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FAQ: Lisp Frequently Asked Questions 1/7 [Monthly posting]

Introductory Matter and Bibliography of Introductions and References
Archive-name: lisp-faq/part1
Last-Modified: Fri Mar 14 11:41:55 1997 by Mark Kantrowitz
Version: 1.65
Maintainer: Mark Kantrowitz and Barry Margolin <>
Size: 79328 bytes, 1645 lines

;;; ****************************************************************
;;; Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Lisp ***************
;;; ****************************************************************
;;; Written by Mark Kantrowitz and Barry Margolin
;;; lisp_1.faq 

This post contains Part 1 of the Lisp FAQ.

If you think of questions that are appropriate for this FAQ, or would
like to improve an answer, please send email to us at

Note that the lisp-faq mailing list is for discussion of the content
of the FAQ posting only.  It is not the place to ask questions about Lisp;
use either the mailing list or the
comp.lang.lisp newsgroup for that.  If a question appears frequently
in one of those forums, it will get added to the FAQ list.

*** Copyright:

Copyright (c) 1992-94 by Mark Kantrowitz and Barry Margolin. 
All rights reserved. 

This FAQ may be freely redistributed in its entirety without
modification provided that this copyright notice is not removed.  It
may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents
(e.g., published for sale on CD-ROM, floppy disks, books, magazines,
or other print form) without the prior written permission of the
copyright holder.  Permission is expressly granted for this document
to be made available for file transfer from installations offering
unrestricted anonymous file transfer on the Internet.

If this FAQ is reproduced in offline media (e.g., CD-ROM, print form,
etc.), a complimentary copy should be sent to Mark Kantrowitz, School
of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3891 USA.

This article is provided AS IS without any express or implied warranty.

*** Recent Changes:

;;; 1.54:
;;;  8-MAR-95 mk    Removed the CORBA entry from part 5 of the FAQ, since
;;;                 Donald Vines is no longer at NEC. Thus there's nobody at
;;;                 NEC to provide support for the CLOS binding.
;;; 10-MAR-95 mk    Added Xgcl entry to part 7.
;;; 1.55:
;;; 13-MAR-95 mk    Added 800 number for Blackboard Technology Group.
;;; 1.56:
;;; 14-APR-95 mk    Updated DTP entry.
;;; 1.57:
;;;  1-MAY-95 mk    Added environment variable access to [2-11].
;;; 1.58:
;;; 29-AUG-95 mk    Added entry on CL-Grasper, the SRI Grapher, to [7-2].
;;; 1.59:
;;; 13-SEP-95 mk    Updated WOOD entry.
;;; 1.60:
;;;  9-NOV-95 mk    Updated info on ISO Lisp in [4-10].
;;; 14-NOV-95 mk    Updated Allegro CL entry, and added entry on Allegro CL 3.0
;;;                 Web Version for Windows to [4-0].
;;; 20-FEB-96 mk -->
;;;  1-MAY-96 mk    Updated MCL entry in part 4.
;;; 14-MAR-97 mk    Updated MCL information.

*** Topics Covered:

There are currently seven parts to the Lisp FAQ:

   1. Introductory Matter and Bibliography of Introductions and References
   2. General Questions
   3. Common Programming Pitfalls
   4. Lisp Implementations and Mailing Lists
   5. Object-oriented Programming in Lisp
   6. FTP Archives and Resources
   7. Lisp Window Systems and GUIs

All parts are posted to comp.lang.lisp. Part 5 is cross-posted to the
comp.lang.clos newsgroup.  

Topics Covered (Part 1):

  [1-0]   What is the purpose of this newsgroup?
  [1-1]   What is the difference between Scheme and Common Lisp?
  [1-2]   Lisp books, introductions, documentation, periodicals,
          journals, and conference proceedings. 
  [1-3]   How can I improve my Lisp programming style and coding efficiency?
  [1-4]   Where can I learn about implementing Lisp interpreters and compilers?
  [1-5]   What is the "minimal" set of primitives needed for a Lisp
  [1-6]   What does CLOS, PCL, X3J13, CAR, CDR, ... mean? 
  [1-7]   Lisp Job Postings

Topics Covered (Part 2):

  [2-1]   Is there a GNU-Emacs interface to Lisp?
  [2-2]   When should I use a hash table instead of an association list?
  [2-3]   What is the equivalent of EXPLODE and IMPLODE in Common Lisp?
  [2-4]   Is Lisp inherently slower than more conventional languages such as C?
  [2-5]   Why does Common Lisp have "#'"?
  [2-6]   How do I call non-Lisp functions from Lisp?
  [2-7]   Can I call Lisp functions from other languages?
  [2-8]   I want to call a function in a package that might not exist at
          compile time. How do I do this?  
  [2-9]   What is CDR-coding?
  [2-10]  What is garbage collection?
  [2-11]  How do I save an executable image of my loaded Lisp system?
          How do I run a Unix command in my Lisp? How do I exit Lisp?
          Access environment variables?
  [2-12]  I'm porting some code from a Symbolics Lisp machine to some
          other platform, and there are strange characters in the code.
          What do they mean?  
  [2-13]  History: Where did Lisp come from?
  [2-14]  How do I find the argument list of a function?
          How do I get the function name from a function object?
  [2-15]  How can I have two Lisp processes communicate via unix sockets?
  [2-16]  How can I create a stream that acts like UNIX's /dev/null
          (i.e., gobbles any output and immediately signals EOF on
          input operations)?
  [2-17]  Read-time conditionalization of code (#+ #- and *features*)
  [2-18]  What reader macro characters are used in major Lisp systems?
  [2-19]  How do I determine if a file is a directory or not? 
          How do I get the current directory name from within a Lisp 
          program? Is there any way to create a directory?
  [2-20]  What is a "Lisp Machine" (LISPM)?
  [2-21]  How do I tell if a symbol names a function and not a macro?

Common Pitfalls (Part 3):

  [3-0]  Why does (READ-FROM-STRING "foobar" :START 3) return FOOBAR
         instead of BAR?  
  [3-1]  Why can't it deduce from (READ-FROM-STRING "foobar" :START 3)
         that the intent is to specify the START keyword parameter
         rather than the EOF-ERROR-P and EOF-VALUE optional parameters?   
  [3-2]  Why can't I apply #'AND and #'OR?
  [3-3]  I used a destructive function (e.g. DELETE, SORT), but it
         didn't seem to work.  Why? 
  [3-4]  After I NREVERSE a list, it's only one element long.  After I
         SORT a list, it's missing things.  What happened? 
  [3-5]  Why does (READ-LINE) return "" immediately instead of waiting
         for me to type a line?  
  [3-6]  I typed a form to the read-eval-print loop, but nothing happened. Why?
  [3-7]  DEFMACRO doesn't seem to work.
         When I compile my file, LISP warns me that my macros are undefined
         functions, or complains "Attempt to call <function> which is 
         defined as a macro.
  [3-8]  Name conflict errors are driving me crazy! (EXPORT, packages)
  [3-9]  Closures don't seem to work properly when referring to the
         iteration variable in DOLIST, DOTIMES, DO and LOOP.
  [3-10] What is the difference between FUNCALL and APPLY?
  [3-11] Miscellaneous things to consider when debugging code.
  [3-12] When is it right to use EVAL?
  [3-13] Why does my program's behavior change each time I use it?
  [3-14] When producing formatted output in Lisp, where should you put the
         newlines (e.g., before or after the line, FRESH-LINE vs TERPRI,
         ~& vs ~% in FORMAT)?
  [3-15] I'm using DO to do some iteration, but it doesn't terminate. 
  [3-16] My program works when interpreted but not when compiled!

Lisp Implementations and Mailing Lists (Part 4):

  [4-0]   Free Common Lisp implementations.
  [4-1]   Commercial Common Lisp implementations.
  [4-1a]  Lisp-to-C translators
  [4-2]   Scheme Implementations
  [4-4]   Free Implementations of Other Lisp Dialects
  [4-5]   Commercial Implementations of Other Lisp Dialects
  [4-6]   What is Dylan?
  [4-7]   What is Pearl Common Lisp?
  [4-9]   What Lisp-related discussion groups and mailing lists exist?
  [4-10]  Where can I get a copy of the ANSI Common Lisp standard?
          What is ISO Lisp?

Object-oriented Programming in Lisp (Part 5):

  [5-0]   What is CLOS (PCL) and where can I get it?
          How do you pronounce CLOS? What is the Meta-Object Protocol (MOP)?
  [5-1]   What documentation is available about object-oriented
          programming in Lisp?  
  [5-2]   How do I write a function that can access defstruct slots by
          name?  I would like to write something like 
          (STRUCTURE-SLOT <object> '<slot-name>).   
  [5-3]   How can I list all the CLOS instances in a class?
  [5-4]   How can I store data and CLOS instances (with possibly circular
          references) on disk so that they may be retrieved at some later
          time? (Persistent Object Storage)
  [5-5]   Given the name of a class, how can I get the names of its slots?
  [5-6]   Free CLOS software.
  [5-7]   Common CLOS Blunders

FTP Resources (Part 6):

  [6-0] General information about FTP Resources for Lisp
  [6-1] Repositories of Lisp Software
  [6-3] Publicly Redistributable Lisp Software
  [6-6] Formatting code in LaTeX (WEB and other literate programming tools)
  [6-7] Where can I get an implementation of Prolog in Lisp?
  [6-8] World-Wide Web (WWW) Resources

Lisp Window Systems and GUIs (Part 7):
  [7-1] How can I use the X Window System or other GUIs from Lisp?
  [7-2] What Graphers/Browsers are available?

Search for \[#\] to get to question number # quickly.

*** Introduction:

Certain questions and topics come up frequently in the various network
discussion groups devoted to and related to Lisp.  This file/article is
an attempt to gather these questions and their answers into a convenient
reference for Lisp programmers.  It (or a reference to it) is posted
periodically.  The hope is that this will cut down on the user time and
network bandwidth used to post, read and respond to the same questions
over and over, as well as providing education by answering questions
some readers may not even have thought to ask.

This is not a Lisp tutorial, nor is it an exhaustive list of all Lisp
intricacies.  Lisp is a very powerful and expressive language, but with
that power comes many complexities.  This list attempts to address the
ones that average Lisp programmers are likely to encounter.  If you are
new to Lisp, see the answer to the question "How can I learn Lisp?".

The latest version of this FAQ is available via anonymous FTP from CMU:

   To obtain the files from CMU, connect by anonymous FTP to  []
   using username "anonymous" and password "name@host" (substitute your
   email address) or via AFS in the Andrew File System directory
   and get the files lisp_1.faq, lisp_2.faq, lisp_3.faq, lisp_4.faq,
   lisp_5.faq, lisp_6.faq and lisp_7.faq.

You can also obtain a copy of the FAQ by sending a message to with 
   Send Lisp FAQ
in the message body.

The FAQ postings are also archived in the periodic posting archive on []
If you do not have anonymous ftp access, you can access the archive by
mail server as well.  Send an E-mail message to with "help" and "index" in the body on
separate lines for more information.

An automatically generated HTML version of the Lisp FAQ is accessible by
WWW as part of the AI-related FAQs Mosaic page. The URL for this
resource is
The direct URL for the Lisp FAQ is

Unless otherwise specified, the Lisp dialect referred to is Common Lisp,
as defined by "Common Lisp: the Language" (aka "CLtL1") as well as
corrections (but not enhancements) from "Common Lisp: the Language, 2nd
Edition" (aka "CLtL2"), both by Guy L. Steele, Jr. and published by
Digital Press. Note that CLtL2 is NOT an official specification for
the language; ANSI Committee X3J13 is preparing such a specification.
See question [4-10] for information on the status of the ANSI
specification for Common Lisp. Enhancements such as CLOS, conditions,
and the LOOP macro will be referred to separately.

If you need to cite the FAQ for some reason, use the following format:
   Mark Kantrowitz and Barry Margolin, "Answers to Frequently Asked
   Questions about Lisp", comp.lang.lisp, <month>, <year>,,

Subject: [1-0] What is the purpose of this newsgroup?

The newsgroup comp.lang.lisp exists for general discussion of
topics related to the programming language Lisp. For example, possible
topics can include (but are not necessarily limited to):
   announcements of Lisp books and products
   discussion of programs and utilities written in Lisp
   discussion of portability issues
   questions about possible bugs in Lisp implementations
   problems porting an implementation to some architecture
Postings should be of general interest to the Lisp community. See also
question [4-9]. Postings asking for solutions to homework problems are

The comp.lang.lisp newsgroup is archived in
on a weekly basis.

Every so often, somebody posts an inflammatory message, such as
   My programming language is better than yours (Lisp vs. C/Prolog/Scheme). 
   Loop (or Series) should/shouldn't be part of the language.
These "religious" issues serve no real purpose other than to waste
bandwidth. If you feel the urge to respond to such a post, please do
so through a private e-mail message. 

Questions about object oriented programming in Lisp should be directed
to the newsgroup comp.lang.clos. Similarly, questions about the
programming language Scheme should be directed to the newsgroup
comp.lang.scheme. Discussion of functional programming language issues
should be directed to the newsgroup comp.lang.functional. Discussion
of AI programs implemented in Lisp should sometimes be cross-posted to
the newsgroup

Subject: [1-1] What is the difference between Scheme and Common Lisp?

Scheme is a dialect of Lisp that stresses conceptual elegance and
simplicity. It is specified in R4RS and IEEE standard P1178. (See
the Scheme FAQ for details on standards for Scheme.) Scheme is much
smaller than Common Lisp; the specification is about 50 pages,
compared to Common Lisp's 1300 page draft standard. (See question
[4-10] for details on standards for Common Lisp.) Advocates of Scheme
often find it amusing that the Scheme standard is shorter than the
index to CLtL2. 

Scheme is often used in computer science curricula and programming
language research, due to its ability to represent many programming
abstractions with its simple primitives. Common Lisp is often used for
real world programming because of its large library of utility
functions, a standard object-oriented programming facility (CLOS), and
a sophisticated condition handling system.

See the Scheme FAQ for information about object-oriented programming
in Scheme. 

In Common Lisp, a simple program would look something like the

   (defun fact (n)
     (if (< n 2)
         (* n (fact (1- n)))))

In Scheme, the equivalent program would like like this:

   (define fact
     (lambda (n)
       (if (< n 2)
         (* n (fact (- n 1))))))

Experienced Lisp programmers might write this program as follows in order
to allow it to run in constant space:

   (defun fact (n)
     (labels ((tail-recursive-fact (counter accumulator)
                (if (> counter n)
                    (tail-recursive-fact (1+ counter)
                                         (* counter accumulator)))))
       (tail-recursive-fact 1 1)))

Whereas in Scheme the same computation could be written as follows:

   (define fact
     (lambda (n)
       (letrec ((tail-recursive-fact
                 (lambda (counter accumulator)
                   (if (> counter n)
                     (tail-recursive-fact (+ counter 1)
                                          (* counter accumulator))))))
               (tail-recursive-fact 1 1))))

or perhaps (using IEEE named LETs):

   (define fact
     (lambda (n)
       (let loop ((counter n)
                  (accumulator 1))
            (if (< counter 2)
              (loop (- counter 1)
                    (* accumulator counter))))))

Some Schemes allow one to use the syntax (define (fact n) ...) instead
of (define fact (lambda (n) ...)).

Subject: [1-2] Lisp books, introductions, documentation, periodicals,
               journals, and conference proceedings. 

There are several good Lisp introductions and tutorials:

   1. David S. Touretzky
      "Common Lisp: A Gentle Introduction to Symbolic Computation"
      Benjamin/Cummings Publishers, Redwood City, CA, 1990. 592 pages.
      ISBN 0-8053-0492-4 ($42.95). 
           Perhaps the best tutorial introduction to the language. It has
           clear and correct explanations, and covers some fairly advanced
           topics. The book is an updated Common Lisp version of the 1984
           edition published by Harper and Row Publishers. 

           Three free Lisp educational tools which were used in the book --
           Evaltrace, DTRACE and SDRAW -- are available by anonymous ftp from
	   Evaltrace is a graphical notation for explaining how evaluation
	   works and is described in "Visualizing Evaluation in
	   Applicative Languages" by David S. Touretzky and Peter Lee,
	   CACM 45-59, October 1992. DTRACE is a "detailed trace" which
	   provides more information than the tracing tools provided with
	   most Common Lisp implementations. SDRAW is a read-eval-draw
	   loop that evaluates Lisp expressions and draws the result as a
	   cons cell diagram (for both X11 and ascii terminals). Also
	   available is PPMX, a tool for pretty printing macro expansions.

   2. Robert Wilensky.
      "Common LISPcraft"
      W. W. Norton, New York, 1986. 500 pages. ISBN 0-393-95544-3.

   3. Wade L. Hennessey.
      "Common Lisp"
      McGraw-Hill, New York, 1989. 395 pages. ISBN 0-07-028177-7, $26.95.
           Fairly good, but jumps back and forth from the simple to the
           complex rather quickly, with no clear progression in difficulty.

   4. Laurent Siklossy.
      "Let's Talk LISP"
      Prentice-Hall, NJ, 1976. 237 pages, ISBN 0-13-53276-2-8.
           Good introduction, but quite out of date.

   5. Stuart C. Shapiro.
      "Common Lisp: An Interactive Approach"
      Computer Science Press/W.H. Freeman, New York, 1992. 
      358 pages, ISBN 0-7167-8218-9. 
         The errata for the book may be obtained by anonymous ftp from

Other introductions to Lisp include:

   1. A. A. Berk.
      "LISP, The Language of Artificial Intelligence"
      Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985. 160 pages, ISBN 0-44-22097-4-6.

   2. Paul Y. Gloess.
      "An Alfred handy guide to Understanding LISP"
      Alfred Publishers (Sherman Oaks, CA), 1982. 
      64 pages, ISBN 0-88-28421-9-6, $2.95.

   3. Ward D. Maurer.
      "The Programmer's Introduction to LISP"
      American Elsevier, New York, 1972. 112 pages, ISBN 0-44-41957-2-6.

   4. Hank Bromley and Richard Lamson.
      "LISP Lore: A Guide to Programming the LISP Machine", 2nd edition
      Kluwer Academic, Boston, 1987. 337 pages, ISBN 0-89-83822-8-9, $49.95.

   5. Sharam Hekmatpour.
      "Introduction to LISP and Symbol Manipulation"
      Prentice Hall, New York, 1989. 303 pages, ISBN 0-13-53749-0-1, $40.

   6. Deborah G. Tatar
      "A programmer's guide to Common Lisp"
      Digital Press, 1987. 327 pages. ISBN 0-932376-87-8.
           Good introduction on Common Lisp for programmers familiar
           with other programming languages, such as FORTRAN, PASCAL, or C.

   7. Timothy Koschmann
      "The Common Lisp Companion"
      John Wiley & Sons, 1990. 459 pages, ISBN 0-471-503-8-8.
           Targeted for those with some programming experience who wish to 
           learn draft-ANSI Common Lisp, including CLOS and the CL condition 
           system. Examples progress incrementally from simple numerical 
           calculation all the way to a logic-programming extension to CL.
More advanced introductions to Lisp and its use in Artificial
Intelligence include:

   1. Peter Norvig.
      "Paradigms of AI Programming: Case Studies in Common Lisp"
      Morgan Kaufmann, 1992. 946 pages. ISBN 1-55860-191-0 ($49.95).

        Provides an in-depth exposition of advanced AI programming techniques
        and includes large-scale detailed examples. The book is the most
        advanced AI/Common-Lisp programming text and reference currently
        available, and hence is not for the complete novice.  It focuses on the
        programming techniques necessary for building large AI systems,
        including object-oriented programming, and has a strong performance

        The text is marked by its use of "non-toy" examples to illustrate the
        techniques. All of the examples are written in Common Lisp, and copies
        of the source code are available by anonymous ftp from and on disk in Macintosh or DOS format from
        the publisher. Some of the techniques described include rule-based
        pattern matching (GPS, Eliza, a subset of Macsyma, the Emycin expert
        system shell), constraint propagation and backtracking (Waltz
        line-labelling), alpha-beta search (Othello), natural language
        processing (top-down, bottom-up and chart parsing), logic-programming
        (unification and Prolog), interpreters and compilers for Scheme, and
        object-oriented programming (CLOS).

        The examples are also used to illustrate good programming style and
        efficiency. There is a guide to trouble-shooting and debugging Lisp
        programs, a style guide, and a discussion of portability problems.
        Some of the efficiency techniques described include memoization,
        data indexing, compilation, delaying computation, proper use of
        declarations, avoiding garbage collection, and choosing and using the
        correct data structure.

        The book also serves as an advanced introduction to Common Lisp, with
        sections on the Loop macro, CLOS and sequences, and some coverage of 
        error handling, series, and the package facility.

   2. Eugene Charniak, Christopher K. Riesbeck, Drew V. McDermott
      and James R. Meehan.
      "Artificial Intelligence Programming", 2nd edition.
      Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (Hillsdale, NJ), 1987. 
      533 pages, ISBN 0-89-85960-9-2, $29.95.

           Provides many nice code fragments, all of which are written
           in Common Lisp. The first half of the book covers topics
           like macros, the reader, data structures, control structures,
           and defstructs. The second half of the book describes
           programming techniques specific to AI, such as
           discrimination nets, production systems, deductive database
           retrieval, logic programming, and truth maintenance.

   3. Patrick H. Winston and Berthold K. P. Horn.
      "LISP", 3rd edition.
      Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1989. 611 pages. ISBN 0-201-08319-1
           Covers the basic concepts of the language, but also gives a lot
           of detail about programming AI topics such as rule-based expert
           systems, forward chaining, interpreting transition trees, 
           compiling transition trees, object oriented programming,
           and finding patterns in images. Not a tutorial. Has many
           good examples. Source code for the examples is available by
           anonymous ftp from (The code runs in
           Lucid, Allegro, KCL, GCLisp, MCL, Symbolics Genera. Send mail
           with subject line "help" to for more information.)

   4. John R. Anderson, Albert T. Corbett, and Brian J. Reiser.
      "Essential LISP"
      Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1987. 
      352 pages, ISBN 0-20-11114-8-9, $23.95.
           Concentrates on how to use Lisp with iteration and recursion.

   5. Robert D. Cameron and Anthony H. Dixon
      "Symbolic Computing with Lisp"
      Prentice-Hall, 1992, 326 pages. ISBN 0-13-877846-9.
           The book is intended primarily as a third-year computer science
           text. In terms of programming techniques, it emphasizes recursion
           and induction, data abstraction, grammar-based definition of Lisp
           data structures and functional programming style. It uses
           two Lisp languages: 
                (1) a purely functional subset of Lisp called Small Lisp and
                (2) Common Lisp.
           An MS-DOS interpreter for Small Lisp (including source) is
           provided with the book.  It considers applications of Lisp
           to formal symbolic data domains: algebraic expressions,
           logical formulas, grammars and programming languages. 

   6. Tony Hasemer and John Domingue.
      "Common Lisp Programming for Artificial Intelligence"
      Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1989. 444 pages, ISBN 0-20-11757-9-7.

	 This book presents an introduction to Artificial Intelligence
	 with an emphasis on the role of knowledge representation. Three
	 chapters focus on object-oriented programming, including the
	 construction and use of a subset of CLOS.

	 The authors' research into the problems faced by novice Lisp
	 users influenced the content and style of the book. (The authors
	 are members of the Human Cognition Research Laboratory at the
	 Open University in the United Kingdom.) The book employs a
	 tutorial approach, especially in areas that students often find
	 difficult, such as recursion.  Early and progressive treatment of
	 the evaluator promotes understanding of program execution.
	 Hands-on exercises are used to reinforce basic concepts.

	 The book assumes no prior knowledge of Lisp or AI and is a
	 suitable textbook for students in Cognitive Science, Computer
	 Science and other disciplines taking courses in Lisp or AI
	 programming as well as being invaluable for professional
	 programmers who are learning Lisp for developing AI applications.

   7. Steven Tanimoto
      "The Elements of Artificial Intelligence Using Common Lisp", 2nd edition
      Computer Science Press, New York, 1995.
      562 pages, ISBN 0-71-67826-9-3, (ISBN 0-71-67823-0-8, 1990, $48).

   8. Patrick R. Harrison
      "Common Lisp and Artificial Intelligence"
      Prentice Hall, Englewood Clifs, NJ, 1990. 
      244 pages, ISBN 0-13-1552430, $22.50.

   9. Paul Graham
      "On Lisp: Advanced Techniques for Common Lisp"
      Prentice Hall, Englewood Clifs, NJ, 1994. 413 pages, ISBN 0-13-030552-9.
         Emphasizes a bottom-up style of writing programs, which he
         claims is natural in Lisp and has advantages over the
         traditional way of writing programs in C and Pascal.
         Also has in-depth sections on writing macros with several
         nice examples. Source code is available by anonymous ftp from
         as a single 56kb file.

  10. John A. Moyne
      "Lisp: A first language for computing"
       Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1991. 278 pages, ISBN 0442004265.

General Lisp reference books include:

   1. ANSI/X3J13
      Programming Language Common Lisp (ANSI/X3.226-1994)
      American National Standards Institute
      11 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036.

   2. Kent M. Pitman
      Common Lisp HyperSpec (TM)
      Harlequin, Inc., 1996.
      This is an HTML-only document available via the web.
      Available for browsing from
      Available free for download (subject to some legal restrictions) from
      Includes text from ANSI/X3.226-1994 and other design rationales.

   3. Guy L. Steele
      "Common Lisp: The Language" [CLtL1]
      Digital Press, 1984. 465 pages. ISBN 0-932376-41-X.

   4. Guy L. Steele
      "Common Lisp: The Language, 2nd Edition" [CLtL2]
      Digital Press, 1990. 1029 pages, ISBN 1-55558-041-6 paperbound ($39.95).

      [Butterworth-Heinemann, the owners of Digital Press, have made
       the LaTeX sources to this book available by anonymous FTP from
       A copy of the distribution is also available from

       The paperbound version of the book is, of course, available at
       fine bookstores, or contact them directly at Digital Press, 
       225 Wildwood Street, Woburn, MA 01801, call 800-366-2665
       (617-928-2527), or fax 800-446-6520 (617-933-6333). A copy of
       the Digital Press book catalog is available from the same FTP location.]

       A html version, produced using latex2html on the latex sources,
       is accessible via the URL:

   5. Franz Inc. 
      "Common Lisp: The Reference"
      Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 1988. ISBN 0-201-11458-5
           Entries on Lisp (CLtL1) functions in alphabetical order.

   6. Rosemary Simpson
      "Common Lisp, the Index"
      Franz Inc., Berkeley, CA, 1987. 71 pages, $4.95. 
           A cross-referenced index to Steele's book, 1st edition.

Lisp periodicals include:
   1. LISP Pointers.
      Published by ACM SIGPLAN six times a year. Volume 1, Number 1
      was April-May 1987. 
      Subscriptions: ACM Members $12; ACM Student Members $7; Non-ACM
      members $25. Mail checks payable to the ACM to ACM Inc., PO Box
      12115, Church Street Station, New York, NY 10249.

   2. LISP and Symbolic Computation, Kluwer Academic Press. Volume 1
      was published in 1989. (Robert Kessler <>
      and Carolyn Talcott <> are the editors).
      ISSN 0892-4635.
      Subscriptions: Institutions $169; Individuals $80. Add $8 for
      air mail. Kluwer Academic Publishers, PO Box 322, 3300 AH Dordrecht, 
      The Netherlands, or Kluwer Academic Publishers, PO Box 358, Accord
      Station, Hingham, MA 02018-0358. 

      A full table of contents of all published issues, aims and scope, and
      instructions for authors are available by anonymous ftp from
      as the files lisp.toc and lisp.inf.

   3. Proceedings of the biannual ACM Lisp and Functional Programming
      Conference. (First one was in 1980.)

   4. Proceedings of the annual Lisp Users and Vendors Conference.

Implementation-specific questions:

   1. Lucid. See the wizards.doc file that comes with the Lucid
      release. It describes functions, macros, variables and constants that
      are not official parts of the product and are not supported.
      Constructs described in this file include: the interrupt facility, the
      source file recording facility, the resource facility, multitasking,
      writing your own streams, lisp pipes, i/o buffers, the compiler,
      floating-point functions, memory management, debugger information, the
      window tool kit, extensions to the editor, the foreign function
      interface, clos information, delivery toolkit information, and Lucid
      lisp training classes. The wizards.doc file also covers i/o
      constructs, functions for dealing with DEFSTRUCT, functions and
      constants for dealing with procedure objects, functions and constants
      for dealing with code objects, function for mapping objects,
      additional keyword argument to DISKSAVE, function used in the
      implementation of arrays, function for monitor-specific behavior for a
      process, additional keyword argument to RUN-PROGRAM, and load-time

Many books on Scheme are worth reading even if you use Common Lisp,
because many of the issues are similar. Scheme is a simpler language
to learn, so it is often used in introductory computer science
classes.  See the Scheme FAQ for a list of introductions and
references for Scheme. The two key introductions are Abelson and
Sussman's "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" and 
Friedman and Felleisen's "The Little LISPer". 

Special Topics:

   Garbage Collection:

      Wilson, Paul R., "Uniprocessor Garbage Collection Techniques"
      Proceedings of the 1992 International Workshop on Memory Management.
      Springer Lecture Notes #637. Surveys garbage collection techniques. 
      Includes an excellent bibliography. Available by anonymous ftp from
      The BibTeX format of the bibliography is also available in this
      directory, along with several other papers. Contact
      for more info.

Subject: [1-3] How can I improve my Lisp programming style and 
               coding efficiency?

There are several books about Lisp programming style, including:
   1. Molly M. Miller and Eric Benson
      "Lisp Style and Design"
      Digital Press, 1990. 214 pages, ISBN 1-55558-044-0, $26.95.
           How to write large Lisp programs and improve Lisp programming 
           style. Uses the development of Lucid CL as an example. 

   2. Robin Jones, Clive Maynard, and Ian Stewart.
      "The Art of Lisp Programming"
      Springer-Verlag, 1989. 169 pages, ISBN 0-387-19568-8 ($33).

   3. W. Richard Stark.
      "LISP, Lore, and Logic: An Algebraic View of LISP
       Programming, Foundations, and Applications"
      Springer-Verlag, 1990. 278 pages. ISBN 0-387-97072-X paper ($42).
           Self-modifying code, self-reproducing programs, etc.

   4. CMU CL User's Manual, Chapter 7, (talks about writing
      efficient code). It is available by anonymous ftp from any CMU CS 
      machine (e.g., []) as the file
      [when getting this file by anonymous ftp, one must cd to 
      the directory in one atomic operation, as some of the superior
      directories on the path are protected from access by anonymous ftp.]

   5. See also Norvig's book, SICP (Abelson & Sussman), SAP
      (Springer and Friedman).

   6. Hallvard Tretteberg's Lisp Style Guide is available by anonymous
      ftp in There is
      a fair bit of overlap between Hallvard's style guide and the notes
      below and in part 3 of this FAQ.

   7. Rajeev Sangal
      "Programming Paradigms in Lisp"
      McGraw-Hill, 1991. ISBN 0-07-054666-5.

   8. Rodney A. Brooks.
      "Programming in Common Lisp"
      John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1985. 303 pages. ISBN 0-471-81888-7.
      Chapter 5 discusses Lisp programming style.

Here are some general suggestions/notes about improving Lisp
programming style, readability, correctness and efficiency:

   General Programming Style Rules:

      - Write short functions, where each function provides a single,
        well-defined operation. Small functions are easier to
        read, write, test, debug, and understand.

      - Use descriptive variable and function names. If it isn't clear
        from the name of a function or variable what its purpose is,
        document it with a documentation string and a comment. In fact,
        even if the purpose is evident from the name, it is still worth
        documenting your code.

      - Don't write Pascal (or C) code in Lisp. Use the appropriate
        predefined functions -- look in the index to CLtL2, or use the
        APROPOS and DESCRIBE functions. Don't put a close parenthesis
        on a line by itself -- this can really irritate programmers
        who grew up on Lisp. Lisp-oriented text editors include tools
        for ensuring balanced parentheses and for moving across 
        pairs of balanced parentheses. You don't need to stick
        comments on close parentheses to mark which expression they close.

      - Use proper indentation -- you should be able to understand
        the structure of your definitions without noticing the parentheses. 
        In general, the way one indents a form is controlled by the
        first symbol of the form. In DEFUNs, for example, one puts the
        symbol DEFUN, the function name, and the argument list all on
        the same line. If the argument list is too long, one can break
        it at one of the lambda keywords. Following the argument list,
        one inserts a carriage return and lists the expressions in the
        body of the definition, with each form starting on its own
        line indented three spaces relative to the open parenthesis of
        the parent (in this case the DEFUN). This general style -- of
        putting all the significant elements of a form on a single
        line, followed by a carriage return and the indented body --
        holds for many Lisp constructs. There are, of course, variations,
        such as keeping the first clause on the same line as the COND
        or CASE symbol, and the rules are relaxed in different ways to
        keep line lengths to a manageable size. If you find yourself having
        trouble fitting everything in even with line breaking and
        relaxing the rules, either your function names are too long or your
        code isn't very modular. You should perceive this as a signal that
        you need to break up your big definitions into smaller chunks, each
        with a clearly defined purpose, and possibly replace long function
        names with concise but apt shorter ones.

      - Use whitespace appropriately. Use whitespace to separate
        semantically distinct code segments, but don't use too much
        whitespace. For example,
              (defun foo (x y)
                (let ((z (+ x y 10)))
                  (* z z)))

              (defun foo(x y)(let((z(+ x y 10)))(* z z)))

              (defun foo ( x  y )
                (let ( ( z (+ x y 10) ) )
                  ( * z z )
         Although the Lisp reader and compiler don't care which you
         use, most experienced Lisp programmers find the first example 
         much easier to read than the last two.

       - Don't use line lengths greater than 80 characters. People who
         write code using Zmacs on Symbolics Lisp Machines are notoriously
         guilty of violating this rule, because the CPT6 font allows
         one to squeeze a tremendous amount of code on the display,
         especially if one spreads the code out horizontally. This
         makes it more difficult to read when printed out or read on
         an 80x24 xterm window. In fact, use a line length of 72 characters
         because it leaves a strip of white space at the edge of the window.

   The following functions often abused or misunderstood by novices. 
   Think twice before using any of these functions.

      - EVAL. Novices almost always misuse EVAL. When experts use
        EVAL, they often would be better off using APPLY, FUNCALL, or
        SYMBOL-VALUE. Use of EVAL when defining a macro should set off
        a warning bell -- macro definitions are already evaluated
        during expansion. See also the answer to question 3-12.
        The general rule of thumb about EVAL is: if you think you need
        to use EVAL, you're probably wrong.

      - PROGV. PROGV binds dynamic variables and is often misused in
        conjunction with EVAL, which uses the dynamic environment. 
        In general, avoid unnecessary use of special variables.
        PROGV is mainly for writing interpreters for languages embedded
        in Lisp. If you want to bind a list of values to a list of
        lexical variables, use
            (MULTIPLE-VALUE-BIND (..) (VALUES-LIST ..) ..)
            (MULTIPLE-VALUE-SETQ (..) (VALUES-LIST ..))
        instead. Most decent compilers can optimize this expression. 
        However, use of this idiom is not to be encouraged unless absolutely

      - CATCH and THROW. Often a named BLOCK and RETURN-FROM are
        more appropriate. Use UNWIND-PROTECT when necessary.

      - Destructive operations, such as NCONC, SORT, DELETE,
        RPLACA, and RPLACD, should be used carefully and sparingly.
        In general, trust the garbage collector: allocate new
        data structures when you need them.

   To improve the readability of your code,

      - Don't use any C{A,D}R functions with more than two
        letters between the C and the R. When nested, they become
        hard to read. If you have complex data structures, you
        are often better off describing them with a DEFSTRUCT,
        even if the type is LIST. The data abstraction afforded by
        DEFSTRUCT makes the code much more readable and its purpose
        clearer. If you must use C{A,D}R, try to use
        DESTRUCTURING-BIND instead, or at least SECOND, THIRD, 
        NTH, NTHCDR, etc.

      - Use COND instead of IF and PROGN. In general, don't use PROGN if
        there is a way to write the code within an implicit
        PROGN. For example, 
           (IF (FOO X)
               (PROGN (PRINT "hi there") 23)
        should be written using COND instead.

      - Never use a 2-argument IF or a 3-argument IF with a second
        argument of NIL unless you want to emphasize the return value;
        use WHEN and UNLESS instead. You will want to emphasize the
        return value when the IF clause is embedded within a SETQ,
        such as (SETQ X (IF (EQ Y Z) 2 NIL)). If the second argument 
        to IF is the same as the first, use OR instead: (OR P Q) rather
        than (IF P P Q). Use UNLESS instead of (WHEN (NOT ..) ..)
        but not instead of (WHEN (NULL ..) ..).

      - Use COND instead of nested IF statements. Be sure to check for
        unreachable cases, and eliminate those cond-clauses.

      - Use backquote, rather than explicit calls to LIST, CONS, and
        APPEND, whenever writing a form which produces a Lisp form, but
        not as a general substitute for LIST, CONS and APPEND. LIST, 
        CONS and APPEND usually allocate new storage, but lists produced
        by backquote may involve destructive modification (e.g., ,.).

      - Make the names of special (global) variables begin and end
        with an asterisk (*): (DEFVAR *GLOBAL-VARIABLE*)   
        Some programmers will mark the beginning and end of an internal
        global variable with a percent (%) or a period (.).
        Make the names of constants begin and end with a plus (+):
        (DEFCONSTANT +E+ 2.7182818)
        This helps distinguish them from lexical variables. Some people
        prefer to use macros to define constants, since this avoids
        the problem of accidentally trying to bind a symbol declared
        with defconstant.

      - If your program is built upon an underlying substrate which is
        implementation-dependent, consider naming those functions and
        macros in a way that visually identifies them, either by placing
        them in their own package, or prepending a character like a %, ., 
        or ! to the function name. Note that many programmers use the
        $ as a macro character for slot access, so it should be avoided
        unless you're using it for that purpose.

      - Don't use property lists. Instead, use an explicit hash table.
        This helps avoid problems caused by the symbol being in the wrong
        package, accidental reuse of property keys from other
        programs, and allows you to customize the structure of the table. 

      - Use the most specific construct that does the job. This lets
        readers of the code see what you intended when writing the code.
        For example, don't use SETF if SETQ will do (e.g., for lexical
        variables). Using SETQ will tell readers of your code that you
        aren't doing anything fancy. Likewise, don't use EQUAL where EQ
        will do. Use the most specific predicate to test your conditions. 
      - If you intend for a function to be a predicate, have it return T
        for true, not just non-NIL. If there is nothing worth returning
        from a function, returning T is conventional. But if a function
        is intended to be more than just a predicate, it is better to 
        return a useful value. (For example, this is one of the differences
        between MEMBER and FIND.)

      - When NIL is used as an empty list, use () in your code. When NIL
        is used as a boolean, use NIL. Similarly, use NULL to test for an
        empty list, NOT to test a logical value. Use ENDP to test for the
        end of a list, not NULL.

      - Don't use the &AUX lambda-list keyword. It is always clearer to
        define local variables using LET or LET*.

      - When using RETURN and RETURN-FROM to exit from a block, don't
        use (VALUES ..) when returning only one value, except if you
        are using it to suppress extra multiple values from the first

      - If you want a function to return no values (i.e., equivalent to
        VOID in C), use (VALUES) to return zero values. This signals
        to the reader that the function is used mainly for side-effects.

      - (VALUES (VALUES 1 2 3)) returns only the first value, 1.
        You can use (VALUES (some-multiple-value-function ..)) to suppress
        the extra multiple values from the function. Use MULTIPLE-VALUE-PROG1
        instead of PROG1 when the multiple values are significant.

      - When using MULTIPLE-VALUE-BIND and DESTRUCTURING-BIND, don't rely
        on the fact that NIL is used when values are missing. This is
        an error in some implementations of DESTRUCTURING-BIND. Instead,
        make sure that your function always returns the proper number of

      - Type the name of external symbols, functions, and variables
        from the COMMON-LISP package in uppercase. This will allow your
        code to work properly in a case-sensitive version of Common Lisp,
        since the print-names of symbols in the COMMON-LISP package
        are uppercase internally. (However, not everybody feels that
        being nice to case-sensitive Lisps is a requirement, so this
        isn't an absolute style rule, just a suggestion.)

    Lisp Idioms:

      - MAPCAN is used with a function to return a variable number of
        items to be included in an output list. When the function returns zero
        or one items, the function serves as a filter. For example,
           (mapcan #'(lambda (x) (when (and (numberp x) (evenp x)) (list x)))
                   '(1 2 3 4 x 5 y 6 z 7))


      - Comment your code. Use three semicolons in the left margin before
        the definition for major explanations. Use two semicolons that
        float with the code to explain the routine that follows. Two
        semicolons may also be used to explain the following line when the
        comment is too long for the single semicolon treatment. Use
        a single semicolon to the right of the code to explain a particular
        line with a short comment. The number of semicolons used roughly
        corresponds with the length of the comment. Put at least one blank
        line before and after top-level expressions.

      - Include documentation strings in your code. This lets users
        get help while running your program without having to resort to
        the source code or printed documentation. 

   Issues related to macros:

      - Never use a macro instead of a function for efficiency reasons.
        Declaim the function as inline -- for example, 
          (DECLAIM (INLINE ..))
        This is *not* a magic bullet -- be forewarned that inline
        expansions can often increase the code size dramatically. INLINE
        should be used only for short functions where the tradeoff is
        likely to be worthwhile: inner loops, types that the compiler
        might do something smart with, and so on.

      - When defining a macro that provides an implicit PROGN, use the
        &BODY lambda-list keyword instead of &REST.

      - Use gensyms for bindings within a macro, unless the macro lets
        the user explicitly specify the variable. For example:
            (defmacro foo ((iter-var list) body-form &body body)
              (let ((result (gensym "RESULT")))
                `(let ((,result nil))
                   (dolist (,iter-var ,list ,result)
                     (setq ,result ,body-form)
                     (when ,result
        This avoids errors caused by collisions during macro expansion
        between variable names used in the macro definition and in the
        supplied body.

      - Use a DO- prefix in the name of a macro that does some kind of
        iteration, WITH- when the macro establishes bindings, and
        DEFINE- or DEF- when the macro creates some definitions. Don't
        use the prefix MAP- in macro names, only in function names.

      - Don't create a new iteration macro when an existing function
        or macro will do.

      - Don't define a macro where a function definition will work just
        as well -- remember, you can FUNCALL or MAPCAR a function but 
        not a macro.

      - The LOOP and SERIES macros generate efficient code. If you're
        writing a new iteration macro, consider learning to use one
        of them instead.
   File Modularization:

      - If your program involves macros that are used in more than one
        file, it is generally a good idea to put such macros in a separate
        file that gets loaded before the other files. The same things applies
        to primitive functions. If a macro is complicated, the code that
        defines the macro should be put into a file by itself. In general, if
        a set of definitions form a cohesive and "independent" whole, they
        should be put in a file by themselves, and maybe even in their own
        package. It isn't unusual for a large Lisp program to have files named
        "site-dependent-code", "primitives.lisp", and "macros.lisp". If a file
        contains primarily macros, put "-macros" in the name of the file.

   Stylistic preferences:

      - Use (SETF (CAR ..) ..) and (SETF (CDR ..) ..) in preference to
        RPLACA and RPLACD. Likewise (SETF (GET ..) ..) instead of PUT.

      - Use INCF, DECF, PUSH and POP instead instead of the corresponding
        SETF forms.

      - Many programmers religiously avoid using CATCH, THROW, BLOCK,
        PROG, GO and TAGBODY.  Tags and go-forms should only be necessary
        to create extremely unusual and complicated iteration constructs. In
        almost every circumstance, a ready-made iteration construct or
        recursive implementation is more appropriate.

      - Don't use LET* where LET will do. Don't use LABELS where FLET
        will do. Don't use DO* where DO will do.

      - Don't use DO where DOTIMES or DOLIST will do.

      - If you like using MAPCAR instead of DO/DOLIST, use MAPC when
        no result is needed -- it's more efficient, since it doesn't
        cons up a list. If a single cumulative value is required, use
        REDUCE. If you are seeking a particular element, use FIND,
        POSITION, or MEMBER.

      - If using REMOVE and DELETE to filter a sequence, don't use the
        :test-not keyword or the REMOVE-IF-NOT or DELETE-IF-NOT functions.
        Use COMPLEMENT to complement the predicate and the REMOVE-IF
        or DELETE-IF functions instead.

      - Use complex numbers to represent points in a plane.

      - Don't use lists where vectors are more appropriate. Accessing the
        nth element of a vector is faster than finding the nth element
        of a list, since the latter requires pointer chasing while the
        former requires simple addition. Vectors also take up less space
        than lists. Use adjustable vectors with fill-pointers to
        implement a stack, instead of a list -- using a list continually
        conses and then throws away the conses.

      - When adding an entry to an association list, use ACONS, not
        two calls to CONS. This makes it clear that you're using an alist.

      - If your association list has more than about 10 entries in it,
        consider using a hash table. Hash tables are often more efficient.
        (See also [2-2].)

      - When you don't need the full power of CLOS, consider using
        structures instead. They are often faster, take up less space, and
        easier to use.

      - Use PRINT-UNREADABLE-OBJECT when writing a print-function.

      - Use WITH-OPEN-FILE instead of OPEN and CLOSE.

      - When a HANDLER-CASE clause is executed, the stack has already
        unwound, so dynamic bindings that existed when the error
        occured may no longer exist when the handler is run. Use
        HANDLER-BIND if you need this. 

      - When using CASE and TYPECASE forms, if you intend for the form
        to return NIL when all cases fail, include an explicit OTHERWISE
        clause. If it would be an error to return NIL when all cases
        fail, use ECASE, CCASE, ETYPECASE or CTYPECASE instead.

      - Use local variables in preference to global variables whenever
        possible. Do not use global variables in lieu of parameter passing.
        Global variables can be used in the following circumstances:
          *  When one function needs to affect the operation of
             another, but the second function isn't called by the first.
             (For example, *load-pathname* and *break-on-warnings*.)
          *  When a called function needs to affect the current or future
             operation of the caller, but it doesn't make sense to accomplish
             this by returning multiple values.
          *  To provide hooks into the mechanisms of the program.
             (For example, *evalhook*, *, /, and +.)
          *  Parameters which, when their value is changed, represent a
             major change to the program.
             (For example, *print-level* and *print-readably*.)
          *  For state that persists between invocations of the program.
             Also, for state which is used by more than one major program.
             (For example, *package*, *readtable*, *gensym-counter*.)
          *  To provide convenient information to the user.
             (For example, *version* and *features*.)
          *  To provide customizable defaults. 
             (For example, *default-pathname-defaults*.)
          *  When a value affects major portions of a program, and passing
             this value around would be extremely awkward. (The example
             here is output and input streams for a program. Even when
             the program passes the stream around as an argument, if you
             want to redirect all output from the program to a different
             stream, it is much easier to just rebind the global variable.)

      - Beginning students, especially ones accustomed to programming
        in C, Pascal, or Fortran, tend to use global variables to hold or pass
        information in their programs. This style is considered ugly by
        experienced Lisp programmers. Although assignment statements can't
        always be avoided in production code, good programmers take advantage
        of Lisp's functional programming style before resorting to SETF and
        SETQ. For example, they will nest function calls instead of using a
        temporary variable and use the stack to pass multiple values. When
        first learning to program in Lisp, try to avoid SETF/SETQ and their
        cousins as much as possible. And if a temporary variable is necessary,
        bind it to its first value in a LET statement, instead of letting it
        become a global variable by default. (If you see lots of compiler
        warnings about declaring variables to be special, you're probably
        making this mistake. If you intend a variable to be global, it should
        be defined with a DEFVAR or DEFPARAMETER statement, not left to the
        compiler to fix.)

   Correctness and efficiency issues:

      - In CLtL2, IN-PACKAGE does not evaluate its argument. Use defpackage
        to define a package and declare the external (exported)
        symbols from the package. 

      - The ARRAY-TOTAL-SIZE-LIMIT may be as small as 1024, and the
        CALL-ARGUMENTS-LIMIT may be as small as 50. 

      - Novices often mistakenly quote the conditions of a CASE form.
        For example, (case x ('a 3) ..) is incorrect. It would return
        3 if x were the symbol QUOTE. Use (case x (a 3) ..) instead.

      - Avoid using APPLY to flatten lists. Although 
           (apply #'append list-of-lists)
        may look like a call with only two arguments, it becomes a 
        function call to APPEND, with the LIST-OF-LISTS spread into actual
        arguments. As a result it will have as many arguments as there are
        elements in LIST-OF-LISTS, and hence may run into problems with the
           (reduce #'append list-of-lists :from-end t)
           (mapcan #'copy-list list-of-lists)
        The second will often be more efficient (see note below about choosing
        the right algorithm). Beware of calls like (apply f (mapcar ..)).

      - NTH must cdr down the list to reach the elements you are
        interested in. If you don't need the structural flexibility of
        lists, try using vectors and the ELT function instead.

      - CASE statements can be vectorized if the keys are consecutive
        numbers. Such CASE statements can still have OTHERWISE clauses.
        To take advantage of this without losing readability, use #. with 
        symbolic constants:

            (eval-when (compile load eval)
               (defconstant RED 1)
               (defconstant GREEN 2)
               (defconstant BLUE 3))

            (case color
              (#.RED   ...)
              (#.GREEN ...)
              (#.BLUE  ...)

      - Don't use quoted constants where you might later destructively
        modify them. For example, instead of writing '(c d) in
           (defun foo ()
             (let ((var '(c d)))
        write (list 'c 'd) instead. Using a quote here can lead to
        unexpected results later. If you later destructively modify the 
        value of var, this is self-modifying code! Some Lisp compilers
        will complain about this, since they like to make constants
        read-only. Modifying constants has undefined results in ANSI CL.
        See also the answer to question [3-13].

        Similarly, beware of shared list structure arising from the use
        of backquote. Any sublist in a backquoted expression that doesn't
        contain any commas can share with the original source structure.

      - Don't proclaim unsafe optimizations, such as
           (proclaim '(optimize (safety 0) (speed 3) (space 1))) 
        since this yields a global effect. Instead, add the
        optimizations as local declarations to small pieces of
        well-tested, performance-critical code:
           (defun well-tested-function ()
              (declare (optimize (safety 0) (speed 3) (space 1)))
        Such optimizations can remove run-time type-checking; type-checking
        is necessary unless you've very carefully checked your code
        and added all the appropriate type declarations.

      - Some programmers feel that you shouldn't add declarations to
        code until it is fully debugged, because incorrect
        declarations can be an annoying source of errors. They recommend
        using CHECK-TYPE liberally instead while you are developing the code.
        On the other hand, if you add declarations to tell the
        compiler what you think your code is doing, the compiler can
        then tell you when your assumptions are incorrect.
        Declarations also make it easier for another programmer to read
        your code. 

      - Declaring the type of variables to be FIXNUM does not
        necessarily mean that the results of arithmetic involving the 
        fixnums will be a fixnum; it could be a BIGNUM. For example,
           (declare (type fixnum x y))
           (setq z (+ (* x x) (* y y)))
        could result in z being a BIGNUM. If you know the limits of your
        numbers, use a declaration like
           (declare (type (integer 0 100) x y))
        instead, since most compilers can then do the appropriate type
        inference, leading to much faster code.

      - Don't change the compiler optimization with an OPTIMIZE
        proclamation or declaration until the code is fully debugged
        and profiled.  When first writing code you should say 
        (declare (optimize (safety 3))) regardless of the speed setting.

      - Depending on the optimization level of the compiler, type
        declarations are interpreted either as (1) a guarantee from
        you that the variable is always bound to values of that type,
        or (2) a desire that the compiler check that the variable is
        always bound to values of that type. Use CHECK-TYPE if (2) is
        your intention.

      - If you get warnings about unused variables, add IGNORE
        declarations if appropriate or fix the problem. Letting such
        warnings stand is a sloppy coding practice.

   To produce efficient code,

      - choose the right algorithm. For example, consider seven possible
        implementations of COPY-LIST:

           (defun copy-list (list)
             (let ((result nil))
               (dolist (item list result)
                 (setf result (append result (list item))))))

           (defun copy-list (list)
             (let ((result nil))
               (dolist (item list (nreverse result))
                 (push item result))))

           (defun copy-list (list)
             (mapcar #'identity list))

           (defun copy-list (list)
             (let ((result (make-list (length list))))
               (do ((original list (cdr original))
                    (new result (cdr new)))
                   ((null original) result)
                 (setf (car new) (car original)))))

           (defun copy-list (list)
             (when list
               (let* ((result (list (car list)))
                      (tail-ptr result))
                 (dolist (item (cdr list) result)
                   (setf (cdr tail-ptr) (list item))
                   (setf tail-ptr (cdr tail-ptr))))))
            (defun copy-list (list)
              (loop for item in list collect item))

            (defun copy-list (list)
              (if (consp list) 
                  (cons (car list)
                        (copy-list (cdr list)))

        The first uses APPEND to tack the elements onto the end of the list.
        Since APPEND must traverse the entire partial list at each step, this
        yields a quadratic running time for the algorithm.  The second
        implementation improves on this by iterating down the list twice; once
        to build up the list in reverse order, and the second time to reverse
        it. The efficiency of the third depends on the Lisp implementation,
        but it is usually similar to the second, as is the fourth.  The fifth
        algorithm, however, iterates down the list only once. It avoids the
        extra work by keeping a pointer (reference) to the last cons of the 
        list and RPLACDing onto the end of that. Use of the fifth algorithm 
        may yield a speedup. Note that this contradicts the earlier dictum to
        avoid destructive functions. To make more efficient code one might
        selectively introduce destructive operations in critical sections of
        code. Nevertheless, the fifth implementation may be less efficient in
        Lisps with cdr-coding, since it is more expensive to RPLACD cdr-coded
        lists. Depending on the implementation of nreverse, however,
        the fifth and second implementations may be doing the same
        amount of work. The sixth example uses the Loop macro, which usually
        expands into code similar to the third. The seventh example copies
        dotted lists, and runs in linear time, but isn't tail-recursive. 

        There is a long-running discussion of whether pushing items
	onto a list and then applying NREVERSE to the result is faster or
	slower than the alternatives. According to Richard C. Waters (Lisp
	Pointers VI(4):27-34, October-December 1993), the NREVERSE strategy is
	slightly faster in most Lisp implementations. But the speed difference
	either way isn't much, so he argues that one should pursue the option
	that yields the clearest and simplest code, namely using NREVERSE.

        Here's code for a possible implementation of NREVERSE. As is
        evident, most of the alternatives to using NREVERSE involve
        essentially the same code, just reorganized. 

	   (defun nreverse (list)
	     ;; REVERSED is the partially reversed list, 
	     ;; CURRENT is the current cons cell, which will be reused, and
	     ;; REMAINING are the cons cells which have not yet been reversed.
	     (do* ((reversed nil)		
		   (current list remaining)
		   (remaining (cdr current) (cdr current)))
		 ((null current)
	       ;; Reuse the cons cell at the head of the list:
	       ;;    reversed := ((car remaining) . reversed)
	       (setf (cdr current) reversed)
	       (setf reversed current)))

      - use type declarations liberally in time-critical code, but
        only if you are a seasoned Lisp programmer. Appropriate type
        declarations help the compiler generate more specific and
        optimized code. It also lets the reader know what assumptions
        were made. For example, if you only use fixnum arithmetic,
        adding declarations can lead to a significant speedup. If you
        are a novice Lisp programmer, you should use type declarations
        sparingly, as there may be no checking to see if the
        declarations are correct, and optimized code can be harder to
        debug. Wrong declarations can lead to errors in otherwise
        correct code, and can limit the reuse of code in other
        contexts. Depending on the Lisp compiler, it may also 
        be necessary to declare the type of results using THE, since
        some compilers don't deduce the result type from the inputs.

      - check the code produced by the compiler by using the
        disassemble function

Subject: [1-4] Where can I learn about implementing Lisp interpreters 
               and compilers?

Books about Lisp implementation include:

   1. John Allen
      "Anatomy of Lisp"
      McGraw-Hill, 1978. 446 pages. ISBN 0-07-001115-X
           Discusses some of the fundamental issues involved in
           the implemention of Lisp.  

   2. Samuel Kamin
      "Programming Languages, An Interpreter-Based Approach"
      Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1990. ISBN 0-201-06824-9
           Includes sources to several interpreters for Lisp-like languages.
           The source for the interpreters in the book is available
           by anonymous FTP from 
          Tim Budd reimplemented the interpreters in C++, and has made
          them available by anonymous ftp from 

   3. Sharam Hekmatpour
      "Lisp: A Portable Implementation"
      Prentice Hall, 1985. ISBN 0-13-537490-X.
           Describes a portable implementation of a small dynamic
           Lisp interpreter (including C source code). 

   4. Peter Henderson
      "Functional Programming: Application and Implementation"
      Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1980. 355 pages.

   5. Peter M. Kogge
      "The Architecture of Symbolic Computers"
      McGraw-Hill, 1991. ISBN 0-07-035596-7.
           Includes sections on memory management, the SECD and
           Warren Abstract Machines, and overviews of the various
           Lisp Machine architectures.
   6. Daniel P. Friedman, Mitchell Wand, and Christopher T. Haynes
      "Essentials of Programming Languages"
      MIT Press, 1992, 536 pages. ISBN 0-262-06145-7.
           Teaches fundamental concepts of programming language
           design by using small interpreters as examples. Covers
           most of the features of Scheme. Includes a discussion
           of parameter passing techniques, object oriented languages,
           and techniques for transforming interpreters to allow
           their implementation in terms of any low-level language.
           Also discusses scanners, parsers, and the derivation of
           a compiler and virtual machine from an interpreter.
           Includes a few chapters on converting code into a
           continuation passing style.
           Source files available by anonymous ftp from 

   7. Peter Lee, editor, "Topics in Advanced Language Implementation",
      The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991.
           Articles relevant to the implementation of functional
           programming languages.

   8. Also see the proceedings of the biannual ACM Lisp and Functional
      Programming conferences, the implementation notes for CMU Common Lisp,
      Norvig's book, and SICP (Abelson & Sussman).

   9. Christian Queinnec
      "Les Langages Lisp"
      InterEditions (in French), 1994. 500 pages.
      ISBN 2-7296-0549-5, 61-2448-1. (?)
      Cambridge University Press (in English), 1996.
      ISBN 0-521-56247-3. 
      The book covers Lisp, Scheme and other related dialects,
      their interpretation, semantics and compilation.

      All of the programs described in the book are available by
      anonymous ftp from
      For more information, see the book's URL
      or contact the author at

Subject: [1-5] What is the "minimal" set of primitives needed for a Lisp

Many Lisp functions can be defined in terms of other Lisp functions.
For example, CAAR can be defined in terms of CAR as
   (defun caar (list) (car (car list)))
It is then natural to ask whether there is a "minimal" or smallest set
of primitives necessary to implement the language. 

There is no single "best" minimal set of primitives; it all depends on
the implementation. For example, even something as basic as numbers
need not be primitive, and can be represented as lists. One possible
set of primitives might include CAR, CDR, and CONS for manipulation of
S-expressions, READ and PRINT for the input/output of S-expressions
and APPLY and EVAL for the guts of an interpreter.  But then you might
want to add LAMBDA for functions, EQ for equality, COND for
conditionals, SET for assignment, and DEFUN for definitions. QUOTE
might come in handy as well. If you add more specialized datatypes,
such as integers, floats, arrays, characters, and structures, you'll
need to add primitives to construct and access each.

AWKLisp is a Lisp interpreter written in awk, available by anonymous
ftp from It has thirteen
built-in functions: CAR, CDR, CONS, EQ, ATOM, SET, EVAL, ERROR, QUOTE,

A more practical notion of a "minimal" set of primitives might be to
look at the implementation of Scheme. While many Scheme functions can
be derived from others, the language is much smaller than Common Lisp.
See Dybvig's PhD thesis, 
   R. Kent Dybvig, "Three Implementation Models for Scheme", Department
   of Computer Science Technical Report #87-011, University of North
   Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, April 1987.
for a justification of a particularly practical minimal set of
primitives for Scheme.

In a language like Common Lisp, however, there are a lot of low-level
primitive functions that cannot be written in terms of the others,
for starters.  Moreover, real Common Lisp implementations are often
built upon primitives that aren't part of the language, per se, and
certainly not intended to be user-accessible, such as SYS:%POINTER-REF.

Beside the references listed in [1-4], some other relevant references

    McCarthy, John, "Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and
    their Computation by Machine, Part I", CACM 3(4):185-195, April 1960.
       [Defines five elementary functions on s-expressions.]

    McCarthy, John, "A Micro-Manual for Lisp -- not the whole Truth",
    ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 13(8):215-216, August 1978.
       [Defines the Lisp programming language in 10 rules and gives
        a small interpreter (eval) written in this Lisp.]

    McCarthy, John, et al., "LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual", 2nd edition,
    MIT Press, 1965, ISBN 0-262-13011-4 (paperback).  
       [Gives five basic functions, CAR, CDR, CONS, EQ, and ATOM.
        Using composition, conditional expressions (COND), and
        recursion, LAMBDA, and QUOTE, these basic functions may be used
        to construct the entire class of computable functions of
        S-expressions. Gives the functions EVAL and APPLY in
        M-expression syntax.] 

    Abelson and Sussman's SICP, especially chapters 4 and 5 on the
    implementation of meta-circular and explicit-control evaluators.

    Steele and Gabriel's "The Evolution of LISP".

Subject: [1-6]  What does CLOS, PCL, X3J13, CAR, CDR, ... mean? 

Glossary of acronyms:
   CAR             Originally meant "Contents of Address portion of Register",
                   which is what CAR actually did on the IBM 704.
   CDR             Originally meant "Contents of Decrement portion of 
                   Register", which is what CDR actually did
                   on the IBM 704. Pronounced "Cudder" /kUdd@r/ (as in "a cow
                   chews its cdr"). The first syllable is pronounced
                   like "could". 
   LISP            Originally from "LISt Processing"
   GUI             Graphical User Interface
   CLOS            Common Lisp Object System. The object oriented
                   programming standard for Common Lisp. Based on
                   Symbolics FLAVORS and Xerox LOOPS, among others.
                   Pronounced either as "See-Loss" or "Closs". See also PCL.
   PCL             Portable Common Loops. A portable CLOS implementation.
                   Available by anonymous ftp from
   LOOPS           Lisp Object Oriented Programming System. A predecessor
                   to CLOS on Xerox Lisp machines.
   X3J13           Subcommittee of the ANSI committee X3 which is
                   working on the ANSI Standardization of Common Lisp.
   ANSI            American National Standards Institute
   dpANS           draft proposed American National Standard (what an ANS
                   is called while it's in the public review stage of
   CL              Common Lisp
   SC22/WG16       The full name is ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 22/WG 16. It stands
                   for International Organization for Standardization/
                   International Electrotechnical Commission, Joint
                   Technical Committee 1 Subcommittee 22 (full name
                   "Information Technology -- Programming Languages
                   and their Environments"), Working Group 16.  This
                   long-winded name is the ISO working group working
                   on an international Lisp standard, (i.e., the ISO
                   analogue to X3J13). 
   CLtL1           First edition of Guy Steele's book, 
                   "Common Lisp the Language". 
   CLtL2           Second edition of Guy Steele's book,
                   "Common Lisp the Language". 

Subject: [1-7] Lisp Job Postings

The LISP-JOBS mailing list exists to help programmers find Lisp
programming positions, and to help companies with Lisp programming
positions find capable Lisp programmers. (Lisp here means Lisp-like
languages, including Scheme.)

Material appropriate for the list includes Lisp job announcements and
should be sent to Resumes should NOT be sent to
the list. 

[Note: The 'ai+' part of the mailing list name is used for directing
submissions to the appropriate mail-server. The list is NOT restricted
to AI-related Lisp jobs -- all Lisp job announcements are welcome.]

As a matter of policy, the contents of this mailing list is
considered confidential and will not be disclosed to anybody.

To subscribe, send a message to with
   subscribe lisp-jobs <First Name> <Last Name>, <Affiliation/Organization>
in the message body. 

(If your mailer objects to the "+", send subscription requests to
"ai+query", job announcements to "ai+lisp-jobs", etc.)  

For help on using the query server, send mail to with
in the message body.

Job postings sent to the list are automatically archived in

If you have any other questions, please send them to


;;; *EOF*

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