Getting Started with ANTLR v4

Hi and welcome to the version 4 release of ANTLR! See Why do we need ANTLR v4? and the preface of the ANTLR v4 book.

Getting started the easy way using antlr4-tools

To play around with ANTLR without having to worry about installing it and the Java needed to execute it, use antlr4-tools. The only requirement is Python3, which is typically installed on all developer machines on all operating systems. (See below for Windows issue.)

$ pip install antlr4-tools

That command creates antlr4 and antlr4-parse executables that, if necessary, will download and install Java 11 plus the latest ANTLR jar:

$ antlr4 
Downloading antlr4-4.13.0-complete.jar
ANTLR tool needs Java to run; install Java JRE 11 yes/no (default yes)? y
Installed Java in /Users/parrt/.jre/jdk-11.0.15+10-jre; remove that dir to uninstall
ANTLR Parser Generator  Version 4.13.0
 -o ___              specify output directory where all output is generated
 -lib ___            specify location of grammars, tokens files

Let's play with a simple grammar:

grammar Expr;		
prog:	expr EOF ;
expr:	expr ('*'|'/') expr
    |	expr ('+'|'-') expr
    |	INT
    |	'(' expr ')'
NEWLINE : [\r\n]+ -> skip;
INT     : [0-9]+ ;

Windows-specific issues

On Windows, the pip command doesn't just work---you need to add the ...\local-packages\python38\scripts dir to your PATH, which itself might require a fun reboot. If you use WSL on Windows, then the pip install will also properly at the scripts directly (if you run from bash shell).

  1. Go to the Microsoft Store
  2. Search in Microsoft Store for Python
  3. Select the newest version of Python (3.10).
  4. Click the “Get” button. Store installs python and pip at “c:\Users...\AppData\Local\Microsoft\WindowsApps\python.exe” and “c:\Users...\AppData\Local\Microsoft\WindowsApps\pip.exe”, respectively. And, it updates the search path immediately with the install.
  5. Open a “cmd” terminal.
  6. You can now type “python” and “pip”, and “pip install antlr4-tools”. 7. Unfortunately, it does not add that to the search path.
  7. Update the search path to contain c:\Users...\AppData\Local\Packages\PythonSoftwareFoundation.Python.3.10_qbz5n2kfra8p8\LocalCache\local-packages\Python310\Scripts. You may need to install MSYS2, then do a find /c/ -name antlr4.exe 2> /dev/null and enter that path.
  8. Or, you can set up an alias to antlr4.exe on that path.

The good news is that the ANTLR4 Python tool downloads the ANTLR jar in a standard location, and you don‘t need to do that manually. It’s also possible to go in a browser, go to, and download the python package. But, it's likely you will need to update the path for antlr4.exe as before.

Try parsing with a sample grammar

To parse and get the parse tree in text form, use:

$ antlr4-parse Expr.g4 prog -tree
(prog:1 (expr:2 (expr:3 10) + (expr:1 (expr:3 20) * (expr:3 30))) <EOF>)

(Note: ^D means control-D and indicates “end of input” on Unix; use ^Z on Windows.)

Here's how to get the tokens and trace through the parse:

$ antlr4-parse Expr.g4 prog -tokens -trace
enter   prog, LT(1)=10
enter   expr, LT(1)=10
consume [@0,0:1='10',<8>,1:0] rule expr
enter   expr, LT(1)=+
consume [@1,2:2='+',<3>,1:2] rule expr
enter   expr, LT(1)=20
consume [@2,3:4='20',<8>,1:3] rule expr
enter   expr, LT(1)=*
consume [@3,5:5='*',<1>,1:5] rule expr
enter   expr, LT(1)=30
consume [@4,6:7='30',<8>,1:6] rule expr
exit    expr, LT(1)=<EOF>
exit    expr, LT(1)=<EOF>
exit    expr, LT(1)=<EOF>
consume [@5,9:8='<EOF>',<-1>,2:0] rule prog
exit    prog, LT(1)=<EOF>

Here's how to get a visual tree view:

$ antlr4-parse Expr.g4 prog -gui

The following will pop up in a Java-based GUI window:

Generating parser code

The previous section used a built-in ANTLR interpreter but typically you will ask ANTLR to generate code in the language used by your project (there are about 10 languages to choose from as of 4.11). Here's how to generate Java code from a grammar:

$ antlr4 Expr.g4
$ ls Expr*.java

And, here's how to generate C++ code from the same grammar:

$ antlr4 -Dlanguage=Cpp Expr.g4
$ ls Expr*.cpp Expr*.h
ExprBaseListener.cpp  ExprLexer.cpp         ExprListener.cpp      ExprParser.cpp
ExprBaseListener.h    ExprLexer.h           ExprListener.h        ExprParser.h


ANTLR is really two things: a tool written in Java that translates your grammar to a parser/lexer in Java (or other target language) and the runtime library needed by the generated parsers/lexers. Even if you are using the ANTLR Intellij plug-in or ANTLRWorks to run the ANTLR tool, the generated code will still need the runtime library.

The first thing you should do is probably download and install a development tool plug-in. Even if you only use such tools for editing, they are great. Then, follow the instructions below to get the runtime environment available to your system to run generated parsers/lexers. In what follows, I talk about antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar, which has the tool and the runtime and any other support libraries (e.g., ANTLR v4 is written in v3).

If you are going to integrate ANTLR into your existing build system using mvn, ant, or want to get ANTLR into your IDE such as eclipse or intellij, see Integrating ANTLR into Development Systems.


  1. Install Java (version 11 or higher)
  2. Download
$ cd /usr/local/lib
$ curl -O

Or just download in browser from website: and put it somewhere rational like /usr/local/lib.

if you are using lower version jdk, just download from website download for previous version, and antlr version before 4.13.0 support jdk 1.8

  1. Add antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar to your CLASSPATH:
$ export CLASSPATH=".:/usr/local/lib/antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar:$CLASSPATH"

It's also a good idea to put this in your .bash_profile or whatever your startup script is.

  1. Create aliases for the ANTLR Tool, and TestRig.
$ alias antlr4='java -Xmx500M -cp "/usr/local/lib/antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar:$CLASSPATH" org.antlr.v4.Tool'
$ alias grun='java -Xmx500M -cp "/usr/local/lib/antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar:$CLASSPATH" org.antlr.v4.gui.TestRig'


(Thanks to Graham Wideman)

  1. Install Java (version 1.7 or higher)
  2. Download antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar (or whatever version) from Save to your directory for 3rd party Java libraries, say C:\Javalib
  3. Add antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar to CLASSPATH, either:
  • Permanently: Using System Properties dialog > Environment variables > Create or append to CLASSPATH variable
  • Temporarily, at command line:
SET CLASSPATH=.;C:\Javalib\antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar;%CLASSPATH%
  1. Create short convenient commands for the ANTLR Tool, and TestRig, using batch files or doskey commands:
  • Batch files (in directory in system PATH) antlr4.bat and grun.bat
java org.antlr.v4.Tool %*
java org.antlr.v4.gui.TestRig %*
  • Or, use doskey commands:
doskey antlr4=java org.antlr.v4.Tool $*
doskey grun =java org.antlr.v4.gui.TestRig $*

Testing the installation

Either launch org.antlr.v4.Tool directly:

$ java org.antlr.v4.Tool
ANTLR Parser Generator Version 4.13.0
-o ___ specify output directory where all output is generated
-lib ___ specify location of .tokens files

or use -jar option on java:

$ java -jar /usr/local/lib/antlr-4.13.0-complete.jar
ANTLR Parser Generator Version 4.13.0
-o ___ specify output directory where all output is generated
-lib ___ specify location of .tokens files

A First Example

In a temporary directory, put the following grammar inside file Hello.g4: Hello.g4

// Define a grammar called Hello
grammar Hello;
r  : 'hello' ID ;         // match keyword hello followed by an identifier
ID : [a-z]+ ;             // match lower-case identifiers
WS : [ \t\r\n]+ -> skip ; // skip spaces, tabs, newlines

Then run ANTLR the tool on it:

$ cd /tmp
$ antlr4 Hello.g4
$ javac Hello*.java

Now test it:

$ grun Hello r -tree
(Now enter something like the string below)
hello parrt
(The output:)
(r hello parrt)
(That ^D means EOF on unix; it's ^Z in Windows.) The -tree option prints the parse tree in LISP notation.
It's nicer to look at parse trees visually.
$ grun Hello r -gui
hello parrt

That pops up a dialog box showing that rule r matched keyword hello followed by identifier parrt.

Book source code

The book has lots and lots of examples that should be useful too. You can download them here for free:

ANTLR reference book examples in Java
ANTLR reference book examples in C#

Language implementation patterns book examples in Java
Language implementation patterns book examples in C#

Also, there is a large collection of grammars for v4 at github: