lokke/DESIGN.md -rw-r--r-- 22.8 KiB
3fd7f1aeRob Browning Don't accidentally, implicitly :refer :all 7 months ago


The current approach is to let the Scheme macro-expansion process act as the primary compiler just as it does for Guile itself. It's unclear whether or not this is the approach we'll want to keep.

The Scheme compiler compiles from Scheme to the next level down in the compiler tower which is tree-il. We explicitly invoke the Scheme compiler in an environment (which is a Guile module, which is a Clojure namespace) that has macros defined that implement much of Clojure when expanded.

After that expansion, we walk the tree-il representation in order to rewrite normal (x ...) calls as (invoke x ...), where invoke is a generic function that has specializations allowing it to handle Clojure's "invocable" instances, e.g. (:foo #{bar}) becomes (invoke :foo #{bar}), ([1 2 3] 2) becomes (invoke [1 2 3] 2), etc. Once the final tree-il code is ready, we return it to Guile for compilation or execution via the lower levels of language tower.

The compilation process uses some symbols starting with /lokke/ as a side channel for communication (discussed further below), which should be fine since symbols staring with "/" are illegal in Clojure itself (and at least unreadable in Clojure on the JVM).

Clojure's "compound" (namespaced) symbols like clojure.string/join present another wrinkle. Currently these symbols are left alone at the Clojure and Scheme levels, and then a final pass over the tree-il code rewrites any remaining, namespaced, top-level references as Guile module references, e.g. clojure.string/join effectively becomes (@ (lokke ns clojure string) join).

Since the core of the compiler is the macroexpander, it must be able to traverse and expand all of the appropriate literal structures. For Scheme that primarily means being able to traverse lists, but Clojure requires that we also traverse literal hash-maps, hash-sets, and vectors, i.e. [(some-macro x)] must expand some-macro at compile time.

To support that, those literals are always represented to the compiler as pseudo-function invocations like (/lokke/reader-hash-map metadata kvs ...) and (/lokke/reader-hash-set metadata x ...), which the macroexpander can traverse. The reader creates this representation when invoked via read-for-compiler, and the metadata will either be #nil or a (/lokke/reader-hash-map kvs ...) derived from any reader metadata preceding the literal, say via ^{:x 1} [1].

These pseudo-functions present a problem for Clojure syntax expanders (created with the Clojure side defmacro) since those expanders expect to see actual hash-maps and hash-sets. So before a form is passed to one of them, all of the pseudo-function calls are transformed into the Clojure instances they represent, and then, once the expander has returned its expansion, any instances in the result are transformed back to the corresponding pseudo-function calls.

That is, #{foo} will be an actual hash-set instance containing the symbol foo whenever it is encountered by Clojure code during compilation, for example whenever a Clojure defmacro expander sees it, but it will be (/lokke/reader-hash-set #nil foo) whenever it is encountered by the Scheme syntax expander.

In part, we've started with this approach because we wanted to try relying on the normal Scheme macroexpander for compilation (as Guile's Scheme dialect does), so that, among other things, we can use hygienic macros (i.e. define-syntax), and their pattern matching when feasible.

This is another choice that may or may not turn out to be desirable in the long run, and even if we don't decide to purse a completely independent compiler, perhaps we'll end up wanting to rewrite the macros to be able to handle/match Clojure data structures directly. Though that could make them notably more complicated and might preclude the simpler syntax-rules style macros in some cases (as compared to syntax-case).

To support this domain shifting approach there are two flavors of the reader functions, one for the compiler, and then the "normal" flavor. The former produces input suitable for the compiler, including, for example, the(/lokke/reader-vector #nil 1 2 3) style forms instead of native Clojure instances. The latter (the normal reade)r returns native data structures as you might expect, though of course the contents will be unevaluated.

The compiler represents lists as scheme lists so that the syntax expander will handle expansions normally. The intention is for any quoted lists to end up compiled to normal Guile const lists (which may be mmapped and immutable, though possibly only when compiled right now).

#Dynamic variables

When a dynamic variable *out* is defined via defdyn, it is actually represented by a "hidden" top-level definition (define /lokke/dynamic-*out* (make-fluid ...)) in the current Guile module. Then foo itself is made an identifier-syntax that expands into (fluid-ref /lokke/dynamic-foo). Binding conveyance is provided by transferring Guile's current-dynamic-state.

This raises a question. How does a form like binding locate the original fluid during expansion when it only sees a variable name like *out* which is bound to the identifier syntax? Currently, when a dynamic variable is defined, the fluid is also associated with the module variable holding the identifier-syntax definition via an object-property. That variable is what is imported into other modules via say use-modules, so binding can look up the module variable associated with *out* with module-variable, and then call (dynamic-fluid var) on that variable to get the fluid itself.

#Modules and namespaces

  • Namespaces are Guile modules, but all of the normal infrastructure (ns, require, etc.) expects them to be located underneath (lokke ns) in the Guile module tree. So for example (require 'clojure.string) will actually try to find the Guile module (lokke ns clojure string).

  • Guile's module definitions are normally private unless exported, so we arrange for all clojure defs to also export the name in order to match Clojure's semantics.

  • Currently Clojure namespaces can be written in either Clojure or Scheme, though some care must be taken with the latter, and namespace lookups will auto-compile (if allowed and if necessary) and load the first suitable file found in a directory in the load path. Within each directory in the load path, a compiled ".go" file takes precedence when it's newer than a corresponding ".clj" or ".scm" file, otherwise a ".clj" file takes precedence over ".scm".

    Currently, if compilation fails, I think Guile itself may fall back to an existing (stale) .go file, something we might like to address later.

  • Guile's module lookups, of course, only search for ".scm" (by default, though there is a way to change that).

  • Right now, all namespaces starting with (lokke clojure core) are considered "core" modules, and are treated a bit differently. They're considered to be relevant to the bootstrapping process (i.e. before clojure.core is ready) and so (for example) their ns forms do not automatically refer-clojure (since no one's likely to want an infinite recursion at startup).


  • Reader metadata is supported for the literals (i.e., [] {} #{}) by storing it as the first argument to the literal's pseudo-function invocations, e.g. (/lokke/reader-hash-map metadata ...). The metadata will either be #nil or a (/lokke/reader-hash-map ...) derived from any reader metadata preceding the literal, e.g. via ^{:x 1} [1].

  • There is no metadata support for lists because at the moment, they may be represented by Scheme lists. While that makes them very efficient and compatible with Scheme, it means that in addition to not supporting metadata, they can't be counted? or hashed.

    We could consider changing them to a custom persistent type. Doing so may or may not be difficult given the scattered effect of the current assumption that lists may just be pairs, and it will require some accommodation for passing Clojure lists to Scheme functions, even if just via manual conversion.

  • We're planning to see if we can avoid supporting metadata for some types, symbols being a clear example, or at least making support optional, since metadata support would add overhead, and introduce a substantial impedance mismatch with the Scheme side. The former because symbols could no longer be simple unique pointers (because immutability requires a new object every time the metadata changes), and the latter because Clojure and Scheme symbols wouldn't have the same representation anymore, affecting all kinds of things, likely including the compiler.


Guile intends to avoid crashes or corruption when executing code in parallel, but it does not make any guarantees about outcomes without appropriate synchronization. From the Guile Reference Manual:

All libguile functions are (intended to be) robust in the face of multiple threads using them concurrently. This means that there is no risk of the internal data structures of libguile becoming corrupted in such a way that the process crashes.

A program might still produce nonsensical results, though.

Lokke currently intends to follow a similar approach.

#Value comparisons

It looks like it may not be possible to specialize equal? (and perhaps the underlying concern applies to all primitive-generics) for existing types/arities, i.e. you cannot define a new specialization for say (equal? x) and you cannot define a new specialization for (equal? (x <string>) (y <new-type>)).

Currently Lokke handles equality by:

  • defining (equal? x y) for new types, e.g. hash-map, etc.,
  • defining a clj= that falls back to equal?,
  • defining clj= methods to handle Clojure-specific cases, like (= [1] '(1)), including fallback definitions for <sequential>, <map>, etc.,
  • defining clj= overrides to avoid the fallbacks for comparisons of instances of the same concrete type, i.e. (clj= hash-map-1 hash-map-2),
  • and defining = as clj= in (lokke core) and then exporting it (with replacement).


  • Avoid auto-compiling top-level commands. This might mean we need to switch back to a shell wrapper (see guile's guild handling for prior art).

  • Make sure the .go files are always installed after their sources. See "am/guilec" in the Guile source tree for an example.

  • Add sorted-set-by and sorted-map-by (and then update test/clojure-walk)..

  • Consider providing hash consistency across Clojure and Scheme collections, i.e. Scheme vector and Clojure vector, etc., which would also require consideration of Guile's tree-depth diminishing, partial hashing.

  • Propose upstream support for an option to prevent Guile from ever falling back to an existing (stale) compiled file when compilation fails. See the Hacking section below for further details.

  • File and line numbers are not always handled properly in the reader, errors, etc.

  • Investigate GOOPS read-only slots -- daviid mentioned that GNOME uses them, e.g. in gobject/gtype.scm.

  • Add doc and attr args to defmacro.

  • Review handling of cons pairs. Right now we use/allow them in various places, but for example, doing so doesn't support metadata, or hashing (if we need that), and printing cons pairs as clj seqs/lists will break for improper lists. One option might be to just shift everything to or something similar, particularly if that won't overly complicate compilation and/or macroexpansion (e.g. do we still need the make-pair-seq eval-when difference?).

  • Consider "read time" instantiation of #"x" literals, given our evaluation semantics.

  • Implement defmacro &form and &env?

  • Examine (srfi srfi-45) with respect to lazy seqs.

  • Examine (srfi srfi-171) with respect to transducers.

  • Remove vestigial bits from the reader (syntax, synquote, etc.?)

  • Create clojure.edn, and then switch lokke.deps, and anything else that can, to use it.

  • File shims plausible, or too much a hack?

  • Contemplate eval-when -- do we have it where we need it, does it, and/or can it work reasonably from the Clojure side?

  • Investigate difference with the JVM for

      `(foo `())

    from the REPL. If it matters, then along those lines, we may need another syntax-quote recursion there (in quote-empty-lists), to move () handling to the tree-il level, or to add a new /lokke/reader-list, which might end up being desirable for other reasons.

  • Right now Lokke's try/catch/finally very closely follows Guile's catch/throw, which is Guile's more efficient exception handling mechanism, and is based on throwing and catching simple tags (symbols) along with arbitrary additional arguments.

    Our Throwable, ExceptionInfo, etc. are actually just bound to uninterned symbols (i.e. guaranteed unique) in (lokke exception), and those symbols are what our exception handler (installed via guile's catch) is looking for.

    In fact, ex-info just creates and returns a list containing exactly the arguments we need to pass to Guile's throw. So at the moment Lokke exceptions aren't objects/records/classes, they're throw argument lists, and correspondingly, the first element is the catch tag. There's a good chance we'll rework everything in terms of exception options for Guile 3.0 and newer.

    With respect to Clojure more generally, upstream debate over exceptions in the context of cljs suggested that they may really want to head toward just being able to throw a data-carrying-object and then do something with it -- didn't sound like they were in favor of keeping much of the JVM class/hierarchy matching business as the non-platform-specific method: https://github.com/clojure/clojurescript/wiki/Exception-Handling

    What we have at the moment is more along those lines, in spirit at least, and more like Guile's with-exception-handler, though we do support a small subset of the more common Clojure/JVM behaviors.

    See the README for some additional information.

  • I'm still not sure whether the way we're handling the compilation environment, via default-environment, bootstrap, (lokke user), etc., is very solid and/or what we really want. It's notable that the Scheme compiler appears to use more anonymous, throwaway environments for compilation, but when I tried that there were problems (that might or might not have been caused by other bugs). For example repeated loads of compiled modules (across heaps) would fail on lookups to the anonymous modules -- no fun figuring that one out...

  • Note that Guile's --language argument, i.e. --language=lokke appears to cause guile to set the reader to lokke universally, which breaks (use-modules ...), etc.

  • Consider the suitability of a fash delete operation for use in hash-map dissoc and hash-set disj to replace the not-found hacks. Right now hash-maps and hash-sets never actually shrink. For example, after

      (def x (let [x (hash-set (range 100))
                   x (apply disj x x)]

    x will still have 100 entries in the underlying fash, all the internal not-found instance.

  • Improve hash-map and hash-set seqs, which may require improvements to fash or...

  • Stop altering LTDL_LIBRARY_PATH to load module libs. Ludovic suggested we might add GUILE_EXTENSIONS_PATH to guile (hopefully with a parallel %extensions-path, which would solve the problem.

  • Review our pr, print, and str handling. We now have a to-string generic function, mirroring the JVM's .toString, for str to rely on, but our handling of the three operations may not be consistent yet.

  • Consider adding pr-str methods if the string port overhead becomes relevant.

  • Settle Scheme side binding vector vs list question and bring code into compliance.

    Using (let [] ...) from guile is the most similar syntax, but it makes the macroexpansion more difficult and/or potentially ambiguous (because [ and ] are reader equivalent to ( and ) in Guile). And if we use (let () ...), then it's potentially more confusing to a reader that may not realize when we've clobbered Scheme let. At a minimum fn's syntax may be more ambiguous with lists instead of vectors, i.e. (fn ([x] 0)).

  • Support TIOCGWINSZ somehow (likely via C helper) so we can use it with fill-string, etc. for documentation output, help, etc.

  • Fix up C-side docstrings (e.g. SCM_DEFINE).

  • Review FIXMEs...

  • Run some large structure memory tests.

  • Fix up source-properties, etc.

  • Do we care about allow-legacy-syntax-objects?:

A parameter that indicates whether the expander should support legacy syntax objects, as described above. For ABI stability reasons, the default is "#t". Use "parameterize" to bind it to "#f". *Note Parameters::.


  • A (@...) reference inside a function in a module appeared to be unconditionally forcing the creation of the referred module, which was empty because it was a clojure module (since guile has no idea that a .clj file may produce a guile module). This caused trouble because code that checks for the existence of the module (i.e. perhaps ns/require), was fooled. The resulting error was

      no code for module (lokke ns some thing)

    We should perhaps double-check, but in that case, adding/using resolve-ns instead was the preferable solution.


  • New scm and clj files must be added to mod_scm_srcs and mod_clj_srcs respectively in Makefile.am.in.

  • The scm and clj files are compiled during builds, e.g. via make, installed via make install, and found via GUILE_LOAD_COMPILED_PATH (cf. %load-compiled-path). Parallel builds are supported so something like make -j5 may speed builds.

  • At the moment Makefile.am is autogenerated from Makefile.am.in to avoid a good bit of tedium with respect to the per-module-file automake specifications. For bootstrapping, make -f Makefile.am.in Makefile.am must always work (see ./setup).

  • For now, all EPL (only) licensed code (e.g. code ported from upstream) should go in separate namespaces, e.g. (lokke ns clojure walk) or (lokke ns clojure core epl). Include any changes in the License section of the README.

  • When defining syntaxes - note the use of (expand ...) functions in say (lokke base syntax). The relevant cases just call a common expand(er) to do the work. That makes sure that the scoping of introduced variables will be correct, as compared to what may happen if you just redirect one syntax-case to another via recursive expansion.

  • Guile has no syntax/macro dependency tracking, so changes to a macro will not automatically propagate outside the module they're defined in. You can set GUILE_AUTO_COMPILE=fresh to force Guile to recompile everything (or you can just find and delete the relevant .go files (subtree) in ~/.cache/guile/.

  • Current Guile may proceed with no more than a warning while loading a module when you might expect it to halt. It might do that when there's an undefined variable or circular dependency (and the warning there may only be about a missing definition). By default it will also just fall back to the old compiled code for a module (if any) when auto-compilation fails.

  • Failing to get the distinctions between export, re-export, replace, re-export-and-replace, etc. right can produce some confusing results with respect to binding definitions/visibility.

  • For more diagnostic information (and yes, we definitely need something more sophisticated...), there are a few debug settings you can set to #t, including:

    • (language lokke spec) debug-lang?
    • (lokke base syntax) debug-let? debug-fn?
    • (lokke compile) debug-il?
    • (lokke reader) debug-reader?
  • Functions like unparse-tree-il in the (language tree-il) module may be helpful when debugging issues related to Tree-IL.

  • If you want to see where a call is coming from:

      (let ((s (make-stack #t)))
        (display-backtrace s (current-error-port) 0 100))
  • "unexpected syntax in form": might mean a use-modules is missing in the namespace declaring the syntax.

  • On the Guile side there are a variety of options for defining functions, e.g. those based on lambda, lambda*, match-lambda*, or GOOPS methods (at least).

  • At the moment in some cases we treat keywords much like symbols. cf. the (lokke symbol) module.

  • An Unbound variable: x error during compilation might indicate a dependency cycle, i.e. mutually dependent modules.

#Sending patches to the list

As mentioned elsewhere, patches are also welcome on the [mailing list](README.md#additional-contacts] and must be "signed off" by the author before official inclusion.

You can create a "signed off" set of patches in ./patches, ready for submission to the list, like this:

git format-patch -s -o patches origin/main

which will include all of the patches since origin/main on your current branch. Then you can send them to the list like this:

git send-email --to "~rlb/lokke@lists.sr.ht" --compose patches/*

The use of --compose will cause git to ask you to edit a cover letter that will be sent as the first message.

It's also possible to handle everything in one step:

git send-email -s --to "~rlb/lokke@lists.sr.ht" --compose origin/main

and you can add --annotate if you'd like to review or edit each patch before it's sent.

For single patches, this might be easier:

git send-email -s --to "~rlb/lokke@lists.sr.ht" --annotate -n1 HEAD

which will send the top patch on the current branch, and will stop to allow you to add comments. You can add comments to the section with the diffstat (below the "--" without affecting the commit message).

Of course, unless your machine is set up to handle outgoing mail locally, you may need to configure git to be able to send mail. See git-send-email(1) for further details.