Update: There is a CL merge request that supports SBCL among other implementations, as expected it beats the picolisp implementation in speed by a factor of 2x. Still, I’m fine with being second place :)
I’ve implemented MAL for the third time by now, this time in PicoLisp, a language priding itself on its implementation simplicity. While it clearly is a Lisp dialect, it has foregone a good amount of classic Lisp design choices in favor of terse code. Despite this, there are practical inclusions for writing application software, like the GUI system and a distributed database implementation with a Prolog-style query language. Other interesting features are an unobtrusive OOP system, a FFI for C and Java, live debugging utilities, pattern matching and more in a 1MiB tarball.
You might wonder why I’d be up for learning yet another Lisp dialect, after having learned Emacs Lisp, Clojure and Scheme. Furthermore, Scheme already claims to take minimalism as language design principle and of course there are more obscure Lisp dialects, like Arc and newLISP. I can only blame a friend who told me about this fascinating talk given by the PicoLisp author demonstrating the abilities of his programming language. The overall picture my friend painted was that of a bizarro world where a crazy German ignored all established rules for a Lisp dialect, walking the fine line between insanity and practicability. Most surprisingly though was that he used his own invention to write business applications and succeeded in making a living off it. Naturally I was intrigued and kept PicoLisp on my backlog of things to play with.
My implementation is a bit smaller than the Emacs Lisp one, is the first one to actually make use of GNU readline and went for a purely Lisp tokenizer as I couldn’t figure out how to use PCRE for this task. It also appears to be the fastest one out of all Lisp family implementations. This might change though once the “clisp” implementation gains support for using SBCL instead of CLISP…
Regarding oddities, here’s an incomplete list:
- No lambda. You pass a quoted list instead.
- Quote returns more than only its first argument. However (quote 1 2 3) is equivalent to '(1 2 3) so you’ll most likely not ever notice…
- No macros. Functions can instead not evaluate their arguments, your job is to evaluate them as needed.
- No strings. String syntax creates so-called “transient” symbols. Additionally to doubling as string replacement, these are not equal to other symbols with the same contents and are therefore used to avoid name clashes in macro-like functions.
- No implicit closures. If you need to capture something from the environment, you must do this explicitly and have the choice between mutable and immutable ones.
- Unknown symbols evaluate to NIL instead of throwing an exception.
- Indentation (and even pretty-printing) is a lot easier than in classic Lisp dialects as it’s basically about increasing the depth by three spaces for each level instead of lining up parentheses.
- Closing parentheses that do not belong to the current line are separated by spaces. For convenience’s sake, a closing bracket is interpreted as “super paren” and closes all remaining parentheses.
- The style guide has an interesting solution to the problem of local variables potentially shadowing built-in functions: Capitalized identifiers!
- NIL is not only equivalent to the empty list, but to the empty string as well. This bit me when wrapping readline as an empty string couldn’t be discerned from NULL with the naïve approach…
- Error handling is close to non-existing. If you screw up things too much, the interpreter will segfault on you. This is not considered a bug.
- Identifiers for built-in functions are very short and at times cryptic. Clojure got nothing on that!
|||read does not parse a string into a S-expression, str does. The result of this cannot be handed to eval either, you’ll need to run it instead. I could go on with this for a while…|