Syntax of the Input File


This manual describes the syntax of Questaal’s input file. See this guide for an introduction to the input system and a description of all the tags Questaal programs look for. See the preprocessor manual for a description of the preprocessor, which acts before the input file is read.

Table of Contents


The input system for the Questaal program suite is unique in the following respects:

  1. Input files are nearly free-format and input does not need to be arranged in a particular order. (There are one or two mild exceptions: e.g. the first column is reserved to demarcate categories) Data is located by identifying tokens (labels) in the input file, and reading the information following the token. In this string:


    token NSPIN has the contents 2. Note that a token such as NSPIN only acts as a marker to locate data: they are not themselves part of the data.

  2. The token is the end part of the full identifier, which has a tree structure. The full identifier we call a tag; it is sometimes expressed as a string of identifers separated by underscores. e.g.  ITER_CONV  or  SPEC_ATOM_Z. A tag is analogous to a path in a tree directory structure: SPECSPEC_ATOM,  and SPEC_ATOM_Z,  are tags with successively more branches. The first identifier of the tag is called a category; the last identifier is called a token. Tokens are markers for data, e.g.  NSPIN  is a marker for 2.

    Tokens are grouped according to categories. If an identifier appears in more than one category its meaning is distinct. Thus contents of  MODE  in  DYN_SSTAT_MODE  is different from the contents of  MODE  in  OPTICS_MODE. The next section shows how the structure is implemented for input files, which enables these cases to be distinguished.

  3. The input file is first passed through a preprocessor, which modifies it before being parsed for tags. The preprocessor provides some programming language capability: input files can contain directives such as

    % if expression

    that are not part of the input proper, but control what is read into the input stream, and what is left out. Thus input files can serve multiple uses — containing information for many kinds of calculations, or as a kind of data base.

  4. The parser can evaluate algebraic expressions. Variables can be assigned and used in the expressions. Expression syntax is similar to the C programming languages; it is essentially the same as the syntax used for algebraic expressions in the preprocessor.

    Note: the preprocessor parses expressions inside curly brackets and returns the result as a string. An ASCII representation of the expression (string) is substituted for the contents of the curly brackets; this string can itself can be part of an expression. Thus


    becomes after preprocessing:


    The contents of NSPIN is an algebraic expression  3-1 . It is parsed as an expression so that the value of NSPIN is 2. Documentation of the CONST category explains how preprocessor expressions and input file expressions can coexist, and how to declare variables though  CONST.

    Note: the preprocessor will handle sequences of assignments and expressions such as  {x=3,y=4,x*=y,x*2}; the result is the ASCII representation of the final expression,  x*2. This extra capability is only in the preprocessor; the transformed input must consist of a single expression without any variable assignments, as in the example above.

Input structure: syntax for parsing tokens

A typical input fragment looks something like:

ITER NIT=2  CONV=0.001
... (fragment 1)

Tags in this fragment are:   ITER,  ITER_NIT,  ITER_CONV,  ITER_MIX,  DYN,  DYN_NIT. The first or top-level tags we designate as categories (ITER  and  DYN  in the fragment above). Generally tags such as ITER_NIT,  do not appear explicitly but are split into branches as fragment 1 shows. A token’s contents consists of a string which may represent input data when it is the last link in the path, e.g.  NIT, or be a segment of a larger tag, in which case it points to branches farther out on the tree. The tag’s structure is analogous to a file directory structure, where names refer to files, or to directories (aka folders) which contain files or other directories.

What designates the scope of a category? Any string that begins in the first column of a line is a category. A category’s contents begins right after its name, and ends just before the start of the next category. In the fragment shown,  ITER  contains this string:
NIT=2 CONV=0.001 MIX=A,b=3
while  DYN  contains
Thus categories are treated a little differently from other tokens. The input data structure usually does not rely on line or column information; however use of the first column to mark categories and delimit their scope is an exception.

Data associated with a token may consist of logical, integer or real scalars, or vectors, or a string. The contents of NIT, CONV, and MIX are respectively an integer, a real number, and a string. This fragment illustrate tokens PLAT and NKABC that contain vectors:

STRUC  PLAT= 1 1/2 -1/2    1/2 -1/2 0   1 1 2
BZ     NKABC=3,3,4

Numbers (more properly, expressions) may be separated either by spaces or commas.

How are the start and end points of a token delineated in a general tree structure? The style shown in the input fragment 1 does not have the ability to handle general tree-structured input, notably tags with more than two branches such as STR_IINV_NIT. You can always unambiguously delimit the scope of a token with brackets […], e.g.

ITER[ NIT[2]  CONV[0.001]  MIX=[A,b=3]]
STR[RMAX[3] IINV[NIT[5] NCUT[20] TOL[1E-4]]]
... (fragment 2)

Note that ITER_NIT,  DYN_NIT  and  STR_IINV_NIT  are all readily distinguished (contents 2, 3, and 5).

The Questaal parser reads input structured by the bracket delimiters, as in fragment 2. This format is logically unambiguous but aesthetically horrible. If you are willing to tolerate small ambiguities, you can use format like that of fragment 1 most of the time. The rules are:

  1. Categories must start in the first column. Any character in the first column starts a new category and terminates a prior one.

  2. When brackets are not used, a token’s contents are delimited by the end of the category. Thus the content of  ITER_CONV  from fragment 1 is  0.001 MIX=A,b=3, while in fragment 2 it is   0.001.

    In practice this difference matters only occasionally. Usually contents refer to numerical data. The parser will read only as many numbers as it needs. If  CONV  contains only one number, the difference is moot. On the other hand suppose  CONV  may contain more than one number. Then the two styles might generate a difference. In this case the parser can only find one number to convert in fragment 2, and that is all it would generate. For fragment 1, the parser would see a second string MIX=... and attempt to parse it; but it would not be able to convert it to a number. Thus, the net effect would be the same: only one number would be parsed.

    Note: if fewer numbers are read than expected, An error is generated if the parser requires more numbers than it can read. But it can happen that more numbers are sought than are available, in which case the number actually may be sufficient. For example,  BZ_NKABC  expects three numbers, but you can supply only one or two. If more numbers are supplied than are sought, only the number sought are parsed, regardless of how many are supplied.

  3. When a token’s contents consist of a character string (as distinct from a string representation of a number) and brackets are not used, there is an ambiguity in where the string ends. In this case, the parser will delimit strings in one of two ways. Usually a space delimits the end-of-string, as in    MIX=A,b=3 . However, in a few cases the end-of-category delimits the end-of-string — usually when the entire category contains just a string, as in

    SYMGRP R4Z M(1,1,0) R3D

    If you want to be sure, use brackets: SYMGRP[R4Z M(1,1,0) R3D].

  4. Tags containing three levels of nesting, e.g  STR_IINV_NIT, must be bracketed after the second level. Any of the following are acceptable:

    STR[RMAX[3] IINV[NIT[5] NCUT[20] TOL[1E-4]]]
    STR[RMAX=3 IINV[NIT=5 NCUT=20 TOL=1E-4]]

Multiple occurrences of categories and tokens

Note: If multiple categories occur within an input file, only the first one is used.

Similarly, only the first occurrence of a token within a category is read. There is an important exception to this rule, namely when multiple occurences of a token are required. The two main instances are data in SITE and SPEC categories, for example:

SITE   ATOM[C1  POS= 0          0   0    RELAX=1]
       ATOM[A1  POS= 0          0   5/8  RELAX=0]
       ATOM[C1  POS= 1/sqrt(3)  0   1/2]

The contents of the first and second occurences of  ATOM are:   C1 POS= 0 0 0 RELAX=1 and   A1 POS= 0 0 5/8 RELAX=0. The parser will try to read as many instances of  SITE_ATOM (including tokens within it) as it needs.

Note: ATOM plays a dual role here: it is simultaneously a marker (token) for ATOM’s label (e.g. C1), and a marker for tokens nested one level deeper, (e.g. contents of  SITE_ATOM_POS  and  SITE_ATOM_RELAX).

The format shown is consistent with rule 4 above. You can also use the following format for repeated inputs in SITE and SPEC categories:

SITE    ATOM=C1  POS= 0          0   0    RELAX=1
        ATOM=A1  POS= 0          0   5/8  RELAX=0
        ATOM=C1  POS= 1/sqrt(3)  0   1/2

In the latter format the contents of  SITE_ATOM  are delimited by either the next occurence of this tag within the same category, or by the end-of-category, whichever occurs first.

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