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  • Developing Custom Language Plugins for IntelliJ IDEA

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The plugin can also provide a configuration interface to allow the user to configure the colors used for highlighting specific items. In order to do that, it should provide an implementation of ColorSettingPage and register it in the com.intellij.colorSettingsPage extension point.

The "Export to HTML" feature of IDEA uses the same syntax highlighting mechanism as the editor, so it will work automatically for custom languages which provide a syntax highlighter.

References and Resolve

One of the most important and tricky parts in the implementation of a custom language PSI is resolving references. Resolving references means the ability to go from the usage of an element (access of a variable, call of a method and so on) to the declaration of the element (the variable definition, the method declaration and so on). This is obviously needed in order to support the IDEA "Go to Declaration" action (Ctrl-B and Ctrl-Click), and it is also a pre-requisite for the Find Usages action, the Rename refactoring and the code completion.

All PSI elements which work as references (for which the Go to Declaration action applies) need to implement the PsiElement.getReference() method and to return a PsiReference implementation from that method. The PsiReference interface can be implemented by the same class as PsiElement, or by a different class. An element can also contain multiple references (for example, a string literal can contain multiple substrings which are valid full-qualified class names), in which case it can implement PsiElement.getReferences() and return the references as an array.

The main method of the PsiReference interface is resolve(), which returns the element to which the reference points, or null if it was not possible to resolve the reference to a valid element (for example, it points to an undefined class). A counterpart to this method is isReferenceTo(), which checks if the reference resolves to the specified element. The latter method can be implemented by calling resolve() and comparing the result with the passed PSI element, but additional optimizations (for example, performing the tree walk only if the text of the element is equal to the text of the reference) are possible.

IDEA provides a set of interfaces which can be used as a base for implementing resolve support, namely the PsiScopeProcessor interface and the PsiElement.processDeclarations() method. These interfaces have a number of extra complexities which are not necessary for most custom languages (like support for substituting Java generics types), but they are required if the custom language can have references to Java code. If Java interoperability is not required, the plugin can forgo the standard interfaces and provide its own, different implementation of resolve.

The implementation of resolve based on the standard IDEA helper classes contains of the following components:

  • A class implementing the PsiScopeProcessor interface which gathers the possible declarations for the reference and stops the resolve process when it has successfully completed. The main method which needs to be implemented is execute(), which is called to process every declaration encountered during the resolve, and returns true if the resolve needs to be continued or false if the declaration has been found. (The methods getHint() and handleEvent() are used for internal IDEA optimizations and can be left empty in the PsiScopeProcessor implementations for custom languages.)
  • A function which walks the PSI tree up from the reference location until the resolve has successfully completed or until the end of the resolve scope has been reached. If the target of the reference is located in a different file, the file can be located, for example, using FilenameIndex.getFilesByName() (if the file name is known) or by iterating through all custom language files in the project (iterateContent() in the FileIndex interface obtained from ProjectRootManager.getFileIndex()).
  • The individual PSI elements, on which the processDeclarations() method is called during the PSI tree walk. If a PSI element is a declaration, it passes itself to the execute() method of the PsiScopeProcessor passed to it. Also, if necessary according to the language scoping rules, a PSI element can pass the PsiScopeProcessor to its child elements.

An extension of the PsiReference interface, which allows a reference to resolve to multiple targets, is the PsiPolyVariantReference interface. The targets to which the reference resolves are returned from the multiResolve() method. The Go to Declaration action for such references allows the user to choose the target to navigate to. The implementation of multiResolve can be also based on PsiScopeProcessor, and can collect all valid targets for the reference instead of stopping when the first valid target is found.

IDEA's "Quick Definition Lookup" action is based on the same mechanism as "Go to Declaration", so it becomes automatically available for all references which can be resolved by the language plugin.

to be continued