so naturally I’m in full procrastination mode.  So much so that I’ve spent this evening creating a brainfuck interpreter for R.  brainfuck is a very simple programming language: you get an array of 30000 bytes, an index, and just 8 eight commands.  You move the index left or right along the array with < and >; increase or decrease the value at the current position with + and -; read and write characters using . and ,; and start and end loops with [ and ].

There seem to be two approaches to creating a brainfuck interpreter: directly execute the commands, or generate code in a sensible language and execute that. I’ve opted for the latter approach because it’s easier, at least in R. Generating R code and then calling eval is probably a little slower than directly executing commands, but that’s the least of your worries with brainfuck. Even writing a trivial page-long program will take you many million times longer than it takes to execute.

The fact that you have to mix data variables (that 30000 element raw vector and an index) with commands means that an object oriented approach is useful. The whole interpreter is stored in a single reference class, of type brainfuck. Rather than me showing you all the code here, I suggest that you take a look at it (or clone it) from its repository on bitbucket. (I’ll submit to CRAN soon.)

Here’s a Hello World example taken from Wikipedia. To use the brainfuck package, you just create/import your brainfuck program as a character vector (non-command characters are ignored, so you can comment your code). Call fuckbrain once to create the interpreter variable, then call its interpret method on each program that you want to run.

library(brainfuck)
hello_world <- "+++++ +++++  initialize counter (cell #0) to 10
[                            use loop to set the next four cells to 70/100/30/10
    > +++++ ++               add  7 to cell #1
    > +++++ +++++            add 10 to cell #2 
    > +++                    add  3 to cell #3
    > +                      add  1 to cell #4
    <<<< -                   decrement counter (cell #0)
]                   
> ++ .                       print 'H'
> + .                        print 'e'
+++++ ++ .                   print 'l'
.                            print 'l'
+++ .                        print 'o'
> ++ .                       print ' '
<< +++++ +++++ +++++ .       print 'W'
> .                          print 'o'
+++ .                        print 'r'
----- - .                    print 'l'
----- --- .                  print 'd'
> + .                        print '!'
> .                          print '\n'"
bfi <- fuckbrain()
bfi$interpret()
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