Tag Archives: lisp


You bloated oaf, gorging on galaxies of glut. Go away. You and your UML, your pathetic paradigm. “Object-oriented!” you cry, diverted from the devastation of your application. Failing to find the chink in the armor, the aroma of smoke unsettles your strategy. “Scalability! We’ll scale the scales!” Disillusioned with lubrication by refactoring, factories, actors, event driven development. Drizzles of gristle. Is programming still fun? Functional, formulae conjunctional, cool, casual, actual work done. For fear not the lambda, the greek grapheme of ephemeral memorable purpose. Pose the function as transformer, reformer of data from input to output to input to output to input. Slews of loops, looping the function again. Again. Again. Break! How can you construct a deductive mechanism for deducing data from consumable samples, if not in Lisp? Or if not that, in OCaml? Oh come on, there’s loads of lovely ladies carrying coy caricatures of lisps, little lilting voices, smut for the C-smitten. Crackers to your brackets, but barely a soul seeks murky, mechanical LISP. Lots of irritating superfluous parentheses? No. “ML.” A moan, a mouthful of semantically laden syllabic syntax. The rub: Ruby, used usually in the uncool procedural sense, incidentally features the little fucker. Lambda, you dog! Ruby dooby do! Python’s on the list, Lua not excused, it’s there too. Odds are, philistine, your tool of choice has lambda in its toolkit, so zarking use it. If you suddenly saw the earth beneath your eyes realizing you could fly, would you reduce yourself to the banality of walking? Wake up. Procedural programming is impoverished. Appreciate artificial intelligence, barely a leap for lisp gents, or more generally, lisperati. Objects are unnecessary. Data defined by fiat, ha! Data’s declared by necessity, flowing from the form of the transformation: Integral to a collection of cows coldly calculating calculus to reality. Really. If the function makes steak, grant not anything but boves. There’s your objective. Objects are trash, nasty, thrashing not solving but revolving on nonproblems of encapsulation. Try algebraic data types on for size. As a small consolation, consult the folks who gave the gravy, namely garbage collection; remember, Lisp invented it. If not for Lisp, then conditionals wouldn’t be. B being C’s predecessor, son of BCPL, son of CPL, son of ALGOL, son of FORTRAN, son of assembly. That’s a long line and a lot of time to wait for the second coming of the lambda calculus, Church’s research not crucified but sadly set aside. Sigh, sheer boredom with annoying von Neumann machines must have been McCarthy miraculous leap to Lisp. The future is functional, finally. And it’s stuck in 1960 where real work, not XML, was done. The past is Prolog; the rest formatting, an exercise for the writer.

Prefix, Postfix, Newfix, Bluefix

My, my, look at all those notations. You can infix: 2 + 2. You can prefix: + 2 2. You can postfix: 2 2 +. All three notations are perfectly arbitrary for the purposes of mathematics. (2 + 2) * 3 = 12, so what’s really different about these codes?

Code 1

x = 2 + 2
y = x * 3

Code 2

x := 2 plus: 2
y := x times: 3
y print

Code 3

2 2 + 3 * print

Code 4

(let* (
   (x (+ 2 2))
   (y (* x 3)))
      (print y))

Code 1 is typical of procedural programming (Python1, C, Basic, Pascal). You declare variables, store data in variables, and display variables.

Code 2 is typical of object oriented programming (Java, C++, Ruby2, Smalltalk2). You instantiate objects, send messages to objects, and display objects.

Code 3 is typical of stack programming (Factor, Joy, Forth). You push values onto the stack, push functions onto the stack, and display the stack.

Code 4 is typical of functional programming (Haskell, ML, Erlang, Lisp). You pass expressions, evaluate expressions, and display expressions.

But what’s really different?

Codes 1 and 2 are fundamentally the same: they’re stateful computations. Code 1 stores state in variables, Code 2 stores state in objects, but it’s all the same. Code 2 is syntactical sugar for Code 1. And Code 1 is syntactical sugar for:

Code 0

add x,2,2
mul y,x,3
put y

In other words, you’re still explicitly performing register transactions. Do this calculation then STORE THE RESULT IN HERE. Do that calculation then MOVE THE BYTES TO THERE.

By contrast, Codes 3 and 4 are an island all their own: they’re functional computations. Instead of manipulating machine registers, they manipulate mathematical expressions3. Code becomes data becomes code again; you can pass functions as arguments to other functions as if they were pure mathematical constructs. Code 4 named the expressions “x” and “y”, while Code 3 didn’t, but as Code 3 shows, naming isn’t really necessary, it’s just a convenience.

So what’s really different? Functional programming provides a whole new level of abstraction, one that allows you to write more complex code than you could in low-level languages like Java. Really. Do you like moving bytes around, or would you prefer to leave that as an exercise for the compiler?

1 Python has functional elements, but they’re underused. Most Python programmers aren’t even aware that Python has list comprehensions and anonymous functions.

2 Ditto for Ruby and Smalltalk. They have blocks, and therefore can do functional programming, but it’s not emphasized. With all the OOP hullabaloo, the incentive is to write stateful methods instead of pure methods, especially in Ruby where the line between f and f! blurs because the result of the last evaluated expression is always returned.

3 Most functional languages have stateful capabilities, but they’re strictly only necessary for specialized calculations such as pseudo-random number generation, concurrent programming, and I/O. Also, functional language compilers must be stateful in order to compile functional programs that provide the abstraction of pure, stateless code. (see Haskell).

Chicken Scheme for the Soul

chicken scheme logoRemember the child-like glee of writing your first computer program? It’s damned hard, but also fun. You feel in control, the god of a tiny universe. Anything is possible! But as you’ve matured, your smile may have faded. Programs are no longer for enjoyment, but for verification. Design, unit test, implement, commit, doze, repeat. Has programming become a bore? It’s time to rekindle the fire.

If you haven’t learned Lisp yet, it’s highly recommended. Don’t worry that your boss still wants you to use Java. Don’t worry that it feels… alien. When it finally clicks, you’ll learn to program as you never have before, and you can take that knowledge back into the corporate, very much non-functional world. You can return to the barren moor of C# armed with Lispy methodology in a .NET environment.

There isn’t just one Lisp. There are lots and lots and lots of Lisps, and it’s hard for a newbie to decide between them. For now, we’ll introduce you to a friendly little hen called Chicken Scheme. It’s a language with round corners, a relaxed type system, and a focus on practical programming.

How practical? Chicken Scheme comes with both an interpreter (csi) and a compiler (csc). If you prefer one tool or the other, it’s perfectly fine to use just that. Or, you can test your code with csi and compile your finished projects with csc. But do try the interpreter at least once; it could change the way you program.

Installing Chicken Scheme is fairly easy. Macs use MacPorts.

sudo port install chicken

Linux uses the package manager of your choice.

sudo apt-get install chicken

Windows uses the chicken-iup installer.

It’s time to have some fun! Fire up the interpreter by opening a terminal and entering csi.

$ csi
(c)2008-2011 The Chicken Team
(c)2000-2007 Felix L. Winkelmann
Version 4.7.0

Chicken can add numbers.

> (+ 2 2)

Chicken can reverse lists.

> (reverse (list 1 2 3))
(3 2 1)

Chicken can test list elements for evenness.

> (map even? (list 1 2 3))
(#f #t #f)

Chicken can test list elements for <PROPERTY-OF-YOUR-CHOICE>.

> (map (lambda (element) (* element 2)) (list 1 2 3))
(2 4 6)

If you can learn to write lambdas, you’re well on your way to becoming a first-class functional programmer!

Starting to get the hang of it? Play around, don’t limit yourself to the code in a tutorial. It doesn’t take long to program something big and practical like a unit test framework (~ a day).

If you’re lost, login to Freenode IRC join the #chicken room. The folks there are friendly, competent, and hilarious. Finally, if you find Chicken Scheme isn’t doing what you want it to do, you can customize it. Sometimes all you need to be happy is a little ~/.csirc config file :)

top: The poor man’s performance analyzer

hunchentoot logoFor the sake of the future of all mankind, I wrote a tiny web server for proving that Hunchentoot works with certain system specs. “doeshunchentootwork” is only 77 lines long, serves a singe page and its favicon, and the application is compiled, not interpreted. So why does top show it using so many CPU cycles?

Daemonization may have been a bad idea, at least this early in development. The process spends a lot of time… doing what exactly?

Since the app is only 77 lines long, debugging wasn’t that hard. Long story short, CL loads the program and quits, so I was using (loop) to keep the program running. I know, I know, terrible. (read) is a better choice, since it doesn’t waste CPU by looping but merely blocks for command line input that will never arrive to a daemonized web server.

With the new code, top shows almost no activity for doeshunchentootwork unless someone is currently requesting the webpage. Whew! Now the resources can be wasted on other servers.

I just want Hunchentoot!

hunchentoot logoThere’s something to be said for tutorials like Lisp for the Web. Adam Peterson’s guide to the Hunchentoot web server is easy and fun. Trouble is, gathering equipment is difficult.

Setup should be relatively simple. Equipment needed: Common Lisp, Quicklisp, and Hunchentoot.

  1. Pick your Common Lisp: SBCL, CLISP, ECL, ABCL, CCL, LispWorks, AllegroCL, XCL, WCL, CMUCL, GCL, etc.
  2. Install Quicklisp.
  3. Run (ql:quickload "hunchentoot").
  4. Run (hunchentoot:start (make-instance 'hunchentoot:acceptor :port 4242)).

Depending on which operating system you have and which Common Lisp you used, you’ll get different errors when you follow those instructions.

Trouble is, getting a Common Lisp implementation with CFFI and thread support is difficult. I regularly program on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows; I need languages which work well on all three operating systems. Sadly, there are few Common Lisps that have working ports.

SBCL comes closest, but it crashes on Xen (so no Hunchentoot on my Gandi.net webserver).

CLISP has CFFI on Mac OS X, but only if you use "fink install ffcall && fink install clisp +dynffi to get it. MacPorts CLISP is no go. Even with Fink, CLISP lacks thread support. Homebrew CLISP isn’t any different, and I doubt DarwinPorts is either.

ECL lacks thread support on Mac OS X and Ubuntu.

ABCL takes time to setup: Install sun-java6-jdk. Download ABCL. Unzip ABCL. Move JAR to home. Add JAR to CLASSPATH. Create alias for JAR command. Install rlwrap. Generate completions. Modify alias to use rlwrap. Jump off bridge. Reload shell configuration. And after all that, ABCL lacks thread support according to Bordeaux Threads/Quicklisp.

CCL’s installation procedure is involved.

LispWorks and AllegroCL are proprietary. Obtaining valid license files is bothersome, and I don’t trust the projects to stay current.

OpenMCL and CMUCL are out of date and unavailable for modern Ubuntu versions.

XCL and WCL are maintained by very few people, and they must be manually compiled from source.

GCL is out of date, it fails to build with MacPorts, and Fink doesn’t even know it exists.

newlisp logoFark it, newLISP has a built-in web server, and it runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.


ccl logoUpdate: Lispbox is just what the doctor ordered. It has working CCL, Emacs, SLIME, Quicklisp, CFFI, and threads.

Writing Scripts with Common Lisp

lisp alienScripting languages such as Python and Ruby naturally lend themselves to the task of writing command line utilities. Lisp is much older than these languages, so it’s not surprising that some Lisp implementations are more difficult than others for scripting. Some lisps have a library too small to be useful. Some lisps cannot access files. But most of all, many lisps have trouble with shebangs and scripted main.


Add the following to ~/.cmucl-init.lisp (or your initialization file):

;;; Play nice with shebangs
(set-dispatch-macro-character #\# #\!
 (lambda (stream character n)
  (declare (ignore character n))
  (read-line stream nil nil t)

This instructs CL to ignore all lines beginning with #!, even in the REPL.

Scripted Main

Java, Python, Perl, Ruby, Lua, Haskell, and newLISP all have scripted main.

One of the most useful tools in a scripting language is a scripted main. I invented this term out of necessity: it’s hard to Google something without a name. Scripted main refers to a special function, typically called main, which is executed when a script is run from the command line (e.g. python myscript.py or ./myscript.py). If the script is imported by another script, main() is not called. Scripted main is extremely useful for writing programs that do this:

$ ./welcome.py
Usage: ./welcome.py <name>
$ ./welcome.py Brandon
Welcome Brandon!

If another script greeter.py imports code from welcome.py, we don’t want greeter to call welcome‘s main function. The code in welcome that prints out Usage: ./welcome.py <name> probably calls sys.exit(0) soon after, which would kill greeter immediately after importing welcome.

How to do it

The next few examples are specific to CLISP. If you use SBCL, Clojure, or another implementation, you’ll need to modify the shebang lines accordingly.

Save as hello.cl:

exec clisp -q -q $0 $0 ${1+"$@"}
(defun hello-main ()
  (format t "Hello Main!~%")



$ chmod +x hello.cl
$ ./hello.cl
Hello Main!

The chmod command marks hello.cl as a self-running executable so that ./hello.cl is allowed.

What if another script greeter.cl loads the code from hello? Let’s write a greeter that lets us choose which greeting to print.

Save as greeter.cl:

exec clisp -q -q $0 $0 ${1+"$@"}

(load "hello")

(defun greeter-main ()
  (format t "Ready to greet.~%")



$ chmod +x greeter.cl
$ ./greeter.cl
Hello Main!
Ready to greet.

The problem with this logic is that hello.cl‘s main function will be called as soon as the file is loaded. We don’t want this to happen, so we will use some special CMUCL code:

Resave as hello.cl:

exec clisp -q -q $0 $0 ${1+"$@"}

(defun hello-main (args)
  (format t "Hello from main!~%"))

;;; With help from Francois-Rene Rideau
;;; http://tinyurl.com/cli-args
(let ((args
       #+clisp ext:*args*
       #+sbcl sb-ext:*posix-argv*
       #+clozure (ccl::command-line-arguments)
       #+gcl si:*command-args*
       #+ecl (loop for i from 0 below (si:argc) collect (si:argv i))
       #+cmu extensions:*command-line-strings*
       #+allegro (sys:command-line-arguments)
       #+lispworks sys:*line-arguments-list*

  (if (member (pathname-name *load-truename*)
              :test #'(lambda (x y) (search x y :test #'equalp)))
    (hello-main args)))

Resave as greeter.cl:

exec clisp -q -q $0 $0 ${1+"$@"}

(load "hello")

(defun greeter-main (args)
  (format t "Ready to greet.~%")

;;; With help from Francois-Rene Rideau
;;; http://tinyurl.com/cli-args
(let ((args
       #+clisp ext:*args*
       #+sbcl sb-ext:*posix-argv*
       #+clozure (ccl::command-line-arguments)
       #+gcl si:*command-args*
       #+ecl (loop for i from 0 below (si:argc) collect (si:argv i))
       #+cmu extensions:*command-line-strings*
       #+allegro (sys:command-line-arguments)
       #+lispworks sys:*line-arguments-list*

  (if (member (pathname-name *load-truename*)
              :test #'(lambda (x y) (search x y :test #'equalp)))
    (greeter-main args)))

Now the mains function are only called when hello.cl orgreeter.cl are run directly, not when it is loaded.


$ ./hello.cl
Hello Main!
$ ./greeter.cl
Ready to greet.

This is the desired behavior. For more examples, check out problem.cl and sigil-clean.cl.

Syntactic barriers to learning Common Lisp

lisp logoFunctional programming is blessed to have several hardy languages. I have only tried two: Haskell and Common Lisp. From the few tutorials I’ve completed, it seems that Haskell is easy to learn, and Lisp hard to learn.

This difference is, I believe, due to Lisp’s various and sundry dialects, implementations, and macros. In Haskell, there are two major ways to specify local variables: let and where. Common Lisp has at least four: let, let*, flet, and labels. CL has a retarded number of loop constructs. I’m currently reading a sample chapter from Land of Lisp. Here is a code snippet:

(defun find-islands (nodes edge-list)
  (let ((islands nil))
    (labels ((find-island (nodes)
	       (let* ((connected (get-connected (car nodes) edge-list))
		      (unconnected (set-difference nodes connected)))
		 (push connected islands)
		 (when unconnected
		   (find-island unconnected)))))
      (find-island nodes))

The defun syntax is intuitive; it’s like any other language’s function creator. And let makes sense: create some local variables and use them in sub-expressions. But labels baffles me. Would let have sufficed? Why or why not? After googling for a while (there is NO useable, complete Common Lisp reference document, and that includes HyperSpec and the Simplified Common Lisp Reference), I stumbled on a half-readable description of labels.

LABELS is special form for local function binding.

I could have told you that.

Bindings can be recursive and can refer to each other.

So labels is just like defun, defvar, and friends?

Each binding contains function name, arguments, and function body.

It seems that labels is just a special way to do defun locally. If Lisp is so powerful, why doesn’t Barkski do this:

(defun find-islands (nodes edge-list)
  (let ((islands nil))
    (defun find-island (nodes)
      (let* ((connected (get-connected (car nodes) edge-list))
	     (unconnected (set-difference nodes connected)))
	(push connected islands)
	(when unconnected
	  (find-island unconnected))))
    (find-island nodes)

Nested functions don’t require special syntax in Haskell, Python, or Lua. Why should they in the premier functional language? I think the answer is that CL allows nested defuns, but lispers aren’t happy with that–they want a closure they can use in if, cond, and other non-code-block areas. A combination of let and lambda would do just that, but macro-addiction dictates that a new syntax be created. Now we have labels.

So that’s defun, let, and labels. Then there’s let*. Apparently let* is similiar to flet, which is similiar to labels , which is similar to let, except that I’ve forgotten where the fuck I was going with that. These macros are simply variations of let, some more powerful than others.

Land of Lisp does explain these macros, but if they weren’t used in the code, they wouldn’t have to be explained. Or, Barski could have used a separate example for each macro, but that would have taken more pages. There must be a balance between code simplicity and time to get the game running. I understand his dilemma. But if he errs to often on the side of code obscurity, then readers will simply close the book. I don’t know if I can write an informative and entertaining programming tutorial as well as Barski does, but I know what I like in one, and it’s not a never-ending stream of new syntax. I’m still going to buy the book, and I’m still going to love it. It’s just going to take longer for me to parse than I had expected.


sigilIf, like me, you have trouble editing ePub books with Sigil, then you’ll enjoy sigil-clean. Your ebook’s code blocks will return to their original, tidy state. sigil-clean is a Common Lisp script made available by yours truly, with help from Zach Beane.


As it turns out, it’s trivially easy to get the REPL to print âhello, world.â


CL-USER> "hello, world"
"hello, world"


As it turns out, it’s trivially easy to get the REPL to print “hello, world.”

CL-USER> "hello, world"
"hello, world"

Practical Common Lisp Rolling Review

book coverAs I follow the exercises in Practical Common Lisp (PCL) by Peter Seibel, I’ll post the experiences here. Let’s get started.

The Book Itself

is available in dead-tree format and as a series of HTML files. My new Nook is hungry for ePubs, so I downloaded each PCL chapter, dragged and dropped into Sigil, and tweaked the resulting ePub. Sigil has a horrible bug which shoves code blocks way down pages, so my copy of PCL isn’t looking too great. But I plan to write a CL program to restore its former glory.

Chapter 1

is an introduction designed to welcome programmers to Lisp. A short summary would be: DON’T PANIC. The intro is humorous and intriguing.

Chapter 2

Shit just got real. Now PCL ushers the reader to install Lisp in a box (really Lispbox). Back in 2005, Lispbox was surely a godsend for the budding Common Lisper, but in 2010 it’s not only aged, it’s broken. I’ve already blogged about the pain and agony of setting up a CL system, and I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say MacPorts is only half a saving grace for Mac users. I’m currently using Aquamacs and Aquamacs SLIME with MacPorts CLISP and Quicklisp besides. My .emacs is pastebinned.

PCL covers the basics of Emacs shortcut keys then jumps to the Lisp interpreter. SLIME is quite helpful in this endeavor, compiling, running, debugging my code for me. I like the PCL’s Hello World is not a program but an expression entered into the REPL. Since half the work will be done there, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with ol’ Reppy.

PCL dives into writing defun’s; introduces the debugger; details the proper loading of source files and optional compilation of same, and ends with a NASA anecdote. A geek such as I couldn’t hope for much more than this chapter.

Chapter 3

The first practical chapter. PCL invites the reader to construct a simple music database, introducing Lisp syntacs and semantics along the way. I completed save-db, load-db, … up to update and delete-rows. I’m happy to report that Seibel’s code is clear and concise. PCL suggests using a combination of select and where to simulate a SQL query, with the effect that I almost believe I’m using a real database.

The section, “Removing Duplication and Winning Big” is not easy to skim over, so I’m stuck there for now. It covers Lisp macros, a topic I’ve only heard in reverent whispers.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m concurrently reading Real World Haskell. There are notable differences between Haskell and Common Lisp.

Haskell vs Common Lisp

Haskell has one official version (GHC) available on multiple platforms, free, and open source. Common Lisp has no official version. There are Windows-only versions, commercial versions, Linux-only versions with broken makefiles, and CL install kits that once served a purpose but now only serve to mock the senseless diversity of CL implementations.

Installing a complete Haskell environment is simple and painless. Installing Common Lisp took me on a journey.

GHC incorporates new features in each version. Common Lisp’s lack of an official version means that each flavor includes and omits important features. E.g., some come with multithreading, some don’t. ANSI can’t be as responsive as the Haskell community, so the Common Lisp standard will likely not benefit from new features anytime soon.

Haskell stores functions and variables in the same space. Common Lisp does not; it requires ' and #' to pass functions around.

Haskell syntax is light and uniform. By PCL Ch. 3, Common Lisp syntax is starting to slow me down.

Haskell has monads. Common Lisp has macros. More on that when I learn precisely what they are and how to use them.

Haskell’s error messages are somewhat esoteric. Common Lisp’s are more readable.

GHCi’s REPL has enough features to satisfy most programmers. Common Lisp REPLs often fail to include expression history, backspace functionality, and other obvious REPL features. CL REPLs are so crippled that Emacs/SLIME is a necessity.

Both Haskell and Common Lisp syntax are unique, requiring special effort to understand. I believe this is because BASIC syntax is more natural. STEP 1 STEP 2 STEP 3 is intuitive for humans. On the other hand, linear procedures aren’t very powerful. Functional languages have power because they break out of the STEP 1 STEP 2 STEP 3 routine: Spaghetti code is the result of a procedural programmer attempting to do more complex work.

Back to PCL

I’m not sure exactly when I need to #' functions in Common Lisp. While following the PCL exercises, I’ve left out #' for lambdas, and my code gives the same results as Seibel’s. It stands to reason that lambdas don’t need to be #'ed since they self-evaluate. Allegro and CLISP don’t need #' for lambdas, but I’m not sure about other CLs. In any case, I’d like to see a note about this in PCL. Also, I wonder why multiple quote syntaxes exist: ', `, and quote.

Common Lisp Syntax

Look at the code for generating a database query. There are SIX different symbols, each with their own purpose and usage.

(defmacro where (&rest clauses)
  `#'(lambda (cd)
    (and ,@(make-comparison-expr-list clauses))))

The ampersand in &rest is CL’s way of handling function arguments. &key would interpret the arguments as a property list, while &rest stores all the arguments in clauses.

The #' references the lambda without evaluating it. That is, pound (#) references an unevaluated (') lambda object.

The comma (,) and at (@) work together to force evaluation inside the unevaluated (`#') lambda expression. The lambda would have been prefaced with '#', but ,@ only works inside the backtick quote (`).

No poofters.

Common Lisp Travels


Tooling around with my Nook, I discovered a bug in Sigil, an ePub editor. Whenever a user toggles between the HTML code section and the book view section, a newline is inserted before every PRE tag. This means every code block in an ebook gets shoved way down the page. I thought that’s not so bad, filed a bug report, and began manually undoing those newlines.

Open ePub. Double-click chapter. Find a code block. Delete newlines. Repeat. After editing several chapters of Practical Common Lisp this way, I got an idea. Why not write a program to do this for me? The quest had begun.

Allegro CL seemed a likely choice. Sure, I have reservations about a commercial programming language, but Allegro was good enough for both Practical Common Lisp and Casting SPELs in Lisp. Common Lisp is difficult to install, so Lispbox is suggested.


My Internet connection was slow, but steady. I had Lispbox-0.7-with-acl81_express.dmg in no time. Double-click, double-click, drag & drop… done.

Once again, Allegro CL is commercial: free, but not open source. In particular, Allegro CL requires a license file. The Lispbox version of Allegro contains a program called newlicense. When executed, newlicense informs the user that Allegro is too old to warrant a license. Great.

This was too bad, as Lispbox comes with everything a Common Lisper could want: CL, Emacs, SLIME, and ASDF. Lispbox has, apparently, moved to http://common-lisp.net/project/lispbox/. I downloaded Lispbox-0.7-with-ccl-1.5-darwinx86.dmg, which contains a massive 400MB installation, which fails to accept any license file. Oh well, I’ll just have to install Common Lisp, etc. etc. manually.

Installing Common Lisp, etc. etc. Manually

The Allegro CL homepage offers a–surprise!–working edition of Allegro CL v8.2. The edition contains a working license as well as ASDF. Two down, six to go. I also downloaded Aquamacs (did I mention I was on Mac OS X?), which installed and ran equally well.

I don’t know the several hundred shortcut keys for Emacs, so I was eager to install SLIME, a plugin with such helpful features as code highlighting, indentation, compilation, execution, and debugging. Most CL implementations have only a basic interpreter; SLIME adds code completion as well.

Installing SLIME manually is moderately difficult. One must download the files, place them in an appropriate directory, and edit a ~/.emacs configuration file to inform Emacs that SLIME is in fact installed. After much retooling, here is my .emacs:

;; Initialize slime.
(setq inferior-lisp-program "/Applications/AllegroCL/alisp")
(add-to-list 'load-path "/Library/Application Support/Aquamacs Emacs/SLIME")
(require 'slime-autoloads)
(eval-after-load "slime"
  '(progn (slime-setup '(slime-fancy))))

;; Automatically use slime mode on .cl and .lisp files.
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.cl$" . common-lisp-mode))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.lisp$" . common-lisp-mode))

;; Start slime.

This code is scavenged from several different websites and a trip to Freenode. Lines 1-3 inform Emacs of the locations of a CL installation and a SLIME installation. Line 4 loads the SLIME framework. Lines 5-6 prepare SLIME such that it loads all of its features, including new keyboard shortcuts. Lines 8-10 specify that .CL and .LISP files should automatically open in SLIME mode so that the aforementioned SLIME features are applied to them. Finally, line 12 starts SLIME automatically just like Lispbox’s Emacs does.

That was a chore.

At this point, I had a working and cooperating installation of Allegro CL, Aquamacs, and SLIME. As a result, I was able to read and work through several examples in Practical Common Lisp. I even managed to pre-empt some of Seibel’s code, writing smaller/cleaner code before I saw his. Alas, it was at this point that I must have run (hubris), because everything I did after that was doomed to failure.

Doomed to Failure

Yeah, my code was sleek, but I had a ways to go before I could edit ebooks (remember the intro). ePub files are essentially zipped XHTML documents, ergo I need a Lisp library capable of reading and writing to zip files. As luck would have it, a Common Lisp ZIP library exists. It sports a tidy API and a tidy setup tutorial.

There are two ways to install the ZIP library: automatic and manual. The automatic way requires ASDF-Install. The manual way requires ASDF. Either way, I was destined to become familiar with ASDF and its subsidiaries.



Had to get that out of the way.

ASDF is nearly impossible to install and use. Fortunately, it comes with Lispbox. Unfortunately, Lispbox is broken. Fortunately, ASDF comes with Allegro CL. Unfortunately, that version of ASDF is crippled–it can’t do any of the commands I see in ASDF tutorials across the web. Fortunately, Allegro successfully loads ASDF. Unfortunately, Allegro fails to load ASDF-Install no matter where I place the files or how I configure ~/.clinit.cl. Fortunately, ASDF comes with SBCL. In fact, the Mad Scientist expressed similar misgivings about ASDF problems and reported that SBCL quickly resolved them.


Lost in Technopolis has an excellent tutorial for installing SBCL on Mac OS X. The basic idea is:

  1. Install MacPorts.
  2. Use MacPorts to install Emacs, SBCL, and SLIME in one fell swoop.

This all ran so smoothly, I wondered why I had spent so much time and effort on Allegro/Aquamacs. In a few minutes, SBCL finished compiling and was ready for duty. The interpreter was a bit finnicky: the debugger constantly gets in your way, and the command to exit SBCL is hidden deep in some underwater cave. Eventually, (quit) worked.

SBCL does indeed come with ASDF, and indeed SBCL easily installs ASDF-Install, indeed. Very soon indeed, ASDF-Install began installing ZIP, the last remaining sidequest to editing ebooks with Lisp. Very soon indeed, ASDF-Install, or ZIP, or ZIP’s several dependencies failed, and the ZIP install borked with errors such as

Cannot open: file exists


gray.lisp.lisp No such file or directory.

No dice. Throughout the day I have posted bug reports on Stack Overflow and two mailing lists. One mailing list was very active, and I soon got an email reply suggesting I drop ASDF for Quicklisp.

Quicklisp, or the End of my Tether

An oasis in the desert of broken software, Quicklisp is. The homepage is simple and elegant. The installation process is as easy as downloading a .LISP file and loading it.

Upon running the tutorial’s commands, I receive the error

163,840 bytes in 0.09 seconds (1720.43KB/sec)
; Fetching #
; 2.78KB
2,846 bytes in 0.001 seconds (2779.30KB/sec)
debugger invoked on a SB-INT:SIMPLE-FILE-ERROR:
  can't create directory /Users/andrew/.cache/common-lisp/sbcl-1.0.44-

Meanwhile my roommate has everything working on his Kubuntu setup with apt-get install emacs clisp slime. It’s just not fair.

Candide is Becoming More Relevant by the Second

MacPorts knows SBCL but not CMUCL. It knows CLISP but not GCL. While CLISP installs, I begin manual installation of GCL.

  1. Download GCL source from five years ago (really).
  2. Run ./configure.
  3. ./configure error’s.
  4. Follow ./configure‘s helpful advice.
  5. Run ./configure --enable-machine=FreeBSD, the closest thing to an Intel Mac version.
  6. ./configure error’s.

As a side note, Dr. Edmund Weitz offers yet another Common Lisp bundle, called Starter-Pack. It uses LispWorks, which automatically and forcibly exits after a couple hours. Also, Starter-Pack is Windows-only.

Let’s check up on CLISP.

It Works

Wait, what?

Your Life Is Meaningful Again

Oh, joy! Let’s test this.

$ cd ~/Downloads
[1]> (load "quicklisp.lisp")


[2]> (quicklisp-quickstart:install)


2,846 bytes in 0.001 seconds (2779.30KB/sec)
Upgrading ASDF package from version 2.004 to version 2.009
; Fetching #
; 0.40KB
408 bytes in 0.003 seconds (132.81KB/sec)

  ==== quicklisp installed ====
[3]> (ql:quickload "zip")
To load "zip":
  Load 1 ASDF system:
; Loading "zip"


Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Now back to helping Seibel organize his pop music.