CMUCL User’s Manual

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CMUCL User’s Manual version December 2018, 21d.

Robert A. MacLachlan, Editor

CMUCL is a free, high-performance implementation of the Common Lisp programming language, which runs on most major Unix platforms. It mainly conforms to the ANSI Common Lisp Standard. CMUCL features a sophisticated native-code compiler, a foreign function interface, a graphical source-level debugger, an interface to the X11 Window System, and an Emacs-like editor.

Keywords: lisp, Common Lisp, manual, compiler, programming language implementation, programming environment

This manual is based on CMU Technical Report CMU-CS-92-161, edited by Robert A. MacLachlan, dated July 1992.

Table of Contents

Short Table of Contents

1 Introduction

CMUCL is a free, high-performance implementation of the Common Lisp programming language which runs on most major Unix platforms. It mainly conforms to the ANSI Common Lisp standard. Here is a summary of its main features:

This user’s manual contains only implementation-specific information about CMUCL. Users will also need a separate manual describing the Common Lisp standard, for example, the Hyperspec

In addition to the language itself, this document describes a number of useful library modules that run in CMUCL. Hemlock, an Emacs-like text editor, is included as an integral part of the CMUCL environment. Two documents describe Hemlock: the Hemlock User’s Manual, and the Hemlock Command Implementor’s Manual.

1.1 Distribution and Support

CMUCL is developed and maintained by a group of volunteers who collaborate over the internet. Sources and binary releases for the various supported platforms can be obtained from or These pages describe how to download by HTML.

A number of mailing lists are available for users and developers; please see the web site for more information.

1.2 Command Line Options

The command line syntax and environment is described in the lisp(1) man page in the man/man1 directory of the distribution. See also cmucl(1). Currently CMUCL accepts the following switches:


Same as -help.


Print out the command line options and exit.


specifies batch mode, where all input is directed from standard-input. An error code of 0 is returned upon encountering an EOF and 1 otherwise.


enters quiet mode. This implies setting the variables *load-verbose*, *compile-verbose*, *compile-print*, *compile-progress*, *require-verbose* and *gc-verbose* to NIL, and disables the printing of the startup banner.


requires an argument that should be the name of a core file. Rather than using the default core file, which is searched in a number of places, according to the initial value of the library: search-list, the specified core file is loaded. This switch overrides the value of the CMUCLCORE environment variable, if present.


requires an argument that should be the path to the CMUCL library directory, which is going to be used to initialize the library: search-list, among other things. This switch overrides the value of the CMUCLLIB environment variable, if present.


requires an argument that should be the number of megabytes (1048576 bytes) that should be allocated to the heap. If not specified, a platform-specific default is used. The actual maximum allowed heap size is platform-specific.

Currently, this option is only available for the x86 and sparc platforms.


specifies to enter Hemlock. A file to edit may be specified by placing the name of the file between the program name (usually lisp and the first switch.


accepts one argument which should be a Lisp form to evaluate during the start up sequence. The value of the form will not be printed unless it is wrapped in a form that does output.


accepts an argument that should be the name of the hemlock init file to load the first time the function ed is invoked. The default is to load hemlock-init.object-type, or if that does not exist, hemlock-init.lisp from the user’s home directory. If the file is not in the user’s home directory, the full path must be specified.


accepts an argument that should be the name of an init file to load during the normal start up sequence. The default is to load init.object-type or, if that does not exist, init.lisp from the user’s home directory. If neither exists, CMUCL tries .cmucl-init.object-type and then .cmucl-init.lisp. If the file is not in the user’s home directory, the full path must be specified. If the file does not exist, CMUCL silently ignores it.


accepts no arguments and specifies that an init file should not be loaded during the normal start up sequence. Also, this switch suppresses the loading of a hemlock init file when Hemlock is started up with the -edit switch.


accepts no arguments and specifies that the site init file should not be loaded during the normal start up sequence.


accepts an argument which should be the name of a file to load into Lisp before entering Lisp’s read-eval-print loop.


specifies that Lisp should start up as a slave Lisp and try to connect to an editor Lisp. The name of the editor to connect to must be specified—to find the editor’s name, use the Hemlock “Accept Slave Connections” command. The name for the editor Lisp is of the form:


where machine-name is the internet host name for the machine and socket is the decimal number of the socket to connect to.


specifies what fpu should be used for x87 machines. The possible values are “x87”, “sse2”, or “auto”, which is the default. By default, CMUCL will detect if the chip supports the SSE2 instruction set or not. If so or if -fpu sse2 is specified, the SSE2 core will be loaded that uses SSE2 for floating-point arithmetic. If SSE2 is not available or if -fpu x87 is given, the legacy x87 core is loaded.


indicates that everything after “--” is not subject to CMUCL’s command line parsing. Everything after “--” is placed in the variable ext:*command-line-application-arguments*.

For more details on the use of the -edit and -slave switches, see the Hemlock User’s Manual.

Arguments to the above switches can be specified in one of two ways: switch=value or switch<space>value. For example, to start up the saved core file mylisp.core use either of the following two commands:

   lisp -core=mylisp.core
   lisp -core mylisp.core

1.3 Credits

CMUCL was developed at the Computer Science Department of Carnegie Mellon University. The work was a small autonomous part within the Mach microkernel-based operating system project, and started more as a tool development effort than a research project. The project started out as Spice Lisp, which provided a modern Lisp implementation for use in the CMU community. CMUCL has been under continual development since the early 1980’s (concurrent with the Common Lisp standardization effort). Most of the CMU Common Lisp implementors went on to work on the Gwydion environment for Dylan. The CMU team was lead by Scott E. Fahlman, the Python compiler was written by Robert MacLachlan.

CMUCL’s CLOS implementation is derived from the PCL reference implementation written at Xerox PARC:

Copyright (c) 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 Xerox Corporation.
All rights reserved.

Use and copying of this software and preparation of derivative works based upon this software are permitted. Any distribution of this software or derivative works must comply with all applicable United States export control laws.

This software is made available AS IS, and Xerox Corporation makes no warranty about the software, its performance or its conformity to any specification.

Its implementation of the LOOP macro was derived from code from Symbolics, which was derived from code written at MIT:

Portions of LOOP are Copyright (c) 1986 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
All Rights Reserved.

Permission to use, copy, modify and distribute this software and its documentation for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted, provided that the M.I.T. copyright notice appear in all copies and that both that copyright notice and this permission notice appear in supporting documentation. The names "M.I.T." and "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" may not be used in advertising or publicity pertaining to distribution of the software without specific, written prior permission. Notice must be given in supporting documentation that copying distribution is by permission of M.I.T. M.I.T. makes no representations about the suitability of this software for any purpose. It is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty.

Portions of LOOP are Copyright (c) 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 by Symbolics, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Permission to use, copy, modify and distribute this software and its documentation for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted, provided that the Symbolics copyright notice appear in all copies and that both that copyright notice and this permission notice appear in supporting documentation. The name "Symbolics" may not be used in advertising or publicity pertaining to distribution of the software without specific, written prior permission. Notice must be given in supporting documentation that copying distribution is by permission of Symbolics. Symbolics makes no representations about the suitability of this software for any purpose. It is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty.

Symbolics, CLOE Runtime, and Minima are trademarks, and CLOE, Genera, and Zetalisp are registered trademarks of Symbolics, Inc.

The CLX code is copyrighted by Texas Instruments Incorporated:

Copyright (C) 1987 Texas Instruments Incorporated.

Permission is granted to any individual or institution to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software, provided that this complete copyright and permission notice is maintained, intact, in all copies and supporting documentation.

Texas Instruments Incorporated provides this software "as is" without express or implied warranty.

CMUCL was funded by DARPA under CMU’s "Research on Parallel Computing" contract. Rather than doing pure research on programming languages and environments, the emphasis was on developing practical programming tools. Sometimes this required new technology, but much of the work was in creating a Common Lisp environment that incorporates state-of-the-art features from existing systems (both Lisp and non-Lisp). Archives of the project are available online.

The project funding stopped in 1994, so support at Carnegie Mellon University has been discontinued. All code and documentation developed at CMU was released into the public domain. The project continues as a group of users and developers collaborating over the Internet. The current and previous maintainers include:

  • Marco Antoniotti
  • Martin Cracauer
  • Fred Gilham
  • Alex Goncharov
  • Rob MacLachlan
  • Pierre Mai
  • Eric Marsden
  • Gerd Moellman
  • Tim Moore
  • Carl Shapiro
  • Robert Swindells
  • Raymond Toy
  • Peter Van Eynde
  • Paul Werkowski

In particular, Paul Werkowski and Douglas Crosher completed the port for the x86 architecture for FreeBSD. Peter VanEnyde took the FreeBSD port and created a Linux version. Other people who have contributed to the development of CMUCL since 1981 are

  • David Axmark
  • Miles Bader
  • Rick Busdiecker
  • Bill Chiles
  • Douglas Thomas Crosher
  • Casper Dik
  • Ted Dunning
  • Scott Fahlman
  • Mike Garland
  • Paul Gleichauf
  • Sean Hallgren
  • Richard Harris
  • Joerg-Cyril Hoehl
  • Chris Hoover
  • John Kolojejchick
  • Todd Kaufmann
  • Simon Leinen
  • Sandra Loosemore
  • William Lott
  • Dave McDonald
  • Tim Moore
  • Skef Wholey
  • Paul Foley
  • Helmut Eller
  • Jan Rychter

Countless others have contributed to the project by sending in bug reports, bug fixes, and new features.

This manual is based on CMU Technical Report CMU-CS-92-161, edited by Robert A. MacLachlan, dated July 1992. Other contributors include Raymond Toy, Paul Werkowski and Eric Marsden. The Hierarchical Packages chapter is based on documentation written by Franz. Inc, and is used with permission. The remainder of the document is in the public domain.

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2 Design Choices and Extensions

Several design choices in Common Lisp are left to the individual implementation, and some essential parts of the programming environment are left undefined. This chapter discusses the most important design choices and extensions.

2.1 Data Types

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2.1.1 Integers

The fixnum type is equivalent to (signed-byte 30). Integers outside this range are represented as a bignum or a word integer (see word-integers.) Almost all integers that appear in programs can be represented as a fixnum, so integer number consing is rare.

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2.1.2 Floats

CMUCL supports three floating point formats: single-float, double-float and double-double-float. The first two are implemented with IEEE single and double float arithmetic, respectively. The last is an extension; see extended-float for more information. short-float is a synonym for single-float, and long-float is a synonym for double-float. The initial value of read-default-float-format is single-float.

Both single-float and double-float are represented with a pointer descriptor, so float operations can cause number consing. Number consing is greatly reduced if programs are written to allow the use of non-descriptor representations (see numeric-types.)

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CMUCL supports the IEEE infinity and NaN special values. These non-numeric values will only be generated when trapping is disabled for some floating point exception (see float-traps), so users of the default configuration need not concern themselves with special values.

Constant: extensions:short-float-positive-infinity
Constant: extensions:short-float-negative-infinity
Constant: extensions:single-float-positive-infinity
Constant: extensions:single-float-negative-infinity
Constant: extensions:double-float-positive-infinity
Constant: extensions:double-float-negative-infinity
Constant: extensions:long-float-positive-infinity
Constant: extensions:long-float-negative-infinity

The values of these constants are the IEEE positive and negative infinity objects for each float format.

Function: extensions:float-infinity-p x

This function returns true if x is an IEEE float infinity (of either sign.) x must be a float.

Function: extensions:float-nan-p x
Function: extensions:float-signaling-nan-p x
Function: extensions:float-trapping-nan-p x

float-nan-p returns true if x is an IEEE NaN (Not A Number) object. float-signaling-nan-p returns true only if x is a trapping NaN. With either function, x must be a float. float-trapping-nan-p is the former name of float-signaling-nan-p and is deprecated. Negative Zero

The IEEE float format provides for distinct positive and negative zeros. To test the sign on zero (or any other float), use the Common Lisp float-sign function. Negative zero prints as -0.0f0 or -0.0d0. Denormalized Floats

CMUCL supports IEEE denormalized floats. Denormalized floats provide a mechanism for gradual underflow. The Common Lisp float-precision function returns the actual precision of a denormalized float, which will be less than float-digits. Note that in order to generate (or even print) denormalized floats, trapping must be disabled for the underflow exception (see float-traps.) The Common Lisp least-positive-format-float constants are denormalized.

Function: extensions:float-denormalized-p x

This function returns true if x is a denormalized float. x must be a float. Floating Point Exceptions

The IEEE floating point standard defines several exceptions that occur when the result of a floating point operation is unclear or undesirable. Exceptions can be ignored, in which case some default action is taken, such as returning a special value. When trapping is enabled for an exception, a error is signalled whenever that exception occurs. These are the possible floating point exceptions:


This exception occurs when the result of an operation is too small to be represented as a normalized float in its format. If trapping is enabled, the floating-point-underflow condition is signalled. Otherwise, the operation results in a denormalized float or zero.


This exception occurs when the result of an operation is too large to be represented as a float in its format. If trapping is enabled, the floating-point-overflow exception is signalled. Otherwise, the operation results in the appropriate infinity.


This exception occurs when the result of a floating point operation is not exact, i.e. the result was rounded. If trapping is enabled, the extensions:floating-point-inexact condition is signalled. Otherwise, the rounded result is returned.


This exception occurs when the result of an operation is ill-defined, such as (/ 0.0 0.0). If trapping is enabled, the extensions:floating-point-invalid condition is signalled. Otherwise, a quiet NaN is returned.


This exception occurs when a float is divided by zero. If trapping is enabled, the divide-by-zero condition is signalled. Otherwise, the appropriate infinity is returned. Floating Point Rounding Mode

IEEE floating point specifies four possible rounding modes:


In this mode, the inexact results are rounded to the nearer of the two possible result values. If the neither possibility is nearer, then the even alternative is chosen. This form of rounding is also called “round to even”, and is the form of rounding specified for the Common Lisp round function.


This mode rounds inexact results to the possible value closer to positive infinity. This is analogous to the Common Lisp ceiling function.


This mode rounds inexact results to the possible value closer to negative infinity. This is analogous to the Common Lisp floor function.


This mode rounds inexact results to the possible value closer to zero. This is analogous to the Common Lisp truncate function.

Warning: Although the rounding mode can be changed with set-floating-point-modes, use of any value other than the default (:nearest) can cause unusual behavior, since it will affect rounding done by Common Lisp system code as well as rounding in user code. In particular, the unary round function will stop doing round-to-nearest on floats, and instead do the selected form of rounding. Accessing the Floating Point Modes

These functions can be used to modify or read the floating point modes:

Function: extensions:set-floating-point-modes &key :traps :rounding-mode :fast-mode :accrued-exceptions :current-exceptions
Function: extensions:get-floating-point-modes

The keyword arguments to set-floating-point-modes set various modes controlling how floating point arithmetic is done:


A list of the exception conditions that should cause traps. Possible exceptions are :underflow, :overflow, :inexact, :invalid and :divide-by-zero. Initially all traps except :inexact are enabled. See float-traps.


The rounding mode to use when the result is not exact. Possible values are :nearest, :positive-infinity, :negative-infinity and :zero. Initially, the rounding mode is :nearest. See the warning in section float-rounding-modes about use of other rounding modes.

:current-exceptions, :accrued-exceptions

Lists of exception keywords used to set the exception flags. The current-exceptions are the exceptions for the previous operation, so setting it is not very useful. The accrued-exceptions are a cumulative record of the exceptions that occurred since the last time these flags were cleared. Specifying () will clear any accrued exceptions.


Set the hardware’s “fast mode” flag, if any. When set, IEEE conformance or debuggability may be impaired. Some machines may not have this feature, in which case the value is always nil. Sparc platforms support a fast mode where denormal numbers are silently truncated to zero.

If a keyword argument is not supplied, then the associated state is not changed.

get-floating-point-modes returns a list representing the state of the floating point modes. The list is in the same format as the keyword arguments to set-floating-point-modes, so apply could be used with set-floating-point-modes to restore the modes in effect at the time of the call to get-floating-point-modes.

To make handling control of floating-point exceptions, the following macro is useful.

Macro: ext:with-float-traps-masked traps &body body

body is executed with the selected floating-point exceptions given by traps masked out (disabled). traps should be a list of possible floating-point exceptions that should be ignored. Possible values are :underflow, :overflow, :inexact, :invalid and :divide-by-zero.

This is equivalent to saving the current traps from get-floating-point-modes, setting the floating-point modes to the desired exceptions, running the body, and restoring the saved floating-point modes. The advantage of this macro is that it causes less consing to occur.

Some points about the with-float-traps-masked:

  • Two approaches are available for detecting FP exceptions:
    1. enabling the traps and handling the exceptions
    2. disabling the traps and either handling the return values or checking the accrued exceptions.

    Of these the latter is the most portable because on the alpha port it is not possible to enable some traps at run-time.

  • To assist the checking of the exceptions within the body any accrued exceptions matching the given traps are cleared at the start of the body when the traps are masked.
  • To allow the macros to be nested these accrued exceptions are restored at the end of the body to their values at the start of the body. Thus any exceptions that occurred within the body will not affect the accrued exceptions outside the macro.
  • Note that only the given exceptions are restored at the end of the body so other exception will be visible in the accrued exceptions outside the body.
  • On the x86, setting the accrued exceptions of an unmasked exception would cause a FP trap. The macro behaviour of restoring the accrued exceptions ensures than if an accrued exception is initially not flagged and occurs within the body it will be restored/cleared at the exit of the body and thus not cause a trap.
  • On the x86, and, perhaps, the hppa, the FP exceptions may be delivered at the next FP instruction which requires a FP wait instruction (x86::float-wait) if using the lisp conditions to catch trap within a handler-bind. The handler-bind macro does the right thing and inserts a float-wait (at the end of its body on the x86). The masking and noting of exceptions is also safe here.
  • The setting of the FP flags uses the (floating-point-modes) and the (set (floating-point-modes)...) VOPs. These VOPs blindly update the flags which may include other state. We assume this state hasn’t changed in between getting and setting the state. For example, if you used the FP unit between the above calls, the state may be incorrectly restored! The with-float-traps-masked macro keeps the intervening code to a minimum and uses only integer operations.

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2.1.3 Extended Floats

CMUCL also has an extension to support double-double-float type. This float format provides extended precision of about 31 decimal digits, with the same exponent range as double-float. It is completely integrated into CMUCL, and can be used just like any other floating-point object, including arrays, complex double-double-float’s, and special functions. With appropriate declarations, no boxing is needed, just like single-float and double-float.

The exponent marker for a double-double float number is “W”, so “1.234w0” is a double-double float number.

Note that there are a few shortcomings with double-double-float’s:

  • There are no equivalents to most-positive-double-float, double-float-positive-infinity, etc. This is because these are not really well defined for double-double-float’s.
  • Underflow and overflow may be prematurely signaled. This is due to how double-double-float’s are implemented.
  • Basic arithmetic operations are inlined, so the code size is fairly large.
  • double-double-float arithmetic is quite a bit slower than double-float since there is no hardware support for this type.
  • The constant pi is still a double-float instead of a double-double-float. Use ext:dd-pi if you want a double-double-float value for \pi.
float: extensions:double-double-float

The double-double-float type. It is in the EXTENSIONS package.

Constant: extensions:dd-pi

A double-double-float approximation to \pi.

2.1.4 Characters

CMUCL implements characters according to Common Lisp: The Language II. The main difference from the first version is that character bits and font have been eliminated, and the names of the types have been changed. base-character is the new equivalent of the old string-char. In this implementation, all characters are base characters (there are no extended characters).

If (featurep :unicode) is false, then character codes range between 0 and 255, using the ASCII encoding. Otherwise, Unicode is supported and character codes corresond to utf-16 code units. See i18n for further information.

Table 2.1 shows characters recognized by CMUCL.

NameCodeLisp NameAlternatives
ff11#\VT#\PAGE #\FORM

Table 2.1: Characters recognized by CMUCL

When Unicode support is available, additional character names are supported. If the Unicode character has a name, such as “GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA”, you may use #\greek_small_letter_alpha to create the Greek character alpha whose code point value is #x3b1. Alternatively, you can specify a character using the hex value of the code point. Hence #\u+3b1 produces the same character. The u+ is required for hex values.

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2.1.5 Array Initialization

If no :initial-value is specified, arrays are initialized to zero.

2.1.6 Hash tables

The hash-tables defined by Common Lisp have limited utility because they are limited to testing their keys using the equality predicates provided by (pre-CLOS) Common Lisp. CMUCL overcomes this limitation by allowing its users to specify new hash table tests and hashing methods. The hashing method must also be specified, since the compiler is unable to determine a good hashing function for an arbitrary equality (equivalence) predicate.

Function: extensions:define-hash-table-test hash-table-test-name test-function hash-function

The hash-table-test-name must be a symbol. The test-function takes two objects and returns true iff they are the same. The hash-function takes one object and returns two values: the (positive fixnum) hash value and true if the hashing depends on pointer values and will have to be redone if the object moves.

To create a hash-table using this new “test” (really, a test/hash-function pair), use (make-hash-table :test hash-table-test-name ...).

Note that it is the hash-table-test-name that will be returned by the function hash-table-test, when applied to a hash-table created using this function.

This function updates hash-table-tests, which is now internal.

CMUCL also supports a number of weak hash tables. These weak tables are created using the :weak-p argument to make-hash-table. Normally, a reference to an object as either the key or value of the hash-table will prevent that object from being garbage-collected. However, in a weak table, if the only reference is the hash-table, the object can be collected.

The possible values for :weak-p are listed below. An entry in the table remains if the condition holds


The key is referenced elsewhere


The value is referenced elsewhere


Both the key and value are referenced elsewhere


Either the key or value are referenced elsewhere


For backward compatibility, this means the same as :key.

If the condition does not hold, the object can be removed from the hash table.

Weak hash tables can only be created if the test is eq or eql. An error is signaled if this is not the case.

Function: make-hash-table &key :test :size :rehash-size :rehash-threshold :weak-p

Creates a hash-table with the specified properties.

2.2 Default Interrupts for Lisp

CMUCL has several interrupt handlers defined when it starts up, as follows:


causes Lisp to enter a break loop. This puts you into the debugger which allows you to look at the current state of the computation. If you proceed from the break loop, the computation will proceed from where it was interrupted.


causes Lisp to do a throw to the top-level. This causes the current computation to be aborted, and control returned to the top-level read-eval-print loop.


causes Lisp to suspend execution and return to the Unix shell. If control is returned to Lisp, the computation will proceed from where it was interrupted.


cause Lisp to signal an error.

For keyboard interrupt signals, the standard interrupt character is in parentheses. Your .login may set up different interrupt characters. When a signal is generated, there may be some delay before it is processed since Lisp cannot be interrupted safely in an arbitrary place. The computation will continue until a safe point is reached and then the interrupt will be processed. See signal-handlers to define your own signal handlers.

2.3 Implementation-Specific Packages

When CMUCL is first started up, the default package is the common-lisp-user package. The common-lisp-user package uses the common-lisp and extensions packages. The symbols exported from these three packages can be referenced without package qualifiers. This section describes packages which have exported interfaces that may concern users. The numerous internal packages which implement parts of the system are not described here. Package nicknames are in parenthesis after the full name.

alien, c-call

Export the features of the Alien foreign data structure facility (see aliens.)


This package contains PCL (Portable CommonLoops), which is a portable implementation of CLOS (the Common Lisp Object System.) This implements most (but not all) of the features in the CLOS chapter of Common Lisp: The Language II.

clos-mop (mop)

This package contains an implementation of the CLOS Metaobject Protocol, as per the book The Art of the Metaobject Protocol.


The debug package contains the command-line oriented debugger. It exports utility various functions and switches.


The debug-internals package exports the primitives used to write debuggers. See debug-internals.

extensions (ext)

The extensions packages exports local extensions to Common Lisp that are documented in this manual. Examples include the save-lisp function and time parsing.

hemlock (ed)

The hemlock package contains all the code to implement Hemlock commands. The hemlock package currently exports no symbols.

hemlock-internals (hi)

The hemlock-internals package contains code that implements low level primitives and exports those symbols used to write Hemlock commands.


The keyword package contains keywords (e.g., :start). All symbols in the keyword package are exported and evaluate to themselves (i.e., the value of the symbol is the symbol itself).


The profile package exports a simple run-time profiling facility (see profiling).

common-lisp (cl)

The common-lisp package exports all the symbols defined by Common Lisp: The Language and only those symbols. Strictly portable Lisp code will depend only on the symbols exported from the common-lisp package.


This package exports system call interfaces to Unix (see unix-interface).

system (sys)

The system package contains functions and information necessary for system interfacing. This package is used by the lisp package and exports several symbols that are necessary to interface to system code.


The xlib package contains the Common Lisp X interface (CLX) to the X11 protocol. This is mostly Lisp code with a couple of functions that are defined in C to connect to the server.


The wire package exports a remote procedure call facility (see remote).


The stream package exports the public interface to the simple-streams implementation (see simple-streams).


The xref package exports the public interface to the cross-referencing utility (see xref).

2.4 Hierarchical Packages

2.4.1 Introduction

The Common Lisp package system, designed and standardized several years ago, is not hierarchical. Since Common Lisp was standardized, other languages, including Java and Perl, have evolved namespaces which are hierarchical. This document describes a hierarchical package naming scheme for Common Lisp. The scheme was proposed by Franz Inc and implemented in their Allegro Common Lisp product; a compatible implementation of the naming scheme is implemented in CMUCL. This documentation is based on the Franz Inc. documentation, and is included with permission.

The goals of hierarchical packages in Common Lisp are:

  • Reduce collisions with user-defined packages: it is a well-known problem that package names used by the Lisp implementation and those defined by users can easily conflict. The intent of hierarchical packages is to reduce such conflicts to a minimum.
  • Improve modularity: the current organization of packages in various implementations has grown over the years and appears somewhat random. Organizing future packages into a hierarchy will help make the intention of the implementation more clear.
  • Foster growth in Common Lisp programs, or modules, available to the CL community: the Perl and Java communities are able to contribute code to repositories, with minimal fear of collision, because of the hierarchical nature of the name spaces used by the contributed code. We want the Lisp community to benefit from shared modules in the same way.

In a nutshell, a dot (.) is used to separate levels in package names, and a leading dot signifies a relative package name. The choice of dot follows Java. Perl, another language with hierarchical packages, uses a colon (:) as a delimiter, but the colon is already reserved in Common Lisp. Absolute package names require no modifications to the underlying Common Lisp implementation. Relative package names require only small and simple modifications.

2.4.2 Relative Package Names

Relative package names are needed for the same reason as relative pathnames, for brevity and to reduce the brittleness of absolute names. A relative package name is one that begins with one or more dots. A single dot means the current package, two dots mean the parent of the current package, and so on.

Table 2.2 presents a number of examples, assuming that the packages named foo,, mypack,,,,, and, have all been created.

relative namecurrent packageabsolute name of referenced package

Table 2.2: Examples of hierarchical packages

Additional notes:

  1. All packages in the hierarchy must exist.
  2. Warning about nicknames: Unless you provide nicknames for your hierarchical packages (and we recommend against doing so because the number gets quite large), you can only use the names supplied. You cannot mix in nicknames or alternate names. cl-user is nickname of the common-lisp-user package. Consider the following:

    When the current package (the value of the variable *package*) is common-lisp-user, you might expect .foo to refer to, but it does not. It actually refers to the non-existent package Note that the purpose of nicknames is to provide shorter names in place of the longer names that are designed to be fully descriptive. The hope is that hierarchical packages makes longer names unnecessary and thus makes nicknames unnecessary.

  3. Multiple dots can only appear at the beginning of a package name. For example, does not mean foo.baz – it is invalid. (Of course, it is perfectly legal to name a package, but cl:find-package will not process such a name to find foo.baz in the package hierarchy.)

2.4.3 Compatibility with ANSI Common Lisp

The implementation of hierarchical packages modifies the cl:find-package function, and provides certain auxiliary functions, package-parent, package-children, and relative-package-name-to-package, as described in this section. The function defpackage itself requires no modification.

While the changes to cl:find-package are small and described below, it is an important consideration for authors who would like their programs to run on a variety of implementations that using hierarchical packages will work in an implementation without the modifications discussed in this document. We show why after describing the changes to cl:find-package.

Absolute hierarchical package names require no changes in the underlying Common Lisp implementation. Changes to cl:find-package

Using relative hierarchical package names requires a simple modification of cl:find-package.

In ANSI Common Lisp, cl:find-package, if passed a package object, returns it; if passed a string, cl:find-package looks for a package with that string as its name or nickname, and returns the package if it finds one, or returns nil if it does not; if passed a symbol, the symbol name (a string) is extracted and cl:find-package proceeds as it does with a string.

For implementing hierarchical packages, the behavior when the argument is a package object (return it) does not change. But when the argument is a string starting with one or more dots not directly naming a package, cl:find-package will, instead of returning nil, check whether the string can be resolved as naming a relative package, and if so, return the associated absolute package object. (If the argument is a symbol, the symbol name is extracted and cl:find-package proceeds as it does with a string argument.)

Note that you should not use leading dots in package names when using hierarchical packages. Using Hierarchical Packages without Modifying cl:find-package

Even without the modifications to cl:find-package, authors need not avoid using relative package names, but the ability to reuse relative package names is restricted. Consider for example a module foo which is composed of the and packages. In the code for each of the these packages there are relative package references, and ..baz.

Implementations that have the new cl:find-package would have :relative-package-names on their *features* list (this is the case of CMUCL releases starting from 18d). Then, in the foo module, there would be definitions of the and packages like so:

     #-relative-package-names (:nicknames

     #-relative-package-names (:nicknames #:..baz)

Then, in a #-relative-package-names implementation, the symbol would be visible from as, just as it would from a #+relative-package-names implementation.

So, even without the implementation of the augmented cl:find-package, one can still write Common Lisp code that will work in both types of implementations, but and ..baz are now used, so you cannot also have and and use and ..baz as relative names. (The point of hierarchical packages, of course, is to allow reusing relative package names.)

2.5 Package Locks

CMUCL provides two types of package locks, as an extension to the ANSI Common Lisp standard. The package-lock protects a package from changes in its structure (the set of exported symbols, its use list, etc). The package-definition-lock protects the symbols in the package from being redefined due to the execution of a defun, defmacro, defstruct, deftype or defclass form.

2.5.1 Rationale

Package locks are an aid to program development, by helping to detect inadvertent name collisions and function redefinitions. They are consistent with the principle that a package “belongs to” its implementor, and that noone other than the package’s developer should be making or modifying definitions on symbols in that package. Package locks are compatible with the ANSI Common Lisp standard, which states that the consequences of redefining functions in the COMMON-LISP package are undefined.

Violation of a package lock leads to a continuable error of type lisp::package-locked-error being signaled. The user may choose to ignore the lock and proceed, or to abort the computation. Two other restarts are available, one which disables all locks on all packages, and one to disable only the package-lock or package-definition-lock that was tripped.

The following transcript illustrates the behaviour seen when attempting to redefine a standard macro in the COMMON-LISP package, or to redefine a function in one of CMUCL’s implementation-defined packages:

CL-USER> (defmacro 1+ (x) (* x 2))
Attempt to modify the locked package COMMON-LISP, by defining macro 1+
   [Condition of type LISP::PACKAGE-LOCKED-ERROR]

  0: [continue      ] Ignore the lock and continue
  1: [unlock-package] Disable the package's definition-lock then continue
  2: [unlock-all    ] Unlock all packages, then continue
  3: [abort         ] Return to Top-Level.

CL-USER> (defun ext:gc () t)
Attempt to modify the locked package EXTENSIONS, by redefining function GC
   [Condition of type LISP::PACKAGE-LOCKED-ERROR]

  0: [continue      ] Ignore the lock and continue
  1: [unlock-package] Disable package's definition-lock, then continue
  2: [unlock-all    ] Disable all package locks, then continue
  3: [abort         ] Return to Top-Level.

The following transcript illustrates the behaviour seen when an attempt to modify the structure of a package is made:

CL-USER> (unexport 'load-foreign :ext)
Attempt to modify the locked package EXTENSIONS, by unexporting symbols LOAD-FOREIGN
   [Condition of type lisp::package-locked-error]

  0: [continue      ] Ignore the lock and continue
  1: [unlock-package] Disable package's lock then continue
  2: [unlock-all    ] Unlock all packages, then continue
  3: [abort         ] Return to Top-Level.

The COMMON-LISP package and the CMUCL-specific implementation packages are locked on startup. Users can lock their own packages by using the ext:package-lock and ext:package-definition-lock accessors.

Previous: , Up: Package Locks   [Contents][Index]

2.5.2 Disabling package locks

A package’s locks can be enabled or disabled by using the ext:package-lock and ext:package-definition-lock accessors, as follows:

   (setf (ext:package-lock (find-package "UNIX")) nil)
   (setf (ext:package-definition-lock (find-package "UNIX")) nil)
Function: ext:package-lock package

This function is an accessor for a package’s structural lock, which protects it against modifications to its list of exported symbols.

Function: ext:package-definition-lock package

This function is an accessor for a package’s definition-lock, which protects symbols in that package from redefinition. As well as protecting the symbol’s fdefinition from change, attempts to change the symbol’s definition using defstruct, defclass or deftype will be trapped.

Macro: ext:without-package-locks &rest body

This macro can be used to execute forms with all package locks (both structure and definition locks) disabled.

Function: ext:unlock-all-packages

This function disables both structure and definition locks on all currently defined packages. Note that package locks are reset when CMUCL is restarted, so the effect of this function is limited to the current session.

2.6 The Editor

The ed function invokes the Hemlock editor which is described in Hemlock User’s Manual and Hemlock Command Implementor’s Manual. Most users at CMU prefer to use Hemlock’s slave Common Lisp mechanism which provides an interactive buffer for the read-eval-print loop and editor commands for evaluating and compiling text from a buffer into the slave Common Lisp. Since the editor runs in the Common Lisp, using slaves keeps users from trashing their editor by developing in the same Common Lisp with Hemlock.

2.7 Garbage Collection

CMUCL uses either a stop-and-copy garbage collector or a generational, mostly copying garbage collector. Which collector is available depends on the platform and the features of the platform. The stop-and-copy GC is available on all RISC platforms. The x86 platform supports a conservative stop-and-copy collector, which is now rarely used, and a generational conservative collector. On the Sparc platform, both the stop-and-copy GC and the generational GC are available, but the stop-and-copy GC is deprecated in favor of the generational GC.

The generational GC is available if *features* contains :gencgc.

The following functions invoke the garbage collector or control whether automatic garbage collection is in effect:

Function: extensions:gc &optional verbose-p

This function runs the garbage collector. If ext:*gc-verbose* is non-nil, then it invokes ext:*gc-notify-before* before GC’ing and ext:*gc-notify-after* afterwards.

verbose-p indicates whether GC statistics are printed or not.

Function: extensions:gc-off

This function inhibits automatic garbage collection. After calling it, the system will not GC unless you call ext:gc or ext:gc-on.

Function: extensions:gc-on

This function reinstates automatic garbage collection. If the system would have GC’ed while automatic GC was inhibited, then this will call ext:gc.

2.7.1 GC Parameters

The following variables control the behavior of the garbage collector:

Variable: extensions:*bytes-consed-between-gcs*

CMUCL automatically GC’s whenever the amount of memory allocated to dynamic objects exceeds the value of an internal variable. After each GC, the system sets this internal variable to the amount of dynamic space in use at that point plus the value of the variable ext:*bytes-consed-between-gcs*. The default value is 2000000.

Variable: extensions:*gc-verbose*

This variable controls whether ext:gc invokes the functions in ext:*gc-notify-before* and ext:*gc-notify-after*. If *gc-verbose* is nil, ext:gc foregoes printing any messages. The default value is T.

Variable: extensions:*gc-notify-before*

This variable’s value is a function that should notify the user that the system is about to GC. It takes one argument, the amount of dynamic space in use before the GC measured in bytes. The default value of this variable is a function that prints a message similar to the following:

   [GC threshold exceeded with 2,107,124 bytes in use.  Commencing GC.]
Variable: extensions:*gc-notify-after*

This variable’s value is a function that should notify the user when a GC finishes. The function must take three arguments, the amount of dynamic spaced retained by the GC, the amount of dynamic space freed, and the new threshold which is the minimum amount of space in use before the next GC will occur. All values are byte quantities. The default value of this variable is a function that prints a message similar to the following:

    [GC completed with 25,680 bytes retained and 2,096,808 bytes freed.]
    [GC will next occur when at least 2,025,680 bytes are in use.]

Note that a garbage collection will not happen at exactly the new threshold printed by the default ext:*gc-notify-after* function. The system periodically checks whether this threshold has been exceeded, and only then does a garbage collection.

Variable: extensions:*gc-inhibit-hook*

This variable’s value is either a function of one argument or nil. When the system has triggered an automatic GC, if this variable is a function, then the system calls the function with the amount of dynamic space currently in use (measured in bytes). If the function returns nil, then the GC occurs; otherwise, the system inhibits automatic GC as if you had called ext:gc-off. The writer of this hook is responsible for knowing when automatic GC has been turned off and for calling or providing a way to call ext:gc-on. The default value of this variable is nil.

Variable: extensions:*before-gc-hooks*
Variable: extensions:*after-gc-hooks*

These variables’ values are lists of functions to call before or after any GC occurs. The system provides these purely for side-effect, and the functions take no arguments.

2.7.2 Generational GC

Generational GC also supports some additional functions and variables to control it.

Function: extensions:gc &key :verbose :gen :full

This function runs the garbage collector. If ext:*gc-verbose* is non-nil, then it invokes ext:*gc-notify-before* before GC’ing and ext:*gc-notify-after* afterwards.


Print GC statistics if non-NIL.


The number of generations to be collected.


If non-NIL, a full collection of all generations is performed.

Function: lisp::gencgc-stats generation

Returns statistics about the generation, as multiple values:

  1. Bytes allocated in this generation
  2. The GC trigger for this generation. When this many bytes have been allocated, a GC is started automatically.
  3. The number of bytes consed between GCs.
  4. The number of GCs that have been done on this generation. This is reset to zero when the generation is raised.
  5. The trigger age, which is the maximum number of GCs to perform before this generation is raised.
  6. The total number of bytes allocated to this generation.
  7. Average age of the objects in this generations. The average age is the cumulative bytes allocated divided by current number of bytes allocated.
Function: lisp::set-gc-trigger gen trigger

Sets the GC trigger value for the specified generation.

Function: lisp::set-trigger-age gen trigger-age

Sets the GC trigger age for the specified generation.

Function: lisp::set-min-mem-age gen min-mem-age

Sets the minimum average memory age for the specified generation. If the computed memory age is below this, GC is not performed, which helps prevent a GC when a large number of new live objects have been added in which case a GC would usually be a waste of time.

2.7.3 Weak Pointers

A weak pointer provides a way to maintain a reference to an object without preventing an object from being garbage collected. If the garbage collector discovers that the only pointers to an object are weak pointers, then it breaks the weak pointers and deallocates the object.

Function: extensions:make-weak-pointer object
Function: extensions:weak-pointer-value weak-pointer

make-weak-pointer returns a weak pointer to an object. weak-pointer-value follows a weak pointer, returning the two values: the object pointed to (or nil if broken) and a boolean value which is nil if the pointer has been broken, and true otherwise.

2.7.4 Finalization

Finalization provides a “hook” that is triggered when the garbage collector reclaims an object. It is usually used to recover non-Lisp resources that were allocated to implement the finalized Lisp object. For example, when a unix file-descriptor stream is collected, finalization is used to close the underlying file descriptor.

Function: extensions:finalize object function

This function registers object for finalization. function is called with no arguments when object is reclaimed. Normally function will be a closure over the underlying state that needs to be freed, e.g. the unix file descriptor in the fd-stream case. Note that function must not close over object itself, as this prevents the object from ever becoming garbage.

Function: extensions:cancel-finalization object

This function cancel any finalization request for object.

2.8 Describe

Function: describe object &optional stream

The describe function prints useful information about object on stream, which defaults to *standard-output*. For any object, describe will print out the type. Then it prints other information based on the type of object. The types which are presently handled are:


describe prints the number of entries currently in the hash table and the number of buckets currently allocated.


describe prints a list of the function’s name (if any) and its formal parameters. If the name has function documentation, then it will be printed. If the function is compiled, then the file where it is defined will be printed as well.


describe prints whether the integer is prime or not.


The symbol’s value, properties, and documentation are printed. If the symbol has a function definition, then the function is described.

If there is anything interesting to be said about some component of the object, describe will invoke itself recursively to describe that object. The level of recursion is indicated by indenting output.

A number of switches can be used to control describe’s behavior.

Variable: extensions:*describe-level*

The maximum level of recursive description allowed. Initially two.

Variable: extensions:*describe-indentation*

The number of spaces to indent for each level of recursive description, initially three.

Variable: extensions:*describe-print-level*
Variable: extensions:*describe-print-length*

The values of *print-level* and *print-length* during description. Initially two and five.

2.9 The Inspector

CMUCL has both a graphical inspector that uses the X Window System, and a simple terminal-based inspector.

Function: inspect &optional object

inspect calls the inspector on the optional argument object. If object is unsupplied, inspect immediately returns nil. Otherwise, the behavior of inspect depends on whether Lisp is running under X. When inspect is eventually exited, it returns some selected Lisp object.

2.9.1 The Graphical Interface

CMUCL has an interface to Motif which is functionally similar to CLM, but works better in CMUCL. This interface is documented in separate manuals CMUCL Motif Toolkit and Design Notes on the Motif Toolkit, which are distributed with CMUCL.

This motif interface has been used to write the inspector and graphical debugger. There is also a Lisp control panel with a simple file management facility, apropos and inspector dialogs, and controls for setting global options. See the interface and toolkit packages.

Function: interface:lisp-control-panel

This function creates a control panel for the Lisp process.

Variable: interface:*interface-style*

When the graphical interface is loaded, this variable controls whether it is used by inspect and the error system. If the value is :graphics (the default) and the DISPLAY environment variable is defined, the graphical inspector and debugger will be invoked by inspect or when an error is signalled. Possible values are :graphics and :tty. If the value is :graphics, but there is no X display, then we quietly use the TTY interface.

2.9.2 The TTY Inspector

If X is unavailable, a terminal inspector is invoked. The TTY inspector is a crude interface to describe which allows objects to be traversed and maintains a history. This inspector prints information about and object and a numbered list of the components of the object. The command-line based interface is a normal readevalprint loop, but an integer n descends into the n’th component of the current object, and symbols with these special names are interpreted as commands:


Move back to the enclosing object. As you descend into the components of an object, a stack of all the objects previously seen is kept. This command pops you up one level of this stack.

Q, E

Return the current object from inspect.


Recompute object display, and print again. Useful if the object may have changed.


Display again without recomputing.

H, ?

Show help message.

2.10 Load

Function: load filename &key :verbose :print :if-does-not-exist :if-source-newer :contents

As in standard Common Lisp, this function loads a file containing source or object code into the running Lisp. Several CMU extensions have been made to load to conveniently support a variety of program file organizations. filename may be a wildcard pathname such as *.lisp, in which case all matching files are loaded.

If filename has a pathname-type (or extension), then that exact file is loaded. If the file has no extension, then this tells load to use a heuristic to load the “right” file. The *load-source-types* and *load-object-types* variables below are used to determine the default source and object file types. If only the source or the object file exists (but not both), then that file is quietly loaded. Similarly, if both the source and object file exist, and the object file is newer than the source file, then the object file is loaded. The value of the if-source-newer argument is used to determine what action to take when both the source and object files exist, but the object file is out of date:


The object file is loaded even though the source file is newer.


The source file is loaded instead of the older object file.


The source file is compiled and then the new object file is loaded.


The user is asked a yes or no question to determine whether the source or object file is loaded.

This argument defaults to the value of ext:*load-if-source-newer* (initially :load-object.)

The contents argument can be used to override the heuristic (based on the file extension) that normally determines whether to load the file as a source file or an object file. If non-null, this argument must be either :source or :binary, which forces loading in source and binary mode, respectively. You really shouldn’t ever need to use this argument.

Variable: extensions:*load-source-types*
Variable: extensions:*load-object-types*

These variables are lists of possible pathname-type values for source and object files to be passed to load. These variables are only used when the file passed to load has no type; in this case, the possible source and object types are used to default the type in order to determine the names of the source and object files.

Variable: extensions:*load-if-source-newer*

This variable determines the default value of the if-source-newer argument to load. Its initial value is :load-object.

2.11 The Reader

2.11.1 Reader Extensions

CMUCL supports an ANSI-compatible extension to enable reading of specialized arrays. Thus

  * (setf *print-readably* nil)
  * (make-array '(2 2) :element-type '(signed-byte 8))
  #2A((0 0) (0 0))
  * (setf *print-readably* t)
  * (make-array '(2 2) :element-type '(signed-byte 8))
  #A((SIGNED-BYTE 8) (2 2) ((0 0) (0 0)))
  * (type-of (read-from-string "#A((SIGNED-BYTE 8) (2 2) ((0 0) (0 0)))"))
  * (setf *print-readably* nil)
  * (type-of (read-from-string "#A((SIGNED-BYTE 8) (2 2) ((0 0) (0 0)))"))

2.11.2 Reader Parameters

Variable: extensions:*ignore-extra-close-parentheses*

If this variable is t (the default), then the reader merely prints a warning when an extra close parenthesis is detected (instead of signalling an error.)

2.12 Stream Extensions

Function: sys:read-n-bytes stream buffer start numbytes &optional eof-error-p

On streams that support it, this function reads multiple bytes of data into a buffer. The buffer must be a simple-string or (simple-array (unsigned-byte 8) (*)). The argument nbytes specifies the desired number of bytes, and the return value is the number of bytes actually read.

  • If eof-error-p is true, an end-of-file condition is signalled if end-of-file is encountered before count bytes have been read.
  • If eof-error-p is false, read-n-bytes reads as much data is currently available (up to count bytes.) On pipes or similar devices, this function returns as soon as any data is available, even if the amount read is less than count and eof has not been hit. See also make-fd-stream.

2.13 Simple Streams

CMUCL includes a partial implementation of Simple Streams, a protocol that allows user-extensible streams1. The protocol was proposed by Franz, Inc. and is intended to replace the Gray Streams method of extending streams. Simple streams are distributed as a CMUCL subsystem, that can be loaded into the image by saying

   (require :simple-streams)

Note that CMUCL implementation of simple streams is incomplete, and in particular is currently missing support for the functions read-sequence and write-sequence. Please consult the Allegro Common Lisp documentation for more information on simple streams.

2.14 Running Programs from Lisp

It is possible to run programs from Lisp by using the following function.

Function: extensions:run-program program args &key :env :wait :pty :input :if-input-does-not-exist :output :if-output-exists :error :if-error-exists :status-hook :external-format :element-type

run-program runs program in a child process. Program should be a pathname or string naming the program. Args should be a list of strings which this passes to program as normal Unix parameters. For no arguments, specify args as nil. The value returned is either a process structure or nil. The process interface follows the description of run-program. If run-program fails to fork the child process, it returns nil.

Except for sharing file descriptors as explained in keyword argument descriptions, run-program closes all file descriptors in the child process before running the program. When you are done using a process, call process-close to reclaim system resources. You only need to do this when you supply :stream for one of :input, :output, or :error, or you supply :pty non-nil. You can call process-close regardless of whether you must to reclaim resources without penalty if you feel safer.

run-program accepts the following keyword arguments:


This is an a-list mapping keywords and simple-strings. The default is ext:*environment-list*. If :env is specified, run-program uses the value given and does not combine the environment passed to Lisp with the one specified.


If non-nil (the default), wait until the child process terminates. If nil, continue running Lisp while the child process runs.


This should be one of t, nil, or a stream. If specified non-nil, the subprocess executes under a Unix PTY. If specified as a stream, the system collects all output to this pty and writes it to this stream. If specified as t, the process-pty slot contains a stream from which you can read the program’s output and to which you can write input for the program. The default is nil.


This specifies how the program gets its input. If specified as a string, it is the name of a file that contains input for the child process. run-program opens the file as standard input. If specified as nil (the default), then standard input is the file /dev/null. If specified as t, the program uses the current standard input. This may cause some confusion if :wait is nil since two processes may use the terminal at the same time. If specified as :stream, then the process-input slot contains an output stream. Anything written to this stream goes to the program as input. :input may also be an input stream that already contains all the input for the process. In this case run-program reads all the input from this stream before returning, so this cannot be used to interact with the process. If :input is a string stream, it is up to the caller to call string-encode or other function to convert the string to the appropriate encoding. In either case, the least significant 8 bits of the char-code of each character is sent to the program.


This specifies what to do if the input file does not exist. The following values are valid: nil (the default) causes run-program to return nil without doing anything; :create creates the named file; and :error signals an error.


This specifies what happens with the program’s output. If specified as a pathname, it is the name of a file that contains output the program writes to its standard output. If specified as nil (the default), all output goes to /dev/null. If specified as t, the program writes to the Lisp process’s standard output. This may cause confusion if :wait is nil since two processes may write to the terminal at the same time. If specified as :stream, then the process-output slot contains an input stream from which you can read the program’s output. :output can also be a stream in which case all output from the process is written to this stream. If :output is a string-stream, each octet read from the program is converted to a character using code-char. It is up to the caller to convert this using the appropriate external format to create the desired encoded string.


This specifies what to do if the output file already exists. The following values are valid: nil causes run-program to return nil without doing anything; :error (the default) signals an error; :supersede overwrites the current file; and :append appends all output to the file.


This is similar to :output, except the file becomes the program’s standard error. Additionally, :error can be :output in which case the program’s error output is routed to the same place specified for :output. If specified as :stream, the process-error contains a stream similar to the process-output slot when specifying the :output argument.


This specifies what to do if the error output file already exists. It accepts the same values as :if-output-exists.


This specifies a function to call whenever the process changes status. This is especially useful when specifying :wait as nil. The function takes the process as a required argument.


This specifies the external format to use for streams created for run-program. This does not apply to string streams passed in as :input or :output parameters.


If streams are created run-program, use this as the :element-type for the stream. Defaults to BASE-CHAR.

2.14.1 Process Accessors

The following functions interface the process returned by run-program:

Function: extensions:process-p thing

This function returns t if thing is a process. Otherwise it returns nil

Function: extensions:process-pid process

This function returns the process ID, an integer, for the process.

Function: extensions:process-status process

This function returns the current status of process, which is one of :running, :stopped, :exited, or :signaled.

Function: extensions:process-exit-code process

This function returns either the exit code for process, if it is :exited, or the termination signal process if it is :signaled. The result is undefined for processes that are still alive.

Function: extensions:process-core-dumped process

This function returns t if someone used a Unix signal to terminate the process and caused it to dump a Unix core image.

Function: extensions:process-pty process

This function returns either the two-way stream connected to process’s Unix PTY connection or nil if there is none.

Function: extensions:process-input process
Function: extensions:process-output process
Function: extensions:process-error process

If the corresponding stream was created, these functions return the input, output or error fd-stream. nil is returned if there is no stream.

Function: extensions:process-status-hook process

This function returns the current function to call whenever process’s status changes. This function takes the process as a required argument. process-status-hook is setf’able.

Function: extensions:process-plist process

This function returns annotations supplied by users, and it is setf’able. This is available solely for users to associate information with process without having to build a-lists or hash tables of process structures.

Function: extensions:process-wait process &optional check-for-stopped

This function waits for process to finish. If check-for-stopped is non-nil, this also returns when process stops.

Function: extensions:process-kill process signal &optional whom

This function sends the Unix signal to process. Signal should be the number of the signal or a keyword with the Unix name (for example, :sigsegv). Whom should be one of the following:


This is the default, and it indicates sending the signal to process only.


This indicates sending the signal to process’s group.


This indicates sending the signal to the process group currently in the foreground on the Unix PTY connected to process. This last option is useful if the running program is a shell, and you wish to signal the program running under the shell, not the shell itself. If process-pty of process is nil, using this option is an error.

Function: extensions:process-alive-p process

This function returns t if process’s status is either :running or :stopped.

Function: extensions:process-close process

This function closes all the streams associated with process. When you are done using a process, call this to reclaim system resources.

2.15 Saving a Core Image

A mechanism has been provided to save a running Lisp core image and to later restore it. This is convenient if you don’t want to load several files into a Lisp when you first start it up. The main problem is the large size of each saved Lisp image, typically at least 20 megabytes.

Function: extensions:save-lisp file &key :purify :root-structures :init-function :load-init-file :print-herald :site-init :process-command-line :batch-mode :executable

The save-lisp function saves the state of the currently running Lisp core image in file. The keyword arguments have the following meaning:


If non-nil (the default), the core image is purified before it is saved (see purify.) This reduces the amount of work the garbage collector must do when the resulting core image is being run. Also, if more than one Lisp is running on the same machine, this maximizes the amount of memory that can be shared between the two processes.


This should be a list of the main entry points in any newly loaded systems. This need not be supplied, but locality and/or GC performance will be better if they are. Meaningless if :purify is nil. See purify.


This is the function that starts running when the created core file is resumed. The default function simply invokes the top level read-eval-print loop. If the function returns the lisp will exit.


If non-NIL, then load an init file; either the one specified on the command line or “init.fasl-type”, or, if “init.fasl-type” does not exist, init.lisp from the user’s home directory. If the init file is found, it is loaded into the resumed core file before the read-eval-print loop is entered.


If non-NIL, the name of the site init file to quietly load. The default is library:site-init. No error is signalled if the file does not exist.


If non-NIL (the default), then print out the standard Lisp herald when starting.


If non-NIL (the default), processes the command line switches and performs the appropriate actions.


If NIL (the default), then the presence of the -batch command-line switch will invoke batch-mode processing upon resuming the saved core. If non-NIL, the produced core will always be in batch-mode, regardless of any command-line switches.


If non-NIL, an executable image is created. Normally, CMUCL consists of the C runtime along with a core file image. When :executable is non-NIL, the core file is incorporated into the C runtime, so one (large) executable is created instead of a new separate core file.

This feature is only available on some platforms, as indicated by having the feature :executable. Currently only x86 ports and the solaris/sparc port have this feature.

To resume a saved file, type:

lisp -core file

However, if the :executable option was specified, you can just use


since the executable contains the core file within the executable.

Function: extensions:purify file &key :root-structures :environment-name

This function optimizes garbage collection by moving all currently live objects into non-collected storage. Once statically allocated, the objects can never be reclaimed, even if all pointers to them are dropped. This function should generally be called after a large system has been loaded and initialized.


is an optional list of objects which should be copied first to maximize locality. This should be a list of the main entry points for the resulting core image. The purification process tries to localize symbols, functions, etc., in the core image so that paging performance is improved. The default value is NIL which means that Lisp objects will still be localized but probably not as optimally as they could be.

defstruct structures defined with the (:pure t) option are moved into read-only storage, further reducing GC cost. List and vector slots of pure structures are also moved into read-only storage.


is gratuitous documentation for the compacted version of the current global environment (as seen in c::*info-environment*.) If nil is supplied, then environment compaction is inhibited.

2.16 Pathnames

In Common Lisp quite a few aspects of pathname semantics are left to the implementation.

2.16.1 Unix Pathnames

Unix pathnames are always parsed with a unix-host object as the host and nil as the device. The last two dots (.) in the namestring mark the type and version, however if the first character is a dot, it is considered part of the name. If the last character is a dot, then the pathname has the empty-string as its type. The type defaults to nil and the version defaults to :newest.

(defun parse (x)
  (values (pathname-name x) (pathname-type x) (pathname-version x)))

(parse "foo") ⇒ "foo", NIL, NIL
(parse "") ⇒ "foo", "bar", NIL
(parse ".foo") ⇒ ".foo", NIL, NIL
(parse "") ⇒ ".foo", "bar", NIL
(parse "..") ⇒ NIL, NIL, NIL
(parse "foo.") ⇒ "foo", "", NIL
(parse "") ⇒ "foo", "bar", 1
(parse "") ⇒ "", "baz", NIL

The directory of pathnames beginning with a slash (or a search-list, see search-lists) is starts :absolute, others start with :relative. The .. directory is parsed as :up; there is no namestring for :back:

(pathname-directory "/usr/foo/bar.baz") ⇒ (:ABSOLUTE "usr" "foo")
(pathname-directory "../foo/bar.baz") ⇒ (:RELATIVE :UP "foo")

2.16.2 Wildcard Pathnames

Wildcards are supported in Unix pathnames. If ‘*’ is specified for a part of a pathname, that is parsed as :wild. ‘**’ can be used as a directory name to indicate :wild-inferiors. Filesystem operations treat :wild-inferiors the same as :wild, but pathname pattern matching (e.g. for logical pathname translation, see logical-pathnames) matches any number of directory parts with ‘**’ (see see wildcard-matching.)

*’ embedded in a pathname part matches any number of characters. Similarly, ‘?’ matches exactly one character, and ‘[a,b]’ matches the characters ‘a’ or ‘b’. These pathname parts are parsed as pattern objects.

Backslash can be used as an escape character in namestring parsing to prevent the next character from being treated as a wildcard. Note that if typed in a string constant, the backslash must be doubled, since the string reader also uses backslash as a quote:

(pathname-name "foo\\*bar") => "foo*bar"

2.16.3 Logical Pathnames

If a namestring begins with the name of a defined logical pathname host followed by a colon, then it will be parsed as a logical pathname. Both ‘*’ and ‘**’ wildcards are implemented. load-logical-pathname-translations on name looks for a logical host definition file in library:name.translations. Note that library: designates the search list (see search-lists) initialized to the CMUCL lib/ directory, not a logical pathname. The format of the file is a single list of two-lists of the from and to patterns:

(("foo;*.text" "/usr/ram/foo/*.txt")
 ("foo;*.lisp" "/usr/ram/foo/*.l"))

2.16.4 Search Lists

Search lists are an extension to Common Lisp pathnames. They serve a function somewhat similar to Common Lisp logical pathnames, but work more like Unix PATH variables. Search lists are used for two purposes:

  • They provide a convenient shorthand for commonly used directory names, and
  • They allow the abstract (directory structure independent) specification of file locations in program pathname constants (similar to logical pathnames.)

Each search list has an associated list of directories (represented as pathnames with no name or type component.) The namestring for any relative pathname may be prefixed with “slist:”, indicating that the pathname is relative to the search list slist (instead of to the current working directory.) Once qualified with a search list, the pathname is no longer considered to be relative.

When a search list qualified pathname is passed to a file-system operation such as open, load or truename, each directory in the search list is successively used as the root of the pathname until the file is located. When a file is written to a search list directory, the file is always written to the first directory in the list.

2.16.5 Predefined Search-Lists

These search-lists are initialized from the Unix environment or when Lisp was built:


The current directory at startup.


The user’s home directory.


The CMUCL lib/ directory (CMUCLLIB environment variable).


The Unix command path (PATH environment variable).


The Unix LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable.


The root of the tree where CMUCL was compiled.


The list of directories where CMUCL’s modules can be found.


The list of directories where CMUCL can find the implementation of external formats.

It can be useful to redefine these search-lists, for example, library: can be augmented to allow logical pathname translations to be located, and target: can be redefined to point to where CMUCL system sources are locally installed.

2.16.6 Search-List Operations

These operations define and access search-list definitions. A search-list name may be parsed into a pathname before the search-list is actually defined, but the search-list must be defined before it can actually be used in a filesystem operation.

Function: extensions:search-list name

This function returns the list of directories associated with the search list name. If name is not a defined search list, then an error is signaled. When set with setf, the list of directories is changed to the new value. If the new value is just a namestring or pathname, then it is interpreted as a one-element list. Note that (unlike Unix pathnames), search list names are case-insensitive.

Function: extensions:search-list-defined-p name
Function: extensions:clear-search-list name

search-list-defined-p returns t if name is a defined search list name, nil otherwise. clear-search-list make the search list name undefined.

Macro: extensions:enumerate-search-list (var pathname {result}) {form}*

This macro provides an interface to search list resolution. The body forms are executed with var bound to each successive possible expansion for name. If name does not contain a search-list, then the body is executed exactly once. Everything is wrapped in a block named nil, so return can be used to terminate early. The result form (default nil) is evaluated to determine the result of the iteration.

2.16.7 Search List Example

The search list code: can be defined as follows:

(setf (ext:search-list "code:") '("/usr/lisp/code/"))

It is now possible to use code: as an abbreviation for the directory /usr/lisp/code/ in all file operations. For example, you can now specify code:eval.lisp to refer to the file /usr/lisp/code/eval.lisp.

To obtain the value of a search-list name, use the function search-list as follows:

(ext:search-list name)

Where name is the name of a search list as described above. For example, calling ext:search-list on code: as follows:

(ext:search-list "code:")

returns the list ("/usr/lisp/code/").

2.17 Filesystem Operations

CMUCL provides a number of extensions and optional features beyond those required by the Common Lisp specification.

2.17.1 Wildcard Matching

Unix filesystem operations such as open will accept wildcard pathnames that match a single file (of course, directory allows any number of matches.) Filesystem operations treat :wild-inferiors the same as :wild.

Function: directory wildname &key :all :check-for-subdirs

:truenamep :follow-links

The keyword arguments to this Common Lisp function are a CMUCL extension. The arguments (all default to t) have the following functions:


Include files beginning with dot such as .login, similar to “ls -a”.


Test whether files are directories, similar to “ls -F”.


Call truename on each file, which expands out all symbolic links. Note that this option can easily result in pathnames being returned which have a different directory from the one in the wildname argument.


Follow symbolic links when searching for matching directories.

Function: extensions:print-directory wildname &optional stream &key :all :verbose :return-list

Print a directory of wildname listing to stream (default *standard-output*.) :all and :verbose both default to nil and correspond to the “-a” and “-l” options of ls. Normally this function returns nil, but if :return-list is true, a list of the matched pathnames are returned.

2.17.2 File Name Completion

Function: extensions:complete-file pathname &key :defaults :ignore-types

Attempt to complete a file name to the longest unambiguous prefix. If supplied, directory from :defaults is used as the “working directory” when doing completion. :ignore-types is a list of strings of the pathname types (a.k.a. extensions) that should be disregarded as possible matches (binary file names, etc.)

Function: extensions:ambiguous-files pathname &optional defaults

Return a list of pathnames for all the possible completions of pathname with respect to defaults.

2.17.3 Miscellaneous Filesystem Operations

Function: extensions:default-directory

Return the current working directory as a pathname. If set with setf, set the working directory.

Function: extensions:file-writable name

This function accepts a pathname and returns t if the current process can write it, and nil otherwise.

Function: extensions:unix-namestring pathname &optional for-input

This function converts pathname into a string that can be used with UNIX system calls. Search-lists and wildcards are expanded. for-input controls the treatment of search-lists: when true (the default) and the file exists anywhere on the search-list, then that absolute pathname is returned; otherwise the first element of the search-list is used as the directory.

2.18 Time Parsing and Formatting

Functions are provided to allow parsing strings containing time information and printing time in various formats are available.

Function: extensions:parse-time time-string &key :error-on-mismatch :default-seconds :default-minutes :default-hours :default-day :default-month :default-year :default-zone :default-weekday

parse-time accepts a string containing a time (e.g., "Jan 12, 1952") and returns the universal time if it is successful. If it is unsuccessful and the keyword argument :error-on-mismatch is non-nil, it signals an error. Otherwise it returns nil. The other keyword arguments have the following meaning:


specifies the default value for the seconds value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is 0.


specifies the default value for the minutes value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is 0.


specifies the default value for the hours value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is 0.


specifies the default value for the day value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is the current day.


specifies the default value for the month value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is the current month.


specifies the default value for the year value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is the current year.


specifies the default value for the time zone value if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is the current time zone.


specifies the default value for the day of the week if one is not provided by time-string. The default value is the current day of the week.

Any of the above keywords can be given the value :current which means to use the current value as determined by a call to the operating system.

Function: extensions:format-universal-time dest universal-time @ &key :timezone :style :date-first :print-seconds :print-meridian :print-timezone :print-weekday
Function: extensions:format-decoded-time dest seconds minutes hours day month year @ &key :timezone :style :date-first :print-seconds :print-meridian :print-timezone :print-weekday

format-universal-time formats the time specified by universal-time. format-decoded-time formats the time specified by seconds, minutes, hours, day, month, and year. Dest is any destination accepted by the format function. The keyword arguments have the following meaning:


is an integer specifying the hours west of Greenwich. :timezone defaults to the current time zone.


specifies the style to use in formatting the time. The legal values are:


specifies to use a numeric date.


specifies to format months and weekdays as words instead of numbers.


is similar to long except the words are abbreviated.


is similar to abbreviated, except the date is of the form “day month year” instead of “month day, year”.


if non-nil (default) will place the date first. Otherwise, the time is placed first.


if non-nil (default) will format the seconds as part of the time. Otherwise, the seconds will be omitted.


if non-nil (default) will format “AM” or “PM” as part of the time. Otherwise, the “AM” or “PM” will be omitted.


if non-nil (default) will format the time zone as part of the time. Otherwise, the time zone will be omitted.


if non-nil (default) will format the weekday as part of date. Otherwise, the weekday will be omitted.

2.19 Random Number Generation

Common Lisp includes a random number generator as a standard part of the language; however, the implementation of the generator is not specified.

2.19.1 MT-19937 Generator

Note: This generator is deprecated in favor of the xoroshiro128+ generator (see xoroshiro128+ Generator) which is faster and uses less memory.

On all platforms, the random number is MT-19937 generator as indicated by :rand-mt19937 being in *features*. This is a Lisp implementation of the MT-19937 generator of Makoto Matsumoto and T. Nishimura. We refer the reader to their paper2 or to their website.

When CMUCL starts up, *random-state* is initialized by reading 627 words from /dev/urandom, when available. If /dev/urandom is not available, the universal time is used to initialize *random-state*. The initialization is done as given in Matsumoto’s paper.

2.19.2 xoroshiro128+ Generator

On supported platforms, the random number generator is xoroshiro128+ generator, as indicated by :random-xoroshiro being in *features*. This is a Lisp implementation of the xoroshiro128+ generator by David Blackman and Sebastiano Vigna. See for further details.

This generator replaces the MT-19937 generator (see MT-19937 Generator) because it is faster and uses much less memory for the generator (4 32-bit words). However, the period is shorter.

When CMUCL starts up, *random-state* is initialized by reading 4 32-bit words from /dev/urandom, when available. If /dev/urandom is not available, the universal time is used to initialize *random-state*. The initialization is done is using splitmix64 with get-universal-time.

Function: kernel:random-state-jump &optional (rng-state *random-state*)

Jump the rng-state. This is equivalent to 2^{64} calls to the xoroshiro128+ generator. It can be used to generate 2^{64} non-overlapping subsequences for parallel computations.

2.20 Lisp Threads

CMUCL supports Lisp threads for the x86 platform.

2.21 Lisp Library

The CMUCL project maintains a collection of useful or interesting programs written by users of our system. The library is in lib/contrib/. Two files there that users should read are:


This file contains a page for each entry in the library. It contains information such as the author, portability or dependency issues, how to load the entry, etc.


This file describes the library’s organization and all the possible pieces of information an entry’s catalog description could contain.

Hemlock has a command Library Entry that displays a list of the current library entries in an editor buffer. There are mode specific commands that display catalog descriptions and load entries. This is a simple and convenient way to browse the library.

2.22 Generalized Function Names

Macro: ext:define-function-name-syntax name (var) &body body

Define lists starting with the symbol name as a new extended function name syntax.

body is executed with var bound to an actual function name of that form, and should return two values:

  • A generalized boolean that is true if var is a valid function name.
  • A symbol that can be used as a block name in functions whose name is var. (For some sorts of function names it might make sense to return nil for the block name, or just return one value.)

Users should not define function names starting with a symbol that CMUCL might be using internally. It is therefore advisable to only define new function names starting with a symbol from a user-defined package.

Function: ext:valid-function-name-p name

Returns two values:

  • True if name is a valid function name.
  • A symbol that can be used as a block name in functions whose name is name. This can be nil for some function names.

2.23 CLOS

2.23.1 Primary Method Errors

The standard requires that an error is signaled when a generic function is called and

  • no primary method is applicable to the generic function’s actual arguments, and
  • the generic function’s method combination is either the standard method combination or a method combination defined with the short form of define-method-combination. The latter includes the standardized method combinations like progn, and, etc.
Generic Function: pcl:no-primary-method gf &rest args

In CMUCL, this generic function is called in the above erroneous cases. The parameter gf is the generic function being called, and args is a list of actual arguments in the generic function call.

Method: pcl:no-primary-method gf standard-generic-function) &rest args

This method signals a continuable error of type pcl:no-primary-method-error.

2.23.2 Slot Type Checking

Declared slot types are used when

  • reading slot values with slot-value in methods, or
  • setting slots with (setf slot-value) in methods, or
  • creating instances with make-instance, when slots are initialized from initforms. This currently depends on PCL being able to use its internal make-instance optimization, which it usually can.


(defclass foo ()
  ((a :type fixnum)))

(defmethod bar ((object foo) value)
  (with-slots (a) object
    (setf a value)))

(defmethod baz ((object foo))
  (< (slot-value object 'a) 10))

In method bar, and with a suitable safety setting, a type error will occur if value is not a fixnum. In method baz, a fixnum comparison can be used by the compiler.

Variable: pcl::*use-slot-types-p*

Slot type checking can be turned off by setting this variable to nil, which can be useful for compiling code containing incorrect slot type declarations.

2.23.3 Slot Access Optimization

The declaration ext:slots is used for optimizing slot access in methods.

declare (ext:slots specifier*)

specifier   ::= (quality class-entry*)
quality     ::= SLOT-BOUNDP | INLINE
class-entry ::= class | (class slot-name*)
class       ::= the name of a class
slot-name   ::= the name of a slot

The slot-boundp quality specifies that all or some slots of a class are always bound.

The inline quality specifies that access to all or some slots of a class should be inlined, using compile-time knowledge of class layouts. slot-boundp Declaration


(defclass foo ()
  (a b))

(defmethod bar ((x foo))
  (declare (ext:slots (slot-boundp foo)))
  (list (slot-value x 'a) (slot-value x 'b)))

The slot-boundp declaration in method bar specifies that the slots a and b accessed through parameter x in the scope of the declaration are always bound, because parameter x is specialized on class foo to which the slot-boundp declaration applies. The PCL-generated code for the slot-value forms will thus not contain tests for the slots being bound or not. The consequences are undefined should one of the accessed slots not be bound. inline Declaration


(defclass foo ()
  (a b))

(defmethod bar ((x foo))
  (declare (ext:slots (inline (foo a))))
  (list (slot-value x 'a) (slot-value x 'b)))

The inline declaration in method bar tells PCL to use compile-time knowledge of slot locations for accessing slot a of class foo, in the scope of the declaration.

Class foo must be known at compile time for this optimization to be possible. PCL prints a warning and uses normal slot access If the class is not defined at compile time.

If a class is proclaimed to use inline slot access before it is defined, the class is defined at compile time. Example:

(declaim (ext:slots (inline (foo slot-a))))
(defclass foo () ...)
(defclass bar (foo) ...)

Class foo will be defined at compile time because it is declared to use inline slot access; methods accessing slot slot-a of foo will use inline slot access if otherwise possible. Class bar will be defined at compile time because its superclass foo is declared to use inline slot access. PCL uses compile-time information from subclasses to warn about situations where using inline slot access is not possible.

Normal slot access will be used if PCL finds, at method compilation time, that

  • class foo has a subclass in which slot a is at a different location, or
  • there exists a slot-value-using-class method for foo or a subclass of foo.

When the declaration is used to optimize calls to slot accessor generic functions in methods, as opposed to slot-value or (setf slot-value), the optimization is additionally not used if

  • there exist, at compile time, applicable methods on the reader/writer generic function that are not standard accessor methods (for instance, there exist around-methods), or
  • applicable reader/writer methods access different slots in a class accessed inline, and one of its subclasses.

The consequences are undefined if the compile-time environment is not the same as the run-time environment in these respects, or if the definition of class foo or any subclass of foo is changed in an incompatible way, that is, if slot locations change.

The effect of the inline optimization combined with the slot-boundp optimization is that CLOS slot access becomes as fast as structure slot access, which is an order of magnitude faster than normal CLOS slot access.

Variable: pcl::*optimize-inline-slot-access-p*

This variable controls if inline slot access optimizations are performed. It is true by default. Automatic Method Recompilation

Methods using inline slot access can be automatically recompiled after class changes. Two declarations control which methods are automatically recompiled.

declaim (ext:auto-compile specifier*)
declaim (ext:not-auto-compile specifier*)

specifier   ::= gf-name | (gf-name qualifier* (specializer*))
gf-name     ::= the name of a generic function
qualifier   ::= a method qualifier
specializer ::= a method specializer

If no specifier is given, auto-compilation is by default done/not done for all methods of all generic functions using inline slot access; current default is that it is not done. This global policy can be overridden on a generic function and method basis. If specifier is a generic function name, it applies to all methods of that generic function.


(declaim (ext:auto-compile foo))
(defmethod foo :around ((x bar)) ...)

The around-method foo will be automatically recompiled because the declamation applies to all methods with name foo.

(declaim (ext:auto-compile (foo (bar))))
(defmethod foo :around ((x bar)) ...)
(defmethod foo ((x bar)) ...)

The around-method will not be automatically recompiled, but the primary method will.

(declaim (ext:auto-compile foo))
(declaim (ext:not-auto-compile (foo :around (bar)))  
(defmethod foo :around ((x bar)) ...)
(defmethod foo ((x bar)) ...)

The around-method will not be automatically recompiled, because it is explicitly declaimed not to be. The primary method will be automatically recompiled because the first declamation applies to it.

Auto-recompilation works by recording method bodies using inline slot access. When PCL determines that a recompilation is necessary, a defmethod form is constructed and evaluated.

Auto-compilation can only be done for methods defined in a null lexical environment. PCL prints a warning and doesn’t record the method body if a method using inline slot access is defined in a non-null lexical environment. Instead of doing a recompilation on itself, PCL will then print a warning that the method must be recompiled manually when classes are changed.

2.23.4 Inlining Methods in Effective Methods

When a generic function is called, an effective method is constructed from applicable methods. The effective method is called with the original arguments, and itself calls applicable methods according to the generic function’s method combination. Some of the function call overhead in effective methods can be removed by inlining methods in effective methods, at the expense of increased code size.

Inlining of methods is controlled by the usual inline declaration. In the following example, both foo methods shown will be inlined in effective methods:

(declaim (inline (method foo (foo))
                 (method foo :before (foo))))
(defmethod foo ((x foo)) ...)
(defmethod foo :before ((x foo)) ...)

Please note that this form of inlining has no noticeable effect for effective methods that consist of a primary method only, which doesn’t have keyword arguments. In such cases, PCL uses the primary method directly for the effective method.

When the definition of an inlined method is changed, effective methods are not automatically updated to reflect the change. This is just as it is when inlining normal functions. Different from the normal case is that users do not have direct access to effective methods, as it would be the case when a function is inlined somewhere else. Because of this, the function pcl:flush-emf-cache is provided for forcing such an update of effective methods.

Function: pcl:flush-emf-cache &optional gf

Flush cached effective method functions. If gf is supplied, it should be a generic function metaobject or the name of a generic function, and this function flushes all cached effective methods for the given generic function. If gf is not supplied, all cached effective methods are flushed.

Variable: pcl::*inline-methods-in-emfs*

If true, the default, perform method inlining as described above. If false, don’t.

2.23.5 Effective Method Precomputation

When a generic function is called, the generic function’s discriminating function computes the set of methods applicable to actual arguments and constructs an effective method function from applicable methods, using the generic function’s method combination.

Effective methods can be precomputed at method load time instead of when the generic function is called depending on the value of pcl:*max-emf-precomputation-methods*.

Variable: pcl:*max-emf-precomputation-methods*

If nonzero, the default value is 100, precompute effective methods when methods are loaded, and the method’s generic function has less than the specified number of methods.

If zero, compute effective methods only when the generic function is called.

2.23.6 Sealing

Support for sealing classes and generic functions have been implemented. Please note that this interface is subject to change.

Macro: pcl:seal name (var) &rest specifiers

Seal name with respect to the given specifiers; name can be the name of a class or generic-function.

Supported specifiers are :subclasses for classes, which prevents changing subclasses of a class, and :methods which prevents changing the methods of a generic function.

Sealing violations signal an error of type pcl:sealed-error.

Function: pcl:unseal name-or-object

Remove seals from name-or-object.

Next: , Previous: , Up: CLOS   [Contents][Index]

2.23.7 Method Tracing and Profiling

Methods can be traced with trace, using function names of the form (method <name> <qualifiers> <specializers>). Example:

(defmethod foo ((x integer)) x)
(defmethod foo :before ((x integer)) x)

(trace (method foo (integer)))
(trace (method foo :before (integer)))
(untrace (method foo :before (integer)))

trace and untrace also allow a name specifier :methods gf-form for tracing all methods of a generic function:

(trace :methods 'foo)
(untrace :methods 'foo)

Methods can also be specified for the :wherein option to trace. Because this option is a name or a list of names, methods must be specified as a list. Thus, to trace all calls of foo from the method bar specialized on integer argument, use

  (trace foo :wherein ((method bar (integer))))

Before and after methods are supported as well:

  (trace foo :wherein ((method bar :before (integer))))

Method profiling is done analogously to trace:

(defmethod foo ((x integer)) x)
(defmethod foo :before ((x integer)) x)

(profile:profile (method foo (integer)))
(profile:profile (method foo :before (integer)))
(profile:unprofile (method foo :before (integer)))

(profile:profile :methods 'foo)
(profile:unprofile :methods 'foo)

(profile:profile-all :methods t)

2.23.8 Misc

Variable: pcl::*compile-interpreted-methods-p*

This variable controls compilation of interpreted method functions, e.g. for methods defined interactively at the REPL. Default is true, that is, method functions are compiled.

2.24 Differences from ANSI Common Lisp

This section describes some of the known differences between CMUCL and ANSI Common Lisp. Some may be non-compliance issues; same may be extensions.

2.24.1 Extensions

Function: constantly value &optional val1 val2 &rest more-values

As an extension, CMUCL allows constantly to accept more than one value which are returned as multiple values.

2.25 Function Wrappers

Function wrappers, fwrappers for short, are a facility for efficiently encapsulating functions3.

Functions in CMUCL are represented by kernel:fdefn objects. Each fdefn object contains a reference to its function’s actual code, which we call the function’s primary function.

A function wrapper replaces the primary function in the fdefn object with a function of its own, and records the original function in an fwrapper object, a funcallable instance. Thus, when the function is called, the fwrapper gets called, which in turn might call the primary function, or a previously installed fwrapper that was found in the fdefn object when the second fwrapper was installed.


(use-package :fwrappers)

(define-fwrapper foo (x y)
  (format t "x = ~s, y = ~s, user-data = ~s~%"
          x y (fwrapper-user-data fwrapper))
  (let ((value (call-next-function)))
    (format t "value = ~s~%" value)

(defun bar (x y)
  (+ x y))

(fwrap 'bar #'foo :type 'foo :user-data 42)

(bar 1 2)
 x = 1, y = 2, user-data = 42
 value = 3

Fwrappers are used in the implementation of trace and profile.

Please note that fdefinition always returns the primary definition of a function; if a function is fwrapped, fdefinition returns the primary function stored in the innermost fwrapper object. Likewise, if a function is fwrapped, (setf fdefinition) will set the primary function in the innermost fwrapper.

Macro: fwrappers:define-fwrapper name lambda-list &body body

This macro is like defun, but defines a function named name that can be used as an fwrapper definition.

In body, the symbol fwrapper is bound to the current fwrapper object.

The macro call-next-function can be used to invoke the next fwrapper, or the primary function that is being fwrapped. When called with no arguments, call-next-function invokes the next function with the original arguments passed to the fwrapper, unless you modify one of the parameters. When called with arguments, call-next-function invokes the next function with the given arguments.

Function: fwrappers:fwrap function-name fwrapper &key :type :user-data

This function wraps function function-name in an fwrapper fwrapper which was defined with define-fwrapper.

The value of type, if supplied, is used as an identifying tag that can be used in various other operations.

The value of user-data is stored as user-supplied data in the fwrapper object that is created for the function encapsulation. User-data is accessible in the body of fwrappers defined with define-fwrapper as (fwrapper-user-data fwrapper).

Value is the fwrapper object created.

Function: fwrappers:funwrap function-name &key :type :test

Remove fwrappers from the function named function-name. If type is supplied, remove fwrappers whose type is equal to type. If test is supplied, remove fwrappers satisfying test.

Function: fwrappers:find-fwrapper function-name &key :type :test

Find an fwrapper of function-name. If type is supplied, find an fwrapper whose type is equal to type. If test is supplied, find an fwrapper satisfying test.

Function: fwrappers:update-fwrapper fwrapper

Update the funcallable instance function of the fwrapper object fwrapper from the definition of its function that was defined with define-fwrapper. This can be used to update fwrappers after changing a define-fwrapper.

Function: fwrappers:update-fwrappers function-name &key :type :test

Update fwrappers of function-name; see update-fwrapper. If type is supplied, update fwrappers whose type is equal to type. If test is supplied, update fwrappers satisfying test.

Function: fwrappers:set-fwrappers function-name fwrappers

Set function-names’s fwrappers to elements of the list fwrappers, which is assumed to be ordered from outermost to innermost. fwrappers null means remove all fwrappers.

Function: fwrappers:list-fwrappers function-name

Return a list of all fwrappers of function-name, ordered from outermost to innermost.

Function: fwrappers:push-fwrapper fwrapper function-name

Prepend fwrapper fwrapper to the definition of function-name. Signal an error if function-name is an undefined function.

Function: fwrappers:delete-fwrapper fwrapper function-name

Remove fwrapper fwrapper from the definition of function-name. Signal an error if function-name is an undefined function.

Macro: fwrappers:do-fwrappers (var fdefn &optional result) &body body

Evaluate body with var bound to consecutive fwrappers of fdefn. Return result at the end. Note that fdefn must be an fdefn object. You can use kernel:fdefn-or-lose, for instance, to get the fdefn object from a function name.

2.26 Dynamic-Extent Declarations

Note: As of the 19a release, dynamic-extent is unfortunately disabled by default. It is known to cause some issues with CLX and Hemlock. The cause is not known, but causes random errors and brokeness. Enable at your own risk. However, it is safe enough to build all of CMUCL without problems.

On x86 and sparc, CMUCL can exploit dynamic-extent declarations by allocating objects on the stack instead of the heap.

You can tell CMUCL to trust or not trust dynamic-extent declarations by setting the variable *trust-dynamic-extent-declarations*.

Variable: ext:*trust-dynamic-extent-declarations*

If the value of *trust-dynamic-extent-declarations* is NIL, dynamic-extent declarations are effectively ignored.

If the value of this variable is a function, the function is called with four arguments to determine if a dynamic-extent declaration should be trusted. The arguments are the safety, space, speed, and debug settings at the point where the dynamic-extent declaration is used. If the function returns true, the declaration is trusted, otherwise it is not trusted.

In all other cases, dynamic-extent declarations are trusted.

Please note that stack-allocation is inherently unsafe. If you make a mistake, and a stack-allocated object or part of it escapes, CMUCL is likely to crash, or format your hard disk.

2.26.1 &rest argument lists

Rest argument lists can be allocated on the stack by declaring the rest argument variable dynamic-extent. Examples:

(defun foo (x &rest rest)
  (declare (dynamic-extent rest))

(defun bar ()
  (lambda (&rest rest)
    (declare (dynamic-extent rest))

2.26.2 Closures

Closures for local functions can be allocated on the stack if the local function is declared dynamic-extent, and the closure appears as an argument in the call of a named function. In the example:

(defun foo (x)
  (flet ((bar () x))
    (declare (dynamic-extent #'bar))
    (baz #'bar)))

the closure passed to function baz is allocated on the stack. Likewise in the example:

(defun foo (x)
  (flet ((bar () x))
    (baz #'bar)
    (locally (declare (dynamic-extent #'bar))
      (baz #'bar))))

Stack-allocation of closures can also automatically take place when calling certain known CL functions taking function arguments, for example some or find-if.

2.26.3 list, list*, and cons

New conses allocated by list, list*, or cons which are used to initialize variables can be allocated from the stack if the variables are declared dynamic-extent. In the case of cons, only the outermost cons cell is allocated from the stack; this is an arbitrary restriction.

(let ((x (list 1 2))
      (y (list* 1 2 x))
      (z (cons 1 (cons 2 nil))))
  (declare (dynamic-extent x y z))
  (setq x (list 2 3))

Please note that the setq of x in the example program assigns to x a list that is allocated from the heap. This is another arbitrary restriction that exists because other Lisps behave that way.

2.27 Modular Arithmetic

This section is mostly taken, with permission, from the documentation for SBCL.

Some numeric functions have a property: N lower bits of the result depend only on N lower bits of (all or some) arguments. If the compiler sees an expression of form (logand exp mask), where exp is a tree of such “good” functions and mask is known to be of type (unsigned-byte w), where w is a "good" width, all intermediate results will be cut to w bits (but it is not done for variables and constants!). This often results in an ability to use simple machine instructions for the functions.

Consider an example.

(defun i (x y)
  (declare (type (unsigned-byte 32) x y))
  (ldb (byte 32 0) (logxor x (lognot y))))

The result of (lognot y) will be negative and of type (signed-byte 33), so a naive implementation on a 32-bit platform is unable to use 32-bit arithmetic here. But modular arithmetic optimizer is able to do it: because the result is cut down to 32 bits, the compiler will replace logxor and lognot with versions cutting results to 32 bits, and because terminals (here—expressions x and y) are also of type (unsigned-byte 32), 32-bit machine arithmetic can be used.

Currently “good” functions are +, -, *; logand, logior, logxor, lognot and their combinations; and ash with the positive second argument. “Good” widths are 32 on HPPA, MIPS, PPC, Sparc and X86 and 64 on Alpha. While it is possible to support smaller widths as well, currently it is not implemented.

A more extensive description of modular arithmetic can be found in the paper “Efficient Hardware Arithmetic in Common Lisp” by Alexey Dejneka, and Christophe Rhodes, to be published.

2.28 Extension to REQUIRE

The behavior of require when called with only one argument is implementation-defined. In CMUCL, functions from the list *module-provider-functions* are called in order with the stringified module name as the argument. The first function to return non-NIL is assumed to have loaded the module.

By default the functions module-provide-cmucl-defmodule and module-provide- cmucl-library are on this list of functions, in that order.

Variable: ext:*module-provider-functions*

This is a list of functions taking a single argument. require calls each function in turn with the stringified module name. The first function to return non-NIL indicates that the module has been loaded. The remaining functions, if any, are not called.

To add new providers, push the new provider function onto the beginning of this list.

Macro: ext:defmodule name &rest files

Defines a module by registering the files that need to be loaded when the module is required. If name is a symbol, its print name is used after downcasing it.

Function: ext:module-provide-cmucl-defmodule module-name

This function is the module-provider for modules registered by a ext:defmodule form.

Function: ext:module-provide-cmucl-library module-name

This function is the module-provider for CMUCL’s libraries, including Gray streams, simple streams, CLX, CLM, Hemlock, etc.

This function causes a file to be loaded whose name is formed by merging the search-list “modules:” and the concatenation of module-name with the suffix “-LIBRARY”. Note that both the module-name and the suffix are each, separately, converted from :case :common to :case :local. This merged name will be probed with both a .lisp and .fasl extensions, calling LOAD if it exists.

2.29 Localization

CMUCL support localization where messages can be presented in the native language. This is done in the style of gettext which marks strings that are to be translated and provides the lookup to convert the string to the specified language.

All messages from CMUCL can be translated but as of this writing, the only complete translation is a Pig Latin translation done by machine. There are a few messages translated to Korean.

In general, translatable strings are marked as such by using the functions intl:gettext and intl:ngettext or by using the reader macros _ or _N. When loading or compiling, such strings are recorded for translation. At runtime, such strings are looked in and the translation is returned. Doc strings do not need to be noted in any way; the are automatically noted for translation.

By default, recording of translatable strings is disabled. To enable recording of strings, call intl:translation-enable.

2.29.1 Dictionary

Function: intl:translation-enable

Enable recording of translatable strings.

Function: intl:translation-disable

Disablle recording of translatable strings.

Function: intl:setlocale &optional locale

Sets the locale to the locale specified by locale. If locale is not give or is nil, the locale is determined by look at the environment variables LANGUAGE, LC_ALL, LC_MESSAGES, or LANG. If none of these are set, the locale is unchanged.

The default locale is “C”.

Function: intl:textdomain domain

Set the default domain to the domain specified by domain. Typically, this only needs to be done at the top of each source file. This is used to gettext and ngettext to set the domain for the message string.

Macro: intl:gettext string

Look up the specified string, string, in the current message domain and return its translation.

Function: intl:dgettext domain string

Look up the specified string, string, in the message domain, domain. The translation is returned.

When compiled, this also function also records the string so that an appropriate message template file can be created. (See intl::dump-pot-files.)

Macro: intl:ngettext singular plural n

Look up the singular or plural form of a message in the default domain. The singular form is singular; the plural is plural. The number of items is specified by n in case the correct translation depends on the actual number of items.

Function: intl:dngettext domain singular plural n

Look up the singular or plural form of a message in the specified domain, domain. The singular form is singular; the plural is plural. The number of items is specified by n in case the correct translation depends on the actual number of items.

When compiled, this also function also records the singular and plural forms so that an appropriate message template file can be created. (See intl::dump-pot-files.)

Function: intl::dump-pot-files &key :copyright :output-directory

Dumps the translatable strings recorded by dgettext and dngettext. The message template file (pot file) is written to a file in the directory specified by output-directory, and the name of the file is the domain of the string.

If copyright is specified, this is placed in the output file as the copyright message.

Variable: intl:*locale-directories*

This is a list of directory pathnames where the translations can be found.

Function: intl:install &optional (rt *readtable*)

Installs reader macros and comment reader into the specified readtable as explained below. The readtable defaults to *readtable*.

Two reader macros are also provided: _'' and _N''. The first is equivalent to wrapping dgettext around the string. The second returns the string, but also records the string. This is needed when we want to record a docstring for translation or any other string in a place where a macro or function call would be incorrect.

Also, the standard comment reader is extended to allow translator comments to be saved and written to the messages template file so that the translator may not need to look at the original source to understand the string. Any comment line that begins with exactly "TRANSLATORS: " is saved. This means each translator comment must be preceded by this string to be saved; the translator comment ends at the end of each line.

Previous: , Up: Localization   [Contents][Index]

2.29.2 Example Usage

Here is a simple example of how to localize your code. Let the file intl-ex.lisp contain:

(intl:textdomain "example")  

(defun foo (x y)
  "Cool function foo of x and y"
  (let ((result (bar x y)))
    ;; TRANSLATORS:  One line comment about bar.
    (format t _"bar of ~A and ~A = ~A~%" x y result)
    #| TRANSLATORS:  Multiline comment about
    how many Xs there are
    (format t (intl:ngettext "There is one X"
                             "There are many Xs"

The call to textdomain sets the default domain for all translatable strings following the call.

Here is a sample session for creating a template file:

* (intl:install)

* (intl:translation-enable)

* (compile-file "intl-ex")

* (intl::dump-pot-files :output-directory "./")

Dumping 3 messages for domain "example"

When this file is compiled, all of the translatable strings are recorded. This includes the docstring for foo, the string for the first format, and the string marked by the call to intl:ngettext.

A file named “example.pot” in the directory “./” is created. The contents of this file are:

# example

#, fuzzy
msgid ""
msgstr ""
"Project-Id-Version: PACKAGE VERSION"
"Report-Msgid-Bugs-To: "
"PO-Revision-Date: YEAR-MO-DA HO:MI +ZONE"
"Last-Translator: FULL NAME <EMAIL@ADDRESS>"
"Language-Team: LANGUAGE <>"
"MIME-Version: 1.0"
"Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8"
"Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit"

#.  One line comment about bar.
#: intl-ex.lisp
msgid "bar of ~A and ~A = ~A~%"
msgstr ""

#.  Multiline comment about
    how many Xs there are
#: intl-ex.lisp
msgid "Cool function foo of x and y"
msgstr ""

#: intl-ex.lisp
msgid "There is one X"
msgid_plural "There are many Xs"
msgstr[0] ""

To finish the translation, a corresponding “example.po” file needs to be created with the appropriate translations for the given strings. This file must be placed in some directory that is included in intl:*locale-directories*.

Suppose the translation is done for Korean. Then the user can set the environment variables appropriately or call (intl:setlocale "ko"). Note that the external format for the standard streams needs to be set up appropriately too. It is up to the user to set this correctly. Once this is all done, the output from the function foo will now be in Korean instead of English as in the original source file.

For further information, we refer the reader to documentation on


2.30 Static Arrays

CMUCL supports static arrays which are arrays that are not moved by the garbage collector. To create such an array, use the :allocation option to make-array with a value of :malloc. These arrays appear as normal Lisp arrays, but are actually allocated from the C heap (hence the :malloc). Thus, the number and size of such arrays are limited by the available C heap.

Also, only certain types of arrays can be allocated. The static array cannot be adjustable and cannot be displaced to. The array must also be a simple-array of one dimension. The element type is also constrained to be one of the types in Table 2.3.

(unsigned-byte 8)
(unsigned-byte 16)
(unsigned-byte 32)
(signed-byte 8)
(signed-byte 16)
(signed-byte 32)
(complex single-float)
(complex double-float)

Table 2.3: Allowed element types for static arrays

The arrays are properly handled by GC. GC will not move the arrays, but they will be properly removed up if they become garbage.

3 The Debugger

by Robert MacLachlan

3.1 Debugger Introduction

The CMUCL debugger is unique in its level of support for source-level debugging of compiled code. Although some other debuggers allow access of variables by name, this seems to be the first Common Lisp debugger that:

  • Tells you when a variable doesn’t have a value because it hasn’t been initialized yet or has already been deallocated, or
  • Can display the precise source location corresponding to a code location in the debugged program.

These features allow the debugging of compiled code to be made almost indistinguishable from interpreted code debugging.

The debugger is an interactive command loop that allows a user to examine the function call stack. The debugger is invoked when:

  • A serious-condition is signaled, and it is not handled, or
  • error is called, and the condition it signals is not handled, or
  • The debugger is explicitly invoked with the Common Lisp break or debug functions.

Note: there are two debugger interfaces in CMUCL: the TTY debugger (described below) and the Motif debugger. Since the difference is only in the user interface, much of this chapter also applies to the Motif version. See motif-interface for a very brief discussion of the graphical interface.

When you enter the TTY debugger, it looks something like this:

Error in function CAR.
Wrong type argument, 3, should have been of type LIST.

  0: Return to Top-Level.

Debug  (type H for help)

(CAR 3)

The first group of lines describe what the error was that put us in the debugger. In this case car was called on 3. After Restarts: is a list of all the ways that we can restart execution after this error. In this case, the only option is to return to top-level. After printing its banner, the debugger prints the current frame and the debugger prompt.

3.2 The Command Loop

The debugger is an interactive read-eval-print loop much like the normal top-level, but some symbols are interpreted as debugger commands instead of being evaluated. A debugger command starts with the symbol name of the command, possibly followed by some arguments on the same line. Some commands prompt for additional input. Debugger commands can be abbreviated by any unambiguous prefix: help can be typed as h, he, etc. For convenience, some commands have ambiguous one-letter abbreviations: f for frame.

The package is not significant in debugger commands; any symbol with the name of a debugger command will work. If you want to show the value of a variable that happens also to be the name of a debugger command, you can use the list-locals command or the debug:var function, or you can wrap the variable in a progn to hide it from the command loop.

The debugger prompt is “frame]”, where frame is the number of the current frame. Frames are numbered starting from zero at the top (most recent call), increasing down to the bottom. The current frame is the frame that commands refer to. The current frame also provides the lexical environment for evaluation of non-command forms.

The debugger evaluates forms in the lexical environment of the functions being debugged. The debugger can only access variables. You can’t go or return-from into a function, and you can’t call local functions. Special variable references are evaluated with their current value (the innermost binding around the debugger invocation)—you don’t get the value that the special had in the current frame. See debug-vars for more information on debugger variable access.

3.3 Stack Frames

A stack frame is the run-time representation of a call to a function; the frame stores the state that a function needs to remember what it is doing. Frames have:

  • Variables (see debug-vars), which are the values being operated on, and
  • Arguments to the call (which are really just particularly interesting variables), and
  • A current location (see source-locations), which is the place in the program where the function was running when it stopped to call another function, or because of an interrupt or error.

3.3.1 Stack Motion

These commands move to a new stack frame and print the name of the function and the values of its arguments in the style of a Lisp function call:


Move up to the next higher frame. More recent function calls are considered to be higher on the stack.


Move down to the next lower frame.


Move to the highest frame.


Move to the lowest frame.

frame [n]

Move to the frame with the specified number. Prompts for the number if not supplied.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Stack Frames   [Contents][Index]

3.3.2 How Arguments are Printed

A frame is printed to look like a function call, but with the actual argument values in the argument positions. So the frame for this call in the source:

(myfun (+ 3 4) 'a)

would look like this:


All keyword and optional arguments are displayed with their actual values; if the corresponding argument was not supplied, the value will be the default. So this call:

(subseq "foo" 1)

would look like this:

(SUBSEQ "foo" 1 3)

And this call:

(string-upcase "test case")

would look like this:


The arguments to a function call are displayed by accessing the argument variables. Although those variables are initialized to the actual argument values, they can be set inside the function; in this case the new value will be displayed.

&rest arguments are handled somewhat differently. The value of the rest argument variable is displayed as the spread-out arguments to the call, so:

(format t "~A is a ~A." "This" 'test)

would look like this:

(FORMAT T "~A is a ~A." "This" 'TEST)

Rest arguments cause an exception to the normal display of keyword arguments in functions that have both &rest and &key arguments. In this case, the keyword argument variables are not displayed at all; the rest arg is displayed instead. So for these functions, only the keywords actually supplied will be shown, and the values displayed will be the argument values, not values of the (possibly modified) variables.

If the variable for an argument is never referenced by the function, it will be deleted. The variable value is then unavailable, so the debugger prints #<unused-arg> instead of the value. Similarly, if for any of a number of reasons (described in more detail in section debug-vars) the value of the variable is unavailable or not known to be available, then #<unavailable-arg> will be printed instead of the argument value.

Printing of argument values is controlled by *debug-print-level* and debug-print-length.

3.3.3 Function Names

If a function is defined by defun, labels, or flet, then the debugger will print the actual function name after the open parenthesis, like:

((SETF AREF) #\a "for" 1)

Otherwise, the function name is a string, and will be printed in quotes:

("DEFMACRO DO" (DO ((I 0 (1+ I))) ((= I 13))) NIL)

This string name is derived from the defmumble form that encloses or expanded into the lambda, or the outermost enclosing form if there is no defmumble.

3.3.4 Funny Frames

Sometimes the evaluator introduces new functions that are used to implement a user function, but are not directly specified in the source. The main place this is done is for checking argument type and syntax. Usually these functions do their thing and then go away, and thus are not seen on the stack in the debugger. But when you get some sort of error during lambda-list processing, you end up in the debugger on one of these funny frames.

These funny frames are flagged by printing “[keyword]” after the parentheses. For example, this call:

(car 'a 'b)

will look like this:


And this call:

(string-upcase "test case" :end)

would look like this:

("DEFUN STRING-UPCASE" "test case" 335544424 1) [:OPTIONAL]

As you can see, these frames have only a vague resemblance to the original call. Fortunately, the error message displayed when you enter the debugger will usually tell you what problem is (in these cases, too many arguments and odd keyword arguments.) Also, if you go down the stack to the frame for the calling function, you can display the original source (see source-locations.)

With recursive or block compiled functions (see block-compilation), an :EXTERNAL frame may appear before the frame representing the first call to the recursive function or entry to the compiled block. This is a consequence of the way the compiler does block compilation: there is nothing odd with your program. You will also see :CLEANUP frames during the execution of unwind-protect cleanup code. Note that inline expansion and open-coding affect what frames are present in the debugger, see sections debugger-policy and open-coding.

3.3.5 Debug Tail Recursion

Both the compiler and the interpreter are “properly tail recursive.” If a function call is in a tail-recursive position, the stack frame will be deallocated at the time of the call, rather than after the call returns. Consider this backtrace:

(BAR ...) 
(FOO ...)

Because of tail recursion, it is not necessarily the case that FOO directly called BAR. It may be that FOO called some other function FOO2 which then called BAR tail-recursively, as in this example:

(defun foo ()
  (foo2 ...)

(defun foo2 (...)
  (bar ...))

(defun bar (...)

Usually the elimination of tail-recursive frames makes debugging more pleasant, since theses frames are mostly uninformative. If there is any doubt about how one function called another, it can usually be eliminated by finding the source location in the calling frame (section source-locations.)

The elimination of tail-recursive frames can be prevented by disabling tail-recursion optimization, which happens when the debug optimization quality is greater than 2 (see debugger-policy.)

For a more thorough discussion of tail recursion, see tail-recursion.

3.3.6 Unknown Locations and Interrupts

The debugger operates using special debugging information attached to the compiled code. This debug information tells the debugger what it needs to know about the locations in the code where the debugger can be invoked. If the debugger somehow encounters a location not described in the debug information, then it is said to be unknown. If the code location for a frame is unknown, then some variables may be inaccessible, and the source location cannot be precisely displayed.

There are three reasons why a code location could be unknown:

  • There is inadequate debug information due to the value of the debug optimization quality. See debugger-policy.
  • The debugger was entered because of an interrupt such as ^C.
  • A hardware error such as “bus error” occurred in code that was compiled unsafely due to the value of the safety optimization quality. See optimize-declaration.

In the last two cases, the values of argument variables are accessible, but may be incorrect. See debug-var-validity for more details on when variable values are accessible.

It is possible for an interrupt to happen when a function call or return is in progress. The debugger may then flame out with some obscure error or insist that the bottom of the stack has been reached, when the real problem is that the current stack frame can’t be located. If this happens, return from the interrupt and try again.

When running interpreted code, all locations should be known. However, an interrupt might catch some subfunction of the interpreter at an unknown location. In this case, you should be able to go up the stack a frame or two and reach an interpreted frame which can be debugged.

3.4 Variable Access

There are three ways to access the current frame’s local variables in the debugger. The simplest is to type the variable’s name into the debugger’s read-eval-print loop. The debugger will evaluate the variable reference as though it had appeared inside that frame.

The debugger doesn’t really understand lexical scoping; it has just one namespace for all the variables in a function. If a symbol is the name of multiple variables in the same function, then the reference appears ambiguous, even though lexical scoping specifies which value is visible at any given source location. If the scopes of the two variables are not nested, then the debugger can resolve the ambiguity by observing that only one variable is accessible.

When there are ambiguous variables, the evaluator assigns each one a small integer identifier. The debug:var function and the list-locals command use this identifier to distinguish between ambiguous variables:

list-locals {prefix}

This command prints the name and value of all variables in the current frame whose name has the specified prefix. prefix may be a string or a symbol. If no prefix is given, then all available variables are printed. If a variable has a potentially ambiguous name, then the name is printed with a “#identifier” suffix, where identifier is the small integer used to make the name unique.

Function: debug:var name &optional identifier

This function returns the value of the variable in the current frame with the specified name. If supplied, identifier determines which value to return when there are ambiguous variables.

When name is a symbol, it is interpreted as the symbol name of the variable, i.e. the package is significant. If name is an uninterned symbol (gensym), then return the value of the uninterned variable with the same name. If name is a string, debug:var interprets it as the prefix of a variable name, and must unambiguously complete to the name of a valid variable.

This function is useful mainly for accessing the value of uninterned or ambiguous variables, since most variables can be evaluated directly.

3.4.1 Variable Value Availability

The value of a variable may be unavailable to the debugger in portions of the program where Common Lisp says that the variable is defined. If a variable value is not available, the debugger will not let you read or write that variable. With one exception, the debugger will never display an incorrect value for a variable. Rather than displaying incorrect values, the debugger tells you the value is unavailable.

The one exception is this: if you interrupt (e.g., with ^C) or if there is an unexpected hardware error such as “bus error” (which should only happen in unsafe code), then the values displayed for arguments to the interrupted frame might be incorrect.4 This exception applies only to the interrupted frame: any frame farther down the stack will be fine.

The value of a variable may be unavailable for these reasons:

  • The value of the debug optimization quality may have omitted debug information needed to determine whether the variable is available. Unless a variable is an argument, its value will only be available when debug is at least 2.
  • The compiler did lifetime analysis and determined that the value was no longer needed, even though its scope had not been exited. Lifetime analysis is inhibited when the debug optimization quality is 3.
  • The variable’s name is an uninterned symbol (gensym). To save space, the compiler only dumps debug information about uninterned variables when the debug optimization quality is 3.
  • The frame’s location is unknown (see unknown-locations) because the debugger was entered due to an interrupt or unexpected hardware error. Under these conditions the values of arguments will be available, but might be incorrect. This is the exception above.
  • The variable was optimized out of existence. Variables with no reads are always optimized away, even in the interpreter. The degree to which the compiler deletes variables will depend on the value of the compile-speed optimization quality, but most source-level optimizations are done under all compilation policies.

Since it is especially useful to be able to get the arguments to a function, argument variables are treated specially when the speed optimization quality is less than 3 and the debug quality is at least 1. With this compilation policy, the values of argument variables are almost always available everywhere in the function, even at unknown locations. For non-argument variables, debug must be at least 2 for values to be available, and even then, values are only available at known locations.

3.4.2 Note On Lexical Variable Access

When the debugger command loop establishes variable bindings for available variables, these variable bindings have lexical scope and dynamic extent.5 You can close over them, but such closures can’t be used as upward funargs.

You can also set local variables using setq, but if the variable was closed over in the original source and never set, then setting the variable in the debugger may not change the value in all the functions the variable is defined in. Another risk of setting variables is that you may assign a value of a type that the compiler proved the variable could never take on. This may result in bad things happening.

3.5 Source Location Printing

One of CMUCL’s unique capabilities is source level debugging of compiled code. These commands display the source location for the current frame:

source {context}

This command displays the file that the current frame’s function was defined from (if it was defined from a file), and then the source form responsible for generating the code that the current frame was executing. If context is specified, then it is an integer specifying the number of enclosing levels of list structure to print.

vsource {context}

This command is identical to source, except that it uses the global values of *print-level* and *print-length* instead of the debugger printing control variables *debug-print-level* and *debug-print-length*.

The source form for a location in the code is the innermost list present in the original source that encloses the form responsible for generating that code. If the actual source form is not a list, then some enclosing list will be printed. For example, if the source form was a reference to the variable *some-random-special*, then the innermost enclosing evaluated form will be printed. Here are some possible enclosing forms:

(let ((a *some-random-special*))

(+ *some-random-special* ...)

If the code at a location was generated from the expansion of a macro or a source-level compiler optimization, then the form in the original source that expanded into that code will be printed. Suppose the file /usr/me/mystuff.lisp looked like this:

(defmacro mymac ()

(defun foo ()

If foo has called myfun, and is waiting for it to return, then the source command would print:

; File: /usr/me/mystuff.lisp


Note that the macro use was printed, not the actual function call form, (myfun).

If enclosing source is printed by giving an argument to source or vsource, then the actual source form is marked by wrapping it in a list whose first element is #:***HERE***. In the previous example, source 1 would print:

; File: /usr/me/mystuff.lisp


3.5.1 How the Source is Found

If the code was defined from Common Lisp by compile or eval, then the source can always be reliably located. If the code was defined from a fasl file created by compile-file, then the debugger gets the source forms it prints by reading them from the original source file. This is a potential problem, since the source file might have moved or changed since the time it was compiled.

The source file is opened using the truename of the source file pathname originally given to the compiler. This is an absolute pathname with all logical names and symbolic links expanded. If the file can’t be located using this name, then the debugger gives up and signals an error.

If the source file can be found, but has been modified since the time it was compiled, the debugger prints this warning:

; File has been modified since compilation:
;   filename
; Using form offset instead of character position.

where filename is the name of the source file. It then proceeds using a robust but not foolproof heuristic for locating the source. This heuristic works if:

  • No top-level forms before the top-level form containing the source have been added or deleted, and
  • The top-level form containing the source has not been modified much. (More precisely, none of the list forms beginning before the source form have been added or deleted.)

If the heuristic doesn’t work, the displayed source will be wrong, but will probably be near the actual source. If the “shape” of the top-level form in the source file is too different from the original form, then an error will be signaled. When the heuristic is used, the the source location commands are noticeably slowed.

Source location printing can also be confused if (after the source was compiled) a read-macro you used in the code was redefined to expand into something different, or if a read-macro ever returns the same eq list twice. If you don’t define read macros and don’t use ## in perverted ways, you don’t need to worry about this.

3.5.2 Source Location Availability

Source location information is only available when the debug optimization quality is at least 2. If source location information is unavailable, the source commands will give an error message.

If source location information is available, but the source location is unknown because of an interrupt or unexpected hardware error (see unknown-locations), then the command will print:

Unknown location: using block start.

and then proceed to print the source location for the start of the basic block enclosing the code location. It’s a bit complicated to explain exactly what a basic block is, but here are some properties of the block start location:

  • The block start location may be the same as the true location.
  • The block start location will never be later in the the program’s flow of control than the true location.
  • No conditional control structures (such as if, cond, or) will intervene between the block start and the true location (but note that some conditionals present in the original source could be optimized away.) Function calls do not end basic blocks.
  • The head of a loop will be the start of a block.
  • The programming language concept of “block structure” and the Common Lisp block special form are totally unrelated to the compiler’s basic block.

In other words, the true location lies between the printed location and the next conditional (but watch out because the compiler may have changed the program on you.)

3.6 Compiler Policy Control

The compilation policy specified by optimize declarations affects the behavior seen in the debugger. The debug quality directly affects the debugger by controlling the amount of debugger information dumped. Other optimization qualities have indirect but observable effects due to changes in the way compilation is done.

Unlike the other optimization qualities (which are compared in relative value to evaluate tradeoffs), the debug optimization quality is directly translated to a level of debug information. This absolute interpretation allows the user to count on a particular amount of debug information being available even when the values of the other qualities are changed during compilation. These are the levels of debug information that correspond to the values of the debug quality:


Only the function name and enough information to allow the stack to be parsed.

> 0

Any level greater than 0 gives level 0 plus all argument variables. Values will only be accessible if the argument variable is never set and speed is not 3. CMUCL allows any real value for optimization qualities. It may be useful to specify 0.5 to get backtrace argument display without argument documentation.


Level 1 provides argument documentation (printed arglists) and derived argument/result type information. This makes describe more informative, and allows the compiler to do compile-time argument count and type checking for any calls compiled at run-time.


Level 1 plus all interned local variables, source location information, and lifetime information that tells the debugger when arguments are available (even when speed is 3 or the argument is set.) This is the default.

> 2

Any level greater than 2 gives level 2 and in addition disables tail-call optimization, so that the backtrace will contain frames for all invoked functions, even those in tail positions.


Level 2 plus all uninterned variables. In addition, lifetime analysis is disabled (even when speed is 3), ensuring that all variable values are available at any known location within the scope of the binding. This has a speed penalty in addition to the obvious space penalty.

As you can see, if the speed quality is 3, debugger performance is degraded. This effect comes from the elimination of argument variable special-casing (see debug-var-validity.) Some degree of speed/debuggability tradeoff is unavoidable, but the effect is not too drastic when debug is at least 2.

In addition to inline and notinline declarations, the relative values of the speed and space qualities also change whether functions are inline expanded (see inline-expansion.) If a function is inline expanded, then there will be no frame to represent the call, and the arguments will be treated like any other local variable. Functions may also be “semi-inline”, in which case there is a frame to represent the call, but the call is to an optimized local version of the function, not to the original function.

3.7 Exiting Commands

These commands get you out of the debugger.


Throw to top level.

restart {n}

Invokes the nth restart case as displayed by the error command. If n is not specified, the available restart cases are reported.


Calls continue on the condition given to debug. If there is no restart case named continue, then an error is signaled.


Calls abort on the condition given to debug. This is useful for popping debug command loop levels or aborting to top level, as the case may be.

3.8 Information Commands

Most of these commands print information about the current frame or function, but a few show general information.

help, ?

Displays a synopsis of debugger commands.


Calls describe on the current function, displays number of local variables, and indicates whether the function is compiled or interpreted.


Displays the current function call as it would be displayed by moving to this frame.

vprint (or pp) {verbosity}

Displays the current function call using *print-level* and *print-length* instead of *debug-print-level* and *debug-print-length*. verbosity is a small integer (default 2) that controls other dimensions of verbosity.


Prints the condition given to invoke-debugger and the active proceed cases.

backtrace {n}

Displays all the frames from the current to the bottom. Only shows n frames if specified. The printing is controlled by *debug-print-level* and *debug-print-length*.

3.9 Breakpoint Commands

CMUCL supports setting of breakpoints inside compiled functions and stepping of compiled code. Breakpoints can only be set at at known locations (see unknown-locations), so these commands are largely useless unless the debug optimize quality is at least 2 (see debugger-policy). These commands manipulate breakpoints:

breakpoint location {option value}*

Set a breakpoint in some function. location may be an integer code location number (as displayed by list-locations) or a keyword. The keyword can be used to indicate setting a breakpoint at the function start (:start, :s) or function end (:end, :e). The breakpoint command has :condition, :break, :print and :function options which work similarly to the trace options.

list-locations (or ll) {function}

List all the code locations in the current frame’s function, or in function if it is supplied. The display format is the code location number, a colon and then the source form for that location:

3: (1- N)

If consecutive locations have the same source, then a numeric range like 3-5: will be printed. For example, a default function call has a known location both immediately before and after the call, which would result in two code locations with the same source. The listed function becomes the new default function for breakpoint setting (via the breakpoint) command.

list-breakpoints (or lb)

List all currently active breakpoints with their breakpoint number.

delete-breakpoint (or db) {number}

Delete a breakpoint specified by its breakpoint number. If no number is specified, delete all breakpoints.


Step to the next possible breakpoint location in the current function. This always steps over function calls, instead of stepping into them

3.9.1 Breakpoint Example

Consider this definition of the factorial function:

(defun ! (n)
  (if (zerop n)
      (* n (! (1- n)))))

This debugger session demonstrates the use of breakpoints:

common-lisp-user> (break) ; Invoke debugger


  0: [CONTINUE] Return from BREAK.
  1: [ABORT   ] Return to Top-Level.

Debug  (type H for help)

0] ll #'!
0: #'(LAMBDA (N) (BLOCK ! (IF # 1 #)))
1: (ZEROP N)
2: (* N (! (1- N)))
3: (1- N)
4: (! (1- N))
5: (* N (! (1- N)))
6: #'(LAMBDA (N) (BLOCK ! (IF # 1 #)))
0] br 2
(* N (! (1- N)))
1: 2 in !
0] q

common-lisp-user> (! 10) ; Call the function

*Breakpoint hit*

  0: [CONTINUE] Return from BREAK.
  1: [ABORT   ] Return to Top-Level.

Debug  (type H for help)

(! 10) ; We are now in first call (arg 10) before the multiply
Source: (* N (! (1- N)))
3] st


(! 10) ; We have finished evaluation of (1- n)
Source: (1- N)
3] st

*Breakpoint hit*

  0: [CONTINUE] Return from BREAK.
  1: [ABORT   ] Return to Top-Level.

Debug  (type H for help)

(! 9) ; We hit the breakpoint in the recursive call
Source: (* N (! (1- N)))

3.10 Function Tracing

The tracer causes selected functions to print their arguments and their results whenever they are called. Options allow conditional printing of the trace information and conditional breakpoints on function entry or exit.

Macro: traced {option global-value}* {name {option value}*}*

trace is a debugging tool that prints information when specified functions are called. In its simplest form:

    (trace name-1 name-2 ...)

trace causes a printout on trace-output each time that one of the named functions is entered or returns (the names are not evaluated.) Trace output is indented according to the number of pending traced calls, and this trace depth is printed at the beginning of each line of output. Printing verbosity of arguments and return values is controlled by debug-print-level and debug-print-length.

Local functions defined by flet and labels can be traced using the syntax (flet f f1 f2 ...) or (labels f f1 f2 ...) where f is the flet or labels function we want to trace and f1, f2, are the functions containing the local function f. Invidiual methods can also be traced using the syntax (method name qualifiers specializers). See~sec-method-tracing for more information.

If no names or options are are given, trace returns the list of all currently traced functions, *traced-function-list*.

Trace options can cause the normal printout to be suppressed, or cause extra information to be printed. Each option is a pair of an option keyword and a value form. Options may be interspersed with function names. Options only affect tracing of the function whose name they appear immediately after. Global options are specified before the first name, and affect all functions traced by a given use of trace. If an already traced function is traced again, any new options replace the old options. The following options are defined:

:condition form, :condition-after form,

:condition-all form If :condition is specified, then trace does nothing unless form evaluates to true at the time of the call. :condition-after is similar, but suppresses the initial printout, and is tested when the function returns. :condition-all tries both before and after.

:wherein names

If specified, names is a function name or list of names. trace does nothing unless a call to one of those functions encloses the call to this function (i.e. it would appear in a backtrace.) Anonymous functions have string names like "DEFUN FOO". Individual methods can also be traced. See section~sec-method-tracing.

:wherein-only names

If specified, this is just like :wherein, but trace produces output only if the immediate caller of the traced function is one of the functions listed in names.

:break form, :break-after form,

:break-all form If specified, and form evaluates to true, then the debugger is invoked at the start of the function, at the end of the function, or both, according to the respective option.

:print form, :print-after form,

:print-all form In addition to the usual printout, the result of evaluating form is printed at the start of the function, at the end of the function, or both, according to the respective option. Multiple print options cause multiple values to be printed.

:function function-form

This is a not really an option, but rather another way of specifying what function to trace. The function-form is evaluated immediately, and the resulting function is traced.

:encapsulate {:default | t | nil}

In CMUCL, tracing can be done either by temporarily redefining the function name (encapsulation), or using breakpoints. When breakpoints are used, the function object itself is destructively modified to cause the tracing action. The advantage of using breakpoints is that tracing works even when the function is anonymously called via funcall.

When :encapsulate is true, tracing is done via encapsulation. :default is the default, and means to use encapsulation for interpreted functions and funcallable instances, breakpoints otherwise. When encapsulation is used, forms are not evaluated in the function’s lexical environment, but debug:arg can still be used.

Note that if you trace using :encapsulate, you will only get a trace or breakpoint at the outermost call to the traced function, not on recursive calls.

In the case of functions where the known return convention is used to optimize, encapsulation may be necessary in order to make tracing work at all. The symptom of this occurring is an error stating

    Error in function foo: :FUNCTION-END breakpoints are
    currently unsupported for the known return convention.

in such cases we recommend using (trace foo :encapsulate t)

:condition, :break and :print forms are evaluated in the lexical environment of the called function; debug:var and debug:arg can be used. The -after and -all forms are evaluated in the null environment.

Macro: untrace &rest function-names

This macro turns off tracing for the specified functions, and removes their names from *traced-function-list*. If no function-names are given, then all currently traced functions are untraced.

Variable: extensions:*traced-function-list*

A list of function names maintained and used by trace, untrace, and untrace-all. This list should contain the names of all functions currently being traced.

Variable: extensions:*max-trace-indentation*

The maximum number of spaces which should be used to indent trace printout. This variable is initially set to 40.

Variable: debug:*trace-encapsulate-package-names*

A list of package names. Functions from these packages are traced using encapsulation instead of function-end breakpoints. This list should at least include those packages containing functions used directly or indirectly in the implementation of trace.

3.10.1 Encapsulation Functions

The encapsulation functions provide a mechanism for intercepting the arguments and results of a function. encapsulate changes the function definition of a symbol, and saves it so that it can be restored later. The new definition normally calls the original definition. The Common Lisp fdefinition function always returns the original definition, stripping off any encapsulation.

The original definition of the symbol can be restored at any time by the unencapsulate function. encapsulate and unencapsulate allow a symbol to be multiply encapsulated in such a way that different encapsulations can be completely transparent to each other.

Each encapsulation has a type which may be an arbitrary lisp object. If a symbol has several encapsulations of different types, then any one of them can be removed without affecting more recent ones. A symbol may have more than one encapsulation of the same type, but only the most recent one can be undone.

Function: extensions:encapsulate symbol type body

Saves the current definition of symbol, and replaces it with a function which returns the result of evaluating the form, body. Type is an arbitrary lisp object which is the type of encapsulation.

When the new function is called, the following variables are bound for the evaluation of body:


A list of the arguments to the function.


The unencapsulated definition of the function.

The unencapsulated definition may be called with the original arguments by including the form

    (apply extensions:basic-definition extensions:argument-list)

encapsulate always returns symbol.

Function: extensions:unencapsulate symbol type

Undoes symbol’s most recent encapsulation of type type. Type is compared with eq. Encapsulations of other types are left in place.

Function: extensions:encapsulated-p symbol type

Returns t if symbol has an encapsulation of type type. Returns nil otherwise. type is compared with eq.

3.10.2 Tracing Examples

Here is an example of tracing with some of the possible options. For simplicity, this is the function:

    (defun fact (n)
      (declare (double-float n) (optimize speed))
      (if (zerop n)
          (* n (fact (1- n)))))
    (compile 'fact)

This example shows how to use the :condition option:

    (trace fact :condition (= 4d0 (debug:arg 0)))
    (fact 10d0) ->
      0: (FACT 4.0d0)
      0: FACT returned 24.0d0

As we can see, we produced output when the condition was satisfied.

Here’s another example:

    (trace fact :break (= 4d0 (debug:arg 0)))
    (fact 10d0) ->
      0: (FACT 5.0d0)
        1: (FACT 4.0d0)

    Breaking before traced call to FACT:
       [Condition of type SIMPLE-CONDITION]

      0: [CONTINUE] Return from BREAK.
      1: [ABORT   ] Return to Top-Level.

    Debug  (type H for help)

In this example, we see that normal tracing occurs until we the argument reaches 4d0, at which point, we break into the debugger.

3.11 Specials

These are the special variables that control the debugger action.

Variable: debug:*debug-print-level*
Variable: debug:*debug-print-length*

*print-level* and *print-length* are bound to these values during the execution of some debug commands. When evaluating arbitrary expressions in the debugger, the normal values of *print-level* and *print-length* are in effect. These variables are initially set to 3 and 5, respectively.

4 The Compiler

4.1 Compiler Introduction

This chapter contains information about the compiler that every CMUCL user should be familiar with. Chapter advanced-compiler goes into greater depth, describing ways to use more advanced features.

The CMUCL compiler (also known as Python, not to be confused with the programming language of the same name) has many features that are seldom or never supported by conventional Common Lisp compilers:

  • Source level debugging of compiled code (see chapter debugger.)
  • Type error compiler warnings for type errors detectable at compile time.
  • Compiler error messages that provide a good indication of where the error appeared in the source.
  • Full run-time checking of all potential type errors, with optimization of type checks to minimize the cost.
  • Scheme-like features such as proper tail recursion and extensive source-level optimization.
  • Advanced tuning and optimization features such as comprehensive efficiency notes, flow analysis, and untagged number representations (see chapter advanced-compiler.)

4.2 Calling the Compiler

Functions may be compiled using compile, compile-file, or compile-from-stream.

Function: compile name &optional definition

This function compiles the function whose name is name. If name is nil, the compiled function object is returned. If definition is supplied, it should be a lambda expression that is to be compiled and then placed in the function cell of name. As per the proposed X3J13 cleanup “compile-argument-problems”, definition may also be an interpreted function.

The return values are as per the proposed X3J13 cleanup “compiler-diagnostics”. The first value is the function name or function object. The second value is nil if no compiler diagnostics were issued, and t otherwise. The third value is nil if no compiler diagnostics other than style warnings were issued. A non-nil value indicates that there were “serious” compiler diagnostics issued, or that other conditions of type error or warning (but not style-warning) were signaled during compilation.

Function: compile-file input-pathname &key :output-file :error-file :trace-file :error-output :verbose :print :progress :load :block-compile :entry-points :byte-compile :xref

The CMUCL compile-file is extended through the addition of several new keywords and an additional interpretation of input-pathname:


If this argument is a list of input files, rather than a single input pathname, then all the source files are compiled into a single object file. In this case, the name of the first file is used to determine the default output file names. This is especially useful in combination with block-compile.


This argument specifies the name of the output file. t gives the default name, nil suppresses the output file.


A listing of all the error output is directed to this file. If there are no errors, then no error file is produced (and any existing error file is deleted.) t gives "name.err" (the default), and nil suppresses the output file.


If t (the default), then error output is sent to *error-output*. If a stream, then output is sent to that stream instead. If nil, then error output is suppressed. Note that this error output is in addition to (but the same as) the output placed in the error-file.


If t (the default), then the compiler prints to error output at the start and end of compilation of each file. See compile-verbose.


If t (the default), then the compiler prints to error output when each function is compiled. See compile-print.


If t (default nil), then the compiler prints to error output progress information about the phases of compilation of each function. This is a CMUCL extension that is useful mainly in large block compilations. See compile-progress.


If t, several of the intermediate representations (including annotated assembly code) are dumped out to this file. t gives "name.trace". Trace output is off by default. See trace-files.


If t, load the resulting output file.


Controls the compile-time resolution of function calls. By default, only self-recursive calls are resolved, unless an ext:block-start declaration appears in the source file. See compile-file-block.


If non-nil, then this is a list of the names of all functions in the file that should have global definitions installed (because they are referenced in other files.) See compile-file-block.


If t, compiling to a compact interpreted byte code is enabled. Possible values are t, nil, and :maybe (the default.) See byte-compile-default and see byte-compile.


If non-nil, enable recording of cross-reference information. The default is the value of c:*record-xref-info*. See xref. Note that the compiled fasl file will also contain cross-reference information and loading the fasl later will populate the cross-reference database.

The return values are as per the proposed X3J13 cleanup “compiler-diagnostics”. The first value from compile-file is the truename of the output file, or nil if the file could not be created. The interpretation of the second and third values is described above for compile.

Variable: *compile-verbose*
Variable: *compile-print*
Variable: *compile-progress*

These variables determine the default values for the :verbose, :print and :progress arguments to compile-file.

Function: extensions:compile-from-stream input-stream &key :error-stream :trace-stream :block-compile :entry-points :byte-compile

This function is similar to compile-file, but it takes all its arguments as streams. It reads Common Lisp code from input-stream until end of file is reached, compiling into the current environment. This function returns the same two values as the last two values of compile. No output files are produced.

4.3 Compilation Units

CMUCL supports the with-compilation-unit macro added to the language by the X3J13 “with-compilation-unit” compiler cleanup issue. This provides a mechanism for eliminating spurious undefined warnings when there are forward references across files, and also provides a standard way to access compiler extensions.

Macro: with-compilation-unit ({key value}*) {form}*

This macro evaluates the forms in an environment that causes warnings for undefined variables, functions and types to be delayed until all the forms have been evaluated. Each keyword value is an evaluated form. These keyword options are recognized:


If uses of with-compilation-unit are dynamically nested, the outermost use will take precedence, suppressing printing of undefined warnings by inner uses. However, when the override option is true this shadowing is inhibited; an inner use will print summary warnings for the compilations within the inner scope.


This is a CMUCL extension that specifies of the “global” compilation policy for the dynamic extent of the body. The argument should evaluate to an optimize declare form, like:

      (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0))

See optimize-declaration


Similar to :optimize, but specifies the compilation policy for function interfaces (argument count and type checking) for the dynamic extent of the body. See The Optimize-Interface Declaration.


This is a CMUCL extension that pattern-matches on function names, automatically splicing in any appropriate declarations at the head of the function definition. See context-declarations.

4.3.1 Undefined Warnings

Warnings about undefined variables, functions and types are delayed until the end of the current compilation unit. The compiler entry functions (compile, etc.) implicitly use with-compilation-unit, so undefined warnings will be printed at the end of the compilation unless there is an enclosing with-compilation-unit. In order the gain the benefit of this mechanism, you should wrap a single with-compilation-unit around the calls to compile-file, i.e.:

(with-compilation-unit ()
  (compile-file "file1")
  (compile-file "file2")

Unlike for functions and types, undefined warnings for variables are not suppressed when a definition (e.g. defvar) appears after the reference (but in the same compilation unit.) This is because doing special declarations out of order just doesn’t work—although early references will be compiled as special, bindings will be done lexically.

Undefined warnings are printed with full source context (see error-messages), which tremendously simplifies the problem of finding undefined references that resulted from macroexpansion. After printing detailed information about the undefined uses of each name, with-compilation-unit also prints summary listings of the names of all the undefined functions, types and variables.

Variable: *undefined-warning-limit*

This variable controls the number of undefined warnings for each distinct name that are printed with full source context when the compilation unit ends. If there are more undefined references than this, then they are condensed into a single warning:

    Warning: count more uses of undefined function name.

When the value is 0, then the undefined warnings are not broken down by name at all: only the summary listing of undefined names is printed.

4.4 Interpreting Error Messages

One of Python’s unique features is the level of source location information it provides in error messages. The error messages contain a lot of detail in a terse format, to they may be confusing at first. Error messages will be illustrated using this example program:

(defmacro zoq (x)
  `(roq (ploq (+ ,x 3))))

(defun foo (y)
  (declare (symbol y))
  (zoq y))

The main problem with this program is that it is trying to add 3 to a symbol. Note also that the functions roq and ploq aren’t defined anywhere.

4.4.1 The Parts of the Error Message

The compiler will produce this warning:

File: /usr/me/stuff.lisp
  (ZOQ Y)
--> ROQ PLOQ + 
Warning: Result is a SYMBOL, not a NUMBER.

In this example we see each of the six possible parts of a compiler error message:

File: /usr/me/stuff.lisp

This is the file that the compiler read the relevant code from. The file name is displayed because it may not be immediately obvious when there is an error during compilation of a large system, especially when with-compilation-unit is used to delay undefined warnings.


This is the definition or top-level form responsible for the error. It is obtained by taking the first two elements of the enclosing form whose first element is a symbol beginning with “DEF”. If there is no enclosing defmumble, then the outermost form is used. If there are multiple defmumbles, then they are all printed from the out in, separated by =>’s. In this example, the problem was in the defun for foo.


This is the original source form responsible for the error. Original source means that the form directly appeared in the original input to the compiler, i.e. in the lambda passed to compile or the top-level form read from the source file. In this example, the expansion of the zoq macro was responsible for the error.

--> ROQ PLOQ +

This is the processing path that the compiler used to produce the errorful code. The processing path is a representation of the evaluated forms enclosing the actual source that the compiler encountered when processing the original source. The path is the first element of each form, or the form itself if the form is not a list. These forms result from the expansion of macros or source-to-source transformation done by the compiler. In this example, the enclosing evaluated forms are the calls to roq, ploq and +. These calls resulted from the expansion of the zoq macro.

==> Y

This is the actual source responsible for the error. If the actual source appears in the explanation, then we print the next enclosing evaluated form, instead of printing the actual source twice. (This is the form that would otherwise have been the last form of the processing path.) In this example, the problem is with the evaluation of the reference to the variable y.

Warning: Result is a SYMBOL, not a NUMBER.

This is the explanation the problem. In this example, the problem is that y evaluates to a symbol, but is in a context where a number is required (the argument to +).

Note that each part of the error message is distinctively marked:

  • File: and In: mark the file and definition, respectively.
  • The original source is an indented form with no prefix.
  • Each line of the processing path is prefixed with -->.
  • The actual source form is indented like the original source, but is marked by a preceding ==> line. This is like the “macroexpands to” notation used in Common Lisp: The Language.
  • The explanation is prefixed with the error severity (see error-severity), either Error:, Warning:, or Note:.

Each part of the error message is more specific than the preceding one. If consecutive error messages are for nearby locations, then the front part of the error messages would be the same. In this case, the compiler omits as much of the second message as in common with the first. For example:

File: /usr/me/stuff.lisp
  (ZOQ Y)
--> ROQ 
  (PLOQ (+ Y 3))
Warning: Undefined function: PLOQ

  (ROQ (PLOQ (+ Y 3)))
Warning: Undefined function: ROQ

In this example, the file, definition and original source are identical for the two messages, so the compiler omits them in the second message. If consecutive messages are entirely identical, then the compiler prints only the first message, followed by:

[Last message occurs repeats times]

where repeats is the number of times the message was given.

If the source was not from a file, then no file line is printed. If the actual source is the same as the original source, then the processing path and actual source will be omitted. If no forms intervene between the original source and the actual source, then the processing path will also be omitted.

4.4.2 The Original and Actual Source

The original source displayed will almost always be a list. If the actual source for an error message is a symbol, the original source will be the immediately enclosing evaluated list form. So even if the offending symbol does appear in the original source, the compiler will print the enclosing list and then print the symbol as the actual source (as though the symbol were introduced by a macro.)

When the actual source is displayed (and is not a symbol), it will always be code that resulted from the expansion of a macro or a source-to-source compiler optimization. This is code that did not appear in the original source program; it was introduced by the compiler.

Keep in mind that when the compiler displays a source form in an error message, it always displays the most specific (innermost) responsible form. For example, compiling this function:

(defun bar (x)
  (let (a)
    (declare (fixnum a))
    (setq a (foo x))

gives this error message:

Warning: The binding of A is not a FIXNUM:

This error message is not saying “there’s a problem somewhere in this let”—it is saying that there is a problem with the let itself. In this example, the problem is that a’s nil initial value is not a fixnum.

4.4.3 The Processing Path

The processing path is mainly useful for debugging macros, so if you don’t write macros, you can ignore the processing path. Consider this example:

(defun foo (n)
  (dotimes (i n *undefined*)))

Compiling results in this error message:

Warning: Undefined variable: *UNDEFINED*

Note that do appears in the processing path. This is because dotimes expands into:

(do ((i 0 (1+ i)) (#:g1 n))
    ((>= i #:g1) *undefined*)
  (declare (type unsigned-byte i)))

The rest of the processing path results from the expansion of do:

(block nil
  (let ((i 0) (#:g1 n))
    (declare (type unsigned-byte i))
    (tagbody (go #:g3)
     #:g2    (psetq i (1+ i))
     #:g3    (unless (>= i #:g1) (go #:g2))
             (return-from nil (progn *undefined*)))))

In this example, the compiler descended into the block, let, tagbody and return-from to reach the progn printed as the actual source. This is a place where the “actual source appears in explanation” rule was applied. The innermost actual source form was the symbol *undefined* itself, but that also appeared in the explanation, so the compiler backed out one level.

4.4.4 Error Severity

There are three levels of compiler error severity:


This severity is used when the compiler encounters a problem serious enough to prevent normal processing of a form. Instead of compiling the form, the compiler compiles a call to error. Errors are used mainly for signaling syntax errors. If an error happens during macroexpansion, the compiler will handle it. The compiler also handles and attempts to proceed from read errors.


Warnings are used when the compiler can prove that something bad will happen if a portion of the program is executed, but the compiler can proceed by compiling code that signals an error at runtime if the problem has not been fixed:

  • Violation of type declarations, or
  • Function calls that have the wrong number of arguments or malformed keyword argument lists, or
  • Referencing a variable declared ignore, or unrecognized declaration specifiers.

In the language of the Common Lisp standard, these are situations where the compiler can determine that a situation with undefined consequences or that would cause an error to be signaled would result at runtime.


Notes are used when there is something that seems a bit odd, but that might reasonably appear in correct programs.

Note that the compiler does not fully conform to the proposed X3J13 “compiler-diagnostics” cleanup. Errors, warnings and notes mostly correspond to errors, warnings and style-warnings, but many things that the cleanup considers to be style-warnings are printed as warnings rather than notes. Also, warnings, style-warnings and most errors aren’t really signaled using the condition system.

4.4.5 Errors During Macroexpansion

The compiler handles errors that happen during macroexpansion, turning them into compiler errors. If you want to debug the error (to debug a macro), you can set *break-on-signals* to error. For example, this definition:

(defun foo (e l)
  (do ((current l (cdr current))
       ((atom current) nil))
      (when (eq (car current) e) (return current))))

gives this error:

Error: (during macroexpansion)

Error in function LISP::DO-DO-BODY.
DO step variable is not a symbol: (ATOM CURRENT)

4.4.6 Read Errors

The compiler also handles errors while reading the source. For example:

Error: Read error at 2:
Error in function LISP::COMMA-MACRO.
Comma not inside a backquote.

The “at 2” refers to the character position in the source file at which the error was signaled, which is generally immediately after the erroneous text. The next line, “(,/\foo)”, is the line in the source that contains the error file position. The “/\” indicates the error position within that line (in this example, immediately after the offending comma.)

When in Hemlock (or any other EMACS-like editor), you can go to a character position with:

M-< C-u position C-f

Note that if the source is from a Hemlock buffer, then the position is relative to the start of the compiled region or defun, not the file or buffer start.

After printing a read error message, the compiler attempts to recover from the error by backing up to the start of the enclosing top-level form and reading again with *read-suppress* true. If the compiler can recover from the error, then it substitutes a call to cerror for the unreadable form and proceeds to compile the rest of the file normally.

If there is a read error when the file position is at the end of the file (i.e., an unexpected EOF error), then the error message looks like this:

Error: Read error in form starting at 14:
 "(defun test ()"
Error in function LISP::FLUSH-WHITESPACE.
EOF while reading #<Stream for file "/usr/me/test.lisp">

In this case, “starting at 14” indicates the character position at which the compiler started reading, i.e. the position before the start of the form that was missing the closing delimiter. The line "(defun test ()" is first line after the starting position that the compiler thinks might contain the unmatched open delimiter.

4.4.7 Error Message Parameterization

There is some control over the verbosity of error messages. See also undefined-warning-limit, *efficiency-note-limit* and efficiency-note-cost-threshold.

Variable: *enclosing-source-cutoff*

This variable specifies the number of enclosing actual source forms that are printed in full, rather than in the abbreviated processing path format. Increasing the value from its default of 1 allows you to see more of the guts of the macroexpanded source, which is useful when debugging macros.

Variable: *error-print-length*
Variable: *error-print-level*

These variables are the print level and print length used in printing error messages. The default values are 5 and 3. If null, the global values of *print-level* and *print-length* are used.

Macro: extensions:def-source-context name lambda-list {form}*

This macro defines how to extract an abbreviated source context from the named form when it appears in the compiler input. lambda-list is a defmacro style lambda-list used to parse the arguments. The body should return a list of subforms that can be printed on about one line. There are predefined methods for defstruct, defmethod, etc. If no method is defined, then the first two subforms are returned. Note that this facility implicitly determines the string name associated with anonymous functions.

4.5 Types in Python

A big difference between Python and all other Common Lisp compilers is the approach to type checking and amount of knowledge about types:

  • Python treats type declarations much differently that other Lisp compilers do. Python doesn’t blindly believe type declarations; it considers them assertions about the program that should be checked.
  • Python also has a tremendously greater knowledge of the Common Lisp type system than other compilers. Support is incomplete only for the not, and and satisfies types.

See also sections advanced-type-stuff and type-inference.

4.5.1 Compile Time Type Errors

If the compiler can prove at compile time that some portion of the program cannot be executed without a type error, then it will give a warning at compile time. It is possible that the offending code would never actually be executed at run-time due to some higher level consistency constraint unknown to the compiler, so a type warning doesn’t always indicate an incorrect program. For example, consider this code fragment:

(defun raz (foo)
  (let ((x (case foo
             (:this 13)
             (:that 9)
             (:the-other 42))))
    (declare (fixnum x))
    (foo x)))

Compilation produces this warning:

  (CASE FOO (:THIS 13) (:THAT 9) (:THE-OTHER 42))
Warning: This is not a FIXNUM:

In this case, the warning is telling you that if foo isn’t any of :this, :that or :the-other, then x will be initialized to nil, which the fixnum declaration makes illegal. The warning will go away if ecase is used instead of case, or if :the-other is changed to t.

This sort of spurious type warning happens moderately often in the expansion of complex macros and in inline functions. In such cases, there may be dead code that is impossible to correctly execute. The compiler can’t always prove this code is dead (could never be executed), so it compiles the erroneous code (which will always signal an error if it is executed) and gives a warning.

Function: extensions:required-argument

This function can be used as the default value for keyword arguments that must always be supplied. Since it is known by the compiler to never return, it will avoid any compile-time type warnings that would result from a default value inconsistent with the declared type. When this function is called, it signals an error indicating that a required keyword argument was not supplied. This function is also useful for defstruct slot defaults corresponding to required arguments. See empty-type.

Although this function is a CMUCL extension, it is relatively harmless to use it in otherwise portable code, since you can easily define it yourself:

    (defun required-argument ()
      (error "A required keyword argument was not supplied."))

Type warnings are inhibited when the extensions:inhibit-warnings optimization quality is 3 (see compiler-policy.) This can be used in a local declaration to inhibit type warnings in a code fragment that has spurious warnings.

4.5.2 Precise Type Checking

With the default compilation policy, all type assertions6 are precisely checked. Precise checking means that the check is done as though typep had been called with the exact type specifier that appeared in the declaration. Python uses policy to determine whether to trust type assertions (see compiler-policy). Type assertions from declarations are indistinguishable from the type assertions on arguments to built-in functions. In Python, adding type declarations makes code safer.

If a variable is declared to be (integer 3 17), then its value must always always be an integer between 3 and 17. If multiple type declarations apply to a single variable, then all the declarations must be correct; it is as though all the types were intersected producing a single and type specifier.

Argument type declarations are automatically enforced. If you declare the type of a function argument, a type check will be done when that function is called. In a function call, the called function does the argument type checking, which means that a more restrictive type assertion in the calling function (e.g., from the) may be lost.

The types of structure slots are also checked. The value of a structure slot must always be of the type indicated in any :type slot option.7 Because of precise type checking, the arguments to slot accessors are checked to be the correct type of structure.

In traditional Common Lisp compilers, not all type assertions are checked, and type checks are not precise. Traditional compilers blindly trust explicit type declarations, but may check the argument type assertions for built-in functions. Type checking is not precise, since the argument type checks will be for the most general type legal for that argument. In many systems, type declarations suppress what little type checking is being done, so adding type declarations makes code unsafe. This is a problem since it discourages writing type declarations during initial coding. In addition to being more error prone, adding type declarations during tuning also loses all the benefits of debugging with checked type assertions.

To gain maximum benefit from Python’s type checking, you should always declare the types of function arguments and structure slots as precisely as possible. This often involves the use of or, member and other list-style type specifiers. Paradoxically, even though adding type declarations introduces type checks, it usually reduces the overall amount of type checking. This is especially true for structure slot type declarations.

Python uses the safety optimization quality (rather than presence or absence of declarations) to choose one of three levels of run-time type error checking: see optimize-declaration. See advanced-type-stuff for more information about types in Python.

4.5.3 Weakened Type Checking

When the value for the speed optimization quality is greater than safety, and safety is not 0, then type checking is weakened to reduce the speed and space penalty. In structure-intensive code this can double the speed, yet still catch most type errors. Weakened type checks provide a level of safety similar to that of “safe” code in other Common Lisp compilers.

A type check is weakened by changing the check to be for some convenient supertype of the asserted type. For example, (integer 3 17) is changed to fixnum, (simple-vector 17) to simple-vector, and structure types are changed to structure. A complex check like:

(or node hunk (member :foo :bar :baz))

will be omitted entirely (i.e., the check is weakened to *.) If a precise check can be done for no extra cost, then no weakening is done.

Although weakened type checking is similar to type checking done by other compilers, it is sometimes safer and sometimes less safe. Weakened checks are done in the same places is precise checks, so all the preceding discussion about where checking is done still applies. Weakened checking is sometimes somewhat unsafe because although the check is weakened, the precise type is still input into type inference. In some contexts this will result in type inferences not justified by the weakened check, and hence deletion of some type checks that would be done by conventional compilers.

For example, if this code was compiled with weakened checks:

(defstruct foo
  (a nil :type simple-string))

(defstruct bar
  (a nil :type single-float))

(defun myfun (x)
  (declare (type bar x))
  (* (bar-a x) 3.0))

and myfun was passed a foo, then no type error would be signaled, and we would try to multiply a simple-vector as though it were a float (with unpredictable results.) This is because the check for bar was weakened to structure, yet when compiling the call to bar-a, the compiler thinks it knows it has a bar.

Note that normally even weakened type checks report the precise type in error messages. For example, if myfun’s bar check is weakened to structure, and the argument is nil, then the error will be:

Type-error in MYFUN:
  NIL is not of type BAR

However, there is some speed and space cost for signaling a precise error, so the weakened type is reported if the speed optimization quality is 3 or debug quality is less than 1:

Type-error in MYFUN:
  NIL is not of type STRUCTURE

See optimize-declaration for further discussion of the optimize declaration.

4.6 Getting Existing Programs to Run

Since Python does much more comprehensive type checking than other Lisp compilers, Python will detect type errors in many programs that have been debugged using other compilers. These errors are mostly incorrect declarations, although compile-time type errors can find actual bugs if parts of the program have never been tested.

Some incorrect declarations can only be detected by run-time type checking. It is very important to initially compile programs with full type checks and then test this version. After the checking version has been tested, then you can consider weakening or eliminating type checks. This applies even to previously debugged programs. Python does much more type inference than other Common Lisp compilers, so believing an incorrect declaration does much more damage.

The most common problem is with variables whose initial value doesn’t match the type declaration. Incorrect initial values will always be flagged by a compile-time type error, and they are simple to fix once located. Consider this code fragment:

(prog (foo)
  (declare (fixnum foo))
  (setq foo ...)

Here the variable foo is given an initial value of nil, but is declared to be a fixnum. Even if it is never read, the initial value of a variable must match the declared type. There are two ways to fix this problem. Change the declaration:

(prog (foo)
  (declare (type (or fixnum null) foo))
  (setq foo ...)

or change the initial value:

(prog ((foo 0))
  (declare (fixnum foo))
  (setq foo ...)

It is generally preferable to change to a legal initial value rather than to weaken the declaration, but sometimes it is simpler to weaken the declaration than to try to make an initial value of the appropriate type.

Another declaration problem occasionally encountered is incorrect declarations on defmacro arguments. This probably usually happens when a function is converted into a macro. Consider this macro:

(defmacro my-1+ (x)
  (declare (fixnum x))
  `(the fixnum (1+ ,x)))

Although legal and well-defined Common Lisp, this meaning of this definition is almost certainly not what the writer intended. For example, this call is illegal:

(my-1+ (+ 4 5))

The call is illegal because the argument to the macro is (+ 4     5), which is a list, not a fixnum. Because of macro semantics, it is hardly ever useful to declare the types of macro arguments. If you really want to assert something about the type of the result of evaluating a macro argument, then put a the in the expansion:

(defmacro my-1+ (x)
  `(the fixnum (1+ (the fixnum ,x))))

In this case, it would be stylistically preferable to change this macro back to a function and declare it inline. Macros have no efficiency advantage over inline functions when using Python. See inline-expansion.

Some more subtle problems are caused by incorrect declarations that can’t be detected at compile time. Consider this code:

(do ((pos 0 (position #\a string :start (1+ pos))))
    ((null pos))
  (declare (fixnum pos))

Although pos is almost always a fixnum, it is nil at the end of the loop. If this example is compiled with full type checks (the default), then running it will signal a type error at the end of the loop. If compiled without type checks, the program will go into an infinite loop (or perhaps position will complain because (1+ nil) isn’t a sensible start.) Why? Because if you compile without type checks, the compiler just quietly believes the type declaration. Since pos is always a fixnum, it is never nil, so (null pos) is never true, and the loop exit test is optimized away. Such errors are sometimes flagged by unreachable code notes (see dead-code-notes), but it is still important to initially compile any system with full type checks, even if the system works fine when compiled using other compilers.

In this case, the fix is to weaken the type declaration to (or fixnum null).8 Note that there is usually little performance penalty for weakening a declaration in this way. Any numeric operations in the body can still assume the variable is a fixnum, since nil is not a legal numeric argument. Another possible fix would be to say:

(do ((pos 0 (position #\a string :start (1+ pos))))
    ((null pos))
  (let ((pos pos))
    (declare (fixnum pos))

This would be preferable in some circumstances, since it would allow a non-standard representation to be used for the local pos variable in the loop body (see section ND-variables.)

In summary, remember that all values that a variable ever has must be of the declared type, and that you should test using safe code initially.

4.7 Compiler Policy

The policy is what tells the compiler how to compile a program. This is logically (and often textually) distinct from the program itself. Broad control of policy is provided by the optimize declaration; other declarations and variables control more specific aspects of compilation.

4.7.1 The Optimize Declaration

The optimize declaration recognizes six different qualities. The qualities are conceptually independent aspects of program performance. In reality, increasing one quality tends to have adverse effects on other qualities. The compiler compares the relative values of qualities when it needs to make a trade-off; i.e., if speed is greater than safety, then improve speed at the cost of safety.

The default for all qualities (except debug) is 1. Whenever qualities are equal, ties are broken according to a broad idea of what a good default environment is supposed to be. Generally this downplays speed, compile-speed and space in favor of safety and debug. Novice and casual users should stick to the default policy. Advanced users often want to improve speed and memory usage at the cost of safety and debuggability.

If the value for a quality is 0 or 3, then it may have a special interpretation. A value of 0 means “totally unimportant”, and a 3 means “ultimately important.” These extreme optimization values enable “heroic” compilation strategies that are not always desirable and sometimes self-defeating. Specifying more than one quality as 3 is not desirable, since it doesn’t tell the compiler which quality is most important.

These are the optimization qualities:


How fast the program should is run. speed 3 enables some optimizations that hurt debuggability.


How fast the compiler should run. Note that increasing this above safety weakens type checking.


How much space the compiled code should take up. Inline expansion is mostly inhibited when space is greater than speed. A value of 0 enables promiscuous inline expansion. Wide use of a 0 value is not recommended, as it may waste so much space that run time is slowed. See inline-expansion for a discussion of inline expansion.


How debuggable the program should be. The quality is treated differently from the other qualities: each value indicates a particular level of debugger information; it is not compared with the other qualities. See debugger-policy for more details.


How much error checking should be done. If speed, space or compilation-speed is more important than safety, then type checking is weakened (see weakened-type-checks). If safety if 0, then no run time error checking is done. In addition to suppressing type checks, 0 also suppresses argument count checking, unbound-symbol checking and array bounds checks.


This is a CMUCL extension that determines how little (or how much) diagnostic output should be printed during compilation. This quality is compared to other qualities to determine whether to print style notes and warnings concerning those qualities. If speed is greater than inhibit-warnings, then notes about how to improve speed will be printed, etc. The default value is 1, so raising the value for any standard quality above its default enables notes for that quality. If inhibit-warnings is 3, then all notes and most non-serious warnings are inhibited. This is useful with declare to suppress warnings about unavoidable problems.

4.7.2 The Optimize-Interface Declaration

The extensions:optimize-interface declaration is identical in syntax to the optimize declaration, but it specifies the policy used during compilation of code the compiler automatically generates to check the number and type of arguments supplied to a function. It is useful to specify this policy separately, since even thoroughly debugged functions are vulnerable to being passed the wrong arguments. The optimize-interface declaration can specify that arguments should be checked even when the general optimize policy is unsafe.

Note that this argument checking is the checking of user-supplied arguments to any functions defined within the scope of the declaration, not the checking of arguments to Common Lisp primitives that appear in those definitions.

The idea behind this declaration is that it allows the definition of functions that appear fully safe to other callers, but that do no internal error checking. Of course, it is possible that arguments may be invalid in ways other than having incorrect type. Functions compiled unsafely must still protect themselves against things like user-supplied array indices that are out of bounds and improper lists. See also the :context-declarations option to with-compilation-unit.

4.8 Open Coding and Inline Expansion

Since Common Lisp forbids the redefinition of standard functions9, the compiler can have special knowledge of these standard functions embedded in it. This special knowledge is used in various ways (open coding, inline expansion, source transformation), but the implications to the user are basically the same:

  • Attempts to redefine standard functions may be frustrated, since the function may never be called. Although it is technically illegal to redefine standard functions, users sometimes want to implicitly redefine these functions when they are debugging using the trace macro. Special-casing of standard functions can be inhibited using the notinline declaration.
  • The compiler can have multiple alternate implementations of standard functions that implement different trade-offs of speed, space and safety. This selection is based on the compiler policy, see compiler-policy.

When a function call is open coded, inline code whose effect is equivalent to the function call is substituted for that function call. When a function call is closed coded, it is usually left as is, although it might be turned into a call to a different function with different arguments. As an example, if nthcdr were to be open coded, then

(nthcdr 4 foobar)

might turn into

(cdr (cdr (cdr (cdr foobar))))

or even

(do ((i 0 (1+ i))
     (list foobar (cdr foobar)))
    ((= i 4) list))

If nth is closed coded, then

(nth x l)

might stay the same, or turn into something like:

(car (nthcdr x l))

In general, open coding sacrifices space for speed, but some functions (such as car) are so simple that they are always open-coded. Even when not open-coded, a call to a standard function may be transformed into a different function call (as in the last example) or compiled as static call. Static function call uses a more efficient calling convention that forbids redefinition.

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5 Advanced Compiler Use and Efficiency Hints

by Robert MacLachlan

5.1 Advanced Compiler Introduction

In CMUCL, as with any language on any computer, the path to efficient code starts with good algorithms and sensible programming techniques, but to avoid inefficiency pitfalls, you need to know some of this implementation’s quirks and features. This chapter is mostly a fairly long and detailed overview of what optimizations Python does. Although there are the usual negative suggestions of inefficient features to avoid, the main emphasis is on describing the things that programmers can count on being efficient.

The optimizations described here can have the effect of speeding up existing programs written in conventional styles, but the potential for new programming styles that are clearer and less error-prone is at least as significant. For this reason, several sections end with a discussion of the implications of these optimizations for programming style.

5.1.1 Types

Python’s support for types is unusual in three major ways:

  • Precise type checking encourages the specific use of type declarations as a form of run-time consistency checking. This speeds development by localizing type errors and giving more meaningful error messages. See precise-type-checks. Python produces completely safe code; optimized type checking maintains reasonable efficiency on conventional hardware (see type-check-optimization.)
  • Comprehensive support for the Common Lisp type system makes complex type specifiers useful. Using type specifiers such as or and member has both efficiency and robustness advantages. See advanced-type-stuff.
  • Type inference eliminates the need for some declarations, and also aids compile-time detection of type errors. Given detailed type declarations, type inference can often eliminate type checks and enable more efficient object representations and code sequences. Checking all types results in fewer type checks. See sections type-inference and non-descriptor.

5.1.2 Optimization

The main barrier to efficient Lisp programs is not that there is no efficient way to code the program in Lisp, but that it is difficult to arrive at that efficient coding. Common Lisp is a highly complex language, and usually has many semantically equivalent “reasonable” ways to code a given problem. It is desirable to make all of these equivalent solutions have comparable efficiency so that programmers don’t have to waste time discovering the most efficient solution.

Source level optimization increases the number of efficient ways to solve a problem. This effect is much larger than the increase in the efficiency of the “best” solution. Source level optimization transforms the original program into a more efficient (but equivalent) program. Although the optimizer isn’t doing anything the programmer couldn’t have done, this high-level optimization is important because:

  • The programmer can code simply and directly, rather than obfuscating code to please the compiler.
  • When presented with a choice of similar coding alternatives, the programmer can chose whichever happens to be most convenient, instead of worrying about which is most efficient.

Source level optimization eliminates the need for macros to optimize their expansion, and also increases the effectiveness of inline expansion. See sections source-optimization and inline-expansion.

Efficient support for a safer programming style is the biggest advantage of source level optimization. Existing tuned programs typically won’t benefit much from source optimization, since their source has already been optimized by hand. However, even tuned programs tend to run faster under Python because:

  • Low level optimization and register allocation provides modest speedups in any program.
  • Block compilation and inline expansion can reduce function call overhead, but may require some program restructuring. See sections inline-expansion, local-call and block-compilation.
  • Efficiency notes will point out important type declarations that are often missed even in highly tuned programs. See efficiency-notes.
  • Existing programs can be compiled safely without prohibitive speed penalty, although they would be faster and safer with added declarations. See type-check-optimization.
  • The context declaration mechanism allows both space and runtime of large systems to be reduced without sacrificing robustness by semi-automatically varying compilation policy without addition any optimize declarations to the source. See context-declarations.
  • Byte compilation can be used to dramatically reduce the size of code that is not speed-critical. See byte-compile

5.1.3 Function Call

The sort of symbolic programs generally written in Common Lisp often favor recursion over iteration, or have inner loops so complex that they involve multiple function calls. Such programs spend a larger fraction of their time doing function calls than is the norm in other languages; for this reason Common Lisp implementations strive to make the general (or full) function call as inexpensive as possible. Python goes beyond this by providing two good alternatives to full call:

  • Local call resolves function references at compile time, allowing better calling sequences and optimization across function calls. See local-call.
  • Inline expansion totally eliminates call overhead and allows many context dependent optimizations. This provides a safe and efficient implementation of operations with function semantics, eliminating the need for error-prone macro definitions or manual case analysis. Although most Common Lisp implementations support inline expansion, it becomes a more powerful tool with Python’s source level optimization. See sections source-optimization and inline-expansion.

Generally, Python provides simple implementations for simple uses of function call, rather than having only a single calling convention. These features allow a more natural programming style:

  • Proper tail recursion. See tail-recursion
  • Relatively efficient closures.
  • A funcall that is as efficient as normal named call.
  • Calls to local functions such as from labels are optimized:
    • Control transfer is a direct jump.
    • The closure environment is passed in registers rather than heap allocated.
    • Keyword arguments and multiple values are implemented more efficiently.

    See local-call.

5.1.4 Representation of Objects

Sometimes traditional Common Lisp implementation techniques compare so poorly to the techniques used in other languages that Common Lisp can become an impractical language choice. Terrible inefficiencies appear in number-crunching programs, since Common Lisp numeric operations often involve number-consing and generic arithmetic. Python supports efficient natural representations for numbers (and some other types), and allows these efficient representations to be used in more contexts. Python also provides good efficiency notes that warn when a crucial declaration is missing.

See section non-descriptor for more about object representations and numeric types. Also see efficiency-notes about efficiency notes.

5.1.5 Writing Efficient Code

Writing efficient code that works is a complex and prolonged process. It is important not to get so involved in the pursuit of efficiency that you lose sight of what the original problem demands. Remember that:

  • The program should be correct—it doesn’t matter how quickly you get the wrong answer.
  • Both the programmer and the user will make errors, so the program must be robust—it must detect errors in a way that allows easy correction.
  • A small portion of the program will consume most of the resources, with the bulk of the code being virtually irrelevant to efficiency considerations. Even experienced programmers familiar with the problem area cannot reliably predict where these “hot spots” will be.

The best way to get efficient code that is still worth using, is to separate coding from tuning. During coding, you should:

  • Use a coding style that aids correctness and robustness without being incompatible with efficiency.
  • Choose appropriate data structures that allow efficient algorithms and object representations (see object-representation). Try to make interfaces abstract enough so that you can change to a different representation if profiling reveals a need.
  • Whenever you make an assumption about a function argument or global data structure, add consistency assertions, either with type declarations or explicit uses of assert, ecase, etc.

During tuning, you should:

  • Identify the hot spots in the program through profiling (section profiling.)
  • Identify inefficient constructs in the hot spot with efficiency notes, more profiling, or manual inspection of the source. See sections general-efficiency and efficiency-notes.
  • Add declarations and consider the application of optimizations. See sections local-call, inline-expansion and non-descriptor.
  • If all else fails, consider algorithm or data structure changes. If you did a good job coding, changes will be easy to introduce.

5.2 More About Types in Python

This section goes into more detail describing what types and declarations are recognized by Python. The area where Python differs most radically from previous Common Lisp compilers is in its support for types:

  • Precise type checking helps to find bugs at run time.
  • Compile-time type checking helps to find bugs at compile time.
  • Type inference minimizes the need for generic operations, and also increases the efficiency of run time type checking and the effectiveness of compile time type checking.
  • Support for detailed types provides a wealth of opportunity for operation-specific type inference and optimization.

5.2.1 More Types Meaningful

Common Lisp has a very powerful type system, but conventional Common Lisp implementations typically only recognize the small set of types special in that implementation. In these systems, there is an unfortunate paradox: a declaration for a relatively general type like fixnum will be recognized by the compiler, but a highly specific declaration such as (integer 3 17) is totally ignored.

This is obviously a problem, since the user has to know how to specify the type of an object in the way the compiler wants it. A very minimal (but rarely satisfied) criterion for type system support is that it be no worse to make a specific declaration than to make a general one. Python goes beyond this by exploiting a number of advantages obtained from detailed type information.

Using more restrictive types in declarations allows the compiler to do better type inference and more compile-time type checking. Also, when type declarations are considered to be consistency assertions that should be verified (conditional on policy), then complex types are useful for making more detailed assertions.

Python “understands” the list-style or, member, function, array and number type specifiers. Understanding means that:

  • If the type contains more information than is used in a particular context, then the extra information is simply ignored, rather than derailing type inference.
  • In many contexts, the extra information from these type specifier is used to good effect. In particular, type checking in Python is precise, so these complex types can be used in declarations to make interesting assertions about functions and data structures (see precise-type-checks.) More specific declarations also aid type inference and reduce the cost for type checking.

For related information, see numeric-types for numeric types, and section array-types for array types.

5.2.2 Canonicalization

When given a type specifier, Python will often rewrite it into a different (but equivalent) type. This is the mechanism that Python uses for detecting type equivalence. For example, in Python’s canonical representation, these types are equivalent:

(or list (member :end)) ≡ (or cons (member nil :end))

This has two implications for the user:

  • The standard symbol type specifiers for atom, null, fixnum, etc., are in no way magical. The null type is actually defined to be (member       nil), list is (or cons null), and fixnum is (signed-byte 30).
  • When the compiler prints out a type, it may not look like the type specifier that originally appeared in the program. This is generally not a problem, but it must be taken into consideration when reading compiler error messages.

5.2.3 Member Types

The member type specifier can be used to represent “symbolic” values, analogous to the enumerated types of Pascal. For example, the second value of find-symbol has this type:

(member :internal :external :inherited nil)

Member types are very useful for expressing consistency constraints on data structures, for example:

(defstruct ice-cream
  (flavor :vanilla :type (member :vanilla :chocolate :strawberry)))

Member types are also useful in type inference, as the number of members can sometimes be pared down to one, in which case the value is a known constant.

5.2.4 Union Types

The or (union) type specifier is understood, and is meaningfully applied in many contexts. The use of or allows assertions to be made about types in dynamically typed programs. For example:

(defstruct box
  (next nil :type (or box null))
  (top :removed :type (or box-top (member :removed))))

The type assertion on the top slot ensures that an error will be signaled when there is an attempt to store an illegal value (such as :rmoved.) Although somewhat weak, these union type assertions provide a useful input into type inference, allowing the cost of type checking to be reduced. For example, this loop is safely compiled with no type checks:

(defun find-box-with-top (box)
  (declare (type (or box null) box))
  (do ((current box (box-next current)))
      ((null current))
    (unless (eq (box-top current) :removed)
      (return current))))

Union types are also useful in type inference for representing types that are partially constrained. For example, the result of this expression:

(if foo
    (logior x y)
    (list x y))

can be expressed as (or integer cons).

5.2.5 The Empty Type

The type nil is also called the empty type, since no object is of type nil. The union of no types, (or), is also empty. Python’s interpretation of an expression whose type is nil is that the expression never yields any value, but rather fails to terminate, or is thrown out of. For example, the type of a call to error or a use of return is nil. When the type of an expression is empty, compile-time type warnings about its value are suppressed; presumably somebody else is signaling an error. If a function is declared to have return type nil, but does in fact return, then (in safe compilation policies) a “NIL Function returned” error will be signaled. See also the function required-argument.

5.2.6 Function Types

function types are understood in the restrictive sense, specifying:

  • The argument syntax that the function must be called with. This is information about what argument counts are acceptable, and which keyword arguments are recognized. In Python, warnings about argument syntax are a consequence of function type checking.
  • The types of the argument values that the caller must pass. If the compiler can prove that some argument to a call is of a type disallowed by the called function’s type, then it will give a compile-time type warning. In addition to being used for compile-time type checking, these type assertions are also used as output type assertions in code generation. For example, if foo is declared to have a fixnum argument, then the 1+ in (foo (1+ x)) is compiled with knowledge that the result must be a fixnum.
  • The types the values that will be bound to argument variables in the function’s definition. Declaring a function’s type with ftype implicitly declares the types of the arguments in the definition. Python checks for consistency between the definition and the ftype declaration. Because of precise type checking, an error will be signaled when a function is called with an argument of the wrong type.
  • The type of return value(s) that the caller can expect. This information is a useful input to type inference. For example, if a function is declared to return a fixnum, then when a call to that function appears in an expression, the expression will be compiled with knowledge that the call will return a fixnum.
  • The type of return value(s) that the definition must return. The result type in an ftype declaration is treated like an implicit the wrapped around the body of the definition. If the definition returns a value of the wrong type, an error will be signaled. If the compiler can prove that the function returns the wrong type, then it will give a compile-time warning.

This is consistent with the new interpretation of function types and the ftype declaration in the proposed X3J13 “function-type-argument-type-semantics” cleanup. Note also, that if you don’t explicitly declare the type of a function using a global ftype declaration, then Python will compute a function type from the definition, providing a degree of inter-routine type inference, see function-type-inference.

5.2.7 The Values Declaration

CMUCL supports the values declaration as an extension to Common Lisp. The syntax of the declaration is {(values type1 type2...typen)}. This declaration is semantically equivalent to a the form wrapped around the body of the special form in which the values declaration appears. The advantage of values over the is purely syntactic—it doesn’t introduce more indentation. For example:

(defun foo (x)
  (declare (values single-float))
  (ecase x
    (:this ...)
    (:that ...)
    (:the-other ...)))

is equivalent to:

(defun foo (x)
  (the single-float
       (ecase x
         (:this ...)
         (:that ...)
         (:the-other ...))))


(defun floor (number &optional (divisor 1))
  (declare (values integer real))

is equivalent to:

(defun floor (number &optional (divisor 1))
  (the (values integer real)

In addition to being recognized by lambda (and hence by defun), the values declaration is recognized by all the other special forms with bodies and declarations: let, let*, labels and flet. Macros with declarations usually splice the declarations into one of the above forms, so they will accept this declaration too, but the exact effect of a values declaration will depend on the macro.

If you declare the types of all arguments to a function, and also declare the return value types with values, you have described the type of the function. Python will use this argument and result type information to derive a function type that will then be applied to calls of the function (see function-types.) This provides a way to declare the types of functions that is much less syntactically awkward than using the ftype declaration with a function type specifier.

Although the values declaration is non-standard, it is relatively harmless to use it in otherwise portable code, since any warning in non-CMU implementations can be suppressed with the standard declaration proclamation.

5.2.8 Structure Types

Because of precise type checking, structure types are much better supported by Python than by conventional compilers:

  • The structure argument to structure accessors is precisely checked—if you call foo-a on a bar, an error will be signaled.
  • The types of slot values are precisely checked—if you pass the wrong type argument to a constructor or a slot setter, then an error will be signaled.

This error checking is tremendously useful for detecting bugs in programs that manipulate complex data structures.

An additional advantage of checking structure types and enforcing slot types is that the compiler can safely believe slot type declarations. Python effectively moves the type checking from the slot access to the slot setter or constructor call. This is more efficient since caller of the setter or constructor often knows the type of the value, entirely eliminating the need to check the value’s type. Consider this example:

(defstruct coordinate
  (x nil :type single-float)
  (y nil :type single-float))

(defun make-it ()
  (make-coordinate :x 1.0 :y 1.0))

(defun use-it (it)
  (declare (type coordinate it))
  (sqrt (expt (coordinate-x it) 2) (expt (coordinate-y it) 2)))

make-it and use-it are compiled with no checking on the types of the float slots, yet use-it can use single-float arithmetic with perfect safety. Note that make-coordinate must still check the values of x and y unless the call is block compiled or inline expanded (see local-call.) But even without this advantage, it is almost always more efficient to check slot values on structure initialization, since slots are usually written once and read many times.

5.2.9 The Freeze-Type Declaration

The extensions:freeze-type declaration is a CMUCL extension that enables more efficient compilation of user-defined types by asserting that the definition is not going to change. This declaration may only be used globally (with declaim or proclaim). Currently freeze-type only affects structure type testing done by typep, typecase, etc. Here is an example:

(declaim (freeze-type foo bar))

This asserts that the types foo and bar and their subtypes are not going to change. This allows more efficient type testing, since the compiler can open-code a test for all possible subtypes, rather than having to examine the type hierarchy at run-time.

5.2.10 Type Restrictions

Avoid use of the and, not and satisfies types in declarations, since type inference has problems with them. When these types do appear in a declaration, they are still checked precisely, but the type information is of limited use to the compiler. and types are effective as long as the intersection can be canonicalized to a type that doesn’t use and. For example:

(and fixnum unsigned-byte)

is fine, since it is the same as:

(integer 0 most-positive-fixnum)

but this type:

(and symbol (not (member :end)))

will not be fully understood by type interference since the and can’t be removed by canonicalization.

Using any of these type specifiers in a type test with typep or typecase is fine, since as tests, these types can be translated into the and macro, the not function or a call to the satisfies predicate.

5.2.11 Type Style Recommendations

Python provides good support for some currently unconventional ways of using the Common Lisp type system. With Python, it is desirable to make declarations as precise as possible, but type inference also makes some declarations unnecessary. Here are some general guidelines for maximum robustness and efficiency:

  • Declare the types of all function arguments and structure slots as precisely as possible (while avoiding not, and and satisfies). Put these declarations in during initial coding so that type assertions can find bugs for you during debugging.
  • Use the member type specifier where there are a small number of possible symbol values, for example: (member :red       :blue :green).
  • Use the or type specifier in situations where the type is not certain, but there are only a few possibilities, for example: (or list vector).
  • Declare integer types with the tightest bounds that you can, such as (integer 3 7).
  • Define deftype or defstruct types before they are used. Definition after use is legal (producing no “undefined type” warnings), but type tests and structure operations will be compiled much less efficiently.
  • Use the extensions:freeze-type declaration to speed up type testing for structure types which won’t have new subtypes added later. See freeze-type
  • In addition to declaring the array element type and simpleness, also declare the dimensions if they are fixed, for example:
        (simple-array single-float (1024 1024))

    This bounds information allows array indexing for multi-dimensional arrays to be compiled much more efficiently, and may also allow array bounds checking to be done at compile time. See array-types.

  • Avoid use of the the declaration within expressions. Not only does it clutter the code, but it is also almost worthless under safe policies. If the need for an output type assertion is revealed by efficiency notes during tuning, then you can consider the, but it is preferable to constrain the argument types more, allowing the compiler to prove the desired result type.
  • Don’t bother declaring the type of let or other non-argument variables unless the type is non-obvious. If you declare function return types and structure slot types, then the type of a variable is often obvious both to the programmer and to the compiler. An important case where the type isn’t obvious, and a declaration is appropriate, is when the value for a variable is pulled out of untyped structure (e.g., the result of car), or comes from some weakly typed function, such as read.
  • Declarations are sometimes necessary for integer loop variables, since the compiler can’t always prove that the value is of a good integer type. These declarations are best added during tuning, when an efficiency note indicates the need.

5.3 Type Inference

Type inference is the process by which the compiler tries to figure out the types of expressions and variables, given an inevitable lack of complete type information. Although Python does much more type inference than most Common Lisp compilers, remember that the more precise and comprehensive type declarations are, the more type inference will be able to do.

5.3.1 Variable Type Inference

The type of a variable is the union of the types of all the definitions. In the degenerate case of a let, the type of the variable is the type of the initial value. This inferred type is intersected with any declared type, and is then propagated to all the variable’s references. The types of multiple-value-bind variables are similarly inferred from the types of the individual values of the values form.

If multiple type declarations apply to a single variable, then all the declarations must be correct; it is as though all the types were intersected producing a single and type specifier. In this example:

(defmacro my-dotimes ((var count) &body body)
  `(do ((,var 0 (1+ ,var)))
       ((>= ,var ,count))
     (declare (type (integer 0 *) ,var))

(my-dotimes (i ...)
  (declare (fixnum i))

the two declarations for i are intersected, so i is known to be a non-negative fixnum.

In practice, this type inference is limited to lets and local functions, since the compiler can’t analyze all the calls to a global function. But type inference works well enough on local variables so that it is often unnecessary to declare the type of local variables. This is especially likely when function result types and structure slot types are declared. The main areas where type inference breaks down are:

  • When the initial value of a variable is a untyped expression, such as (car x), and
  • When the type of one of the variable’s definitions is a function of the variable’s current value, as in: (setq x (1+ x))

5.3.2 Local Function Type Inference

The types of arguments to local functions are inferred in the same was as any other local variable; the type is the union of the argument types across all the calls to the function, intersected with the declared type. If there are any assignments to the argument variables, the type of the assigned value is unioned in as well.

The result type of a local function is computed in a special way that takes tail recursion (see tail-recursion) into consideration. The result type is the union of all possible return values that aren’t tail-recursive calls. For example, Python will infer that the result type of this function is integer:

(defun ! (n res)
  (declare (integer n res))
  (if (zerop n)
      (! (1- n) (* n res))))

Although this is a rather obvious result, it becomes somewhat less trivial in the presence of mutual tail recursion of multiple functions. Local function result type inference interacts with the mechanisms for ensuring proper tail recursion mentioned in section local-call-return.

5.3.3 Global Function Type Inference

As described in section function-types, a global function type (ftype) declaration places implicit type assertions on the call arguments, and also guarantees the type of the return value. So wherever a call to a declared function appears, there is no doubt as to the types of the arguments and return value. Furthermore, Python will infer a function type from the function’s definition if there is no ftype declaration. Any type declarations on the argument variables are used as the argument types in the derived function type, and the compiler’s best guess for the result type of the function is used as the result type in the derived function type.

This method of deriving function types from the definition implicitly assumes that functions won’t be redefined at run-time. Consider this example:

(defun foo-p (x)
  (let ((res (and (consp x) (eq (car x) 'foo))))
    (format t "It is ~:[not ~;~]foo." res)))

(defun frob (it)
  (if (foo-p it)
      (setf (cadr it) 'yow!)
      (1+ it)))

Presumably, the programmer really meant to return res from foo-p, but he seems to have forgotten. When he tries to call do (frob (list 'foo nil)), frob will flame out when it tries to add to a cons. Realizing his error, he fixes foo-p and recompiles it. But when he retries his test case, he is baffled because the error is still there. What happened in this example is that Python proved that the result of foo-p is null, and then proceeded to optimize away the setf in frob.

Fortunately, in this example, the error is detected at compile time due to notes about unreachable code (see dead-code-notes.) Still, some users may not want to worry about this sort of problem during incremental development, so there is a variable to control deriving function types.

Variable: extensions:*derive-function-types*

If true (the default), argument and result type information derived from compilation of defuns is used when compiling calls to that function. If false, only information from ftype proclamations will be used.

5.3.4 Operation Specific Type Inference

Many of the standard Common Lisp functions have special type inference procedures that determine the result type as a function of the argument types. For example, the result type of aref is the array element type. Here are some other examples of type inferences:

(logand x #xFF) ⇒ (unsigned-byte 8)

(+ (the (integer 0 12) x) (the (integer 0 1) y)) ⇒ (integer 0 13)

(ash (the (unsigned-byte 16) x) -8) ⇒ (unsigned-byte 8)

5.3.5 Dynamic Type Inference

Python uses flow analysis to infer types in dynamically typed programs. For example:

(ecase x
  (list (length x))

Here, the compiler knows the argument to length is a list, because the call to length is only done when x is a list. The most significant efficiency effect of inference from assertions is usually in type check optimization.

Dynamic type inference has two inputs: explicit conditionals and implicit or explicit type assertions. Flow analysis propagates these constraints on variable type to any code that can be executed only after passing though the constraint. Explicit type constraints come from ifs where the test is either a lexical variable or a function of lexical variables and constants, where the function is either a type predicate, a numeric comparison or eq.

If there is an eq (or eql) test, then the compiler will actually substitute one argument for the other in the true branch. For example:

(when (eq x :yow!) (return x))


(when (eq x :yow!) (return :yow!))

This substitution is done when one argument is a constant, or one argument has better type information than the other. This transformation reveals opportunities for constant folding or type-specific optimizations. If the test is against a constant, then the compiler can prove that the variable is not that constant value in the false branch, or (not (member :yow!)) in the example above. This can eliminate redundant tests, for example:

(if (eq x nil)
    (if x a b))

is transformed to this:

(if (eq x nil)

Variables appearing as if tests are interpreted as (not (eq var nil)) tests. The compiler also converts = into eql where possible. It is difficult to do inference directly on = since it does implicit coercions.

When there is an explicit < or > test on numeric variables, the compiler makes inferences about the ranges the variables can assume in the true and false branches. This is mainly useful when it proves that the values are small enough in magnitude to allow open-coding of arithmetic operations. For example, in many uses of dotimes with a fixnum repeat count, the compiler proves that fixnum arithmetic can be used.

Implicit type assertions are quite common, especially if you declare function argument types. Dynamic inference from implicit type assertions sometimes helps to disambiguate programs to a useful degree, but is most noticeable when it detects a dynamic type error. For example:

(defun foo (x)
  (+ (car x) x))

results in this warning:

  (+ (CAR X) X)
Warning: Result is a LIST, not a NUMBER.

Note that Common Lisp’s dynamic type checking semantics make dynamic type inference useful even in programs that aren’t really dynamically typed, for example:

(+ (car x) (length x))

Here, x presumably always holds a list, but in the absence of a declaration the compiler cannot assume x is a list simply because list-specific operations are sometimes done on it. The compiler must consider the program to be dynamically typed until it proves otherwise. Dynamic type inference proves that the argument to length is always a list because the call to length is only done after the list-specific car operation.

5.3.6 Type Check Optimization

Python backs up its support for precise type checking by minimizing the cost of run-time type checking. This is done both through type inference and though optimizations of type checking itself.

Type inference often allows the compiler to prove that a value is of the correct type, and thus no type check is necessary. For example:

(defstruct foo a b c)
(defstruct link
  (foo (required-argument) :type foo)
  (next nil :type (or link null)))

(foo-a (link-foo x))

Here, there is no need to check that the result of link-foo is a foo, since it always is. Even when some type checks are necessary, type inference can often reduce the number:

(defun test (x)
  (let ((a (foo-a x))
        (b (foo-b x))
        (c (foo-c x)))

In this example, only one (foo-p x) check is needed. This applies to a lesser degree in list operations, such as:

(if (eql (car x) 3) (cdr x) y)

Here, we only have to check that x is a list once.

Since Python recognizes explicit type tests, code that explicitly protects itself against type errors has little introduced overhead due to implicit type checking. For example, this loop compiles with no implicit checks checks for car and cdr:

(defun memq (e l)
  (do ((current l (cdr current)))
      ((atom current) nil)
    (when (eq (car current) e) (return current))))

Python reduces the cost of checks that must be done through an optimization called complementing. A complemented check for type is simply a check that the value is not of the type (not type). This is only interesting when something is known about the actual type, in which case we can test for the complement of (and known-type (not type)), or the difference between the known type and the assertion. An example:

(link-foo (link-next x))

Here, we change the type check for link-foo from a test for foo to a test for:

(not (and (or foo null) (not foo)))

or more simply (not null). This is probably the most important use of complementing, since the situation is fairly common, and a null test is much cheaper than a structure type test.

Here is a more complicated example that illustrates the combination of complementing with dynamic type inference:

(defun find-a (a x)
  (declare (type (or link null) x))
  (do ((current x (link-next current)))
      ((null current) nil)
    (let ((foo (link-foo current)))
      (when (eq (foo-a foo) a) (return foo)))))

This loop can be compiled with no type checks. The link test for link-foo and link-next is complemented to (not null), and then deleted because of the explicit null test. As before, no check is necessary for foo-a, since the link-foo is always a foo. This sort of situation shows how precise type checking combined with precise declarations can actually result in reduced type checking.

5.4 Source Optimization

This section describes source-level transformations that Python does on programs in an attempt to make them more efficient. Although source-level optimizations can make existing programs more efficient, the biggest advantage of this sort of optimization is that it makes it easier to write efficient programs. If a clean, straightforward implementation is can be transformed into an efficient one, then there is no need for tricky and dangerous hand optimization.

5.4.1 Let Optimization

The primary optimization of let variables is to delete them when they are unnecessary. Whenever the value of a let variable is a constant, a constant variable or a constant (local or non-notinline) function, the variable is deleted, and references to the variable are replaced with references to the constant expression. This is useful primarily in the expansion of macros or inline functions, where argument values are often constant in any given call, but are in general non-constant expressions that must be bound to preserve order of evaluation. Let variable optimization eliminates the need for macros to carefully avoid spurious bindings, and also makes inline functions just as efficient as macros.

A particularly interesting class of constant is a local function. Substituting for lexical variables that are bound to a function can substantially improve the efficiency of functional programming styles, for example:

(let ((a #'(lambda (x) (zow x))))
  (funcall a 3))

effectively transforms to:

(zow 3)

This transformation is done even when the function is a closure, as in:

(let ((a (let ((y (zug)))
           #'(lambda (x) (zow x y)))))
  (funcall a 3))


(zow 3 (zug))

A constant variable is a lexical variable that is never assigned to, always keeping its initial value. Whenever possible, avoid setting lexical variables—instead bind a new variable to the new value. Except for loop variables, it is almost always possible to avoid setting lexical variables. This form:

(let ((x (f x)))

is more efficient than this form:

(setq x (f x))

Setting variables makes the program more difficult to understand, both to the compiler and to the programmer. Python compiles assignments at least as efficiently as any other Common Lisp compiler, but most let optimizations are only done on constant variables.

Constant variables with only a single use are also optimized away, even when the initial value is not constant.10 For example, this expansion of incf:

(let ((#:g3 (+ x 1)))
  (setq x #:G3))


(setq x (+ x 1))

The type semantics of this transformation are more important than the elimination of the variable itself. Consider what happens when x is declared to be a fixnum; after the transformation, the compiler can compile the addition knowing that the result is a fixnum, whereas before the transformation the addition would have to allow for fixnum overflow.

Another variable optimization deletes any variable that is never read. This causes the initial value and any assigned values to be unused, allowing those expressions to be deleted if they have no side-effects.

Note that a let is actually a degenerate case of local call (see let-calls), and that let optimization can be done on calls that weren’t created by a let. Also, local call allows an applicative style of iteration that is totally assignment free.

5.4.2 Constant Folding

Constant folding is an optimization that replaces a call of constant arguments with the constant result of that call. Constant folding is done on all standard functions for which it is legal. Inline expansion allows folding of any constant parts of the definition, and can be done even on functions that have side-effects.

It is convenient to rely on constant folding when programming, as in this example:

(defconstant limit 42)

(defun foo ()
  (... (1- limit) ...))

Constant folding is also helpful when writing macros or inline functions, since it usually eliminates the need to write a macro that special-cases constant arguments.

Constant folding of a user defined function is enabled by the extensions:constant-function proclamation. In this example:

(declaim (ext:constant-function myfun))
(defun myexp (x y)
  (declare (single-float x y))
  (exp (* (log x) y)))

 ... (myexp 3.0 1.3) ...

The call to myexp is constant-folded to 4.1711674.

5.4.3 Unused Expression Elimination

If the value of any expression is not used, and the expression has no side-effects, then it is deleted. As with constant folding, this optimization applies most often when cleaning up after inline expansion and other optimizations. Any function declared an extensions:constant-function is also subject to unused expression elimination.

Note that Python will eliminate parts of unused expressions known to be side-effect free, even if there are other unknown parts. For example:

(let ((a (list (foo) (bar))))
  (if t
      (raz a)))


(progn (foo) (bar))

5.4.4 Control Optimization

The most important optimization of control is recognizing when an if test is known at compile time, then deleting the if, the test expression, and the unreachable branch of the if. This can be considered a special case of constant folding, although the test doesn’t have to be truly constant as long as it is definitely not nil. Note also, that type inference propagates the result of an if test to the true and false branches, see constraint-propagation.

A related if optimization is this transformation:11

(if (if a b c) x y)


(if a
    (if b x y)
    (if c x y))

The opportunity for this sort of optimization usually results from a conditional macro. For example:

(if (not a) x y)

is actually implemented as this:

(if (if a nil t) x y)

which is transformed to this:

(if a
    (if nil x y)
    (if t x y))

which is then optimized to this:

(if a y x)

Note that due to Python’s internal representations, the ifif situation will be recognized even if other forms are wrapped around the inner if, like:

(if (let ((g ...))
        (return (not g))
    x y)

In Python, all the Common Lisp macros really are macros, written in terms of if, block and tagbody, so user-defined control macros can be just as efficient as the standard ones. Python emits basic blocks using a heuristic that minimizes the number of unconditional branches. The code in a tagbody will not be emitted in the order it appeared in the source, so there is no point in arranging the code to make control drop through to the target.

5.4.5 Unreachable Code Deletion

Python will delete code whenever it can prove that the code can never be executed. Code becomes unreachable when:

  • An if is optimized away, or
  • There is an explicit unconditional control transfer such as go or return-from, or
  • The last reference to a local function is deleted (or there never was any reference.)

When code that appeared in the original source is deleted, the compiler prints a note to indicate a possible problem (or at least unnecessary code.) For example:

(defun foo ()
  (if t
      (write-line "True.")
      (write-line "False.")))

will result in this note:

  (WRITE-LINE "False.")
Note: Deleting unreachable code.

It is important to pay attention to unreachable code notes, since they often indicate a subtle type error. For example:

(defstruct foo a b)

(defun lose (x)
  (let ((a (foo-a x))
        (b (if x (foo-b x) :none)))

results in this note:

  (IF X (FOO-B X) :NONE)
Note: Deleting unreachable code.

The :none is unreachable, because type inference knows that the argument to foo-a must be a foo, and thus can’t be nil. Presumably the programmer forgot that x could be nil when he wrote the binding for a.

Here is an example with an incorrect declaration:

(defun count-a (string)
  (do ((pos 0 (position #\a string :start (1+ pos)))
       (count 0 (1+ count)))
      ((null pos) count)
    (declare (fixnum pos))))

This time our note is:

  (DO ((POS 0 #) (COUNT 0 #))
      ((NULL POS) COUNT)
Note: Deleting unreachable code.

The problem here is that pos can never be null since it is declared a fixnum.

It takes some experience with unreachable code notes to be able to tell what they are trying to say. In non-obvious cases, the best thing to do is to call the function in a way that should cause the unreachable code to be executed. Either you will get a type error, or you will find that there truly is no way for the code to be executed.

Not all unreachable code results in a note:

  • A note is only given when the unreachable code textually appears in the original source. This prevents spurious notes due to the optimization of macros and inline functions, but sometimes also foregoes a note that would have been useful.
  • Since accurate source information is not available for non-list forms, there is an element of heuristic in determining whether or not to give a note about an atom. Spurious notes may be given when a macro or inline function defines a variable that is also present in the calling function. Notes about nil and t are never given, since it is too easy to confuse these constants in expanded code with ones in the original source.
  • Notes are only given about code unreachable due to control flow. There is no note when an expression is deleted because its value is unused, since this is a common consequence of other optimizations.

Somewhat spurious unreachable code notes can also result when a macro inserts multiple copies of its arguments in different contexts, for example:

(defmacro t-and-f (var form)
  `(if ,var ,form ,form))

(defun foo (x)
  (t-and-f x (if x "True." "False.")))

results in these notes:

  (IF X "True." "False.")
Note: Deleting unreachable code.

Note: Deleting unreachable code.

It seems like it has deleted both branches of the if, but it has really deleted one branch in one copy, and the other branch in the other copy. Note that these messages are only spurious in not satisfying the intent of the rule that notes are only given when the deleted code appears in the original source; there is always some code being deleted when a unreachable code note is printed.

5.4.6 Multiple Values Optimization

Within a function, Python implements uses of multiple values particularly efficiently. Multiple values can be kept in arbitrary registers, so using multiple values doesn’t imply stack manipulation and representation conversion. For example, this code:

(let ((a (if x (foo x) u))
      (b (if x (bar x) v)))

is actually more efficient written this way:

    (a b)
    (if x
        (values (foo x) (bar x))
        (values u v))

Also, see local-call-return for information on how local call provides efficient support for multiple function return values.

5.4.7 Source to Source Transformation

The compiler implements a number of operation-specific optimizations as source-to-source transformations. You will often see unfamiliar code in error messages, for example:

(defun my-zerop () (zerop x))

gives this warning:

  (= X 0)
Warning: Undefined variable: X

The original zerop has been transformed into a call to =. This transformation is indicated with the same ==$>$ used to mark macro and function inline expansion. Although it can be confusing, display of the transformed source is important, since warnings are given with respect to the transformed source. This a more obscure example:

(defun foo (x) (logand 1 x))

gives this efficiency note:

  (LOGAND 1 X)
  (LOGAND C::Y C::X)
Note: Forced to do static-function Two-arg-and (cost 53).
      Unable to do inline fixnum arithmetic (cost 1) because:
      The first argument is a INTEGER, not a FIXNUM.

Here, the compiler commuted the call to logand, introducing temporaries. The note complains that the first argument is not a fixnum, when in the original call, it was the second argument. To make things more confusing, the compiler introduced temporaries called c::x and c::y that are bound to y and 1, respectively.

You will also notice source-to-source optimizations when efficiency notes are enabled (see efficiency-notes.) When the compiler is unable to do a transformation that might be possible if there was more information, then an efficiency note is printed. For example, my-zerop above will also give this efficiency note:

  (= X 0)
Note: Unable to optimize because:
      Operands might not be the same type, so can't open code.

5.4.8 Style Recommendations

Source level optimization makes possible a clearer and more relaxed programming style:

  • Don’t use macros purely to avoid function call. If you want an inline function, write it as a function and declare it inline. It’s clearer, less error-prone, and works just as well.
  • Don’t write macros that try to “optimize” their expansion in trivial ways such as avoiding binding variables for simple expressions. The compiler does these optimizations too, and is less likely to make a mistake.
  • Make use of local functions (i.e., labels or flet) and tail-recursion in places where it is clearer. Local function call is faster than full call.
  • Avoid setting local variables when possible. Binding a new let variable is at least as efficient as setting an existing variable, and is easier to understand, both for the compiler and the programmer.
  • Instead of writing similar code over and over again so that it can be hand customized for each use, define a macro or inline function, and let the compiler do the work.

5.5 Tail Recursion

A call is tail-recursive if nothing has to be done after the the call returns, i.e. when the call returns, the returned value is immediately returned from the calling function. In this example, the recursive call to myfun is tail-recursive:

(defun myfun (x)
  (if (oddp (random x))
      (isqrt x)
      (myfun (1- x))))

Tail recursion is interesting because it is form of recursion that can be implemented much more efficiently than general recursion. In general, a recursive call requires the compiler to allocate storage on the stack at run-time for every call that has not yet returned. This memory consumption makes recursion unacceptably inefficient for representing repetitive algorithms having large or unbounded size. Tail recursion is the special case of recursion that is semantically equivalent to the iteration constructs normally used to represent repetition in programs. Because tail recursion is equivalent to iteration, tail-recursive programs can be compiled as efficiently as iterative programs.

So why would you want to write a program recursively when you can write it using a loop? Well, the main answer is that recursion is a more general mechanism, so it can express some solutions simply that are awkward to write as a loop. Some programmers also feel that recursion is a stylistically preferable way to write loops because it avoids assigning variables. For example, instead of writing:

(defun fun1 (x)

(defun fun2 (y)

(do ((x something (fun2 (fun1 x))))

You can write:

(defun fun1 (x)
  (fun2 something-that-uses-x))

(defun fun2 (y)
  (fun1 something-that-uses-y))

(fun1 something)

The tail-recursive definition is actually more efficient, in addition to being (arguably) clearer. As the number of functions and the complexity of their call graph increases, the simplicity of using recursion becomes compelling. Consider the advantages of writing a large finite-state machine with separate tail-recursive functions instead of using a single huge prog.

It helps to understand how to use tail recursion if you think of a tail-recursive call as a psetq that assigns the argument values to the called function’s variables, followed by a go to the start of the called function. This makes clear an inherent efficiency advantage of tail-recursive call: in addition to not having to allocate a stack frame, there is no need to prepare for the call to return (e.g., by computing a return PC.)

Is there any disadvantage to tail recursion? Other than an increase in efficiency, the only way you can tell that a call has been compiled tail-recursively is if you use the debugger. Since a tail-recursive call has no stack frame, there is no way the debugger can print out the stack frame representing the call. The effect is that backtrace will not show some calls that would have been displayed in a non-tail-recursive implementation. In practice, this is not as bad as it sounds—in fact it isn’t really clearly worse, just different. See debug-tail-recursion for information about the debugger implications of tail recursion, and how to turn it off for the sake of more conservative backtrace information.

In order to ensure that tail-recursion is preserved in arbitrarily complex calling patterns across separately compiled functions, the compiler must compile any call in a tail-recursive position as a tail-recursive call. This is done regardless of whether the program actually exhibits any sort of recursive calling pattern. In this example, the call to fun2 will always be compiled as a tail-recursive call:

(defun fun1 (x)
  (fun2 x))

So tail recursion doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with recursion as it is normally thought of. See local-tail-recursion for more discussion of using tail recursion to implement loops.

5.5.1 Tail Recursion Exceptions

Although Python is claimed to be “properly” tail-recursive, some might dispute this, since there are situations where tail recursion is inhibited:

  • When the call is enclosed by a special binding, or
  • When the call is enclosed by a catch or unwind-protect, or
  • When the call is enclosed by a block or tagbody and the block name or go tag has been closed over.

These dynamic extent binding forms inhibit tail recursion because they allocate stack space to represent the binding. Shallow-binding implementations of dynamic scoping also require cleanup code to be evaluated when the scope is exited.

In addition, optimization of tail-recursive calls is inhibited when the debug optimization quality is greater than 2 (see debugger-policy.)

5.6 Local Call

Python supports two kinds of function call: full call and local call. Full call is the standard calling convention; its late binding and generality make Common Lisp what it is, but create unavoidable overheads. When the compiler can compile the calling function and the called function simultaneously, it can use local call to avoid some of the overhead of full call. Local call is really a collection of compilation strategies. If some aspect of call overhead is not needed in a particular local call, then it can be omitted. In some cases, local call can be totally free. Local call provides two main advantages to the user:

  • Local call makes the use of the lexical function binding forms flet and labels much more efficient. A local call is always faster than a full call, and in many cases is much faster.
  • Local call is a natural approach to block compilation, a compilation technique that resolves function references at compile time. Block compilation speeds function call, but increases compilation times and prevents function redefinition.

Next: , Up: Local Call   [Contents][Index]

5.6.1 Self-Recursive Calls

Local call is used when a function defined by defun calls itself. For example:

(defun fact (n)
  (if (zerop n)
      (* n (fact (1- n)))))

This use of local call speeds recursion, but can also complicate debugging, since trace will only show the first call to fact, and not the recursive calls. This is because the recursive calls directly jump to the start of the function, and don’t indirect through the symbol-function. Self-recursive local call is inhibited when the :block-compile argument to compile-file is nil (see compile-file-block.)

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5.6.2 Let Calls

Because local call avoids unnecessary call overheads, the compiler internally uses local call to implement some macros and special forms that are not normally thought of as involving a function call. For example, this let:

(let ((a (foo))
      (b (bar)))

is internally represented as though it was macroexpanded into:

(funcall #'(lambda (a b)

This implementation is acceptable because the simple cases of local call (equivalent to a let) result in good code. This doesn’t make let any more efficient, but does make local calls that are semantically the same as let much more efficient than full calls. For example, these definitions are all the same as far as the compiler is concerned:

(defun foo ()
  ...some other stuff...
  (let ((a something))
    ...some stuff...))

(defun foo ()
  (flet ((localfun (a)
           ...some stuff...))
    ...some other stuff...
    (localfun something)))

(defun foo ()
  (let ((funvar #'(lambda (a)
                    ...some stuff...)))
    ...some other stuff...
    (funcall funvar something)))

Although local call is most efficient when the function is called only once, a call doesn’t have to be equivalent to a let to be more efficient than full call. All local calls avoid the overhead of argument count checking and keyword argument parsing, and there are a number of other advantages that apply in many common situations. See let-optimization for a discussion of the optimizations done on let calls.

5.6.3 Closures

Local call allows for much more efficient use of closures, since the closure environment doesn’t need to be allocated on the heap, or even stored in memory at all. In this example, there is no penalty for localfun referencing a and b:

(defun foo (a b)
  (flet ((localfun (x)
           (1+ (* a b x))))
    (if (= a b)
        (localfun (- x))
        (localfun x))))

In local call, the compiler effectively passes closed-over values as extra arguments, so there is no need for you to “optimize” local function use by explicitly passing in lexically visible values. Closures may also be subject to let optimization (see let-optimization.)

Note: indirect value cells are currently always allocated on the heap when a variable is both assigned to (with setq or setf) and closed over, regardless of whether the closure is a local function or not. This is another reason to avoid setting variables when you don’t have to.

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5.6.4 Local Tail Recursion

Tail-recursive local calls are particularly efficient, since they are in effect an assignment plus a control transfer. Scheme programmers write loops with tail-recursive local calls, instead of using the imperative go and setq. This has not caught on in the Common Lisp community, since conventional Common Lisp compilers don’t implement local call. In Python, users can choose to write loops such as:

(defun ! (n)
  (labels ((loop (n total)
             (if (zerop n)
                 (loop (1- n) (* n total)))))
    (loop n 1)))
Macro: extensions:iterate name ({(var initial-value)}*) {declaration}* {form}*

This macro provides syntactic sugar for using labels to do iteration. It creates a local function name with the specified vars as its arguments and the declarations and forms as its body. This function is then called with the initial-values, and the result of the call is return from the macro.

Here is our factorial example rewritten using iterate:

    (defun ! (n)
      (iterate loop
               ((n n)
               (total 1))
        (if (zerop n)
          (loop (1- n) (* n total)))))

The main advantage of using iterate over do is that iterate naturally allows stepping to be done differently depending on conditionals in the body of the loop. iterate can also be used to implement algorithms that aren’t really iterative by simply doing a non-tail call. For example, the standard recursive definition of factorial can be written like this:

(iterate fact
         ((n n))
  (if (zerop n)
      (* n (fact (1- n)))))

5.6.5 Return Values

One of the more subtle costs of full call comes from allowing arbitrary numbers of return values. This overhead can be avoided in local calls to functions that always return the same number of values. For efficiency reasons (as well as stylistic ones), you should write functions so that they always return the same number of values. This may require passing extra nil arguments to values in some cases, but the result is more efficient, not less so.

When efficiency notes are enabled (see efficiency-notes), and the compiler wants to use known values return, but can’t prove that the function always returns the same number of values, then it will print a note like this:

  (DEFUN GRUE (X) (DECLARE (FIXNUM X)) (COND (# #) (# NIL) (T #)))
Note: Return type not fixed values, so can't use known return convention:
  (VALUES (OR (INTEGER -536870912 -1) NULL) &REST T)

In order to implement proper tail recursion in the presence of known values return (see tail-recursion), the compiler sometimes must prove that multiple functions all return the same number of values. When this can’t be proven, the compiler will print a note like this:

  (DEFUN BLUE (X) (DECLARE (FIXNUM X)) (COND (# #) (# #) (# #) (T #)))
Note: Return value count mismatch prevents known return from
      these functions:

See number-local-call for the interaction between local call and the representation of numeric types.

5.7 Block Compilation

Block compilation allows calls to global functions defined by defun to be compiled as local calls. The function call can be in a different top-level form than the defun, or even in a different file.

In addition, block compilation allows the declaration of the entry points to the block compiled portion. An entry point is any function that may be called from outside of the block compilation. If a function is not an entry point, then it can be compiled more efficiently, since all calls are known at compile time. In particular, if a function is only called in one place, then it will be let converted. This effectively inline expands the function, but without the code duplication that results from defining the function normally and then declaring it inline.

The main advantage of block compilation is that it it preserves efficiency in programs even when (for readability and syntactic convenience) they are broken up into many small functions. There is absolutely no overhead for calling a non-entry point function that is defined purely for modularity (i.e. called only in one place.)

Block compilation also allows the use of non-descriptor arguments and return values in non-trivial programs (see number-local-call).

5.7.1 Block Compilation Semantics

The effect of block compilation can be envisioned as the compiler turning all the defuns in the block compilation into a single labels form:

(declaim (start-block fun1 fun3))

(defun fun1 ()

(defun fun2 ()

(defun fun3 (x)
  (if x

(declaim (end-block))


(labels ((fun1 ()
         (fun2 ()
         (fun3 (x)
           (if x
  (setf (fdefinition 'fun1) #'fun1)
  (setf (fdefinition 'fun3) #'fun3))

Calls between the block compiled functions are local calls, so changing the global definition of fun1 will have no effect on what fun2 does; fun2 will keep calling the old fun1.

The entry points fun1 and fun3 are still installed in the symbol-function as the global definitions of the functions, so a full call to an entry point works just as before. However, fun2 is not an entry point, so it is not globally defined. In addition, fun2 is only called in one place, so it will be let converted.

5.7.2 Block Compilation Declarations

The extensions:start-block and extensions:end-block declarations allow fine-grained control of block compilation. These declarations are only legal as a global declarations (declaim or proclaim).

The start-block declaration has this syntax:

(start-block {entry-point-name}*)

When processed by the compiler, this declaration marks the start of block compilation, and specifies the entry points to that block. If no entry points are specified, then all functions are made into entry points. If already block compiling, then the compiler ends the current block and starts a new one.

The end-block declaration has no arguments:


The end-block declaration ends a block compilation unit without starting a new one. This is useful mainly when only a portion of a file is worth block compiling.

5.7.3 Compiler Arguments

The :block-compile and :entry-points arguments to extensions:compile-from-stream and compile-file provide overall control of block compilation, and allow block compilation without requiring modification of the program source.

There are three possible values of the :block-compile argument:


Do no compile-time resolution of global function names, not even for self-recursive calls. This inhibits any start-block declarations appearing in the file, allowing all functions to be incrementally redefined.


Start compiling in block compilation mode. This is mainly useful for block compiling small files that contain no start-block declarations. See also the :entry-points argument.


Start compiling in form-at-a-time mode, but exploit any start-block declarations and compile self-recursive calls as local calls. Normally :specified is the default for this argument (see block-compile-default.)

The :entry-points argument can be used in conjunction with :block-compile t to specify the entry-points to a block-compiled file. If not specified or nil, all global functions will be compiled as entry points. When :block-compile is not t, this argument is ignored.

Variable: *block-compile-default*

This variable determines the default value for the :block-compile argument to compile-file and compile-from-stream. The initial value of this variable is :specified, but nil is sometimes useful for totally inhibiting block compilation.

5.7.4 Practical Difficulties

The main problem with block compilation is that the compiler uses large amounts of memory when it is block compiling. This places an upper limit on the amount of code that can be block compiled as a unit. To make best use of block compilation, it is necessary to locate the parts of the program containing many internal calls, and then add the appropriate start-block declarations. When writing new code, it is a good idea to put in block compilation declarations from the very beginning, since writing block declarations correctly requires accurate knowledge of the program’s function call structure. If you want to initially develop code with full incremental redefinition, you can compile with block-compile-default set to nil.

Note if a defun appears in a non-null lexical environment, then calls to it cannot be block compiled.

Unless files are very small, it is probably impractical to block compile multiple files as a unit by specifying a list of files to compile-file. Semi-inline expansion (see semi-inline) provides another way to extend block compilation across file boundaries.

5.7.5 Context Declarations

CMUCL has a context-sensitive declaration mechanism which is useful because it allows flexible control of the compilation policy in large systems without requiring changes to the source files. The primary use of this feature is to allow the exported interfaces of a system to be compiled more safely than the system internals. The context used is the name being defined and the kind of definition (function, macro, etc.)

The :context-declarations option to with-compilation-unit has dynamic scope, affecting all compilation done during the evaluation of the body. The argument to this option should evaluate to a list of lists of the form:

(context-spec {declare-form}+)

In the indicated context, the specified declare forms are inserted at the head of each definition. The declare forms for all contexts that match are appended together, with earlier declarations getting precedence over later ones. A simple example:

    '((:external (declare (optimize (safety 2)))))

This will cause all functions that are named by external symbols to be compiled with safety 2.

The full syntax of context specs is:

:internal, :external

True if the symbol is internal (external) in its home package.


True if the symbol has no home package.

(:package {package-name}*)

True if the symbol’s home package is in any of the named packages (false if uninterned.)


True if the function doesn’t have any interesting name (not defmacro, defun, labels or flet).

:macro, :function

:macro is a global (defmacro) macro. :function is anything else.

:local, :global

:local is a labels or flet. :global is anything else.

(:or {context-spec}*)

True when any supplied context-spec is true.

(:and {context-spec}*)

True only when all supplied context-specs are true.

(:not {context-spec}*)

True when context-spec is false.

(:member {name}*)

True when the defined name is one of these names (equal test.)

(:match {pattern}*)

True when any of the patterns is a substring of the name. The name is wrapped with $’s, so “$FOO” matches names beginning with “FOO”, etc.

5.7.6 Context Declaration Example

Here is a more complex example of with-compilation-unit options:

:optimize '(optimize (speed 2) (space 2) (inhibit-warnings 2)
                     (debug 1) (safety 0))
:optimize-interface '(optimize-interface (safety 1) (debug 1))
'(((:or :external (:and (:match "@%") (:match "SET")))
   (declare (optimize-interface (safety 2))))
  ((:or (:and :external :macro)
        (:match "$PARSE-"))
   (declare (optimize (safety 2)))))

The optimize and extensions:optimize-interface declarations (see optimize-declaration) set up the global compilation policy. The bodies of functions are to be compiled completely unsafe (safety 0), but argument count and weakened argument type checking is to be done when a function is called (speed 2 safety 1).

The first declaration specifies that all functions that are external or whose names contain both “@%” and “SET” are to be compiled compiled with completely safe interfaces (safety 2). The reason for this particular :match rule is that setf inverse functions in this system tend to have both strings in their name somewhere. We want setf inverses to be safe because they are implicitly called by users even though their name is not exported.

The second declaration makes external macros or functions whose names start with “PARSE-” have safe bodies (as well as interfaces). This is desirable because a syntax error in a macro may cause a type error inside the body. The :match rule is used because macros often have auxiliary functions whose names begin with this string.

This particular example is used to build part of the standard CMUCL system. Note however, that context declarations must be set up according to the needs and coding conventions of a particular system; different parts of CMUCL are compiled with different context declarations, and your system will probably need its own declarations. In particular, any use of the :match option depends on naming conventions used in coding.

5.8 Inline Expansion

Python can expand almost any function inline, including functions with keyword arguments. The only restrictions are that keyword argument keywords in the call must be constant, and that global function definitions (defun) must be done in a null lexical environment (not nested in a let or other binding form.) Local functions (flet) can be inline expanded in any environment. Combined with Python’s source-level optimization, inline expansion can be used for things that formerly required macros for efficient implementation. In Python, macros don’t have any efficiency advantage, so they need only be used where a macro’s syntactic flexibility is required.

Inline expansion is a compiler optimization technique that reduces the overhead of a function call by simply not doing the call: instead, the compiler effectively rewrites the program to appear as though the definition of the called function was inserted at each call site. In Common Lisp, this is straightforwardly expressed by inserting the lambda corresponding to the original definition:

(proclaim '(inline my-1+))
(defun my-1+ (x) (+ x 1))

(my-1+ someval) ⇒ ((lambda (x) (+ x 1)) someval)

When the function expanded inline is large, the program after inline expansion may be substantially larger than the original program. If the program becomes too large, inline expansion hurts speed rather than helping it, since hardware resources such as physical memory and cache will be exhausted. Inline expansion is called for:

  • When profiling has shown that a relatively simple function is called so often that a large amount of time is being wasted in the calling of that function (as opposed to running in that function.) If a function is complex, it will take a long time to run relative the time spent in call, so the speed advantage of inline expansion is diminished at the same time the space cost of inline expansion is increased. Of course, if a function is rarely called, then the overhead of calling it is also insignificant.
  • With functions so simple that they take less space to inline expand than would be taken to call the function (such as my-1+ above.) It would require intimate knowledge of the compiler to be certain when inline expansion would reduce space, but it is generally safe to inline expand functions whose definition is a single function call, or a few calls to simple Common Lisp functions.

In addition to this speed/space tradeoff from inline expansion’s avoidance of the call, inline expansion can also reveal opportunities for optimization. Python’s extensive source-level optimization can make use of context information from the caller to tremendously simplify the code resulting from the inline expansion of a function.

The main form of caller context is local information about the actual argument values: what the argument types are and whether the arguments are constant. Knowledge about argument types can eliminate run-time type tests (e.g., for generic arithmetic.) Constant arguments in a call provide opportunities for constant folding optimization after inline expansion.

A hidden way that constant arguments are often supplied to functions is through the defaulting of unsupplied optional or keyword arguments. There can be a huge efficiency advantage to inline expanding functions that have complex keyword-based interfaces, such as this definition of the member function:

(proclaim '(inline member))
(defun member (item list &key
                    (key #'identity)
                    (test #'eql testp)
                    (test-not nil notp))
  (do ((list list (cdr list)))
      ((null list) nil)
    (let ((car (car list)))
      (if (cond (testp
                 (funcall test item (funcall key car)))
                 (not (funcall test-not item (funcall key car))))
                 (funcall test item (funcall key car))))
          (return list)))))

After inline expansion, this call is simplified to the obvious code:

(member a l :key #'foo-a :test #'char=) ⇒

(do ((list list (cdr list)))
    ((null list) nil)
  (let ((car (car list)))
    (if (char= item (foo-a car))
        (return list))))

In this example, there could easily be more than an order of magnitude improvement in speed. In addition to eliminating the original call to member, inline expansion also allows the calls to char= and foo-a to be open-coded. We go from a loop with three tests and two calls to a loop with one test and no calls.

See source-optimization for more discussion of source level optimization.

5.8.1 Inline Expansion Recording

Inline expansion requires that the source for the inline expanded function to be available when calls to the function are compiled. The compiler doesn’t remember the inline expansion for every function, since that would take an excessive about of space. Instead, the programmer must tell the compiler to record the inline expansion before the definition of the inline expanded function is compiled. This is done by globally declaring the function inline before the function is defined, by using the inline and extensions:maybe-inline (see maybe-inline-declaration) declarations.

In addition to recording the inline expansion of inline functions at the time the function is compiled, compile-file also puts the inline expansion in the output file. When the output file is loaded, the inline expansion is made available for subsequent compilations; there is no need to compile the definition again to record the inline expansion.

If a function is declared inline, but no expansion is recorded, then the compiler will give an efficiency note like:

Note: MYFUN is declared inline, but has no expansion.

When you get this note, check that the inline declaration and the definition appear before the calls that are to be inline expanded. This note will also be given if the inline expansion for a defun could not be recorded because the defun was in a non-null lexical environment.

5.8.2 Semi-Inline Expansion

Python supports semi-inline functions. Semi-inline expansion shares a single copy of a function across all the calls in a component by converting the inline expansion into a local function (see local-call.) This takes up less space when there are multiple calls, but also provides less opportunity for context dependent optimization. When there is only one call, the result is identical to normal inline expansion. Semi-inline expansion is done when the space optimization quality is 0, and the function has been declared extensions:maybe-inline.

This mechanism of inline expansion combined with local call also allows recursive functions to be inline expanded. If a recursive function is declared inline, calls will actually be compiled semi-inline. Although recursive functions are often so complex that there is little advantage to semi-inline expansion, it can still be useful in the same sort of cases where normal inline expansion is especially advantageous, i.e. functions where the calling context can help a lot.

5.8.3 The Maybe-Inline Declaration

The extensions:maybe-inline declaration is a CMUCL extension. It is similar to inline, but indicates that inline expansion may sometimes be desirable, rather than saying that inline expansion should almost always be done. When used in a global declaration, extensions:maybe-inline causes the expansion for the named functions to be recorded, but the functions aren’t actually inline expanded unless space is 0 or the function is eventually (perhaps locally) declared inline.

Use of the extensions:maybe-inline declaration followed by the defun is preferable to the standard idiom of:

(proclaim '(inline myfun))
(defun myfun () ...)
(proclaim '(notinline myfun))

;;; Any calls to myfun here are not inline expanded.

(defun somefun ()
  (declare (inline myfun))
  ;; Calls to myfun here are inline expanded.

The problem with using notinline in this way is that in Common Lisp it does more than just suppress inline expansion, it also forbids the compiler to use any knowledge of myfun until a later inline declaration overrides the notinline. This prevents compiler warnings about incorrect calls to the function, and also prevents block compilation.

The extensions:maybe-inline declaration is used like this:

(proclaim '(extensions:maybe-inline myfun))
(defun myfun () ...)

;;; Any calls to myfun here are not inline expanded.

(defun somefun ()
  (declare (inline myfun))
  ;; Calls to myfun here are inline expanded.

(defun someotherfun ()
  (declare (optimize (space 0)))
  ;; Calls to myfun here are expanded semi-inline.

In this example, the use of extensions:maybe-inline causes the expansion to be recorded when the defun for somefun is compiled, and doesn’t waste space through doing inline expansion by default. Unlike notinline, this declaration still allows the compiler to assume that the known definition really is the one that will be called when giving compiler warnings, and also allows the compiler to do semi-inline expansion when the policy is appropriate.

When the goal is merely to control whether inline expansion is done by default, it is preferable to use extensions:maybe-inline rather than notinline. The notinline declaration should be reserved for those special occasions when a function may be redefined at run-time, so the compiler must be told that the obvious definition of a function is not necessarily the one that will be in effect at the time of the call.

5.9 Byte Coded Compilation

Python supports byte compilation to reduce the size of Lisp programs by allowing functions to be compiled more compactly. Byte compilation provides an extreme speed/space tradeoff: byte code is typically six times more compact than native code, but runs fifty times (or more) slower. This is about ten times faster than the standard interpreter, which is itself considered fast in comparison to other Common Lisp interpreters.

Large Lisp systems (such as CMUCL itself) often have large amounts of user-interface code, compile-time (macro) code, debugging code, or rarely executed special-case code. This code is a good target for byte compilation: very little time is spent running in it, but it can take up quite a bit of space. Straight-line code with many function calls is much more suitable than inner loops.

When byte-compiling, the compiler compiles about twice as fast, and can produce a hardware independent object file (.bytef type.) This file can be loaded like a normal fasl file on any implementation of CMUCL with the same byte-ordering.

The decision to byte compile or native compile can be done on a per-file or per-code-object basis. The :byte-compile argument to compile-file has these possible values:


Don’t byte compile anything in this file.


Byte compile everything in this file and produce a processor-independent .bytef file.


Produce a normal fasl file, but byte compile any functions for which the speed optimization quality is 0 and the debug quality is not greater than 1.

Variable: extensions:*byte-compile-top-level*

If this variable is true (the default) and the :byte-compile argument to compile-file is :maybe, then byte compile top-level code (code outside of any defun, defmethod, etc.)

Variable: extensions:*byte-compile-default*

This variable determines the default value for the :byte-compile argument to compile-file, initially :maybe.

5.10 Object Representation

A somewhat subtle aspect of writing efficient Common Lisp programs is choosing the correct data structures so that the underlying objects can be implemented efficiently. This is partly because of the need for multiple representations for a given value (see non-descriptor), but is also due to the sheer number of object types that Common Lisp has built in. The number of possible representations complicates the choice of a good representation because semantically similar objects may vary in their efficiency depending on how the program operates on them.

5.10.1 Think Before You Use a List

Although Lisp’s creator seemed to think that it was for LISt Processing, the astute observer may have noticed that the chapter on list manipulation makes up less that three percent of Common Lisp: The Language II. The language has grown since Lisp 1.5—new data types supersede lists for many purposes.

5.10.2 Structure Representation

One of the best ways of building complex data structures is to define appropriate structure types using defstruct. In Python, access of structure slots is always at least as fast as list or vector access, and is usually faster. In comparison to a list representation of a tuple, structures also have a space advantage.

Even if structures weren’t more efficient than other representations, structure use would still be attractive because programs that use structures in appropriate ways are much more maintainable and robust than programs written using only lists. For example:

(rplaca (caddr (cadddr x)) (caddr y))

could have been written using structures in this way:

(setf (beverage-flavor (astronaut-beverage x)) (beverage-flavor y))

The second version is more maintainable because it is easier to understand what it is doing. It is more robust because structures accesses are type checked. An astronaut will never be confused with a beverage, and the result of beverage-flavor is always a flavor. See sections structure-types and freeze-type for more information about structure types. See type-inference for a number of examples that make clear the advantages of structure typing.

Note that the structure definition should be compiled before any uses of its accessors or type predicate so that these function calls can be efficiently open-coded.

5.10.3 Arrays

Arrays are often the most efficient representation for collections of objects because:

  • Array representations are often the most compact. An array is always more compact than a list containing the same number of elements.
  • Arrays allow fast constant-time access.
  • Arrays are easily destructively modified, which can reduce consing.
  • Array element types can be specialized, which reduces both overall size and consing (see specialized-array-types.)

Access of arrays that are not of type simple-array is less efficient, so declarations are appropriate when an array is of a simple type like simple-string or simple-bit-vector. Arrays are almost always simple, but the compiler may not be able to prove simpleness at every use. The only way to get a non-simple array is to use the :displaced-to, :fill-pointer or adjustable arguments to make-array. If you don’t use these hairy options, then arrays can always be declared to be simple.

Because of the many specialized array types and the possibility of non-simple arrays, array access is much like generic arithmetic (see generic-arithmetic). In order for array accesses to be efficiently compiled, the element type and simpleness of the array must be known at compile time. If there is inadequate information, the compiler is forced to call a generic array access routine. You can detect inefficient array accesses by enabling efficiency notes, see efficiency-notes.

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5.10.4 Vectors

Vectors (one dimensional arrays) are particularly useful, since in addition to their obvious array-like applications, they are also well suited to representing sequences. In comparison to a list representation, vectors are faster to access and take up between two and sixty-four times less space (depending on the element type.) As with arbitrary arrays, the compiler needs to know that vectors are not complex, so you should use simple-string in preference to string, etc.

The only advantage that lists have over vectors for representing sequences is that it is easy to change the length of a list, add to it and remove items from it. Likely signs of archaic, slow lisp code are nth and nthcdr. If you are using these functions you should probably be using a vector.

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5.10.5 Bit-Vectors

Another thing that lists have been used for is set manipulation. In applications where there is a known, reasonably small universe of items bit-vectors can be used to improve performance. This is much less convenient than using lists, because instead of symbols, each element in the universe must be assigned a numeric index into the bit vector. Using a bit-vector will nearly always be faster, and can be tremendously faster if the number of elements in the set is not small. The logical operations on simple-bit-vectors are efficient, since they operate on a word at a time.

5.10.6 Hashtables

Hashtables are an efficient and general mechanism for maintaining associations such as the association between an object and its name. Although hashtables are usually the best way to maintain associations, efficiency and style considerations sometimes favor the use of an association list (a-list).

assoc is fairly fast when the test argument is eq or eql and there are only a few elements, but the time goes up in proportion with the number of elements. In contrast, the hash-table lookup has a somewhat higher overhead, but the speed is largely unaffected by the number of entries in the table. For an equal hash-table or alist, hash-tables have an even greater advantage, since the test is more expensive. Whatever you do, be sure to use the most restrictive test function possible.

The style argument observes that although hash-tables and alists overlap in function, they do not do all things equally well.

  • Alists are good for maintaining scoped environments. They were originally invented to implement scoping in the Lisp interpreter, and are still used for this in Python. With an alist one can non-destructively change an association simply by consing a new element on the front. This is something that cannot be done with hash-tables.
  • Hashtables are good for maintaining a global association. The value associated with an entry can easily be changed with setf. With an alist, one has to go through contortions, either rplacd’ing the cons if the entry exists, or pushing a new one if it doesn’t. The side-effecting nature of hash-table operations is an advantage here.

Historically, symbol property lists were often used for global name associations. Property lists provide an awkward and error-prone combination of name association and record structure. If you must use the property list, please store all the related values in a single structure under a single property, rather than using many properties. This makes access more efficient, and also adds a modicum of typing and abstraction. See advanced-type-stuff for information on types in CMUCL.

5.11 Numbers

Numbers are interesting because numbers are one of the few Common Lisp data types that have direct support in conventional hardware. If a number can be represented in the way that the hardware expects it, then there is a big efficiency advantage.

Using hardware representations is problematical in Common Lisp due to dynamic typing (where the type of a value may be unknown at compile time.) It is possible to compile code for statically typed portions of a Common Lisp program with efficiency comparable to that obtained in statically typed languages such as C, but not all Common Lisp implementations succeed. There are two main barriers to efficient numerical code in Common Lisp:

  • The compiler must prove that the numerical expression is in fact statically typed, and
  • The compiler must be able to somehow reconcile the conflicting demands of the hardware mandated number representation with the Common Lisp requirements of dynamic typing and garbage-collecting dynamic storage allocation.

Because of its type inference (see type-inference) and efficiency notes (see efficiency-notes), Python is better than conventional Common Lisp compilers at ensuring that numerical expressions are statically typed. Python also goes somewhat farther than existing compilers in the area of allowing native machine number representations in the presence of garbage collection.

5.11.1 Descriptors

Common Lisp’s dynamic typing requires that it be possible to represent any value with a fixed length object, known as a descriptor. This fixed-length requirement is implicit in features such as:

  • Data types (like simple-vector) that can contain any type of object, and that can be destructively modified to contain different objects (of possibly different types.)
  • Functions that can be called with any type of argument, and that can be redefined at run time.

In order to save space, a descriptor is invariably represented as a single word. Objects that can be directly represented in the descriptor itself are said to be immediate. Descriptors for objects larger than one word are in reality pointers to the memory actually containing the object.

Representing objects using pointers has two major disadvantages:

  • The memory pointed to must be allocated on the heap, so it must eventually be freed by the garbage collector. Excessive heap allocation of objects (or “consing”) is inefficient in several ways. See consing.
  • Representing an object in memory requires the compiler to emit additional instructions to read the actual value in from memory, and then to write the value back after operating on it.

The introduction of garbage collection makes things even worse, since the garbage collector must be able to determine whether a descriptor is an immediate object or a pointer. This requires that a few bits in each descriptor be dedicated to the garbage collector. The loss of a few bits doesn’t seem like much, but it has a major efficiency implication—objects whose natural machine representation is a full word (integers and single-floats) cannot have an immediate representation. So the compiler is forced to use an unnatural immediate representation (such as fixnum) or a natural pointer representation (with the attendant consing overhead.)

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5.11.2 Non-Descriptor Representations

From the discussion above, we can see that the standard descriptor representation has many problems, the worst being number consing. Common Lisp compilers try to avoid these descriptor efficiency problems by using non-descriptor representations. A compiler that uses non-descriptor representations can compile this function so that it does no number consing:

(defun multby (vec n)
  (declare (type (simple-array single-float (*)) vec)
           (single-float n))
  (dotimes (i (length vec))
    (setf (aref vec i)
          (* n (aref vec i)))))

If a descriptor representation were used, each iteration of the loop might cons two floats and do three times as many memory references.

As its negative definition suggests, the range of possible non-descriptor representations is large. The performance improvement from non-descriptor representation depends upon both the number of types that have non-descriptor representations and the number of contexts in which the compiler is forced to use a descriptor representation.

Many Common Lisp compilers support non-descriptor representations for float types such as single-float and double-float (section float-efficiency.) Python adds support for full word integers (see word-integers), characters (see characters) and system-area pointers (unconstrained pointers, see system-area-pointers.) Many Common Lisp compilers support non-descriptor representations for variables (section ND-variables) and array elements (section specialized-array-types.) Python adds support for non-descriptor arguments and return values in local call (see number-local-call) and structure slots (see raw-slots).

5.11.3 Variables

In order to use a non-descriptor representation for a variable or expression intermediate value, the compiler must be able to prove that the value is always of a particular type having a non-descriptor representation. Type inference (see type-inference) often needs some help from user-supplied declarations. The best kind of type declaration is a variable type declaration placed at the binding point:

(let ((x (car l)))
  (declare (single-float x))

Use of the, or of variable declarations not at the binding form is insufficient to allow non-descriptor representation of the variable—with these declarations it is not certain that all values of the variable are of the right type. It is sometimes useful to introduce a gratuitous binding that allows the compiler to change to a non-descriptor representation, like:

(etypecase x
  ((signed-byte 32)
   (let ((x x))
     (declare (type (signed-byte 32) x)) 

The declaration on the inner x is necessary here due to a phase ordering problem. Although the compiler will eventually prove that the outer x is a (signed-byte 32) within that etypecase branch, the inner x would have been optimized away by that time. Declaring the type makes let optimization more cautious.

Note that storing a value into a global (or special) variable always forces a descriptor representation. Wherever possible, you should operate only on local variables, binding any referenced globals to local variables at the beginning of the function, and doing any global assignments at the end.

Efficiency notes signal use of inefficient representations, so programmer’s needn’t continuously worry about the details of representation selection (see representation-eff-note.)

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5.11.4 Generic Arithmetic

In Common Lisp, arithmetic operations are generic.12 The + function can be passed fixnums, bignums, ratios, and various kinds of floats and complexes, in any combination. In addition to the inherent complexity of bignum and ratio operations, there is also a lot of overhead in just figuring out which operation to do and what contagion and canonicalization rules apply. The complexity of generic arithmetic is so great that it is inconceivable to open code it. Instead, the compiler does a function call to a generic arithmetic routine, consuming many instructions before the actual computation even starts.

This is ridiculous, since even Common Lisp programs do a lot of arithmetic, and the hardware is capable of doing operations on small integers and floats with a single instruction. To get acceptable efficiency, the compiler special-cases uses of generic arithmetic that are directly implemented in the hardware. In order to open code arithmetic, several constraints must be met:

  • All the arguments must be known to be a good type of number.
  • The result must be known to be a good type of number.
  • Any intermediate values such as the result of (+ a b) in the call (+ a b c) must be known to be a good type of number.
  • All the above numbers with good types must be of the same good type. Don’t try to mix integers and floats or different float formats.

The “good types” are (signed-byte 32), (unsigned-byte 32), single-float, double-float, (complex single-float), and (complex double-float). See sections fixnums, word-integers and float-efficiency for more discussion of good numeric types.

float is not a good type, since it might mean either single-float or double-float. integer is not a good type, since it might mean bignum. rational is not a good type, since it might mean ratio. Note however that these types are still useful in declarations, since type inference may be able to strengthen a weak declaration into a good one, when it would be at a loss if there was no declaration at all (see type-inference). The integer and unsigned-byte (or non-negative integer) types are especially useful in this regard, since they can often be strengthened to a good integer type.

As noted above, CMUCL has support for (complex single-float) and (complex double-float). These can be unboxed and, thus, are quite efficient. However, arithmetic with complex types such as:

(complex float)
(complex fixnum)

will be significantly slower than the good complex types but is still faster than bignum or ratio arithmetic, since the implementation is much simpler.

Note: don’t use / to divide integers unless you want the overhead of rational arithmetic. Use truncate even when you know that the arguments divide evenly.

You don’t need to remember all the rules for how to get open-coded arithmetic, since efficiency notes will tell you when and where there is a problem—see efficiency-notes.

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5.11.5 Fixnums

A fixnum is a “FIXed precision NUMber”. In modern Common Lisp implementations, fixnums can be represented with an immediate descriptor, so operating on fixnums requires no consing or memory references. Clever choice of representations also allows some arithmetic operations to be done on fixnums using hardware supported word-integer instructions, somewhat reducing the speed penalty for using an unnatural integer representation.

It is useful to distinguish the fixnum type from the fixnum representation of integers. In Python, there is absolutely nothing magical about the fixnum type in comparison to other finite integer types. fixnum is equivalent to (is defined with deftype to be) (signed-byte 30). fixnum is simply the largest subset of integers that can be represented using an immediate fixnum descriptor.

Unlike in other Common Lisp compilers, it is in no way desirable to use the fixnum type in declarations in preference to more restrictive integer types such as bit, (integer -43     7) and (unsigned-byte 8). Since Python does understand these integer types, it is preferable to use the more restrictive type, as it allows better type inference (see operation-type-inference.)

The small, efficient fixnum is contrasted with bignum, or “BIG NUMber”. This is another descriptor representation for integers, but this time a pointer representation that allows for arbitrarily large integers. Bignum operations are less efficient than fixnum operations, both because of the consing and memory reference overheads of a pointer descriptor, and also because of the inherent complexity of extended precision arithmetic. While fixnum operations can often be done with a single instruction, bignum operations are so complex that they are always done using generic arithmetic.

A crucial point is that the compiler will use generic arithmetic if it can’t prove that all the arguments, intermediate values, and results are fixnums. With bounded integer types such as fixnum, the result type proves to be especially problematical, since these types are not closed under common arithmetic operations such as +, -, * and /. For example, (1+ (the fixnum x)) does not necessarily evaluate to a fixnum. Bignums were added to Common Lisp to get around this problem, but they really just transform the correctness problem “if this add overflows, you will get the wrong answer” to the efficiency problem “if this add might overflow then your program will run slowly (because of generic arithmetic.)”

There is just no getting around the fact that the hardware only directly supports short integers. To get the most efficient open coding, the compiler must be able to prove that the result is a good integer type. This is an argument in favor of using more restrictive integer types: (1+ (the fixnum x)) may not always be a fixnum, but (1+ (the (unsigned-byte 8) x)) always is. Of course, you can also assert the result type by putting in lots of the declarations and then compiling with safety 0.

5.11.6 Word Integers

Python is unique in its efficient implementation of arithmetic on full-word integers through non-descriptor representations and open coding. Arithmetic on any subtype of these types:

(signed-byte 32)
(unsigned-byte 32)

is reasonably efficient, although subtypes of fixnum remain somewhat more efficient.

If a word integer must be represented as a descriptor, then the bignum representation is used, with its associated consing overhead. The support for word integers in no way changes the language semantics, it just makes arithmetic on small bignums vastly more efficient. It is fine to do arithmetic operations with mixed fixnum and word integer operands; just declare the most specific integer type you can, and let the compiler decide what representation to use.

In fact, to most users, the greatest advantage of word integer arithmetic is that it effectively provides a few guard bits on the fixnum representation. If there are missing assertions on intermediate values in a fixnum expression, the intermediate results can usually be proved to fit in a word. After the whole expression is evaluated, there will often be a fixnum assertion on the final result, allowing creation of a fixnum result without even checking for overflow.

The remarks in section fixnums about fixnum result type also apply to word integers; you must be careful to give the compiler enough information to prove that the result is still a word integer. This time, though, when we blow out of word integers we land in into generic bignum arithmetic, which is much worse than sleazing from fixnums to word integers. Note that mixing (unsigned-byte 32) arguments with arguments of any signed type (such as fixnum) is a no-no, since the result might not be unsigned.

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5.11.7 Floating Point Efficiency

Arithmetic on objects of type single-float and double-float is efficiently implemented using non-descriptor representations and open coding. As for integer arithmetic, the arguments must be known to be of the same float type. Unlike for integer arithmetic, the results and intermediate values usually take care of themselves due to the rules of float contagion, i.e. (1+ (the single-float x)) is always a single-float.

Although they are not specially implemented, short-float and long-float are also acceptable in declarations, since they are synonyms for the single-float and double-float types, respectively.

In CMUCL, list-style float type specifiers such as (single-float 0.0 1.0) will be used to good effect.

For example, in this function,

  (defun square (x)
    (declare (type (single-float 0f0 10f0)))
    (* x x))

Python can deduce that the return type of the function square is (single-float     0f0 100f0).

Many union types are also supported so that

  (+ (the (or (integer 1 1) (integer 5 5)) x)
     (the (or (integer 10 10) (integer 20 20)) y))

has the inferred type (or (integer 11 11) (integer 15 15) (integer 21 21) (integer 25 25)). This also works for floating-point numbers. Member types are also supported.

CMUCL can also infer types for many mathematical functions including square root, exponential and logarithmic functions, trignometric functions and their inverses, and hyperbolic functions and their inverses. For numeric code, this can greatly enhance efficiency by allowing the compiler to use specialized versions of the functions instead of the generic versions. The greatest benefit of this type inference is determining that the result of the function is real-valued number instead of possibly being a complex-valued number.

For example, consider the function

  (defun fun (x)
    (declare (type (single-float (0f0) 100f0) x))
    (values (sqrt x) (log x)))

With this declaration, the compiler can determine that the argument to sqrt and log are always non-negative so that the result is always a single-float. In fact, the return type for this function is derived to be (values (single-float 0f0 10f0) (single-float * 2f0)).

If the declaration were reduced to just (declare     (single-float x)), the argument to sqrt and log could be negative. This forces the use of the generic versions of these functions because the result could be a complex number.

We note, however, that proper interval arithmetic is not fully implemented in the compiler so the inferred types may be slightly in error due to round-off errors. This round-off error could accumulate to cause the compiler to erroneously deduce the result type and cause code to be removed as being unreachable.13 Thus, the declarations should only be precise enough for the compiler to deduce that a real-valued argument to a function would produce a real-valued result. The efficiency notes (see representation-eff-note) from the compiler will guide you on what declarations might be useful.

When a float must be represented as a descriptor, a pointer representation is used, creating consing overhead. For this reason, you should try to avoid situations (such as full call and non-specialized data structures) that force a descriptor representation. See sections specialized-array-types, raw-slots and number-local-call.

See ieee-float for information on the extensions to support IEEE floating point. Signed Zeroes and Special Functions

CMUCL supports IEEE signed zeroes. In typical usage, the signed zeroes are not a problem and can be treated as an unsigned zero. However, some of the special functions have branch points at zero, so care must be taken.

For example, suppose we have the function

  (defun fun (x)
    (declare (type (single-float 0f0) x))
    (log x))

The derived result of the function is (OR SINGLE-FLOAT (COMPLEX SINGLE-FLOAT)) because the declared values for x includes both -0.0 and 0.0 and (log -0.0) is actually a complex number. Because of this, the generic complex log routine is used.

If the declaration for x were (single-float (0f0)) so +0.0 is not included or (or (single-float (0f0)) (member 0f0)) so +0.0 is include but not -0.0, the derived type would be single-float for both cases. By declaring x this way, the log can be implemented using a fast real-valued log routine instead of the generic log routine.

CMUCL implements the branch cuts and values given by Kahan14.

5.11.8 Specialized Arrays

Common Lisp supports specialized array element types through the :element-type argument to make-array. When an array has a specialized element type, only elements of that type can be stored in the array. From this restriction comes two major efficiency advantages:

  • A specialized array can save space by packing multiple elements into a single word. For example, a base-char array can have 4 elements per word, and a bit array can have 32. This space-efficient representation is possible because it is not necessary to separately indicate the type of each element.
  • The elements in a specialized array can be given the same non-descriptor representation as the one used in registers and on the stack, eliminating the need for representation conversions when reading and writing array elements. For objects with pointer descriptor representations (such as floats and word integers) there is also a substantial consing reduction because it is not necessary to allocate a new object every time an array element is modified.

These are the specialized element types currently supported:

(unsigned-byte 2)
(unsigned-byte 4)
(unsigned-byte 8)
(unsigned-byte 16)
(unsigned-byte 32)
(signed-byte 8)
(signed-byte 16)
(signed-byte 30)
(signed-byte 32)
(complex single-float)
(complex double-float)
(complex ext:double-double-float)

Although a simple-vector can hold any type of object, t should still be considered a specialized array type, since arrays with element type t are specialized to hold descriptors.

When using non-descriptor representations, it is particularly important to make sure that array accesses are open-coded, since in addition to the generic operation overhead, efficiency is lost when the array element is converted to a descriptor so that it can be passed to (or from) the generic access routine. You can detect inefficient array accesses by enabling efficiency notes, see efficiency-notes. See array-types.

5.11.9 Specialized Structure Slots

Structure slots declared by the :type defstruct slot option to have certain known numeric types are also given non-descriptor representations. These types (and subtypes of these types) are supported:

(unsigned-byte 32)
(complex single-float)
(complex double-float)

The primary advantage of specialized slot representations is a large reduction spurious memory allocation and access overhead of programs that intensively use these types.

5.11.10 Interactions With Local Call

Local call has many advantages (see local-call); one relevant to our discussion here is that local call extends the usefulness of non-descriptor representations. If the compiler knows from the argument type that an argument has a non-descriptor representation, then the argument will be passed in that representation. The easiest way to ensure that the argument type is known at compile time is to always declare the argument type in the called function, like:

(defun 2+f (x)
  (declare (single-float x))
  (+ x 2.0))

The advantages of passing arguments and return values in a non-descriptor representation are the same as for non-descriptor representations in general: reduced consing and memory access (see non-descriptor.) This extends the applicative programming styles discussed in section local-call to numeric code. Also, if source files are kept reasonably small, block compilation can be used to reduce number consing to a minimum.

Note that non-descriptor return values can only be used with the known return convention (section local-call-return.) If the compiler can’t prove that a function always returns the same number of values, then it must use the unknown values return convention, which requires a descriptor representation. Pay attention to the known return efficiency notes to avoid number consing.

5.11.11 Representation of Characters

Python also uses a non-descriptor representation for characters when convenient. This improves the efficiency of string manipulation, but is otherwise pretty invisible; characters have an immediate descriptor representation, so there is not a great penalty for converting a character to a descriptor. Nonetheless, it may sometimes be helpful to declare character-valued variables as base-character.

5.12 General Efficiency Hints

This section is a summary of various implementation costs and ways to get around them. These hints are relatively unrelated to the use of the Python compiler, and probably also apply to most other Common Lisp implementations. In each section, there are references to related in-depth discussion.

5.12.1 Compile Your Code

At this point, the advantages of compiling code relative to running it interpreted probably need not be emphasized too much, but remember that in CMUCL, compiled code typically runs hundreds of times faster than interpreted code. Also, compiled (fasl) files load significantly faster than source files, so it is worthwhile compiling files which are loaded many times, even if the speed of the functions in the file is unimportant.

Even disregarding the efficiency advantages, compiled code is as good or better than interpreted code. Compiled code can be debugged at the source level (see chapter debugger), and compiled code does more error checking. For these reasons, the interpreter should be regarded mainly as an interactive command interpreter, rather than as a programming language implementation.

Do not be concerned about the performance of your program until you see its speed compiled. Some techniques that make compiled code run faster make interpreted code run slower.

5.12.2 Avoid Unnecessary Consing

Consing is another name for allocation of storage, as done by the cons function (hence its name.) cons is by no means the only function which conses—so does make-array and many other functions. Arithmetic and function call can also have hidden consing overheads. Consing hurts performance in the following ways:

  • Consing reduces memory access locality, increasing paging activity.
  • Consing takes time just like anything else.
  • Any space allocated eventually needs to be reclaimed, either by garbage collection or by starting a new lisp process.

Consing is not undiluted evil, since programs do things other than consing, and appropriate consing can speed up the real work. It would certainly save time to allocate a vector of intermediate results that are reused hundreds of times. Also, if it is necessary to copy a large data structure many times, it may be more efficient to update the data structure non-destructively; this somewhat increases update overhead, but makes copying trivial.

Note that the remarks in section efficiency-overview about the importance of separating tuning from coding also apply to consing overhead. The majority of consing will be done by a small portion of the program. The consing hot spots are even less predictable than the CPU hot spots, so don’t waste time and create bugs by doing unnecessary consing optimization. During initial coding, avoid unnecessary side-effects and cons where it is convenient. If profiling reveals a consing problem, then go back and fix the hot spots.

See non-descriptor for a discussion of how to avoid number consing in Python.

5.12.3 Complex Argument Syntax

Common Lisp has very powerful argument passing mechanisms. Unfortunately, two of the most powerful mechanisms, rest arguments and keyword arguments, have a significant performance penalty:

  • With keyword arguments, the called function has to parse the supplied keywords by iterating over them and checking them against the desired keywords.
  • With rest arguments, the function must cons a list to hold the arguments. If a function is called many times or with many arguments, large amounts of memory will be allocated.

Although rest argument consing is worse than keyword parsing, neither problem is serious unless thousands of calls are made to such a function. The use of keyword arguments is strongly encouraged in functions with many arguments or with interfaces that are likely to be extended, and rest arguments are often natural in user interface functions.

Optional arguments have some efficiency advantage over keyword arguments, but their syntactic clumsiness and lack of extensibility has caused many Common Lisp programmers to abandon use of optionals except in functions that have obviously simple and immutable interfaces (such as subseq), or in functions that are only called in a few places. When defining an interface function to be used by other programmers or users, use of only required and keyword arguments is recommended.

Parsing of defmacro keyword and rest arguments is done at compile time, so a macro can be used to provide a convenient syntax with an efficient implementation. If the macro-expanded form contains no keyword or rest arguments, then it is perfectly acceptable in inner loops.

Keyword argument parsing overhead can also be avoided by use of inline expansion (see inline-expansion) and block compilation (section block-compilation.)

Note: the compiler open-codes most heavily used system functions which have keyword or rest arguments, so that no run-time overhead is involved.

5.12.4 Mapping and Iteration

One of the traditional Common Lisp programming styles is a highly applicative one, involving the use of mapping functions and many lists to store intermediate results. To compute the sum of the square-roots of a list of numbers, one might say:

(apply #'+ (mapcar #'sqrt list-of-numbers))

This programming style is clear and elegant, but unfortunately results in slow code. There are two reasons why:

  • The creation of lists of intermediate results causes much consing (see consing).
  • Each level of application requires another scan down the list. Thus, disregarding other effects, the above code would probably take twice as long as a straightforward iterative version.

An example of an iterative version of the same code:

(do ((num list-of-numbers (cdr num))
     (sum 0 (+ (sqrt (car num)) sum)))
    ((null num) sum))

See sections variable-type-inference and let-optimization for a discussion of the interactions of iteration constructs with type inference and variable optimization. Also, section local-tail-recursion discusses an applicative style of iteration.

5.12.5 Trace Files and Disassembly

In order to write efficient code, you need to know the relative costs of different operations. The main reason why writing efficient Common Lisp code is difficult is that there are so many operations, and the costs of these operations vary in obscure context-dependent ways. Although efficiency notes point out some problem areas, the only way to ensure generation of the best code is to look at the assembly code output.

The disassemble function is a convenient way to get the assembly code for a function, but it can be very difficult to interpret, since the correspondence with the original source code is weak. A better (but more awkward) option is to use the :trace-file argument to compile-file to generate a trace file.

A trace file is a dump of the compiler’s internal representations, including annotated assembly code. Each component in the program gets four pages in the trace file (separated by “^L”):

  • The implicit-continuation (or IR1) representation of the optimized source. This is a dump of the flow graph representation used for “source level” optimizations. As you will quickly notice, it is not really very close to the source. This representation is not very useful to even sophisticated users.
  • The Virtual Machine (VM, or IR2) representation of the program. This dump represents the generated code as sequences of “Virtual OPerations” (VOPs.) This representation is intermediate between the source and the assembly code—each VOP corresponds fairly directly to some primitive function or construct, but a given VOP also has a fairly predictable instruction sequence. An operation (such as +) may have multiple implementations with different cost and applicability. The choice of a particular VOP such as +/fixnum or +/single-float represents this choice of implementation. Once you are familiar with it, the VM representation is probably the most useful for determining what implementation has been used.
  • An assembly listing, annotated with the VOP responsible for generating the instructions. This listing is useful for figuring out what a VOP does and how it is implemented in a particular context, but its large size makes it more difficult to read.
  • A disassembly of the generated code, which has all pseudo-operations expanded out, but is not annotated with VOPs.

Note that trace file generation takes much space and time, since the trace file is tens of times larger than the source file. To avoid huge confusing trace files and much wasted time, it is best to separate the critical program portion into its own file and then generate the trace file from this small file.

5.13 Efficiency Notes

Efficiency notes are messages that warn the user that the compiler has chosen a relatively inefficient implementation for some operation. Usually an efficiency note reflects the compiler’s desire for more type information. If the type of the values concerned is known to the programmer, then additional declarations can be used to get a more efficient implementation.

Efficiency notes are controlled by the extensions:inhibit-warnings (see optimize-declaration) optimization quality. When speed is greater than extensions:inhibit-warnings, efficiency notes are enabled. Note that this implicitly enables efficiency notes whenever speed is increased from its default of 1.

Consider this program with an obscure missing declaration:

(defun eff-note (x y z)
  (declare (fixnum x y z))
  (the fixnum (+ x y z)))

If compiled with (speed 3) (safety 0), this note is given:

  (+ X Y Z)
  (+ (+ X Y) Z)
Note: Forced to do inline (signed-byte 32) arithmetic (cost 3).
      Unable to do inline fixnum arithmetic (cost 2) because:
      The first argument is a (INTEGER -1073741824 1073741822),
      not a FIXNUM.

This efficiency note tells us that the result of the intermediate computation (+ x y) is not known to be a fixnum, so the addition of the intermediate sum to z must be done less efficiently. This can be fixed by changing the definition of eff-note:

(defun eff-note (x y z)
  (declare (fixnum x y z))
  (the fixnum (+ (the fixnum (+ x y)) z)))

5.13.1 Type Uncertainty

The main cause of inefficiency is the compiler’s lack of adequate information about the types of function argument and result values. Many important operations (such as arithmetic) have an inefficient general (generic) case, but have efficient implementations that can usually be used if there is sufficient argument type information.

Type efficiency notes are given when a value’s type is uncertain. There is an important distinction between values that are not known to be of a good type (uncertain) and values that are known not to be of a good type. Efficiency notes are given mainly for the first case (uncertain types.) If it is clear to the compiler that that there is not an efficient implementation for a particular function call, then an efficiency note will only be given if the extensions:inhibit-warnings optimization quality is 0 (see optimize-declaration.)

In other words, the default efficiency notes only suggest that you add declarations, not that you change the semantics of your program so that an efficient implementation will apply. For example, compilation of this form will not give an efficiency note:

(elt (the list l) i)

even though a vector access is more efficient than indexing a list.

5.13.2 Efficiency Notes and Type Checking

It is important that the eff-note example above used (safety 0). When type checking is enabled, you may get apparently spurious efficiency notes. With (safety 1), the note has this extra line on the end:

The result is a (INTEGER -1610612736 1610612733), not a FIXNUM.

This seems strange, since there is a the declaration on the result of that second addition.

In fact, the inefficiency is real, and is a consequence of Python’s treating declarations as assertions to be verified. The compiler can’t assume that the result type declaration is true—it must generate the result and then test whether it is of the appropriate type.

In practice, this means that when you are tuning a program to run without type checks, you should work from the efficiency notes generated by unsafe compilation. If you want code to run efficiently with type checking, then you should pay attention to all the efficiency notes that you get during safe compilation. Since user supplied output type assertions (e.g., from the) are disregarded when selecting operation implementations for safe code, you must somehow give the compiler information that allows it to prove that the result truly must be of a good type. In our example, it could be done by constraining the argument types more:

(defun eff-note (x y z)
  (declare (type (unsigned-byte 18) x y z))
  (+ x y z))

Of course, this declaration is acceptable only if the arguments to eff-note always are (unsigned-byte 18) integers.

5.13.3 Representation Efficiency Notes

When operating on values that have non-descriptor representations (see non-descriptor), there can be a substantial time and consing penalty for converting to and from descriptor representations. For this reason, the compiler gives an efficiency note whenever it is forced to do a representation coercion more expensive than efficiency-note-cost-threshold.

Inefficient representation coercions may be due to type uncertainty, as in this example:

(defun set-flo (x)
  (declare (single-float x))
  (prog ((var 0.0))
    (setq var (gorp))
    (setq var x)
    (return var)))

which produces this efficiency note:

Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13) from X to VAR.

The variable var is not known to always hold values of type single-float, so a descriptor representation must be used for its value. In this sort of situation, adding a declaration will eliminate the inefficiency.

Often inefficient representation conversions are not due to type uncertainty—instead, they result from evaluating a non-descriptor expression in a context that requires a descriptor result:

  • Assignment to or initialization of any data structure other than a specialized array (see specialized-array-types), or
  • Assignment to a special variable, or
  • Passing as an argument or returning as a value in any function call that is not a local call (see number-local-call.)

If such inefficient coercions appear in a “hot spot” in the program, data structures redesign or program reorganization may be necessary to improve efficiency. See sections block-compilation, numeric-types and profiling.

Because representation selection is done rather late in compilation, the source context in these efficiency notes is somewhat vague, making interpretation more difficult. This is a fairly straightforward example:

(defun cf+ (x y)
  (declare (single-float x y))
  (cons (+ x y) t))

which gives this efficiency note:

  (CONS (+ X Y) T)
Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13), for:
      The first argument of CONS.

The source context form is almost always the form that receives the value being coerced (as it is in the preceding example), but can also be the source form which generates the coerced value. Compiling this example:

(defun if-cf+ (x y)
  (declare (single-float x y))
  (cons (if (grue) (+ x y) (snoc)) t))

produces this note:

  (+ X Y)
Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13).

In either case, the note’s text explanation attempts to include additional information about what locations are the source and destination of the coercion. Here are some example notes:

  (IF (GRUE) X (SNOC))
Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13) from X.

Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13) from X to VAR.

Note that the return value of a function is also a place to which coercions may have to be done:

Note: Doing float to pointer coercion (cost 13) to "<return value>".

Sometimes the compiler is unable to determine a name for the source or destination, in which case the source context is the only clue.

5.13.4 Verbosity Control

These variables control the verbosity of efficiency notes:

Variable: *efficiency-note-cost-threshold*

Before printing some efficiency notes, the compiler compares the value of this variable to the difference in cost between the chosen implementation and the best potential implementation. If the difference is not greater than this limit, then no note is printed. The units are implementation dependent; the initial value suppresses notes about “trivial” inefficiencies. A value of 1 will note any inefficiency.

Variable: *efficiency-note-limit*

When printing some efficiency notes, the compiler reports possible efficient implementations. The initial value of 2 prevents excessively long efficiency notes in the common case where there is no type information, so all implementations are possible.

5.14 Profiling

The first step in improving a program’s performance is to profile the activity of the program to find where it spends its time. The best way to do this is to use the profiling utility found in the profile package. This package provides a macro profile that encapsulates functions with statistics gathering code.

5.14.1 Profile Interface

Variable: profile:*timed-functions*

This variable holds a list of all functions that are currently being profiled.

Macro: profile:profile {name | :callers t}*

This macro wraps profiling code around the named functions. As in trace, the names are not evaluated. If a function is already profiled, then the function is unprofiled and reprofiled (useful to notice function redefinition.) A warning is printed for each name that is not a defined function.

If :callers t is specified, then each function that calls this function is recorded along with the number of calls made.

Macro: profile:unprofile {name}*

This macro removes profiling code from the named functions. If no names are supplied, all currently profiled functions are unprofiled.

Macro: profile:profile-all &key :package :callers-p

This macro in effect calls profile:profile for each function in the specified package which defaults to *package*. :callers-p has the same meaning as in profile:profile.

Macro: profile:report-time {name}*

This macro prints a report for each named function of the following information:

  • The total CPU time used in that function for all calls,
  • the total number of bytes consed in that function for all calls,
  • the total number of calls,
  • the average amount of CPU time per call.

Summary totals of the CPU time, consing and calls columns are printed. An estimate of the profiling overhead is also printed (see below). If no names are supplied, then the times for all currently profiled functions are printed.

Macro: profile:reset-time {name}*

This macro resets the profiling counters associated with the named functions. If no names are supplied, then all currently profiled functions are reset.

5.14.2 Profiling Techniques

Start by profiling big pieces of a program, then carefully choose which functions close to, but not in, the inner loop are to be profiled next. Avoid profiling functions that are called by other profiled functions, since this opens the possibility of profiling overhead being included in the reported times.

If the per-call time reported is less than 1/10 second, then consider the clock resolution and profiling overhead before you believe the time. It may be that you will need to run your program many times in order to average out to a higher resolution.

5.14.3 Nested or Recursive Calls

The profiler attempts to compensate for nested or recursive calls. Time and consing overhead will be charged to the dynamically innermost (most recent) call to a profiled function. So profiling a subfunction of a profiled function will cause the reported time for the outer function to decrease. However if an inner function has a large number of calls, some of the profiling overhead may “leak” into the reported time for the outer function. In general, be wary of profiling short functions that are called many times.

5.14.4 Clock resolution

Unless you are very lucky, the length of your machine’s clock “tick” is probably much longer than the time it takes simple function to run. For example, on the IBM RT, the clock resolution is 1/50 second. This means that if a function is only called a few times, then only the first couple decimal places are really meaningful.

Note however, that if a function is called many times, then the statistical averaging across all calls should result in increased resolution. For example, on the IBM RT, if a function is called a thousand times, then a resolution of tens of microseconds can be expected.

5.14.5 Profiling overhead

The added profiling code takes time to run every time that the profiled function is called, which can disrupt the attempt to collect timing information. In order to avoid serious inflation of the times for functions that take little time to run, an estimate of the overhead due to profiling is subtracted from the times reported for each function.

Although this correction works fairly well, it is not totally accurate, resulting in times that become increasingly meaningless for functions with short runtimes. This is only a concern when the estimated profiling overhead is many times larger than reported total CPU time.

The estimated profiling overhead is not represented in the reported total CPU time. The sum of total CPU time and the estimated profiling overhead should be close to the total CPU time for the entire profiling run (as determined by the time macro.) Time unaccounted for is probably being used by functions that you forgot to profile.

5.14.6 Additional Timing Utilities

Macro: time form

This macro evaluates form, prints some timing and memory allocation information to *trace-output*, and returns any values that form returns. The timing information includes real time, user run time, and system run time. This macro executes a form and reports the time and consing overhead. If the time form is not compiled (e.g. it was typed at top-level), then compile will be called on the form to give more accurate timing information. If you really want to time interpreted speed, you can say:

(time (eval 'form))

Things that execute fairly quickly should be timed more than once, since there may be more paging overhead in the first timing. To increase the accuracy of very short times, you can time multiple evaluations:

(time (dotimes (i 100) form))
Function: extensions:get-bytes-consed

This function returns the number of bytes allocated since the first time you called it. The first time it is called it returns zero. The above profiling routines use this to report consing information.

Variable: extensions:*gc-run-time*

This variable accumulates the run-time consumed by garbage collection, in the units returned by get-internal-run-time.

Constant: internal-time-units-per-second

The value of internal-time-units-per-second is 100.

5.14.7 A Note on Timing

There are two general kinds of timing information provided by the time macro and other profiling utilities: real time and run time. Real time is elapsed, wall clock time. It will be affected in a fairly obvious way by any other activity on the machine. The more other processes contending for CPU and memory, the more real time will increase. This means that real time measurements are difficult to replicate, though this is less true on a dedicated workstation. The advantage of real time is that it is real. It tells you really how long the program took to run under the benchmarking conditions. The problem is that you don’t know exactly what those conditions were.

Run time is the amount of time that the processor supposedly spent running the program, as opposed to waiting for I/O or running other processes. “User run time” and “system run time” are numbers reported by the Unix kernel. They are supposed to be a measure of how much time the processor spent running your “user” program (which will include GC overhead, etc.), and the amount of time that the kernel spent running “on your behalf.”

Ideally, user time should be totally unaffected by benchmarking conditions; in reality user time does depend on other system activity, though in rather non-obvious ways.

System time will clearly depend on benchmarking conditions. In Lisp benchmarking, paging activity increases system run time (but not by as much as it increases real time, since the kernel spends some time waiting for the disk, and this is not run time, kernel or otherwise.)

In my experience, the biggest trap in interpreting kernel/user run time is to look only at user time. In reality, it seems that the sum of kernel and user time is more reproducible. The problem is that as system activity increases, there is a spurious decrease in user run time. In effect, as paging, etc., increases, user time leaks into system time.

So, in practice, the only way to get truly reproducible results is to run with the same competing activity on the system. Try to run on a machine with nobody else logged in, and check with “ps aux” to see if there are any system processes munching large amounts of CPU or memory. If the ratio between real time and the sum of user and system time varies much between runs, then you have a problem.

Previous: , Up: Profiling   [Contents][Index]

5.14.8 Benchmarking Techniques

Given these imperfect timing tools, how do should you do benchmarking? The answer depends on whether you are trying to measure improvements in the performance of a single program on the same hardware, or if you are trying to compare the performance of different programs and/or different hardware.

For the first use (measuring the effect of program modifications with constant hardware), you should look at both system+user and real time to understand what effect the change had on CPU use, and on I/O (including paging.) If you are working on a CPU intensive program, the change in system+user time will give you a moderately reproducible measure of performance across a fairly wide range of system conditions. For a CPU intensive program, you can think of system+user as “how long it would have taken to run if I had my own machine.” So in the case of comparing CPU intensive programs, system+user time is relatively real, and reasonable to use.

For programs that spend a substantial amount of their time paging, you really can’t predict elapsed time under a given operating condition without benchmarking in that condition. User or system+user time may be fairly reproducible, but it is also relatively meaningless, since in a paging or I/O intensive program, the program is spending its time waiting, not running, and system time and user time are both measures of run time. A change that reduces run time might increase real time by increasing paging.

Another common use for benchmarking is comparing the performance of the same program on different hardware. You want to know which machine to run your program on. For comparing different machines (operating systems, etc.), the only way to compare that makes sense is to set up the machines in exactly the way that they will normally be run, and then measure real time. If the program will normally be run along with X, then run X. If the program will normally be run on a dedicated workstation, then be sure nobody else is on the benchmarking machine. If the program will normally be run on a machine with three other Lisp jobs, then run three other Lisp jobs. If the program will normally be run on a machine with 64MB of memory, then run with 64MB. Here, “normal” means “normal for that machine”.

If you have a program you believe to be CPU intensive, then you might be tempted to compare “run” times across systems, hoping to get a meaningful result even if the benchmarking isn’t done under the expected running condition. Don’t to this, for two reasons:

  • The operating systems might not compute run time in the same way.
  • Under the real running condition, the program might not be CPU intensive after all.

In the end, only real time means anything—it is the amount of time you have to wait for the result. The only valid uses for run time are:

  • To develop insight into the program. For example, if run time is much less than elapsed time, then you are probably spending lots of time paging.
  • To evaluate the relative performance of CPU intensive programs in the same environment.

6 UNIX Interface

by Robert MacLachlan, Skef Wholey, Bill Chiles and William Lott

CMUCL attempts to make the full power of the underlying environment available to the Lisp programmer. This is done using combination of hand-coded interfaces and foreign function calls to C libraries. Although the techniques differ, the style of interface is similar. This chapter provides an overview of the facilities available and general rules for using them, as well as describing specific features in detail. It is assumed that the reader has a working familiarity with Unix and X11, as well as access to the standard system documentation.

6.1 Reading the Command Line

The shell parses the command line with which Lisp is invoked, and passes a data structure containing the parsed information to Lisp. This information is then extracted from that data structure and put into a set of Lisp data structures.

Variable: extensions:*command-line-strings*
Variable: extensions:*command-line-utility-name*
Variable: extensions:*command-line-words*
Variable: extensions:*command-line-switches*

The value of *command-line-words* is a list of strings that make up the command line, one word per string. The first word on the command line, i.e. the name of the program invoked (usually lisp) is stored in *command-line-utility-name*. The value of *command-line-switches* is a list of command-line-switch structures, with a structure for each word on the command line starting with a hyphen. All the command line words between the program name and the first switch are stored in *command-line-words*.

The following functions may be used to examine command-line-switch structures.

Function: extensions:cmd-switch-name switch

Returns the name of the switch, less the preceding hyphen and trailing equal sign (if any).

Function: extensions:cmd-switch-value switch

Returns the value designated using an embedded equal sign, if any. If the switch has no equal sign, then this is null.

Function: extensions:cmd-switch-words switch

Returns a list of the words between this switch and the next switch or the end of the command line.

Function: extensions:cmd-switch-arg switch

Returns the first non-null value from cmd-switch-value, the first element in cmd-switch-words, or the first word in command-line-words.

Function: extensions:get-command-line-switch sname

This function takes the name of a switch as a string and returns the value of the switch given on the command line. If no value was specified, then any following words are returned. If there are no following words, then t is returned. If the switch was not specified, then nil is returned.

Macro: extensions:defswitch name &optional function

This macro causes function to be called when the switch name appears in the command line. Name is a simple-string that does not begin with a hyphen (unless the switch name really does begin with one.)

If function is not supplied, then the switch is parsed into command-line-switches, but otherwise ignored. This suppresses the undefined switch warning which would otherwise take place. The warning can also be globally suppressed by complain-about-illegal-switches.

6.2 Useful Variables

Variable: system:*stdin*
Variable: system:*stdout*
Variable: system:*stderr*

Streams connected to the standard input, output and error file descriptors.

Variable: system:*tty*

A stream connected to /dev/tty.

Variable: extensions:*environment-list*

The environment variables inherited by the current process, as a keyword-indexed alist. For example, to access the DISPLAY environment variable, you could use

   (cdr (assoc :display ext:*environment-list*))

Note that the case of the variable name is preserved when converting to a keyword. Therefore, you need to specify the keyword properly for variable names containing lower-case letters,

6.3 Lisp Equivalents for C Routines

The UNIX documentation describes the system interface in terms of C procedure headers. The corresponding Lisp function will have a somewhat different interface, since Lisp argument passing conventions and datatypes are different.

The main difference in the argument passing conventions is that Lisp does not support passing values by reference. In Lisp, all argument and results are passed by value. Interface functions take some fixed number of arguments and return some fixed number of values. A given “parameter” in the C specification will appear as an argument, return value, or both, depending on whether it is an In parameter, Out parameter, or In/Out parameter. The basic transformation one makes to come up with the Lisp equivalent of a C routine is to remove the Out parameters from the call, and treat them as extra return values. In/Out parameters appear both as arguments and return values. Since Out and In/Out parameters are only conventions in C, you must determine the usage from the documentation.

Thus, the C routine declared as

kern_return_t lookup(servport, portsname, portsid)
        port        servport;
        char        *portsname;
        int        *portsid;        /* out */
  *portsid = <expression to compute portsid field>

has as its Lisp equivalent something like

(defun lookup (ServPort PortsName)
   <expression to compute portsid field>))

If there are multiple out or in-out arguments, then there are multiple additional returns values.

Fortunately, CMUCL programmers rarely have to worry about the nuances of this translation process, since the names of the arguments and return values are documented in a way so that the describe function (and the Hemlock Describe Function Call command, invoked with C-M-Shift-A) will list this information. Since the names of arguments and return values are usually descriptive, the information that describe prints is usually all one needs to write a call. Most programmers use this on-line documentation nearly all of the time, and thereby avoid the need to handle bulky manuals and perform the translation from barbarous tongues.

6.4 Type Translations

Lisp data types have very different representations from those used by conventional languages such as C. Since the system interfaces are designed for conventional languages, Lisp must translate objects to and from the Lisp representations. Many simple objects have a direct translation: integers, characters, strings and floating point numbers are translated to the corresponding Lisp object. A number of types, however, are implemented differently in Lisp for reasons of clarity and efficiency.

Instances of enumerated types are expressed as keywords in Lisp. Records, arrays, and pointer types are implemented with the Alien facility (see aliens). Access functions are defined for these types which convert fields of records, elements of arrays, or data referenced by pointers into Lisp objects (possibly another object to be referenced with another access function).

One should dispose of Alien objects created by constructor functions or returned from remote procedure calls when they are no longer of any use, freeing the virtual memory associated with that object. Since Aliens contain pointers to non-Lisp data, the garbage collector cannot do this itself. If the memory was obtained from make-alien or from a foreign function call to a routine that used malloc, then free-alien should be used.

6.5 System Area Pointers

Note that in some cases an address is represented by a Lisp integer, and in other cases it is represented by a real pointer. Pointers are usually used when an object in the current address space is being referred to. The MACH virtual memory manipulation calls must use integers, since in principle the address could be in any process, and Lisp cannot abide random pointers. Because these types are represented differently in Lisp, one must explicitly coerce between these representations.

System Area Pointers (SAPs) provide a mechanism that bypasses the Alien type system and accesses virtual memory directly. A SAP is a raw byte pointer into the lisp process address space. SAPs are represented with a pointer descriptor, so SAP creation can cause consing. However, the compiler uses a non-descriptor representation for SAPs when possible, so the consing overhead is generally minimal. See non-descriptor.

Function: system:sap-int sap
Function: system:int-sap int

The function sap-int is used to generate an integer corresponding to the system area pointer, suitable for passing to the kernel interfaces (which want all addresses specified as integers). The function int-sap is used to do the opposite conversion. The integer representation of a SAP is the byte offset of the SAP from the start of the address space.

Function: system:sap+ sap offset

This function adds a byte offset to sap, returning a new SAP.

Function: system:sap-ref-8 sap offset
Function: system:sap-ref-16 sap offset
Function: system:sap-ref-32 sap offset

These functions return the 8, 16 or 32 bit unsigned integer at offset from sap. The offset is always a byte offset, regardless of the number of bits accessed. setf may be used with the these functions to deposit values into virtual memory.

Function: system:signed-sap-ref-8 sap offset
Function: system:signed-sap-ref-16 sap offset
Function: system:signed-sap-ref-32 sap offset

These functions are the same as the above unsigned operations, except that they sign-extend, returning a negative number if the high bit is set.

6.6 Unix System Calls

You probably won’t have much cause to use them, but all the Unix system calls are available. The Unix system call functions are in the Unix package. The name of the interface for a particular system call is the name of the system call prepended with unix-. The system usually defines the associated constants without any prefix name. To find out how to use a particular system call, try using describe on it. If that is unhelpful, look at the source in unix.lisp or consult your system maintainer.

The Unix system calls indicate an error by returning nil as the first value and the Unix error number as the second value. If the call succeeds, then the first value will always be non-nil, often t.

For example, to use the chdir syscall:

(multiple-value-bind (success errno)
    (unix:unix-chdir "/tmp")
  (unless success
     (error "Can't change working directory: ~a"
            (unix:get-unix-error-msg errno))))
Function: Unix:get-unix-error-msg error

This function returns a string describing the Unix error number error (this is similar to the Unix function perror).

6.7 File Descriptor Streams

Many of the UNIX system calls return file descriptors. Instead of using other UNIX system calls to perform I/O on them, you can create a stream around them. For this purpose, fd-streams exist. See also read-n-bytes.

Function: system:make-fd-stream descriptor &key :input :output :element-type :buffering :name :file :original :delete-original :auto-close :timeout :pathname

This function creates a file descriptor stream using descriptor. If :input is non-nil, input operations are allowed. If :output is non-nil, output operations are allowed. The default is input only. These keywords are defined:


is the type of the unit of transaction for the stream, which defaults to string-char. See the Common Lisp description of open for valid values.


is the kind of output buffering desired for the stream. Legal values are :none for no buffering, :line for buffering up to each newline, and :full for full buffering.


is a simple-string name to use for descriptive purposes when the system prints an fd-stream. When printing fd-streams, the system prepends the streams name with Stream for . If name is unspecified, it defaults to a string containing file or descriptor, in order of preference.

:file, :original

file specifies the defaulted namestring of the associated file when creating a file stream (must be a simple-string). original is the simple-string name of a backup file containing the original contents of file while writing file.

When you abort the stream by passing t to close as the second argument, if you supplied both file and original, close will rename the original name to the file name. When you close the stream normally, if you supplied original, and delete-original is non-nil, close deletes original. If auto-close is true (the default), then descriptor will be closed when the stream is garbage collected.

[:pathname]: The original pathname passed to open and

returned by pathname; not defaulted or translated.


if non-null, then timeout is an integer number of seconds after which an input wait should time out. If a read does time out, then the system:io-timeout condition is signalled.

Function: system:fd-stream-p object

This function returns t if object is an fd-stream, and nil if not. Obsolete: use the portable (typep x 'file-stream).

Function: system:fd-stream-fd stream

This returns the file descriptor associated with stream.

6.8 Unix Signals

CMUCL allows access to all the Unix signals that can be generated under Unix. It should be noted that if this capability is abused, it is possible to completely destroy the running Lisp. The following macros and functions allow access to the Unix interrupt system. The signal names as specified in section 2 of the Unix Programmer’s Manual are exported from the Unix package.

6.8.1 Changing Signal Handlers

Macro: system:with-enabled-interrupts specs &rest body

This macro should be called with a list of signal specifications, specs. Each element of specs should be a list of two elements: the first should be the Unix signal for which a handler should be established, the second should be a function to be called when the signal is received One or more signal handlers can be established in this way. with-enabled-interrupts establishes the correct signal handlers and then executes the forms in body. The forms are executed in an unwind-protect so that the state of the signal handlers will be restored to what it was before the with-enabled-interrupts was entered. A signal handler function specified as NIL will set the Unix signal handler to the default which is normally either to ignore the signal or to cause a core dump depending on the particular signal.

Macro: system:without-interrupts &rest body

It is sometimes necessary to execute a piece a code that can not be interrupted. This macro the forms in body with interrupts disabled. Note that the Unix interrupts are not actually disabled, rather they are queued until after body has finished executing.

Macro: system:with-interrupts &rest body

When executing an interrupt handler, the system disables interrupts, as if the handler was wrapped in in a without-interrupts. The macro with-interrupts can be used to enable interrupts while the forms in body are evaluated. This is useful if body is going to enter a break loop or do some long computation that might need to be interrupted.

Macro: system:without-hemlock &rest body

For some interrupts, such as SIGTSTP (suspend the Lisp process and return to the Unix shell) it is necessary to leave Hemlock and then return to it. This macro executes the forms in body after exiting Hemlock. When body has been executed, control is returned to Hemlock.

Function: system:enable-interrupt signal function

This function establishes function as the handler for signal.

Unless you want to establish a global signal handler, you should use the macro with-enabled-interrupts to temporarily establish a signal handler. enable-interrupt returns the old function associated with the signal.

Function: system:ignore-interrupt signal

Ignore-interrupt sets the Unix signal mechanism to ignore signal which means that the Lisp process will never see the signal. Ignore-interrupt returns the old function associated with the signal or nil if none is currently defined.

Function: system:default-interrupt signal

Default-interrupt can be used to tell the Unix signal mechanism to perform the default action for signal. For details on what the default action for a signal is, see section 2 of the Unix Programmer’s Manual. In general, it is likely to ignore the signal or to cause a core dump.

6.8.2 Examples of Signal Handlers

The following code is the signal handler used by the Lisp system for the SIGINT signal.

(defun ih-sigint (signal code scp)
  (declare (ignore signal code scp))
    (break "Software Interrupt" t))))

The without-hemlock form is used to make sure that Hemlock is exited before a break loop is entered. The with-interrupts form is used to enable interrupts because the user may want to generate an interrupt while in the break loop. Finally, break is called to enter a break loop, so the user can look at the current state of the computation. If the user proceeds from the break loop, the computation will be restarted from where it was interrupted.

The following function is the Lisp signal handler for the SIGTSTP signal which suspends a process and returns to the Unix shell.

(defun ih-sigtstp (signal code scp)
  (declare (ignore signal code scp))
   (Unix:unix-kill (Unix:unix-getpid) Unix:sigstop)))

Lisp uses this interrupt handler to catch the SIGTSTP signal because it is necessary to get out of Hemlock in a clean way before returning to the shell.

To set up these interrupt handlers, the following is recommended:

(with-enabled-interrupts ((Unix:SIGINT #'ih-sigint)
                          (Unix:SIGTSTP #'ih-sigtstp))
  <user code to execute with the above signal handlers enabled.>

Next: , Previous:   [Contents][Index]

7 Event Dispatching with SERVE-EVENT

by Bill Chiles and Robert MacLachlan

It is common to have multiple activities simultaneously operating in the same Lisp process. Furthermore, Lisp programmers tend to expect a flexible development environment. It must be possible to load and modify application programs without requiring modifications to other running programs. CMUCL achieves this by having a central scheduling mechanism based on an event-driven, object-oriented paradigm.

An event is some interesting happening that should cause the Lisp process to wake up and do something. These events include X events and activity on Unix file descriptors. The object-oriented mechanism is only available with the first two, and it is optional with X events as described later in this chapter. In an X event, the window ID is the object capability and the X event type is the operation code. The Unix file descriptor input mechanism simply consists of an association list of a handler to call when input shows up on a particular file descriptor.

7.1 Object Sets

An object set is a collection of objects that have the same implementation for each operation. Externally the object is represented by the object capability and the operation is represented by the operation code. Within Lisp, the object is represented by an arbitrary Lisp object, and the implementation for the operation is represented by an arbitrary Lisp function. The object set mechanism maintains this translation from the external to the internal representation.

Function: system:make-object-set name &optional default-handler

This function makes a new object set. Name is a string used only for purposes of identifying the object set when it is printed. Default-handler is the function used as a handler when an undefined operation occurs on an object in the set. You can define operations with the serve-operation functions exported the extensions package for X events (see x-serve-mumbles). Objects are added with system:add-xwindow-object. Initially the object set has no objects and no defined operations.

Function: system:object-set-operation object-set operation-code

This function returns the handler function that is the implementation of the operation corresponding to operation-code in object-set. When set with setf, the setter function establishes the new handler. The serve-operation functions exported from the extensions package for X events (see x-serve-mumbles) call this on behalf of the user when announcing a new operation for an object set.

Function: system:add-xwindow-object window object object-set

These functions add port or window to object-set. Object is an arbitrary Lisp object that is associated with the port or window capability. Window is a CLX window. When an event occurs, system:serve-event passes object as an argument to the handler function.

7.2 The SERVE-EVENT Function

The system:serve-event function is the standard way for an application to wait for something to happen. For example, the Lisp system calls system:serve-event when it wants input from X or a terminal stream. The idea behind system:serve-event is that it knows the appropriate action to take when any interesting event happens. If an application calls system:serve-event when it is idle, then any other applications with pending events can run. This allows several applications to run “at the same time” without interference, even though there is only one thread of control. Note that if an application is waiting for input of any kind, then other applications will get events.

Function: system:serve-event &optional timeout

This function waits for an event to happen and then dispatches to the correct handler function. If specified, timeout is the number of seconds to wait before timing out. A time out of zero seconds is legal and causes system:serve-event to poll for any events immediately available for processing. system:serve-event returns t if it serviced at least one event, and nil otherwise. Depending on the application, when system:serve-event returns t, you might want to call it repeatedly with a timeout of zero until it returns nil.

If input is available on any designated file descriptor, then this calls the appropriate handler function supplied by system:add-fd-handler.

Since events for many different applications may arrive simultaneously, an application waiting for a specific event must loop on system:serve-event until the desired event happens. Since programs such as Hemlock call system:serve-event for input, applications usually do not need to call system:serve-event at all; Hemlock allows other application’s handlers to run when it goes into an input wait.

Function: system:serve-all-events &optional timeout

This function is similar to system:serve-event, except it serves all the pending events rather than just one. It returns t if it serviced at least one event, and nil otherwise.

7.3 Using SERVE-EVENT with Unix File Descriptors

Object sets are not available for use with file descriptors, as there are only two operations possible on file descriptors: input and output. Instead, a handler for either input or output can be registered with system:serve-event for a specific file descriptor. Whenever any input shows up, or output is possible on this file descriptor, the function associated with the handler for that descriptor is funcalled with the descriptor as it’s single argument.

Function: system:add-fd-handler fd direction function

This function installs and returns a new handler for the file descriptor fd. direction can be either :input if the system should invoke the handler when input is available or :output if the system should invoke the handler when output is possible. This returns a unique object representing the handler, and this is a suitable argument for system:remove-fd-handler function must take one argument, the file descriptor.

Function: system:remove-fd-handler handler

This function removes handler, that add-fd-handler must have previously returned.

Macro: system:with-fd-handler (fd direction function) {form}*

This macro executes the supplied forms with a handler installed using fd, direction, and function. See system:add-fd-handler. The given forms are wrapped in an unwind-protect; the handler is removed (see system:remove-fd-handler) when done.

Function: system:wait-until-fd-usable fd direction &optional timeout

This function waits for up to timeout seconds for fd to become usable for direction (either :input or :output). If timeout is nil or unspecified, this waits forever.

Function: system:invalidate-descriptor fd

This function removes all handlers associated with fd. This should only be used in drastic cases (such as I/O errors, but not necessarily EOF). Normally, you should use remove-fd-handler to remove the specific handler.

7.4 Using SERVE-EVENT with the CLX Interface to X

Remember from section object-sets, an object set is a collection of objects, CLX windows in this case, with some set of operations, event keywords, with corresponding implementations, the same handler functions. Since X allows multiple display connections from a given process, you can avoid using object sets if every window in an application or display connection behaves the same. If a particular X application on a single display connection has windows that want to handle certain events differently, then using object sets is a convenient way to organize this since you need some way to map the window/event combination to the appropriate functionality.

The following is a discussion of functions exported from the extensions package that facilitate handling CLX events through system:serve-event. The first two routines are useful regardless of whether you use system:serve-event:

Function: ext:open-clx-display &optional string

This function parses string for an X display specification including display and screen numbers. String defaults to the following:

    (cdr (assoc :display ext:*environment-list* :test #'eq))

If any field in the display specification is missing, this signals an error. ext:open-clx-display returns the CLX display and screen.

Function: ext:flush-display-events display

This function flushes all the events in display’s event queue including the current event, in case the user calls this from within an event handler.

7.4.1 Without Object Sets

Since most applications that use CLX, can avoid the complexity of object sets, these routines are described in a separate section. The routines described in the next section that use the object set mechanism are based on these interfaces.

Function: ext:enable-clx-event-handling display handler

This function causes system:serve-event to notice when there is input on display’s connection to the X11 server. When this happens, system:serve-event invokes handler on display in a dynamic context with an error handler bound that flushes all events from display and returns. By returning, the error handler declines to handle the error, but it will have cleared all events; thus, entering the debugger will not result in infinite errors due to streams that wait via system:serve-event for input. Calling this repeatedly on the same display establishes handler as a new handler, replacing any previous one for display.

Function: ext:disable-clx-event-handling display

This function undoes the effect of ext:enable-clx-event-handling.

Macro: ext:with-clx-event-handling (display handler) {form}*

This macro evaluates each form in a context where system:serve-event invokes handler on display whenever there is input on display’s connection to the X server. This destroys any previously established handler for display.

7.4.2 With Object Sets

This section discusses the use of object sets and system:serve-event to handle CLX events. This is necessary when a single X application has distinct windows that want to handle the same events in different ways. Basically, you need some way of asking for a given window which way you want to handle some event because this event is handled differently depending on the window. Object sets provide this feature.

For each CLX event-key symbol-name XXX (for example, key-press), there is a function serve-XXX of two arguments, an object set and a function. The serve-XXX function establishes the function as the handler for the :XXX event in the object set. Recall from section object-sets, system:add-xwindow-object associates some Lisp object with a CLX window in an object set. When system:serve-event notices activity on a window, it calls the function given to ext:enable-clx-event-handling. If this function is ext:object-set-event-handler, it calls the function given to serve-XXX, passing the object given to system:add-xwindow-object and the event’s slots as well as a couple other arguments described below.

To use object sets in this way:

  • Create an object set.
  • Define some operations on it using the serve-XXX functions.
  • Add an object for every window on which you receive requests. This can be the CLX window itself or some structure more meaningful to your application.
  • Call system:serve-event to service an X event.
Function: ext:object-set-event-handler display

This function is a suitable argument to ext:enable-clx-event-handling. The actual event handlers defined for particular events within a given object set must take an argument for every slot in the appropriate event. In addition to the event slots, ext:object-set-event-handler passes the following arguments:

  • The object, as established by system:add-xwindow-object, on which the event occurred.
  • event-key, see xlib:event-case.
  • send-event-p, see xlib:event-case.

Describing any ext:serve-event-key-name function, where event-key-name is an event-key symbol-name (for example, ext:serve-key-press), indicates exactly what all the arguments are in their correct order.

When creating an object set for use with ext:object-set-event-handler, specify ext:default-clx-event-handler as the default handler for events in that object set. If no default handler is specified, and the system invokes the default default handler, it will cause an error since this function takes arguments suitable for handling port messages.

7.5 A SERVE-EVENT Example

This section contains two examples using system:serve-event. The first one does not use object sets, and the second, slightly more complicated one does.

7.5.1 Without Object Sets Example

This example defines an input handler for a CLX display connection. It only recognizes :key-press events. The body of the example loops over system:serve-event to get input.

(in-package "SERVER-EXAMPLE")

(defun my-input-handler (display)
  (xlib:event-case (display :timeout 0)
    (:key-press (event-window code state)
     (format t "KEY-PRESSED (Window = ~D) = ~S.~%"
                  (xlib:window-id event-window)
             ;; See Hemlock Command Implementor's Manual for convenient
             ;; input mapping function.
             (ext:translate-character display code state))
      ;; Make XLIB:EVENT-CASE discard the event.
(defun server-example ()
  "An example of using the SYSTEM:SERVE-EVENT function and object sets to
   handle CLX events."
  (let* ((display (ext:open-clx-display))
         (screen (display-default-screen display))
         (black (screen-black-pixel screen))
         (white (screen-white-pixel screen))
         (window (create-window :parent (screen-root screen)
                                :x 0 :y 0 :width 200 :height 200
                                :background white :border black
                                :border-width 2
                                (xlib:make-event-mask :key-press))))
    ;; Wrap code in UNWIND-PROTECT, so we clean up after ourselves.
          ;; Enable event handling on the display.
          (ext:enable-clx-event-handling display #'my-input-handler)
          ;; Map the windows to the screen.
          (map-window window)
          ;; Make sure we send all our requests.
          (display-force-output display)
          ;; Call serve-event for 100,000 events or immediate timeouts.
          (dotimes (i 100000) (system:serve-event)))
      ;; Disable event handling on this display.
      (ext:disable-clx-event-handling display)
      ;; Get rid of the window.
      (destroy-window window)
      ;; Pick off any events the X server has already queued for our
      ;; windows, so we don't choke since SYSTEM:SERVE-EVENT is no longer
      ;; prepared to handle events for us.
       (unless (deleting-window-drop-event *display* window)
      ;; Close the display.
      (xlib:close-display display))))

(defun deleting-window-drop-event (display win)
  "Check for any events on win.  If there is one, remove it from the
   event queue and return t; otherwise, return nil."
  (xlib:display-finish-output display)
  (let ((result nil))
     display :timeout 0
     :handler #'(lambda (&key event-window &allow-other-keys)
                  (if (eq event-window win)
                      (setf result t)

7.5.2 With Object Sets Example

This example involves more work, but you get a little more for your effort. It defines two objects, input-box and slider, and establishes a :key-press handler for each object, key-pressed and slider-pressed. We have two object sets because we handle events on the windows manifesting these objects differently, but the events come over the same display connection.

(in-package "SERVER-EXAMPLE")

(defstruct (input-box (:print-function print-input-box)
                      (:constructor make-input-box (display window)))
  "Our program knows about input-boxes, and it doesn't care how they
   are implemented."
  display        ; The CLX display on which my input-box is displayed.
  window)        ; The CLX window in which the user types.
(defun print-input-box (object stream n)
  (declare (ignore n))
  (format stream "#<Input-Box ~S>" (input-box-display object)))

(defvar *input-box-windows*
        (system:make-object-set "Input Box Windows"

(defun key-pressed (input-box event-key event-window root child
                    same-screen-p x y root-x root-y modifiers time
                    key-code send-event-p)
  "This is our :key-press event handler."
  (declare (ignore event-key root child same-screen-p x y
                   root-x root-y time send-event-p))
  (format t "KEY-PRESSED (Window = ~D) = ~S.~%"
          (xlib:window-id event-window)
          ;; See Hemlock Command Implementor's Manual for convenient
          ;; input mapping function.
          (ext:translate-character (input-box-display input-box)
                                     key-code modifiers)))
(ext:serve-key-press *input-box-windows* #'key-pressed)
(defstruct (slider (:print-function print-slider)
                   (:include input-box)
                   (:constructor %make-slider
                                    (display window window-width max)))
  "Our program knows about sliders too, and these provide input values
   zero to max."
  bits-per-value  ; bits per discrete value up to max.
  max)            ; End value for slider.
(defun print-slider (object stream n)
  (declare (ignore n))
  (format stream "#<Slider ~S  0..~D>"
          (input-box-display object)
          (1- (slider-max object))))
(defun make-slider (display window max)
  (%make-slider display window
                  (truncate (xlib:drawable-width window) max)

(defvar *slider-windows*
        (system:make-object-set "Slider Windows"

(defun slider-pressed (slider event-key event-window root child
                       same-screen-p x y root-x root-y modifiers time
                       key-code send-event-p)
  "This is our :key-press event handler for sliders.  Probably this is
   a mouse thing, but for simplicity here we take a character typed."
  (declare (ignore event-key root child same-screen-p x y
                   root-x root-y time send-event-p))
  (format t "KEY-PRESSED (Window = ~D) = ~S  -->  ~D.~%"
          (xlib:window-id event-window)
          ;; See Hemlock Command Implementor's Manual for convenient
          ;; input mapping function.
          (ext:translate-character (input-box-display slider)
                                     key-code modifiers)
          (truncate x (slider-bits-per-value slider))))
(ext:serve-key-press *slider-windows* #'slider-pressed)
(defun server-example ()
  "An example of using the SYSTEM:SERVE-EVENT function and object sets to
   handle CLX events."
  (let* ((display (ext:open-clx-display))
         (screen (display-default-screen display))
         (black (screen-black-pixel screen))
         (white (screen-white-pixel screen))
         (iwindow (create-window :parent (screen-root screen)
                                 :x 0 :y 0 :width 200 :height 200
                                 :background white :border black
                                 :border-width 2
                                 (xlib:make-event-mask :key-press)))
         (swindow (create-window :parent (screen-root screen)
                                 :x 0 :y 300 :width 200 :height 50
                                 :background white :border black
                                 :border-width 2
                                 (xlib:make-event-mask :key-press)))
         (input-box (make-input-box display iwindow))
         (slider (make-slider display swindow 15)))
    ;; Wrap code in UNWIND-PROTECT, so we clean up after ourselves.
          ;; Enable event handling on the display.
          (ext:enable-clx-event-handling display
          ;; Add the windows to the appropriate object sets.
          (system:add-xwindow-object iwindow input-box
          (system:add-xwindow-object swindow slider
          ;; Map the windows to the screen.
          (map-window iwindow)
          (map-window swindow)
          ;; Make sure we send all our requests.
          (display-force-output display)
          ;; Call server for 100,000 events or immediate timeouts.
          (dotimes (i 100000) (system:serve-event)))
      ;; Disable event handling on this display.
      (ext:disable-clx-event-handling display)
      (delete-window iwindow display)
      (delete-window swindow display)
      ;; Close the display.
      (xlib:close-display display))))
(defun delete-window (window display)
  ;; Remove the windows from the object sets before destroying them.
  (system:remove-xwindow-object window)
  ;; Destroy the window.
  (destroy-window window)
  ;; Pick off any events the X server has already queued for our
  ;; windows, so we don't choke since SYSTEM:SERVE-EVENT is no longer
  ;; prepared to handle events for us.
   (unless (deleting-window-drop-event display window)

(defun deleting-window-drop-event (display win)
  "Check for any events on win.  If there is one, remove it from the
   event queue and return t; otherwise, return nil."
  (xlib:display-finish-output display)
  (let ((result nil))
     display :timeout 0
     :handler #'(lambda (&key event-window &allow-other-keys)
                  (if (eq event-window win)
                      (setf result t)

8 Alien Objects

by Robert MacLachlan and William Lott

8.1 Introduction to Aliens

Because of Lisp’s emphasis on dynamic memory allocation and garbage collection, Lisp implementations use unconventional memory representations for objects. This representation mismatch creates problems when a Lisp program must share objects with programs written in another language. There are three different approaches to establishing communication:

  • The burden can be placed on the foreign program (and programmer) by requiring the use of Lisp object representations. The main difficulty with this approach is that either the foreign program must be written with Lisp interaction in mind, or a substantial amount of foreign “glue” code must be written to perform the translation.
  • The Lisp system can automatically convert objects back and forth between the Lisp and foreign representations. This is convenient, but translation becomes prohibitively slow when large or complex data structures must be shared.
  • The Lisp program can directly manipulate foreign objects through the use of extensions to the Lisp language. Most Lisp systems make use of this approach, but the language for describing types and expressing accesses is often not powerful enough for complex objects to be easily manipulated.

CMUCL relies primarily on the automatic conversion and direct manipulation approaches: Aliens of simple scalar types are automatically converted, while complex types are directly manipulated in their foreign representation. Any foreign objects that can’t automatically be converted into Lisp values are represented by objects of type alien-value. Since Lisp is a dynamically typed language, even foreign objects must have a run-time type; this type information is provided by encapsulating the raw pointer to the foreign data within an alien-value object.

The Alien type language and operations are most similar to those of the C language, but Aliens can also be used when communicating with most other languages that can be linked with C.

8.2 Alien Types

Alien types have a description language based on nested list structure. For example:

struct foo {
    int a;
    struct foo *b[100];

has the corresponding Alien type:

(struct foo
  (a int)
  (b (array (* (struct foo)) 100)))

8.2.1 Defining Alien Types

Types may be either named or anonymous. With structure and union types, the name is part of the type specifier, allowing recursively defined types such as:

(struct foo (a (* (struct foo))))

An anonymous structure or union type is specified by using the name nil. The with-alien macro defines a local scope which “captures” any named type definitions. Other types are not inherently named, but can be given named abbreviations using def-alien-type.

Macro: alien:def-alien-type name type

This macro globally defines name as a shorthand for the Alien type type. When introducing global structure and union type definitions, name may be nil, in which case the name to define is taken from the type’s name.

8.2.2 Alien Types and Lisp Types

The Alien types form a subsystem of the CMUCL type system. An alien type specifier provides a way to use any Alien type as a Lisp type specifier. For example

(typep foo '(alien (* int)))

can be used to determine whether foo is a pointer to an int. alien type specifiers can be used in the same ways as ordinary type specifiers (like string.) Alien type declarations are subject to the same precise type checking as any other declaration (see precise-type-checks.)

Note that the Alien type system overlaps with normal Lisp type specifiers in some cases. For example, the type specifier (alien single-float) is identical to single-float, since Alien floats are automatically converted to Lisp floats. When type-of is called on an Alien value that is not automatically converted to a Lisp value, then it will return an alien type specifier.

8.2.3 Alien Type Specifiers

Some Alien type names are Common Lisp symbols, but the names are still exported from the alien package, so it is legal to say alien:single-float. These are the basic Alien type specifiers:

Alien type: * type

A pointer to an object of the specified type. If type is t, then it means a pointer to anything, similar to “void *” in ANSI C. Currently, the only way to detect a null pointer is:

  (zerop (sap-int (alien-sap ptr)))

See system-area-pointers

Alien type: array type {dimension}*

An array of the specified dimensions, holding elements of type type. Note that (* int) and (array int) are considered to be different types when type checking is done; pointer and array types must be explicitly coerced using cast.

Arrays are accessed using deref, passing the indices as additional arguments. Elements are stored in column-major order (as in C), so the first dimension determines only the size of the memory block, and not the layout of the higher dimensions. An array whose first dimension is variable may be specified by using nil as the first dimension. Fixed-size arrays can be allocated as array elements, structure slots or with-alien variables. Dynamic arrays can only be allocated using make-alien.

Alien type: struct name {(field type {bits})}*

A structure type with the specified name and fields. Fields are allocated at the same positions used by the implementation’s C compiler. bits is intended for C-like bit field support, but is currently unused. If name is nil, then the type is anonymous.

If a named Alien struct specifier is passed to def-alien-type or with-alien, then this defines, respectively, a new global or local Alien structure type. If no fields are specified, then the fields are taken from the current (local or global) Alien structure type definition of name.

Alien type: union name {(field type {bits})}*

Similar to struct, but defines a union type. All fields are allocated at the same offset, and the size of the union is the size of the largest field. The programmer must determine which field is active from context.

Alien type: enum name {spec}*

An enumeration type that maps between integer values and keywords. If name is nil, then the type is anonymous. Each spec is either a keyword, or a list (keyword value). If integer is not supplied, then it defaults to one greater than the value for the preceding spec (or to zero if it is the first spec.)

Alien type: signed {bits}

A signed integer with the specified number of bits precision. The upper limit on integer precision is determined by the machine’s word size. If no size is specified, the maximum size will be used.

Alien type: integer {bits}

Identical to signed—the distinction between signed and integer is purely stylistic.

Alien type: unsigned {bits}

Like signed, but specifies an unsigned integer.

Alien type: boolean {bits}

Similar to an enumeration type that maps 0 to nil and all other values to t. bits determines the amount of storage allocated to hold the truth value.

Alien type: single-float

A floating-point number in IEEE single format.

Alien type: double-float

A floating-point number in IEEE double format.

Alien type: function result-type {arg-type}*

A Alien function that takes arguments of the specified arg-types and returns a result of type result-type. Note that the only context where a function type is directly specified is in the argument to alien-funcall (see section alien-funcall.) In all other contexts, functions are represented by function pointer types: (* (function ...)).

Alien type: system-area-pointer

A pointer which is represented in Lisp as a system-area-pointer object (see system-area-pointers.)

8.2.4 The C-Call Package

The c-call package exports these type-equivalents to the C type of the same name: char, short, int, long, unsigned-char, unsigned-short, unsigned-int, unsigned-long, float, double. c-call also exports these types:

Alien type: void

This type is used in function types to declare that no useful value is returned. Evaluation of an alien-funcall form will return zero values.

Alien type: c-string

This type is similar to (* char), but is interpreted as a null-terminated string, and is automatically converted into a Lisp string when accessed. If the pointer is C NULL (or 0), then accessing gives Lisp nil.

With Unicode, a Lisp string is not the same as a C string since a Lisp string uses two bytes for each character. In this case, a C string is converted to a Lisp string by taking each byte of the C-string and applying code-char to create each character of the Lisp string.

Similarly, a Lisp string is converted to a C string by taking the low 8 bits of the char-code of each character and assigning that to each byte of the C string.

In either case, string-encode and string-decode may be useful to convert Unicode Lisp strings to or from C strings.

Assigning a Lisp string to a c-string structure field or variable stores the contents of the string to the memory already pointed to by that variable. When an Alien of type (* char) is assigned to a c-string, then the c-string pointer is assigned to. This allows c-string pointers to be initialized. For example:

  (def-alien-type nil (struct foo (str c-string)))
  (defun make-foo (str)
    (let ((my-foo (make-alien (struct foo))))
      (setf (slot my-foo 'str) (make-alien char (length str)))
      (setf (slot my-foo 'str) str)

Storing Lisp nil writes C NULL to the c-string pointer.

8.3 Alien Operations

This section describes the basic operations on Alien values.

8.3.1 Alien Access Operations

Function: alien:deref pointer-or-array &rest indices

This function returns the value pointed to by an Alien pointer or the value of an Alien array element. If a pointer, an optional single index can be specified to give the equivalent of C pointer arithmetic; this index is scaled by the size of the type pointed to. If an array, the number of indices must be the same as the number of dimensions in the array type. deref can be set with setf to assign a new value.

Function: alien:slot struct-or-union slot-name

This function extracts the value of slot slot-name from the an Alien struct or union. If struct-or-union is a pointer to a structure or union, then it is automatically dereferenced. This can be set with setf to assign a new value. Note that slot-name is evaluated, and need not be a compile-time constant (but only constant slot accesses are efficiently compiled.)

8.3.2 Alien Coercion Operations

Macro: alien:addr alien-expr

This macro returns a pointer to the location specified by alien-expr, which must be either an Alien variable, a use of deref, a use of slot, or a use of extern-alien.

Macro: alien:cast alien new-type

This macro converts alien to a new Alien with the specified new-type. Both types must be an Alien pointer, array or function type. Note that the result is not eq to the argument, but does refer to the same data bits.

Macro: alien:sap-alien sap type
Macro: alien:alien-sap alien-value

sap-alien converts sap (a system area pointer see system-area-pointers) to an Alien value with the specified type. type is not evaluated.

alien-sap returns the SAP which points to alien-value’s data.

The type to sap-alien and the type of the alien-value to alien-sap must some Alien pointer, array or record type.

8.3.3 Alien Dynamic Allocation

Dynamic Aliens are allocated using the malloc library, so foreign code can call free on the result of make-alien, and Lisp code can call free-alien on objects allocated by foreign code.

Macro: alien:make-alien type {size}

This macro returns a dynamically allocated Alien of the specified type (which is not evaluated.) The allocated memory is not initialized, and may contain arbitrary junk. If supplied, size is an expression to evaluate to compute the size of the allocated object. There are two major cases:

  • When type is an array type, an array of that type is allocated and a pointer to it is returned. Note that you must use deref to change the result to an array before you can use deref to read or write elements:
    (defvar *foo* (make-alien (array char 10)))
    (type-of *foo*) ⇒ (alien (* (array (signed 8) 10)))
    (setf (deref (deref foo) 0) 10) ⇒ 10

    If supplied, size is used as the first dimension for the array.

  • When type is any other type, then then an object for that type is allocated, and a pointer to it is returned. So (make-alien int) returns a (* int). If size is specified, then a block of that many objects is allocated, with the result pointing to the first one.
Function: alien:free-alien alien

This function frees the storage for alien (which must have been allocated with make-alien or malloc.)

See also with-alien, which stack-allocates Aliens.

8.4 Alien Variables

Both local (stack allocated) and external (C global) Alien variables are supported.

8.4.1 Local Alien Variables

Macro: alien:with-alien {(name type {initial-value})}* {form}*

This macro establishes local alien variables with the specified Alien types and names for dynamic extent of the body. The variable names are established as symbol-macros; the bindings have lexical scope, and may be assigned with setq or setf. This form is analogous to defining a local variable in C: additional storage is allocated, and the initial value is copied.

with-alien also establishes a new scope for named structures and unions. Any type specified for a variable may contain name structure or union types with the slots specified. Within the lexical scope of the binding specifiers and body, a locally defined structure type foo can be referenced by its name using:

  (struct foo)

8.4.2 External Alien Variables

External Alien names are strings, and Lisp names are symbols. When an external Alien is represented using a Lisp variable, there must be a way to convert from one name syntax into the other. The macros extern-alien, def-alien-variable and def-alien-routine use this conversion heuristic:

  • Alien names are converted to Lisp names by uppercasing and replacing underscores with hyphens.
  • Conversely, Lisp names are converted to Alien names by lowercasing and replacing hyphens with underscores.
  • Both the Lisp symbol and Alien string names may be separately specified by using a list of the form:
      (alien-string lisp-symbol)
Macro: alien:def-alien-variable name type

This macro defines name as an external Alien variable of the specified Alien type. name and type are not evaluated. The Lisp name of the variable (see above) becomes a global Alien variable in the Lisp namespace. Global Alien variables are effectively “global symbol macros”; a reference to the variable fetches the contents of the external variable. Similarly, setting the variable stores new contents—the new contents must be of the declared type.

For example, it is often necessary to read the global C variable errno to determine why a particular function call failed. It is possible to define errno and make it accessible from Lisp by the following:

(def-alien-variable "errno" int)

;; Now it is possible to get the value of the C variable errno simply by
;; referencing that Lisp variable:
(print errno)
Macro: alien:extern-alien name type

This macro returns an Alien with the specified type which points to an externally defined value. name is not evaluated, and may be specified either as a string or a symbol. type is an unevaluated Alien type specifier.

8.5 Alien Data Structure Example

Now that we have Alien types, operations and variables, we can manipulate foreign data structures. This C declaration can be translated into the following Alien type:

struct foo {
    int a;
    struct foo *b[100];


(def-alien-type nil
  (struct foo
    (a int)
    (b (array (* (struct foo)) 100))))

With this definition, the following C expression can be translated in this way:

struct foo f;


(with-alien ((f (struct foo)))
  (slot (deref (slot f 'b) 7) 'a)
  ;; Do something with f...

Or consider this example of an external C variable and some accesses:

struct c_struct {
        short x, y;
        char a, b;
        int z;
        c_struct *n;

extern struct c_struct *my_struct;

my_struct->a = 5;
my_struct = my_struct->n;

which can be made be manipulated in Lisp like this:

(def-alien-type nil
  (struct c-struct
          (x short)
          (y short)
          (a char)
          (b char)
          (z int)
          (n (* c-struct))))

(def-alien-variable "my_struct" (* c-struct))

(incf (slot my-struct 'x))
(setf (slot my-struct 'a) 5)
(setq my-struct (slot my-struct 'n))

8.6 Loading Unix Object Files

CMUCL is able to load foreign object files at runtime, using the function load-foreign. This function is able to load shared libraries (that are typically named .so) via the dlopen mechanism. It can also load .a or .o object files by calling the linker on the files and libraries to create a loadable object file. Once loaded, the external symbols that define routines and variables are made available for future external references (e.g. by extern-alien.) load-foreign must be run before any of the defined symbols are referenced.

Note that if a Lisp core image is saved (using save-lisp), all loaded foreign code is lost when the image is restarted.

Function: ext:load-foreign files &key :libraries :base-file :env

files is a simple-string or list of simple-strings specifying the names of the object files. If files is a simple-string, the file that it designates is loaded using the platform’s dlopen mechanism. If it is a list of strings, the platform linker ld is invoked to transform the object files into a loadable object file. libraries is a list of simple-strings specifying libraries in a format that the platform linker expects. The default value for libraries is ("-lc") (i.e., the standard C library). base-file is the file to use for the initial symbol table information. The default is the Lisp start up code: path:lisp. env should be a list of simple strings in the format of Unix environment variables (i.e., A=B, where A is an environment variable and B is its value). The default value for env is the environment information available at the time Lisp was invoked. Unless you are certain that you want to change this, you should just use the default.

8.7 Alien Function Calls

The foreign function call interface allows a Lisp program to call functions written in other languages. The current implementation of the foreign function call interface assumes a C calling convention and thus routines written in any language that adheres to this convention may be called from Lisp.

Lisp sets up various interrupt handling routines and other environment information when it first starts up, and expects these to be in place at all times. The C functions called by Lisp should either not change the environment, especially the interrupt entry points, or should make sure that these entry points are restored when the C function returns to Lisp. If a C function makes changes without restoring things to the way they were when the C function was entered, there is no telling what will happen.

8.7.1 The alien-funcall Primitive

Function: alien:alien-funcall alien-function &rest arguments

This function is the foreign function call primitive: alien-function is called with the supplied arguments and its value is returned. The alien-function is an arbitrary run-time expression; to call a constant function, use extern-alien or def-alien-routine.

The type of alien-function must be (alien (function ...)) or (alien (* (function ...))), See alien-function-types. The function type is used to determine how to call the function (as though it was declared with a prototype.) The type need not be known at compile time, but only known-type calls are efficiently compiled. Limitations:

  • Structure type return values are not implemented.
  • Passing of structures by value is not implemented.

Here is an example which allocates a (struct foo), calls a foreign function to initialize it, then returns a Lisp vector of all the (* (struct foo)) objects filled in by the foreign call:

;; Allocate a foo on the stack.
(with-alien ((f (struct foo)))
  ;; Call some C function to fill in foo fields.
  (alien-funcall (extern-alien "mangle_foo" (function void (* foo)))
                 (addr f))
  ;; Find how many foos to use by getting the A field.
  (let* ((num (slot f 'a))
         (result (make-array num)))
    ;; Get a pointer to the array so that we don't have to keep
    ;; extracting it:
    (with-alien ((a (* (array (* (struct foo)) 100)) (addr (slot f 'b))))
      ;; Loop over the first N elements and stash them in the
      ;; result vector.
      (dotimes (i num)
        (setf (svref result i) (deref (deref a) i)))

8.7.2 The def-alien-routine Macro

Macro: alien:def-alien-routine name result-type {(aname atype {style})}*

This macro is a convenience for automatically generating Lisp interfaces to simple foreign functions. The primary feature is the parameter style specification, which translates the C pass-by-reference idiom into additional return values.

name is usually a string external symbol, but may also be a symbol Lisp name or a list of the foreign name and the Lisp name. If only one name is specified, the other is automatically derived, (see external-aliens.)

result-type is the Alien type of the return value. Each remaining subform specifies an argument to the foreign function. aname is the symbol name of the argument to the constructed function (for documentation) and atype is the Alien type of corresponding foreign argument. The semantics of the actual call are the same as for alien-funcall. style should be one of the following:


specifies that the argument is passed by value. This is the default. :in arguments have no corresponding return value from the Lisp function.


specifies a pass-by-reference output value. The type of the argument must be a pointer to a fixed sized object (such as an integer or pointer). :out and :in-out cannot be used with pointers to arrays, records or functions. An object of the correct size is allocated, and its address is passed to the foreign function. When the function returns, the contents of this location are returned as one of the values of the Lisp function.


is similar to :in, but the argument is copied to a pre-allocated object and a pointer to this object is passed to the foreign routine.


is a combination of :copy and :out. The argument is copied to a pre-allocated object and a pointer to this object is passed to the foreign routine. On return, the contents of this location is returned as an additional value.

Any efficiency-critical foreign interface function should be inline expanded by preceding def-alien-routine with:

(declaim (inline lisp-name))

In addition to avoiding the Lisp call overhead, this allows pointers, word-integers and floats to be passed using non-descriptor representations, avoiding consing (see non-descriptor.)

8.7.3 def-alien-routine Example

Consider the C function cfoo with the following calling convention:

/* a for update
 * i out
void cfoo (char *str, char *a, int *i);

which can be described by the following call to def-alien-routine:

(def-alien-routine "cfoo" void
  (str c-string)
  (a char :in-out)
  (i int :out))

The Lisp function cfoo will have two arguments (str and a) and two return values (a and i).

8.7.4 Calling Lisp from C

CMUCL supports calling Lisp from C via the def-callback macro:

Macro: alien:def-callback name (return-type {(arg-name arg-type)}*) &body body

This macro defines a Lisp function that can be called from C and a Lisp variable. The arguments to the function must be alien types, and the return type must also be an alien type. This Lisp function can be accessed via the callback macro.

name is the name of the Lisp function. It is also the name of a variable to be used by the callback macro.

return-type is the return type of the function. This must be a recognized alien type.

arg-name specifies the name of the argument to the function, and the argument has type arg-type, which must be an alien type.

Macro: alien:callback callback-symbol

This macro extracts the appropriate information for the function named callback-symbol so that it can be called by a C function. callback-symbol must be a symbol created by the def-callback macro.

Macro: alien:callback-funcall callback-name &rest args

This macro does the necessary stuff to call the callback named callback-name with the given arguments.

8.7.5 Callback Example

Here is a simple example of using callbacks.

(use-package :alien)
(use-package :c-call)

(def-callback foo (int (arg1 int) (arg2 int))
  (format t "~&foo: ~S, ~S~%" arg1 arg2)
  (+ arg1 arg2))

(defun test-foo ()
  (callback-funcall foo 555 444444))

In this example, the callback function foo is defined which takes two C int parameters and returns a int. As this shows, we can use arbitrary Lisp inside the function.

The function test-foo shows how we can call this callback function from Lisp. The macro callback extracts the necessary information for the callback function foo which can be converted into a pointer which we can call via alien-funcall.

The following code is a more complete example where a foreign routine calls our Lisp routine.

(use-package :alien)
(use-package :c-call)

(def-alien-routine qsort void
  (base (* t))
  (nmemb int)
  (size int)
  (compar (* (function int (* t) (* t)))))

(def-callback my< (int (arg1 (* double))
                       (arg2 (* double)))
  (let ((a1 (deref arg1))
        (a2 (deref arg2)))
    (cond ((= a1 a2)  0)
          ((< a1 a2) -1)
          (t         +1))))

(defun test-qsort ()
  (let ((a (make-array 10 :element-type 'double-float
                       :initial-contents '(0.1d0 0.5d0 0.2d0 1.2d0 1.5d0
                                           2.5d0 0.0d0 0.1d0 0.2d0 0.3d0))))
    (print a)
    (qsort (sys:vector-sap a)
           (length a)
           (alien-size double :bytes)
           (alien:callback my<))
    (print a)))

We define the alien routine, qsort, and a callback, my<, to determine whether two double’s are less than, greater than or equal to each other.

The test function test-qsort shows how we can call the alien sort routine with our Lisp comparison routine to produce a sorted array.

8.7.6 Accessing Lisp Arrays

Due to the way CMUCL manages memory, the amount of memory that can be dynamically allocated by malloc or make-alien is limited15.

To overcome this limitation, it is possible to access the content of Lisp arrays which are limited only by the amount of physical memory and swap space available. However, this technique is only useful if the foreign function takes pointers to memory instead of allocating memory for itself. In latter case, you will have to modify the foreign functions.

This technique takes advantage of the fact that CMUCL has specialized array types (see specialized-array-types) that match a typical C array. For example, a (simple-array double-float (100)) is stored in memory in essentially the same way as the C array double x[100] would be. The following function allows us to get the physical address of such a Lisp array:

(defun array-data-address (array)
  "Return the physical address of where the actual data of an array is

ARRAY must be a specialized array type in CMUCL.  This means ARRAY
must be an array of one of the following types:

                  (unsigned-byte 32)
                  (unsigned-byte 16)
                  (unsigned-byte  8)
                  (signed-byte 32)
                  (signed-byte 16)
                  (signed-byte  8)
  (declare (type (or (simple-array (signed-byte 8))
                     (simple-array (signed-byte 16))
                     (simple-array (signed-byte 32))
                     (simple-array (unsigned-byte 8))
                     (simple-array (unsigned-byte 16))
                     (simple-array (unsigned-byte 32))
                     (simple-array single-float)
                     (simple-array double-float)
                     (simple-array (complex single-float))
                     (simple-array (complex double-float)))
           (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0))
           (ext:optimize-interface (safety 3)))
  ;; with-array-data will get us to the actual data.  However, because
  ;; the array could have been displaced, we need to know where the
  ;; data starts.
  (lisp::with-array-data ((data array)
    (declare (ignore end))
    ;; DATA is a specialized simple-array.  Memory is laid out like this:
    ;;   byte offset    Value
    ;;        0         type code (should be 70 for double-float vector)
    ;;        4         4 * number of elements in vector
    ;;        8         1st element of vector
    ;;      ...         ...
    (let ((addr (+ 8 (logandc1 7 (kernel:get-lisp-obj-address data))))
           (let ((type (array-element-type data)))
             (cond ((or (equal type '(signed-byte 8))
                        (equal type '(unsigned-byte 8)))
                   ((or (equal type '(signed-byte 16))
                        (equal type '(unsigned-byte 16)))
                   ((or (equal type '(signed-byte 32))
                        (equal type '(unsigned-byte 32)))
                   ((equal type 'single-float)
                   ((equal type 'double-float)
                    (error "Unknown specialized array element type"))))))
      (declare (type (unsigned-byte 32) addr)
               (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0) (ext:inhibit-warnings 3)))
      (system:int-sap (the (unsigned-byte 32)
                        (+ addr (* type-size start)))))))

We note, however, that the system function system:vector-sap will do the same thing as above does.

Assume we have the C function below that we wish to use:

  double dotprod(double* x, double* y, int n)
    int k;
    double sum = 0;

    for (k = 0; k < n; ++k) {
      sum += x[k] * y[k];
    return sum;

The following example generates two large arrays in Lisp, and calls the C function to do the desired computation. This would not have been possible using malloc or make-alien since we need about 16 MB of memory to hold the two arrays.

  (alien:def-alien-routine "dotprod" c-call:double
    (x (* double-float) :in)
    (y (* double-float) :in)
    (n c-call:int :in))
  (defun test-dotprod ()
    (let ((x (make-array 10000 :element-type 'double-float 
                         :initial-element 2d0))
          (y (make-array 10000 :element-type 'double-float
                         :initial-element 10d0)))
          (let ((x-addr (sys:vector-sap x))
                (y-addr (sys:vector-sap y)))
            (dotprod x-addr y-addr 10000)))))

In this example, we have used sys:vector-sap instead of array-data-address, but we could have used (sys:int-sap (array-data-address x)) as well.

Also, we have wrapped the inner let expression in a sys:without-gcing that disables garbage collection for the duration of the body. This will prevent garbage collection from moving x and y arrays after we have obtained the (now erroneous) addresses but before the call to dotprod is made.

8.8 Step-by-Step Alien Example

This section presents a complete example of an interface to a somewhat complicated C function. This example should give a fairly good idea of how to get the effect you want for almost any kind of C function. Suppose you have the following C function which you want to be able to call from Lisp in the file test.c:

struct c_struct
  int x;
  char *s;
struct c_struct *c_function (i, s, r, a)
    int i;
    char *s;
    struct c_struct *r;
    int a[10];
  int j;
  struct c_struct *r2;
  printf("i = %d@n", i);
  printf("s = %s@n", s);
  printf("r->x = %d@n", r->x);
  printf("r->s = %s@n", r->s);
  for (j = 0; j < 10; j++) printf("a[%d] = %d.@n", j, a[j]);
  r2 = (struct c_struct *) malloc (sizeof(struct c_struct));
  r2->x = i + 5;
  r2->s = "A C string";

It is possible to call this function from Lisp using the file test.lisp whose contents is:

;;; -*- Package: test-c-call -*-
(in-package "TEST-C-CALL")
(use-package "ALIEN")
(use-package "C-CALL")

;;; Define the record c-struct in Lisp.
(def-alien-type nil
    (struct c-struct
            (x int)
            (s c-string)))

;;; Define the Lisp function interface to the C routine.  It returns a
;;; pointer to a record of type c-struct.  It accepts four parameters:
;;; i, an int; s, a pointer to a string; r, a pointer to a c-struct
;;; record; and a, a pointer to the array of 10 ints.
;;; The INLINE declaration eliminates some efficiency notes about heap
;;; allocation of Alien values.
(declaim (inline c-function))
(def-alien-routine c-function
    (* (struct c-struct))
  (i int)
  (s c-string)
  (r (* (struct c-struct)))
  (a (array int 10)))

;;; A function which sets up the parameters to the C function and
;;; actually calls it.
(defun call-cfun ()
  (with-alien ((ar (array int 10))
               (c-struct (struct c-struct)))
    (dotimes (i 10)                     ; Fill array.
      (setf (deref ar i) i))
    (setf (slot c-struct 'x) 20)
    (setf (slot c-struct 's) "A Lisp String")

    (with-alien ((res (* (struct c-struct))
                 (c-function 5 "Another Lisp String" (addr c-struct) ar)))
      (format t "Returned from C function.~%")
          (values (slot res 'x)
                  (slot res 's))
        ;; Deallocate result after we are done using it.
        (free-alien res)))))

To execute the above example, it is necessary to compile the C routine as follows:

cc -c test.c

In order to enable incremental loading with some linkers, you may need to say:

cc -G 0 -c test.c

Once the C code has been compiled, you can start up Lisp and load it in:

% lisp
;;; Lisp should start up with its normal prompt.

;;; Compile the Lisp file.  This step can be done separately.  You don't have
;;; to recompile every time.
* (compile-file "test.lisp")

;;; Load the foreign object file to define the necessary symbols.  This must
;;; be done before loading any code that refers to these symbols.  next block
;;; of comments are actually the output of LOAD-FOREIGN.  Different linkers
;;; will give different warnings, but some warning about redefining the code
;;; size is typical.
* (load-foreign "test.o")

;;; Running library:load-foreign.csh...
;;; Loading object file...
;;; Parsing symbol table...
Warning:  "_gp" moved from #x00C082C0 to #x00C08460.
Warning:  "end" moved from #x00C00340 to #x00C004E0.

;;; o.k. now load the compiled Lisp object file.
* (load "test")

;;; Now we can call the routine that sets up the parameters and calls the C
;;; function.
* (test-c-call::call-cfun)

;;; The C routine prints the following information to standard output.
i = 5
s = Another Lisp string
r->x = 20
r->s = A Lisp string
a[0] = 0.
a[1] = 1.
a[2] = 2.
a[3] = 3.
a[4] = 4.
a[5] = 5.
a[6] = 6.
a[7] = 7.
a[8] = 8.
a[9] = 9.
;;; Lisp prints out the following information.
Returned from C function.
;;; Return values from the call to test-c-call::call-cfun.
"A C string"

If any of the foreign functions do output, they should not be called from within Hemlock. Depending on the situation, various strange behavior occurs. Under X, the output goes to the window in which Lisp was started; on a terminal, the output will overwrite the Hemlock screen image; in a Hemlock slave, standard output is /dev/null by default, so any output is discarded.

9 Interprocess Communication under LISP

by William Lott and Bill Chiles

CMUCL offers a facility for interprocess communication (IPC) on top of using Unix system calls and the complications of that level of IPC. There is a simple remote-procedure-call (RPC) package build on top of TCP/IP sockets.

9.1 The REMOTE Package

The remote package provides simple RPC facility including interfaces for creating servers, connecting to already existing servers, and calling functions in other Lisp processes. The routines for establishing a connection between two processes, create-request-server and connect-to-remote-server, return wire structures. A wire maintains the current state of a connection, and all the RPC forms require a wire to indicate where to send requests.

9.1.1 Connecting Servers and Clients

Before a client can connect to a server, it must know the network address on which the server accepts connections. Network addresses consist of a host address or name, and a port number. Host addresses are either a string of the form VANCOUVER.SLISP.CS.CMU.EDU or a 32 bit unsigned integer. Port numbers are 16 bit unsigned integers. Note: port in this context has nothing to do with Mach ports and message passing.

When a process wants to receive connection requests (that is, become a server), it first picks an integer to use as the port. Only one server (Lisp or otherwise) can use a given port number on a given machine at any particular time. This can be an iterative process to find a free port: picking an integer and calling create-request-server. This function signals an error if the chosen port is unusable. You will probably want to write a loop using handler-case, catching conditions of type error, since this function does not signal more specific conditions.

Function: wire:create-request-server port &optional on-connect

create-request-server sets up the current Lisp to accept connections on the given port. If port is unavailable for any reason, this signals an error. When a client connects to this port, the acceptance mechanism makes a wire structure and invokes the on-connect function. Invoking this function has a couple of purposes, and on-connect may be nil in which case the system foregoes invoking any function at connect time.

The on-connect function is both a hook that allows you access to the wire created by the acceptance mechanism, and it confirms the connection. This function takes two arguments, the wire and the host address of the connecting process. See the section on host addresses below. When on-connect is nil, the request server allows all connections. When it is non-nil, the function returns two values, whether to accept the connection and a function the system should call when the connection terminates. Either value may be nil, but when the first value is nil, the acceptance mechanism destroys the wire.

create-request-server returns an object that destroy-request-server uses to terminate a connection.

Function: wire:destroy-request-server server

destroy-request-server takes the result of create-request-server and terminates that server. Any existing connections remain intact, but all additional connection attempts will fail.

Function: wire:connect-to-remote-server host port &optional on-death

connect-to-remote-server attempts to connect to a remote server at the given port on host and returns a wire structure if it is successful. If on-death is non-nil, it is a function the system invokes when this connection terminates.

9.1.2 Remote Evaluations

After the server and client have connected, they each have a wire allowing function evaluation in the other process. This RPC mechanism has three flavors: for side-effect only, for a single value, and for multiple values.

Only a limited number of data types can be sent across wires as arguments for remote function calls and as return values: integers inclusively less than 32 bits in length, symbols, lists, and remote-objects (see remote-objs). The system sends symbols as two strings, the package name and the symbol name, and if the package doesn’t exist remotely, the remote process signals an error. The system ignores other slots of symbols. Lists may be any tree of the above valid data types. To send other data types you must represent them in terms of these supported types. For example, you could use prin1-to-string locally, send the string, and use read-from-string remotely.

Macro: wire:remote wire {call-specs}*

The remote macro arranges for the process at the other end of wire to invoke each of the functions in the call-specs. To make sure the system sends the remote evaluation requests over the wire, you must call wire-force-output.

Each of call-specs looks like a function call textually, but it has some odd constraints and semantics. The function position of the form must be the symbolic name of a function. remote evaluates each of the argument subforms for each of the call-specs locally in the current context, sending these values as the arguments for the functions.

Consider the following example:

(defun write-remote-string (str)
  (declare (simple-string str))
  (wire:remote wire
    (write-string str)))

The value of str in the local process is passed over the wire with a request to invoke write-string on the value. The system does not expect to remotely evaluate str for a value in the remote process.

Function: wire:wire-force-output wire

wire-force-output flushes all internal buffers associated with wire, sending the remote requests. This is necessary after a call to remote.

Macro: wire:remote-value wire call-spec

The remote-value macro is similar to the remote macro. remote-value only takes one call-spec, and it returns the value returned by the function call in the remote process. The value must be a valid type the system can send over a wire, and there is no need to call wire-force-output in conjunction with this interface.

If client unwinds past the call to remote-value, the server continues running, but the system ignores the value the server sends back.

If the server unwinds past the remotely requested call, instead of returning normally, remote-value returns two values, nil and t. Otherwise this returns the result of the remote evaluation and nil.

Macro: wire:remote-value-bind wire ({variable}*) remote-form {local-forms}*

remote-value-bind is similar to multiple-value-bind except the values bound come from remote-form’s evaluation in the remote process. The local-forms execute in an implicit progn.

If the client unwinds past the call to remote-value-bind, the server continues running, but the system ignores the values the server sends back.

If the server unwinds past the remotely requested call, instead of returning normally, the local-forms never execute, and remote-value-bind returns nil.

9.1.3 Remote Objects

The wire mechanism only directly supports a limited number of data types for transmission as arguments for remote function calls and as return values: integers inclusively less than 32 bits in length, symbols, lists. Sometimes it is useful to allow remote processes to refer to local data structures without allowing the remote process to operate on the data. We have remote-objects to support this without the need to represent the data structure in terms of the above data types, to send the representation to the remote process, to decode the representation, to later encode it again, and to send it back along the wire.

You can convert any Lisp object into a remote-object. When you send a remote-object along a wire, the system simply sends a unique token for it. In the remote process, the system looks up the token and returns a remote-object for the token. When the remote process needs to refer to the original Lisp object as an argument to a remote call back or as a return value, it uses the remote-object it has which the system converts to the unique token, sending that along the wire to the originating process. Upon receipt in the first process, the system converts the token back to the same (eq) remote-object.

Function: wire:make-remote-object object

make-remote-object returns a remote-object that has object as its value. The remote-object can be passed across wires just like the directly supported wire data types.

Function: wire:remote-object-p object

The function remote-object-p returns t if object is a remote object and nil otherwise.

Function: wire:remote-object-local-p remote

The function remote-object-local-p returns t if remote refers to an object in the local process. This is can only occur if the local process created remote with make-remote-object.

Function: wire:remote-object-eq obj1 obj2

The function remote-object-eq returns t if obj1 and obj2 refer to the same (eq) lisp object, regardless of which process created the remote-objects.

Function: wire:remote-object-value remote

This function returns the original object used to create the given remote object. It is an error if some other process originally created the remote-object.

Function: wire:forget-remote-translation object

This function removes the information and storage necessary to translate remote-objects back into object, so the next gc can reclaim the memory. You should use this when you no longer expect to receive references to object. If some remote process does send a reference to object, remote-object-value signals an error.

9.2 The WIRE Package

The wire package provides for sending data along wires. The remote package sits on top of this package. All data sent with a given output routine must be read in the remote process with the complementary fetching routine. For example, if you send so a string with wire-output-string, the remote process must know to use wire-get-string. To avoid rigid data transfers and complicated code, the interface supports sending tagged data. With tagged data, the system sends a tag announcing the type of the next data, and the remote system takes care of fetching the appropriate type.

When using interfaces at the wire level instead of the RPC level, the remote process must read everything sent by these routines. If the remote process leaves any input on the wire, it will later mistake the data for an RPC request causing unknown lossage.

9.2.1 Untagged Data

When using these routines both ends of the wire know exactly what types are coming and going and in what order. This data is restricted to the following types:

  • 8 bit unsigned bytes.
  • 32 bit unsigned bytes.
  • 32 bit integers.
  • simple-strings less than 65535 in length.
Function: wire:wire-output-byte wire byte
Function: wire:wire-get-byte wire
Function: wire:wire-output-number wire number
Function: wire:wire-get-number wire &optional signed
Function: wire:wire-output-string wire string
Function: wire:wire-get-string wire

These functions either output or input an object of the specified data type. When you use any of these output routines to send data across the wire, you must use the corresponding input routine interpret the data.

9.2.2 Tagged Data

When using these routines, the system automatically transmits and interprets the tags for you, so both ends can figure out what kind of data transfers occur. Sending tagged data allows a greater variety of data types: integers inclusively less than 32 bits in length, symbols, lists, and remote-objects (see remote-objs). The system sends symbols as two strings, the package name and the symbol name, and if the package doesn’t exist remotely, the remote process signals an error. The system ignores other slots of symbols. Lists may be any tree of the above valid data types. To send other data types you must represent them in terms of these supported types. For example, you could use prin1-to-string locally, send the string, and use read-from-string remotely.

Function: wire:wire-output-object wire object &optional cache-it
Function: wire:wire-get-object wire

The function wire-output-object sends object over wire preceded by a tag indicating its type.

If cache-it is non-nil, this function only sends object the first time it gets object. Each end of the wire associates a token with object, similar to remote-objects, allowing you to send the object more efficiently on successive transmissions. cache-it defaults to t for symbols and nil for other types. Since the RPC level requires function names, a high-level protocol based on a set of function calls saves time in sending the functions’ names repeatedly.

The function wire-get-object reads the results of wire-output-object and returns that object.

9.2.3 Making Your Own Wires

You can create wires manually in addition to the remote package’s interface creating them for you. To create a wire, you need a Unix file descriptor. If you are unfamiliar with Unix file descriptors, see section 2 of the Unix manual pages.

Function: wire:make-wire descriptor

The function make-wire creates a new wire when supplied with the file descriptor to use for the underlying I/O operations.

Function: wire:wire-p object

This function returns t if object is indeed a wire, nil otherwise.

Function: wire:wire-fd wire

This function returns the file descriptor used by the wire.

9.3 Out-Of-Band Data

The TCP/IP protocol allows users to send data asynchronously, otherwise known as out-of-band data. When using this feature, the operating system interrupts the receiving process if this process has chosen to be notified about out-of-band data. The receiver can grab this input without affecting any information currently queued on the socket. Therefore, you can use this without interfering with any current activity due to other wire and remote interfaces.

Unfortunately, most implementations of TCP/IP are broken, so use of out-of-band data is limited for safety reasons. You can only reliably send one character at a time.

The Wire package is built on top of CMUCLs networking support. In view of this, it is possible to use the routines described in section internet-oob for handling and sending out-of-band data. These all take a Unix file descriptor instead of a wire, but you can fetch a wire’s file descriptor with wire-fd.

10 Networking Support

by Mario S. Mommer

This chapter documents the IPv4 networking and local sockets support offered by CMUCL. It covers most of the basic sockets interface functionality in a convenient and transparent way.

For reasons of space it would be impossible to include a thorough introduction to network programming, so we assume some basic knowledge of the matter.

10.1 Byte Order Converters

These are the functions that convert integers from host byte order to network byte order (big-endian).

Function: extensions:htonl integer

Converts a 32 bit integer from host byte order to network byte order.

Function: extensions:htons integer

Converts a 16 bit integer from host byte order to network byte order.

Function: extensions:ntohs integer

Converts a 32 bit integer from network byte order to host byte order.

Function: extensions:ntohl integer

Converts a 32 bit integer from network byte order to host byte order.

10.2 Domain Name Services (DNS)

The networking support of CMUCL includes the possibility of doing DNS lookups. The function

Function: extensions:lookup-host-entry host

returns a structure of type host-entry (see host-entry-struct) for the given host. If host is an integer, it will be assumed to be the IP address in host (byte-)order. If it is a string, it can contain either the host name or the IP address in dotted format.

This function works by completing the structure host-entry. That is, if the user provides the IP address, then the structure will contain that information and also the domain names. If the user provides the domain name, the structure will be complemented with the IP addresses along with the any aliases the host might have.

structure: host-entry name aliases addr-type addr-list

This structure holds all information available at request time on a given host. The entries are self-explanatory. Aliases is a list of strings containing alternative names of the host, and addr-list a list of addresses stored in host byte order. The field addr-type contains the number of the address family, as specified in socket.h, to which the addresses belong. Since only addresses of the IPv4 family are currently supported, this slot always has the value 2.

Function: extensions:ip-string addr

This function takes an IP address in host order and returns a string containing it in dotted format.

10.3 Binding to Interfaces

In this section, functions for creating sockets bound to an interface are documented.

Function: extensions:create-inet-listener port &optional kind &key :reuse-address :backlog :host

Creates a socket and binds it to a port, prepared to receive connections of kind kind (which defaults to :stream), queuing up to backlog of them. If :reuse-address T is used, the option SO_REUSEADDR is used in the call to bind. If no value is given for :host, it will try to bind to the default IP address of the machine where the Lisp process is running.

Function: extensions:create-unix-listener path &optional kind &key :backlog

Creates a socket and binds it to the file name given by path, prepared to receive connections of kind kind (which defaults to :stream), queuing up to backlog of them.

10.4 Accepting Connections

Once a socket is bound to its interface, we have to explicitly accept connections. This task is performed by the functions we document here.

Function: extensions:accept-tcp-connection unconnected

Waits until a connection arrives on the (internet family) socket unconnected. Returns the file descriptor of the connection. These can be conveniently encapsulated using file descriptor streams; see sec-fds.

Function: extensions:accept-unix-connection unconnected

Waits until a connection arrives on the (unix family) socket unconnected. Returns the file descriptor of the connection. These can be conveniently encapsulated using file descriptor streams; see sec-fds.

Function: extensions:accept-network-stream socket &key :buffering :timeout :wait-max

Accept a connect from the specified socket and returns a stream connected to connection.

10.5 Connecting

The task performed by the functions we present next is connecting to remote hosts.

Function: extensions:connect-to-inet-socket host port &optional kind &key :local-host :local-port

Tries to open a connection to the remote host host (which may be an IP address in host order, or a string with either a host name or an IP address in dotted format) on port port. Returns the file descriptor of the connection. The optional parameter kind can be either :stream (the default) or :datagram.

If local-host and local-port are specified, the socket that is created is also bound to the specified local-host and port.

Function: extensions:connect-to-unix-socket path &optional kind

Opens a connection to the unix “address” given by path. Returns the file descriptor of the connection. The type of connection is given by kind, which can be either :stream (the default) or :datagram.

Function: extensions:open-network-stream host port &key :buffering :timeout

Return a stream connected to the specified port on the given host.

10.6 Out-of-Band Data

Out-of-band data is data transmitted with a higher priority than ordinary data. This is usually used by either side of the connection to signal exceptional conditions. Due to the fact that most TCP/IP implementations are broken in this respect, only single characters can reliably be sent this way.

Function: extensions:add-oob-handler fd char handler

Sets the function passed in handler as a handler for the character char on the connection whose descriptor is fd. In case this character arrives, the function in handler is called without any argument.

Function: extensions:remove-oob-handler fd char

Removes the handler for the character char from the connection with the file descriptor fd

Function: extensions:remove-all-oob-handlers fd

After calling this function, the connection whose descriptor is fd will ignore any out-of-band character it receives.

Function: extensions:send-character-out-of-band fd char

Sends the character char through the connection fd out of band.

10.7 Unbound Sockets

These functions create unbound sockets. This is usually not necessary, since connectors and listeners create their own.

Function: extensions:create-unix-socket &optional type

Creates a unix socket for the unix address family, of type :stream and (on success) returns its file descriptor.

Function: extensions:create-inet-socket &optional kind

Creates a unix socket for the internet address family, of type :stream and (on success) returns its file descriptor.

Once a socket is created, it is sometimes useful to bind the socket to a local address using bind-inet-socket:

Function: extensions:bind-inet-socket socket host port

Bind the socket to a local interface address specified by host and port.

Further, it is desirable to be able to change socket options. This is performed by the following two functions, which are essentially wrappers for system calls to getsockopt and setsockopt.

Function: extensions:get-socket-option socket level optname

Gets the value of option optname from the socket socket.

Function: extensions:set-socket-option socket level optname optval

Sets the value of option optname from the socket socket to the value optval.

For information on possible options and values we refer to the manpages of getsockopt and setsockopt, and to socket.h.

Finally, the function

Function: extensions:close-socket socket

Closes the socket given by the file descriptor socket.

10.8 Unix Datagrams

Datagram network is supported with the following functions.

Function: extensions:inet-recvfrom fd buffer size &key :flags

A simple interface to the Unix recvfrom function. Returns three values: bytecount, source address as integer, and source port. Bytecount can of course be negative, to indicate faults.

Function: extensions:inet-sendto fd buffer size addr port &key :flags

A simple interface to the Unix sendto function.

Function: extensions:inet-shutdown fd level

A simple interface to the Unix shutdown function. For level, you may use the following symbols to close one or both ends of a socket: shut-rd, shut-wr, shut-rdwr.

10.9 Errors

Errors that occur during socket operations signal a socket-error condition, a subtype of the error condition. Currently this condition includes just the Unix errno associated with the error.

11 Debugger Programmer’s Interface

The debugger programmers interface is exported from from the DEBUG-INTERNALS or DI package. This is a CMU extension that allows debugging tools to be written without detailed knowledge of the compiler or run-time system.

Some of the interface routines take a code-location as an argument. As described in the section on code-locations, some code-locations are unknown. When a function calls for a basic-code-location, it takes either type, but when it specifically names the argument code-location, the routine will signal an error if you give it an unknown code-location.

11.1 DI Exceptional Conditions

Some of these operations fail depending on the availability debugging information. In the most severe case, when someone saved a Lisp image stripping all debugging data structures, no operations are valid. In this case, even backtracing and finding frames is impossible. Some interfaces can simply return values indicating the lack of information, or their return values are naturally meaningful in light missing data. Other routines, as documented below, will signal serious-conditions when they discover awkward situations. This interface does not provide for programs to detect these situations other than by calling a routine that detects them and signals a condition. These are serious-conditions because the program using the interface must handle them before it can correctly continue execution. These debugging conditions are not errors since it is no fault of the programmers that the conditions occur.

11.1.1 Debug-conditions

The debug internals interface signals conditions when it can’t adhere to its contract. These are serious-conditions because the program using the interface must handle them before it can correctly continue execution. These debugging conditions are not errors since it is no fault of the programmers that the conditions occur. The interface does not provide for programs to detect these situations other than calling a routine that detects them and signals a condition.

Condition: debug-condition

This condition inherits from serious-condition, and all debug-conditions inherit from this. These must be handled, but they are not programmer errors.

Condition: no-debug-info

This condition indicates there is absolutely no debugging information available.

Condition: no-debug-function-returns

This condition indicates the system cannot return values from a frame since its debug-function lacks debug information details about returning values.

Condition: no-debug-blocks

This condition indicates that a function was not compiled with debug-block information, but this information is necessary necessary for some requested operation.

Condition: no-debug-variables

Similar to no-debug-blocks, except that variable information was requested.

Condition: lambda-list-unavailable

Similar to no-debug-blocks, except that lambda list information was requested.

Condition: invalid-value

This condition indicates a debug-variable has :invalid or :unknown value in a particular frame.

Condition: ambiguous-variable-name

This condition indicates a user supplied debug-variable name identifies more than one valid variable in a particular frame.

11.1.2 Debug-errors

These are programmer errors resulting from misuse of the debugging tools’ programmers’ interface. You could have avoided an occurrence of one of these by using some routine to check the use of the routine generating the error.

Condition: debug-error

This condition inherits from error, and all user programming errors inherit from this condition.

Condition: unhandled-condition

This error results from a signalled debug-condition occurring without anyone handling it.

Condition: unknown-code-location

This error indicates the invalid use of an unknown-code-location.

Condition: unknown-debug-variable

This error indicates an attempt to use a debug-variable in conjunction with an inappropriate debug-function; for example, checking the variable’s validity using a code-location in the wrong debug-function will signal this error.

Condition: frame-function-mismatch

This error indicates you called a function returned by preprocess-for-eval on a frame other than the one for which the function had been prepared.

11.2 Debug-variables

Debug-variables represent the constant information about where the system stores argument and local variable values. The system uniquely identifies with an integer every instance of a variable with a particular name and package. To access a value, you must supply the frame along with the debug-variable since these are particular to a function, not every instance of a variable on the stack.

Function: debug-variable-name debug-variable

This function returns the name of the debug-variable. The name is the name of the symbol used as an identifier when writing the code.

Function: debug-variable-package debug-variable

This function returns the package name of the debug-variable. This is the package name of the symbol used as an identifier when writing the code.

Function: debug-variable-symbol debug-variable

This function returns the symbol from interning debug-variable-name in the package named by debug-variable-package.

Function: debug-variable-id debug-variable

This function returns the integer that makes debug-variable’s name and package name unique with respect to other debug-variable’s in the same function.

Function: debug-variable-validity debug-variable basic-code-location

This function returns three values reflecting the validity of debug-variable’s value at basic-code-location:


The value is known to be available.


The value is known to be unavailable.


The value’s availability is unknown.

Function: debug-variable-value debug-variable frame

This function returns the value stored for debug-variable in frame. The value may be invalid. This is SETF’able.

Function: debug-variable-valid-value debug-variable frame

This function returns the value stored for debug-variable in frame. If the value is not :valid, then this signals an invalid-value error.

11.3 Frames

Frames describe a particular call on the stack for a particular thread. This is the environment for name resolution, getting arguments and locals, and returning values. The stack conceptually grows up, so the top of the stack is the most recently called function.

top-frame, frame-down, frame-up, and frame-debug-function can only fail when there is absolutely no debug information available. This can only happen when someone saved a Lisp image specifying that the system dump all debugging data.

Function: top-frame

This function never returns the frame for itself, always the frame before calling top-frame.

Function: frame-down frame

This returns the frame immediately below frame on the stack. When frame is the bottom of the stack, this returns nil.

Function: frame-up frame

This returns the frame immediately above frame on the stack. When frame is the top of the stack, this returns nil.

Function: frame-debug-function frame

This function returns the debug-function for the function whose call frame represents.

Function: frame-code-location frame

This function returns the code-location where frame’s debug-function will continue running when program execution returns to frame. If someone interrupted this frame, the result could be an unknown code-location.

Function: frame-catches frame

This function returns an a-list for all active catches in frame mapping catch tags to the code-locations at which the catch re-enters.

Function: eval-in-frame frame form

This evaluates form in frame’s environment. This can signal several different debug-conditions since its success relies on a variety of inexact debug information: invalid-value, ambiguous-variable-name, frame-function-mismatch. See also preprocess-for-eval.

11.4 Debug-functions

Debug-functions represent the static information about a function determined at compile time—argument and variable storage, their lifetime information, etc. The debug-function also contains all the debug-blocks representing basic-blocks of code, and these contains information about specific code-locations in a debug-function.

Macro: do-debug-function-blocks (block-var debug-function {result-form}) {form}*

This executes the forms in a context with block-var bound to each debug-block in debug-function successively. Result-form is an optional form to execute for a return value, and do-debug-function-blocks returns nil if there is no result-form. This signals a no-debug-blocks condition when the debug-function lacks debug-block information.

Function: debug-function-lambda-list debug-function

This function returns a list representing the lambda-list for debug-function. The list has the following structure:

    (required-var1 required-var2
    (:optional var3 suppliedp-var4)
    (:optional var5)
    (:rest var6) (:rest var7)
    (:keyword keyword-symbol var8 suppliedp-var9)
    (:keyword keyword-symbol var10)

Each varn is a debug-variable; however, the symbol :deleted appears instead whenever the argument remains unreferenced throughout debug-function.

If there is no lambda-list information, this signals a lambda-list-unavailable condition.

Macro: do-debug-function-variables (var debug-function {result}) {form}*

This macro executes each form in a context with var bound to each debug-variable in debug-function. This returns the value of executing result (defaults to nil). This may iterate over only some of debug-function’s variables or none depending on debug policy; for example, possibly the compilation only preserved argument information.

Function: debug-variable-info-available debug-function

This function returns whether there is any variable information for debug-function. This is useful for distinguishing whether there were no locals in a function or whether there was no variable information. For example, if do-debug-function-variables executes its forms zero times, then you can use this function to determine the reason.

Function: debug-function-symbol-variables debug-function symbol

This function returns a list of debug-variables in debug-function having the same name and package as symbol. If symbol is uninterned, then this returns a list of debug-variables without package names and with the same name as symbol. The result of this function is limited to the availability of variable information in debug-function; for example, possibly debug-function only knows about its arguments.

Function: ambiguous-debug-variables debug-function name-prefix-string

This function returns a list of debug-variables in debug-function whose names contain name-prefix-string as an initial substring. The result of this function is limited to the availability of variable information in debug-function; for example, possibly debug-function only knows about its arguments.

Function: preprocess-for-eval form basic-code-location

This function returns a function of one argument that evaluates form in the lexical context of basic-code-location. This allows efficient repeated evaluation of form at a certain place in a function which could be useful for conditional breaking. This signals a no-debug-variables condition when the code-location’s debug-function has no debug-variable information available. The returned function takes a frame as an argument. See also eval-in-frame.

Function: function-debug-function function

This function returns a debug-function that represents debug information for function.

Function: debug-function-kind debug-function

This function returns the kind of function debug-function represents. The value is one of the following:


This kind of function is an entry point to an ordinary function. It handles optional defaulting, parsing keywords, etc.


This kind of function is an entry point to an ordinary function. It checks argument values and count and calls the defined function.


This kind of function executes one or more random top-level forms from a file.


This kind of function represents the cleanup forms in an unwind-protect.


This kind of function is not one of the above; that is, it is not specially marked in any way.

Function: debug-function-function debug-function

This function returns the Common Lisp function associated with the debug-function. This returns nil if the function is unavailable or is non-existent as a user callable function object.

Function: debug-function-name debug-function

This function returns the name of the function represented by debug-function. This may be a string or a cons; do not assume it is a symbol.

11.5 Debug-blocks

Debug-blocks contain information pertinent to a specific range of code in a debug-function.

Macro: do-debug-block-locations (code-var debug-block {result}) {form}*

This macro executes each form in a context with code-var bound to each code-location in debug-block. This returns the value of executing result (defaults to nil).

Function: debug-block-successors debug-block

This function returns the list of possible code-locations where execution may continue when the basic-block represented by debug-block completes its execution.

Function: debug-block-elsewhere-p debug-block

This function returns whether debug-block represents elsewhere code. This is code the compiler has moved out of a function’s code sequence for optimization reasons. Code-locations in these blocks are unsuitable for stepping tools, and the first code-location has nothing to do with a normal starting location for the block.

11.6 Breakpoints

A breakpoint represents a function the system calls with the current frame when execution passes a certain code-location. A break point is active or inactive independent of its existence. They also have an extra slot for users to tag the breakpoint with information.

Function: make-breakpoint hook-function what &key :kind :info :function-end-cookie

This function creates and returns a breakpoint. When program execution encounters the breakpoint, the system calls hook-function. hook-function takes the current frame for the function in which the program is running and the breakpoint object.

what and kind determine where in a function the system invokes hook-function. what is either a code-location or a debug-function. kind is one of :code-location, :function-start, or :function-end. Since the starts and ends of functions may not have code-locations representing them, designate these places by supplying what as a debug-function and kind indicating the :function-start or :function-end. When what is a debug-function and kind is :function-end, then hook-function must take two additional arguments, a list of values returned by the function and a function-end-cookie.

info is information supplied by and used by the user.

function-end-cookie is a function. To implement function-end breakpoints, the system uses starter breakpoints to establish the function-end breakpoint for each invocation of the function. Upon each entry, the system creates a unique cookie to identify the invocation, and when the user supplies a function for this argument, the system invokes it on the cookie. The system later invokes the function-end breakpoint hook on the same cookie. The user may save the cookie when passed to the function-end-cookie function for later comparison in the hook function.

This signals an error if what is an unknown code-location.

Note: Breakpoints in interpreted code or byte-compiled code are not implemented. Function-end breakpoints are not implemented for compiled functions that use the known local return convention (e.g. for block-compiled or self-recursive functions.)

Function: activate-breakpoint breakpoint

This function causes the system to invoke the breakpoint’s hook-function until the next call to deactivate-breakpoint or delete-breakpoint. The system invokes breakpoint hook functions in the opposite order that you activate them.

Function: deactivate-breakpoint breakpoint

This function stops the system from invoking the breakpoint’s hook-function.

Function: breakpoint-active-p breakpoint

This returns whether breakpoint is currently active.

Function: breakpoint-hook-function breakpoint

This function returns the breakpoint’s function the system calls when execution encounters breakpoint, and it is active. This is SETF’able.

Function: breakpoint-info breakpoint

This function returns breakpoint’s information supplied by the user. This is SETF’able.

Function: breakpoint-kind breakpoint

This function returns the breakpoint’s kind specification.

Function: breakpoint-what breakpoint

This function returns the breakpoint’s what specification.

Function: delete-breakpoint breakpoint

This function frees system storage and removes computational overhead associated with breakpoint. After calling this, breakpoint is useless and can never become active again.

11.7 Code-locations

Code-locations represent places in functions where the system has correct information about the function’s environment and where interesting operations can occur—asking for a local variable’s value, setting breakpoints, evaluating forms within the function’s environment, etc.

Sometimes the interface returns unknown code-locations. These represent places in functions, but there is no debug information associated with them. Some operations accept these since they may succeed even with missing debug data. These operations’ argument is named basic-code-location indicating they take known and unknown code-locations. If an operation names its argument code-location, and you supply an unknown one, it will signal an error. For example, frame-code-location may return an unknown code-location if someone interrupted Lisp in the given frame. The system knows where execution will continue, but this place in the code may not be a place for which the compiler dumped debug information.

Function: code-location-debug-function basic-code-location

This function returns the debug-function representing information about the function corresponding to the code-location.

Function: code-location-debug-block basic-code-location

This function returns the debug-block containing code-location if it is available. Some debug policies inhibit debug-block information, and if none is available, then this signals a no-debug-blocks condition.

Function: code-location-top-level-form-offset code-location

This function returns the number of top-level forms before the one containing code-location as seen by the compiler in some compilation unit. A compilation unit is not necessarily a single file, see the section on debug-sources.

Function: code-location-form-number code-location

This function returns the number of the form corresponding to code-location. The form number is derived by walking the subforms of a top-level form in depth-first order. While walking the top-level form, count one in depth-first order for each subform that is a cons. See form-number-translations.

Function: code-location-debug-source code-location

This function returns code-location’s debug-source.

Function: code-location-unknown-p basic-code-location

This function returns whether basic-code-location is unknown. It returns nil when the code-location is known.

Function: code-location= code-location1 code-location2

This function returns whether the two code-locations are the same.

11.8 Debug-sources

Debug-sources represent how to get back the source for some code. The source is either a file (compile-file or load), a lambda-expression (compile, defun, defmacro), or a stream (something particular to CMUCL, compile-from-stream).

When compiling a source, the compiler counts each top-level form it processes, but when the compiler handles multiple files as one block compilation, the top-level form count continues past file boundaries. Therefore code-location-top-level-form-offset returns an offset that does not always start at zero for the code-location’s debug-source. The offset into a particular source is code-location-top-level-form-offset minus debug-source-root-number.

Inside a top-level form, a code-location’s form number indicates the subform corresponding to the code-location.

Function: debug-source-from debug-source

This function returns an indication of the type of source. The following are the possible values:


from a file (obtained by compile-file if compiled).


from Lisp (obtained by compile if compiled).


from a non-file stream (CMUCL supports compile-from-stream).

Function: debug-source-name debug-source

This function returns the actual source in some sense represented by debug-source, which is related to debug-source-from:


the pathname of the file.


a lambda-expression.


some descriptive string that’s otherwise useless.

Function: debug-source-created debug-source

This function returns the universal time someone created the source. This may be nil if it is unavailable.

Function: debug-source-compiled debug-source

This function returns the time someone compiled the source. This is nil if the source is uncompiled.

Function: debug-source-root-number debug-source

This returns the number of top-level forms processed by the compiler before compiling this source. If this source is uncompiled, this is zero. This may be zero even if the source is compiled since the first form in the first file compiled in one compilation, for example, must have a root number of zero—the compiler saw no other top-level forms before it.

11.9 Source Translation Utilities

These two functions provide a mechanism for converting the rather obscure (but highly compact) representation of source locations into an actual source form:

Function: debug-source-start-positions debug-source

This function returns the file position of each top-level form as a vector if debug-source is from a :file. If debug-source-from is :lisp or :stream, or the file is byte-compiled, then the result is nil.

Function: form-number-translations form tlf-number

This function returns a table mapping form numbers (see code-location-form-number) to source-paths. A source-path indicates a descent into the top-level-form form, going directly to the subform corresponding to a form number. tlf-number is the top-level-form number of form.

Function: source-path-context form path context

This function returns the subform of form indicated by the source-path. Form is a top-level form, and path is a source-path into it. Context is the number of enclosing forms to return instead of directly returning the source-path form. When context is non-zero, the form returned contains a marker, #:****HERE****, immediately before the form indicated by path.

12 Cross-Referencing Facility

by Eric Marsden

The CMUCL cross-referencing facility (abbreviated XREF) assists in the analysis of static dependency relationships in a program. It provides introspection capabilities such as the ability to know which functions may call a given function, and the program contexts in which a particular global variable is used. The compiler populates a database of cross-reference information, which can be queried by the user to know:

A global variable is either a dynamic variable or a constant variable, for instance declared using defvar or defparameter or defconstant.

12.1 Populating the cross-reference database

Variable: c:*record-xref-info*

When non-NIL, code that is compiled (either using compile-file, or by calling compile from the listener), will be analyzed for cross-references. Defaults to nil.

Cross-referencing information is only generated by the compiler; the interpreter does not populate the cross-reference database. XREF analysis is independent of whether the compiler is generating native code or byte code, and of whether it is compiling from a file, from a stream, or is invoked interactively from the listener.

Alternatively, the ::xref option to compile-file may be specified to populate the cross-reference database when compiling a file. In this case, loading the generated fasl file in a fresh lisp will also populate the cross-reference database.

Function: xref:init-xref-database

Reinitializes the database of cross-references. This can be used to reclaim the space occupied by the database contents, or to discard stale cross-reference information.

12.2 Querying the cross-reference database

CMUCL provides a number of functions in the XREF package that may be used to query the cross-reference database:

Function: xref:who-calls function

Returns the list of xref-contexts where function (either a symbol that names a function, or a function object) may be called at runtime. XREF does not record calls to macro-functions (such as defun) or to special forms (such as eval-when).

Function: xref:who-references global-variable

Returns the list of program contexts that may reference global-variable.

Function: xref:who-binds global-variable

Returns a list of program contexts where the specified global variable may be bound at runtime (for example using LET).

Function: xref:who-sets global-variable

Returns a list of program contexts where the given global variable may be modified at runtime (for example using SETQ).

An xref-context is the originating site of a cross-reference. It identifies a portion of a program, and is defined by an xref-context structure, that comprises a name, a source file and a source-path.

Function: xref:xref-context-name context

Returns the name slot of an xref-context, which is one of:

  • a global function, which is named by a symbol or by a list of the form (setf foo).
  • a macro, named by a list (:macro foo).
  • an inner function (flet, labels, or anonymous lambdas) that is named by a list of the form (:internal outer inner).
  • a method, named by a list of the form (:method foo (specializer1 specializer2)).
  • a string "Top-Level Form" that identifies a reference from a top-level form. Note that multiple references from top-level forms will only be listed once.
  • a compiler-macro, named by a string of the form (:compiler-macro foo).
  • a string such as "DEFSTRUCT FOO", identifying a reference from within a structure accessor or constructor or copier.
  • a string such as
      "Creation Form for #<KERNEL::CLASS-CELL STRUCT-FOO>"
  • a string such as "defun foo", or "defmethod bar (t)", that identifies a reference from within code that has been generated by the compiler for that form. For example, the compilation of a defclass form causes accessor functions to be generated by the compiler; this code is compiler-generated (it does not appear in the source file), and so is identified by the XREF facility by a string.
Function: xref:xref-context-file context

Return the truename (in the sense of the variable compile-file-truename) of the source file from which the referencing forms were compiled. This slot will be nil if the code was compiled from a stream, or interactively from the listener.

Function: xref:xref-context-source-path context

Return a list of positive integers identifying the form that contains the cross-reference. The first integer in the source-path is the number of the top-level form containing the cross-reference (for example, 2 identifies the second top-level form in the source file). The second integer in the source-path identifies the form within this top-level form that contains the cross-reference, and so on. This function will always return nil if the file slot of an xref-context is nil.

12.3 Example usage

In this section, we will illustrate use of the XREF facility on a number of simple examples.

Consider the following program fragment, that defines a global variable and a function.

  (defvar *variable-one* 42)
  (defun function-one (x)
     (princ (* x *variable-one*)))

We save this code in a file named example.lisp, enable cross-referencing, clear any previous cross-reference information, compile the file, and can then query the cross-reference database (output has been modified for readability).

  USER> (setf c:*record-xref-info* t)
  USER> (xref:init-xref-database)
  USER> (compile-file "example")
  USER> (xref:who-calls 'princ)
  (#<xref-context function-one in #p"example.lisp">)
  USER> (xref:who-references '*variable-one*)
  (#<xref-context function-one in #p"example.lisp">)

From this example, we see that the compiler has noted the call to the global function princ in function-one, and the reference to the global variable *variable-one*.

Suppose that we add the following code to the previous file.

(defconstant +constant-one+ 1)
(defstruct struct-one
  (slot-two +constant-one+ :type integer)
  (slot-three 42 :read-only t))

(defmacro with-different-one (&body body)
  `(let ((*variable-one* 666))

(defun get-variable-one () *variable-one*)

(defun (setf get-variable-one) (new-value)
  (setq *variable-one* new-value))

In the following example, we detect references x and y.

% FIXME add function with LABELS, a binding, a set

The following function illustrates the effect that various forms of optimization carried out by the CMUCL compiler can have on the cross-references that are reported for a particular program. The compiler is able to detect that the evaluated condition is always false, and that the first clause of the if will never be taken (this optimization is called dead-code elimination). XREF will therefore not register a call to the function sin from the function foo. Likewise, no calls to the functions sqrt and < are registered, because the compiler has eliminated the code that evaluates the condition. Finally, no call to the function expt is generated, because the compiler was able to evaluate the result of the expression (expt 3 2) at compile-time (though a process called constant-folding).

;; zero call references are registered for this function!
(defun constantly-nine (x)
  (if (< (sqrt x) 0)
      (sin x)
      (expt 3 2)))

12.4 Limitations of the cross-referencing facility

No cross-reference information is available for interpreted functions. The cross-referencing database is not persistent: unless you save an image using save-lisp, the database will be empty each time CMUCL is restarted. There is no mechanism that saves cross-reference information in FASL files, so loading a system from compiled code will not populate the cross-reference database. The XREF database currently accumulates “stale” information: when compiling a file, it does not delete any cross-references that may have previously been generated for that file. This latter limitation will be removed in a future release.

The cross-referencing facility is only able to analyze the static dependencies in a program; it does not provide any information about runtime (dynamic) dependencies. For instance, XREF is able to identify the list of program contexts where a given function may be called, but is not able to determine which contexts will be activated when the program is executed with a specific set of input parameters. However, the static analysis that is performed by the CMUCL compiler does allow XREF to provide more information than would be available from a mere syntactic analysis of a program. References that occur from within unreachable code will not be displayed by XREF, because the CMUCL compiler deletes dead code before cross-references are analyzed. Certain “trivial” function calls (where the result of the function call can be evaluated at compile-time) may be eliminated by optimizations carried out by the compiler; see the example below.

If you examine the entire database of cross-reference information (by accessing undocumented internals of the XREF package), you will note that XREF notes “bogus” cross-references to function calls that are inserted by the compiler. For example, in safe code, the CMUCL compiler inserts a call to an internal function called c::%verify-argument-count, so that the number of arguments passed to the function is checked each time it is called. The XREF facility does not distinguish between user code and these forms that are introduced during compilation. This limitation should not be visible if you use the documented functions in the XREF package.

As of the 18e release of CMUCL, the cross-referencing facility is experimental; expect details of its implementation to change in future releases. In particular, the names given to CLOS methods and to inner functions will change in future releases.

13 Internationalization

CMUCL supports internationalization by supporting Unicode characters internally and by adding support for external formats to convert from the internal format to an appropriate external character coding format.

To understand the support for Unicode, we refer the reader to the Unicode standard.

13.1 Changes

To support internationalization, the following changes to Common Lisp functions have been done.

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13.1.1 Design Choices

To support Unicode, there are many approaches. One choice is to support both 8-bit base-char and a 21-bit (or larger) character since Unicode codepoints use 21 bits. This generally means strings are much larger, and complicates the compiler by having to support both base-char and character types and the corresponding string types. This also adds complexity for the user to understand the difference between the different string and character types.

Another choice is to have just one character and string type that can hold the entire Unicode codepoint. While simplifying the compiler and reducing the burden on the user, this significantly increases memory usage for strings.

The solution chosen by CMUCL is to tradeoff the size and complexity by having only 16-bit characters. Most of the important languages can be encoded using only 16-bits. The rest of the codepoints are for rare languages or ancient scripts. Thus, the memory usage is significantly reduced while still supporting the the most important languages. Compiler complexity is also reduced since base-char and character are the same as are the string types.. But we still want to support the full Unicode character set. This is achieved by making strings be UTF-16 strings internally. Hence, Lisp strings are UTF-16 strings, and Lisp characters are UTF-16 code-units.

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13.1.2 Characters

Characters are now 16 bits long instead of 8 bits, and base-char and character types are the same. This difference is naturally indicated by changing char-code-limit from 256 to 65536.

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13.1.3 Strings

In CMUCL there is only one type of string—base-string and string are the same.

Internally, the strings are encoded using UTF-16. This means that in some rare cases the number of Lisp characters in a string is not the same as the number of codepoints in the string.

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13.2 External Formats

To be able to communicate to the external world, CMUCL supports external formats to convert to and from the external world to CMUCL’s string format. The external format is specified in several ways. The standard streams *standard-input*, *standard-output*, and *standard-error* take the format from the value specified by *default-external-format*. The default value of *default-external-format* is :iso8859-1.

For files, OPEN takes the :external-format parameter to specify the format. The default external format is :default.

13.2.1 Available External Formats

The available external formats are listed below in Table 13.1. The first column gives the external format, and the second column gives a list of aliases that can be used for this format. The set of aliases can be changed by changing the aliases file.

For all of these formats, if an illegal sequence is encountered, no error or warning is signaled. Instead, the offending sequence is silently replaced with the Unicode REPLACEMENT CHARACTER (U+FFFD).

:iso8859-1:latin1 :latin-1 :iso-8859-1ISO8859-1
:iso8859-2:latin2 :latin-2 :iso-8859-2ISO8859-2
:iso8859-3:latin3 :latin-3 :iso-8859-3ISO8859-3
:iso8859-4:latin4 :latin-4 :iso-8859-4ISO8859-4
:iso8859-5:cyrillic :iso-8859-5ISO8859-5
:iso8859-6:arabic :iso-8859-6ISO8859-6
:iso8859-7:greek :iso-8859-7ISO8859-7
:iso8859-8:hebrew :iso-8859-8ISO8859-8
:iso8859-9:latin5 :latin-5 :iso-8859-9ISO8859-9
:iso8859-10:latin6 :latin-6 :iso-8859-10ISO8859-10
:iso8859-13:latin7 :latin-7 :iso-8859-13ISO8859-13
:iso8859-14:latin8 :latin-8 :iso-8859-14ISO8859-14
:iso8859-15:latin9 :latin-9 :iso-8859-15ISO8859-15
:utf-8:utf :utf8UTF-8
:utf-16:utf16UTF-16 with optional BOM
:utf-16-be:utf-16be :utf16-beUTF-16 big-endian (without BOM)
:utf-16-le:utf-16le :utf16-leUTF-16 little-endian (without BOM)
:utf-32:utf32UTF-32 with optional BOM
:utf-32-be:utf-32be :utf32-beUTF-32 big-endian (without BOM)
:utf-32-le:utf-32le :utf32-leUTF-32 little-endian (without BOM)
:cp1252:windows-1252 :windows-cp1252 :windows-latin1

Table 13.1: External formats

13.2.2 Composing External Formats

A composing external format is an external format that converts between one codepoint and another, rather than between codepoints and octets. A composing external format must be used in conjunction with another (octet-producing) external format. This is specified by using a list as the external format. For example, we can use '(:latin1 :crlf) as the external format. In this particular example, the external format is latin1, but whenever a carriage-return/linefeed sequence is read, it is converted to the Lisp #\Newline character. Conversely, whenever a string is written, a Lisp #\Newline character is converted to a carriage-return/linefeed sequence. Without the :crlf composing format, the carriage-return and linefeed will be read in as separate characters, and on output the Lisp #\Newline character is output as a single linefeed character.

Table 13.2 lists the available composing formats.

:crlf:dosComposing format for converting to/from DOS (CR/LF) end-of-line sequence to #\Newline
:cr:macComposing format for converting to/from DOS (CR/LF) end-of-line sequence to #\Newline
:beta-gkComposing format that translates (lower-case) Beta code (an ASCII encoding of ancient Greek)
:final-sigmaComposing format that attempts to detect sigma in word-final position and change it from U+3C3 to U+3C2

Table 13.2: Composing external formats

13.3 Dictionary

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13.3.1 Variables

Variable: extensions:*default-external-format*

This is the default external format to use for all newly opened files. It is also the default format to use for *standard-input*, *standard-output*, and *standard-error*. The default value is :iso8859-1.

Setting this will cause the standard streams to start using the new format immediately. If a stream has been created with external format :default, then setting *default-external-format* will cause all subsequent input and output to use the new value of *default-external-format*.

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13.3.2 Characters

Remember that CMUCL’s characters are only 16-bits long but Unicode codepoints are up to 21 bits long. Hence there are codepoints that cannot be represented via Lisp characters. Operating on individual characters is not recommended. Operations on strings are better. (This would be true even if CMUCL’s characters could hold a full Unicode codepoint.)

Function: char-equal &rest characters
Function: char-not-equal &rest characters
Function: char-lessp &rest characters
Function: char-greaterp &rest characters
Function: char-not-greaterp &rest characters
Function: char-not-lessp &rest characters

For the comparison, the characters are converted to lowercase and the corresponding char-code are compared.

Function: alpha-char-p character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is a letter category.

Function: alphanumericp character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is a letter category or an ASCII digit.

Function: digit-char-p character &optional radix

Only recognizes ASCII digits (and ASCII letters if the radix is larger than 10).

Function: graphic-char-p character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is a graphic category.

Function: upper-case-p character
Function: lower-case-p character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is an uppercase (lowercase) character.

Function: lisp:title-case-p character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is a titlecase character.

Function: both-case-p character

Returns non-nil if the Unicode category is an uppercase, lowercase, or titlecase character.

Function: char-upcase character
Function: char-downcase character

The Unicode uppercase (lowercase) letter is returned.

Function: lisp:char-titlecase character

The Unicode titlecase letter is returned.

Function: char-name char

If possible the name of the character char is returned. If there is a Unicode name, the Unicode name is returned, except spaces are converted to underscores and the string is capitalized via string-capitalize. If there is no Unicode name, the form #\U+xxxx is returned where “xxxx” is the char-code of the character, in hexadecimal.

Function: name-char name

The inverse to char-name. If no character has the name name, then nil is returned. Unicode names are not case-sensitive, and spaces and underscores are optional.

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13.3.3 Strings

Strings in CMUCL are UTF-16 strings. That is, for Unicode code points greater than 65535, surrogate pairs are used. We refer the reader to the Unicode standard for more information about surrogate pairs. We just want to make a note that because of the UTF-16 encoding of strings, there is a distinction between Lisp characters and Unicode codepoints. The standard string operations know about this encoding and handle the surrogate pairs correctly.

Function: unicode:string-upcase string &key :start :end :casing
Function: unicode:string-downcase string &key :start :end :casing

The case of the string is changed appropriately. Surrogate pairs are handled correctly. The conversion to the appropriate case is done based on the Unicode conversion. The additional argument :casing controls how case conversion is done. The default value is :simple, which uses simple Unicode case conversion, which is equivalent to the same function in the COMMON-LISP package. If :casing is :full, then full Unicode case conversion is done where the string may actually increase in length.

Function: unicode:string-capitalize string &key :start

:end :casing :unicode-word-break Given a string, returns a copy of the string with the first character of each “word” converted to upper-case, and remaining characters in the word converted to lower case. The value of :casing is :simple, :full or :title for simple, full or title case conversion, respectively. The default value for :casing is :title. If :unicode-word-break is non-Nil, then the Unicode word-breaking algorithm is used to determine the word boundaries. Otherwise, a “word” is defined to be a string of case-modifiable characters delimited by non-case-modifiable chars. The default for :unicode-word-break is T.

Function: nstring-upcase string &key :start :end
Function: nstring-downcase string &key :start :end
Function: nstring-capitalize string &key :start :end

The case of the string is changed appropriately. Surrogate pairs are handled correctly. The conversion to the appropriate case is done based on the Unicode conversion. (Full casing is not available because the string length cannot be increased when needed.)

Function: string= s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string/= s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string< s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string> s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string<= s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string>= s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2

The string comparison is done in codepoint order. (This is different from just comparing the order of the individual characters due to surrogate pairs.) Unicode collation is not done.

Function: string-equal s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string-not-equal s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string-lessp s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string-greaterp s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string-not-greaterp s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2
Function: string-not-lessp s1 s2 &key :start1 :end1 :start2 :end2

Each codepoint in each string is converted to lowercase and the appropriate comparison of the codepoint values is done. Unicode collation is not done.

Function: string-left-trim bag string
Function: string-right-trim bag string
Function: string-trim bag string

Removes any characters in bag from the left, right, or both ends of the string string, respectively. This has potential problems if you want to remove a surrogate character from the string, since a single character cannot represent a surrogate. As an extension, if bag is a string, we properly handle surrogate characters in the bag.

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13.3.4 Sequences

Since strings are also sequences, the sequence functions can be used on strings. We note here some issues with these functions. Most issues are due to the fact that strings are UTF-16 strings and characters are UTF-16 code units, not Unicode codepoints.

Function: remove-duplicates sequence &key :from-end :test :test-not :start :end :key
Function: delete-duplicates sequence &key :from-end :test :test-not :start :end :key

Because of surrogate pairs these functions may remove a high or low surrogate value, leaving the string in an invalid state. Use these functions carefully with strings.

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13.3.5 Reader

To support Unicode characters, the reader has been extended to recognize characters written in hexadecimal. Thus #\U+41 is the ASCII capital letter “A”, since 41 is the hexadecimal code for that letter. The Unicode name of the character is also recognized, except spaces in the name are replaced by underscores.

Recall, however, that characters in CMUCL are only 16 bits long so many Unicode characters cannot be represented. However, strings can represent all Unicode characters.

Note that while not quite legal, #\U+ supports codepoints larger than 16 bits. Thus #\U+1d11e works even though (code-char #x1d11e) signals an error. This is quite handy for dealing with all unicode characters. For example:

CL-USER> (describe #\u+1d11e)
#\𝄞 is a BASE-CHAR.
Its code is #x1D11E.
Its name is Musical_Symbol_G_Clef.

and also

CL-USER> (describe #\Musical_Symbol_G_Clef)
#\𝄞 is a BASE-CHAR.
Its code is #x1D11E.
Its name is Musical_Symbol_G_Clef.

Note: the displayed character may be incorrect. Also note that describe says it is a base-char; this is obviously not correct since char-code-limit is 65536.

Use this feature with care.

When symbols are read, the symbol name is converted to Unicode NFC form before interning the symbol into the package. Hence, symbol-name (intern ``string'') may produce a string that is not string= to “string”. However, after conversion to NFC form, the strings will be identical.

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13.3.6 Printer

When printing characters, if the character is a graphic character, the character is printed. Thus #\U+41 is printed as #\A. If the character is not a graphic character, the Lisp name (e.g., #\Tab) is used if possible; if there is no Lisp name, the Unicode name is used. If there is no Unicode name, the hexadecimal char-code is printed. For example, #\U+34e, which is not a graphic character, is printed as #\Combining_Upwards_Arrow_Below, and #\U+9f which is not a graphic character and does not have a Unicode name, is printed as #\U+009F.

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13.3.7 Miscellaneous

Next: , Previous: , Up: Miscellaneous   [Contents][Index] Files

CMUCL loads external formats using the search-list ext-formats:. The aliases file is also located using this search-list.

The Unicode data base is stored in compressed form in the file ext-formats:unidata.bin. If this file is not found, Unicode support is severely reduced; you can only use ASCII characters.

Function: open filename &rest options &key :direction :element-type :if-exists :if-does-not-exist :class :mapped :input-handle :output-handle :external-format :decoding-error :encoding-error

The main options are covered elsewhere. Here we describe the options specific to Unicode. The option :external-format specifies the external format to use for reading and writing the file. The external format is a keyword.

The options :decoding-error and :encoding-error are used to specify how encoding and decoding errors are handled. The default value on nil means the external format handles errors itself and typically replaces invalid sequences with the Unicode replacement character.

Otherwise, the value for decoding-error is either a character, a symbol or a function. If a character is specified. it is used as the replacement character for any invalid decoding. If a symbol or a function is given, it must be a function of three arguments: a message string to be printed, the offending octet, and the number of octets read. If the function returns, it should return two values: the code point to use as the replacement character and the number of octets read. In addition, t may be specified. This indicates that a continuable error is signaled, which, if continued, the Unicode replacement character is used.

For encoding-error, a character, symbol, or function can be specified, like decoding-error, with the same meaning. The function, however, takes two arguments: a format message string and the incorrect codepoint. If the function returns, it should be the replacement codepoint.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Miscellaneous   [Contents][Index] Utilities

Function: stream:set-system-external-format terminal &optional filenames

This function changes the external format used for *standard-input*, *standard-output*, and *standard-error* to the external format specified by terminal. Additionally, the Unix file name encoding can be set to the value specified by filenames if non-nil.

Function: extensions:list-all-external-formats

list all of the vailable external formats. A list is returned where each element is a list of the external format name and a list of aliases for the format. No distinction is made between external formats and composing external formats.

Function: extensions:describe-external-format external-format

Print a description of the given external-format. This may cause the external format to be loaded (silently) if it is not already loaded.

Since strings are UTF-16 and hence may contain surrogate pairs, some utility functions are provided to make access easier.

Function: lisp:codepoint string i &optional end

Return the codepoint value from string at position i. If code unit at that position is a surrogate value, it is combined with either the previous or following code unit (when possible) to compute the codepoint. The first return value is the codepoint itself. The second return value is nil if the position is not a surrogate pair. Otherwise, +1 or -1 is returned if the position is the high (leading) or low (trailing) surrogate value, respectively.

This is useful for iterating through a string in codepoint sequence.

Function: lisp:surrogates-to-codepoint hi lo

Convert the given hi and lo surrogate characters to the corresponding codepoint value

Function: lisp:surrogates codepoint

Convert the given codepoint value to the corresponding high and low surrogate characters. If the codepoint is less than 65536, the second value is nil since the codepoint does not need to be represented as a surrogate pair.

Macro: lisp:with-string-codepoint-iterator (next string) &body body

with-string-codepoint-iterator provides a method of looping through a string from the beginning to the end of the string prodcucing successive codepoints from the string. next is bound to a generator macro that, within the scope of the invocation, returns one or two values. The first value tells whether any objects remain in the string. When the first value is non-NIL, the second value is the codepoint of the next object.

Macro: lisp:with-string-glpyh-iterator (next string) &body body

with-string-glyph-iterator provides a method of looping through a string from the beginning to the end of the string prodcucing successive glyphs from the string. next is bound to a generator macro that, within the scope of the invocation, returns one or three values. The first value tells whether any objects remain in the string. When the first value is non-NIL, the second value is the index into the string of the glyph and the third value is index of the next glyph.

Function: stream:string-encode string external-format &optional (start 0) end

string-encode encodes string using the format external-format, producing an array of octets. Each octet is converted to a character via code-char and the resulting string is returned.

The optional argument start, defaulting to 0, specifies the starting index and end, defaulting to the length of the string, is the end of the string.

Function: stream:string-decode string external-format &optional (start 0) end

string-decode decodes string using the format external-format and produces a new string. Each character of string is converted to octet (by char-code) and the resulting array of octets is used by the external format to produce a string. This is the inverse of string-encode.

The optional argument start, defaulting to 0, specifies the starting index and end, defaulting to the length of the string, is the end of the string.

string must consist of characters whose char-code is less than 256.

Function: string-to-octets string &key :start :end :external-format :buffer :buffer-start :error

string-to-octets converts string to a sequence of octets according to the external format specified by external-format. The string to be converted is bounded by start, which defaults to 0, and end, which defaults to the length of the string. If buffer is specified, the octets are placed in buffer. If buffer is not specified, a new array is allocated to hold the octets. buffer-start specifies where in the buffer the first octet will be placed.

An error method may also be specified by error. Any errors encountered while converting the string to octets will be handled according to error. If nil, a replacement character is converted to octets in place of the error. Otherwise, error should be a symbol or function that will be called when the error occurs. The function takes two arguments: an error string and the character that caused the error. It should return a replacement character.

Three values are returned: The buffer, the number of valid octets written, and the number of characters converted. Note that the actual number of octets written may be greater than the returned value, These represent the partial octets of the next character to be converted, but there was not enough room to hold the complete set of octets.

Function: octets-to-string octets &key :start :end :external-format :string :s-start :s-end :state

octets-to-string converts the sequence of octets in octets to a string. octets must be a (simple-array (unsigned-byte 8) (*)). The octets to be converted are bounded by start and end, which default to 0 and the length of the array, respectively. The conversion is performed according to the external format specified by external-format. If string is specified, the octets are converted and stored in string, starting at s-start (defaulting to 0) and ending just before s-end (defaulting to the end of string. string must be simple-string. If the bounded string is not large enough to hold all of the characters, then some octets will not be converted. If string is not specified, a new string is created.

The state is used as the initial state of for the external format. This is useful when converting buffers of octets where the buffers are not on character boundaries, and state information is needed between buffers.

Four values are returned: the string, the number of characters written to the string, and the number of octets consumed to produce the characters, and the final state of external format after converting the octets.

Previous: , Up: Miscellaneous   [Contents][Index] Loop Extensions

CMUCL supports extensions to the extended loop facility. The extension is similar to the for-as-hash and for-as-package loop forms allowing the user to process the codepoints or glyphs of a string.

‘(loop for cp being the codepoint of string ...)‘ extracts the consecutive codepoints from the string, placing the codepoint in cp. Allow codepoints, code-point, and code-points as aliases of codepoint. Iteration stops when there are no more codepoints in string.

‘(loop for g-string being the glyph of string ...)‘ extracts each glyph (as a string) from the string, placing the glyph in g-string. Allow glpyhs as an alias for glyph. Iteration stops when there are no more glpyhs in string.

13.4 Writing External Formats

13.4.1 External Formats

Users may write their own external formats. It is probably easiest to look at existing external formats to see how do this.

An external format basically needs two functions: octets-to-code to convert octets to Unicode codepoints and code-to-octets to convert Unicode codepoints to octets. The external format is defined using the macro stream::define-external-format.

Macro: stream:define-external-format name (&key :base :min :max :size :documentation) (&rest slots) &optional octets-to-code code-to-octets flush-state copy-state

If :base is not given, this defines a new external format of the name :name. min, max, and size are the minimum and maximum number of octets that make up a character. (:size n is just a short cut for :min n :max n.) The description of the external format can be given using :documentation. The arguments octets-to-code and code-to-octets are not optional in this case. They specify how to convert octets to codepoints and vice versa, respectively. These should be backquoted forms for the body of a function to do the conversion. See the description below for these functions. Some good examples are the external format for :utf-8 or :utf-16. The :slots argument is a list of read-only slots, similar to defstruct. The slot names are available as local variables inside the code-to-octets and octets-to-code bodies.

If :base is given, then an external format is defined with the name :name that is based on a previously defined format :base. The slots are inherited from the :base format by default, although the definition may alter their values and add new slots. See, for example, the :mac-greek external format.

Macro: octets-to-code state input unput error &rest args

This defines a form to be used by an external format to convert octets to a code point. state is a form that can be used by the body to access the state variable of a stream. This can be used for any reason to hold anything needed by octets-to-code. input is a form that returns one octet from the input stream. unput will put back N octets to the stream. args is a list of variables that need to be defined for any symbols in the body of the macro.

error controls how errors are handled. If nil, some suitable replacement character is used. That is, any errors are silently ignored and replaced by some replacement character. If non-nil, error is a symbol or function that is called to handle the error. This function takes three arguments: a message string, the invalid octet (or nil), and a count of the number of octets that have been read so far. If the function returns, it should be the codepoint of the desired replacement character.

Macro: code-to-octets code state output error &rest args

Defines a form to be used by the external format to convert a code point to octets for output. code is the code point to be converted. state is a form to access the current value of the stream’s state variable. output is a form that writes one octet to the output stream.

Similar to octets-to-code, error indicates how errors should be handled. If nil, some default replacement character is substituted. If non-nil, error should be a symbol or function. This function takes two arguments: a message string and the invalid codepoint. If the function returns, it should be the codepoint that will be substituted for the invalid codepoint.

Macro: flush-state state output error &rest args

Defines a form to be used by the external format to flush out any state when an output stream is closed. Similar to code-to-octets, but there is no code point to be output. The error argument indicates how to handle errors. If nil, some default replacement character is used. Otherwise, error is a symbol or function that will be called with a message string and codepoint of the offending state. If the function returns, it should be the codepoint of a suitable replacement.

If flush-state is nil, then nothing special is needed to flush the state to the output.

This is called only when an output character stream is being closed.

Macro: copy-state state &rest args

Defines a form to copy any state needed by the external format. This should probably be a deep copy so that if the original state is modified, the copy is not.

If not given, then nothing special is needed to copy the state either because there is no state for the external format or that no special copier is needed.

13.4.2 Composing External Formats

Macro: stream:define-composing-external-format name (&key :min :max :size :documentation) input output

This is the same as define-external-format, except that a composing external format is created.

Function Index

Jump to:   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   I   K   L   M   N   O   P   R   S   T   U   W   X  
Index Entry  Section

activate-breakpoint: Breakpoints
alien:addr: Alien Coercion Operations
alien:alien-funcall: The alien-funcall Primitive
alien:alien-sap: Alien Coercion Operations
alien:callback: Calling Lisp from C
alien:callback-funcall: Calling Lisp from C
alien:cast: Alien Coercion Operations
alien:def-alien-routine: The def-alien-routine Macro
alien:def-alien-type: Defining Alien Types
alien:def-alien-variable: External Alien Variables
alien:def-callback: Calling Lisp from C
alien:deref: Alien Access Operations
alien:extern-alien: External Alien Variables
alien:free-alien: Alien Dynamic Allocation
alien:make-alien: Alien Dynamic Allocation
alien:sap-alien: Alien Coercion Operations
alien:slot: Alien Access Operations
alien:with-alien: Local Alien Variables
alpha-char-p: Methods for Characters
alphanumericp: Methods for Characters
ambiguous-debug-variables: Debug-functions

both-case-p: Methods for Characters
breakpoint-active-p: Breakpoints
breakpoint-hook-function: Breakpoints
breakpoint-info: Breakpoints
breakpoint-kind: Breakpoints
breakpoint-what: Breakpoints

char-downcase: Methods for Characters
char-equal: Methods for Characters
char-greaterp: Methods for Characters
char-lessp: Methods for Characters
char-name: Methods for Characters
char-not-equal: Methods for Characters
char-not-greaterp: Methods for Characters
char-not-lessp: Methods for Characters
char-upcase: Methods for Characters
code-location-debug-block: Code-locations
code-location-debug-function: Code-locations
code-location-debug-source: Code-locations
code-location-form-number: Code-locations
code-location-top-level-form-offset: Code-locations
code-location-unknown-p: Code-locations
code-location=: Code-locations
code-to-octets: Methods for External Formats
compile: Calling the Compiler
compile-file: Calling the Compiler
constantly: Extensions
copy-state: Methods for External Formats

deactivate-breakpoint: Breakpoints
debug-block-elsewhere-p: Debug-blocks
debug-block-successors: Debug-blocks
debug-function-function: Debug-functions
debug-function-kind: Debug-functions
debug-function-lambda-list: Debug-functions
debug-function-name: Debug-functions
debug-function-symbol-variables: Debug-functions
debug-source-compiled: Debug-sources
debug-source-created: Debug-sources
debug-source-from: Debug-sources
debug-source-name: Debug-sources
debug-source-root-number: Debug-sources
debug-source-start-positions: Source Translation Utilities
debug-variable-id: Debug-variables
debug-variable-info-available: Debug-functions
debug-variable-name: Debug-variables
debug-variable-package: Debug-variables
debug-variable-symbol: Debug-variables
debug-variable-valid-value: Debug-variables
debug-variable-validity: Debug-variables
debug-variable-value: Debug-variables
debug:var: Variable Access
delete-breakpoint: Breakpoints
delete-duplicates: Sequences
describe: Describe
digit-char-p: Methods for Characters
directory: Wildcard Matching
do-debug-block-locations: Debug-blocks
do-debug-function-blocks: Debug-functions
do-debug-function-variables: Debug-functions

eval-in-frame: Frames
ext:define-function-name-syntax: Generalized Function Names
ext:defmodule: Extension to REQUIRE
ext:disable-clx-event-handling: Without Object Sets
ext:enable-clx-event-handling: Without Object Sets
ext:flush-display-events: Using SERVE-EVENT with the CLX Interface to X
ext:load-foreign: Loading Unix Object Files
ext:module-provide-cmucl-defmodule: Extension to REQUIRE
ext:module-provide-cmucl-library: Extension to REQUIRE
ext:object-set-event-handler: With Object Sets
ext:open-clx-display: Using SERVE-EVENT with the CLX Interface to X
ext:package-definition-lock: Disabling package locks
ext:package-lock: Disabling package locks
ext:unlock-all-packages: Disabling package locks
ext:valid-function-name-p: Generalized Function Names
ext:with-clx-event-handling: Without Object Sets
ext:with-float-traps-masked: Accessing the Floating Point Modes
ext:without-package-locks: Disabling package locks
extensions:accept-network-stream: Accepting Connections
extensions:accept-tcp-connection: Accepting Connections
extensions:accept-unix-connection: Accepting Connections
extensions:add-oob-handler: Out-of-Band Data
extensions:ambiguous-files: File Name Completion
extensions:bind-inet-socket: Unbound Sockets
extensions:cancel-finalization: Finalization
extensions:clear-search-list: Search-List Operations
extensions:close-socket: Unbound Sockets
extensions:cmd-switch-arg: Reading the Command Line
extensions:cmd-switch-name: Reading the Command Line
extensions:cmd-switch-value: Reading the Command Line
extensions:cmd-switch-words: Reading the Command Line
extensions:compile-from-stream: Calling the Compiler
extensions:complete-file: File Name Completion
extensions:connect-to-inet-socket: Connecting
extensions:connect-to-unix-socket: Connecting
extensions:create-inet-listener: Binding to Interfaces
extensions:create-inet-socket: Unbound Sockets
extensions:create-unix-listener: Binding to Interfaces
extensions:create-unix-socket: Unbound Sockets
extensions:def-source-context: Error Message Parameterization
extensions:default-directory: Miscellaneous Filesystem Operations
extensions:define-hash-table-test: Hash tables
extensions:defswitch: Reading the Command Line
extensions:describe-external-format: Utilities
extensions:encapsulate: Encapsulation Functions
extensions:encapsulated-p: Encapsulation Functions
extensions:enumerate-search-list: Search-List Operations
extensions:file-writable: Miscellaneous Filesystem Operations
extensions:finalize: Finalization
extensions:float-denormalized-p: Denormalized Floats
extensions:float-infinity-p: IEEE Special Values
extensions:float-nan-p: IEEE Special Values
extensions:float-signaling-nan-p: IEEE Special Values
extensions:float-trapping-nan-p: IEEE Special Values
extensions:format-decoded-time: Time Parsing and Formatting
extensions:format-universal-time: Time Parsing and Formatting
extensions:gc: Garbage Collection
extensions:gc: Generational GC
extensions:gc-off: Garbage Collection
extensions:gc-on: Garbage Collection