TFEB.ORG Lisp hax

This repo contains a collection of small Common Lisp hacks I’ve written over the last thirty-odd years1. Some of them are genuinely useful, some of them are little more than toys written long ago to prove a point on comp.lang.lisp. Although they are here bundled together into an ASDF system that’s only for convenience: most of them are independent of each other. I will probably add more over time.



Almost all of these hacks are independent modules: they live in their own little packages and are loadable standalone: if you just want one of them then you don’t need to drag all the unrelated ones into your environment. If you put them in the right place, then require-module will find and load them for you: this is how I use them. Exceptions are:

The system itself provides :org.tfeb.hax: there is no org.tfeb.hax package however: each component lives in its own package with names like org.tfeb.hax.*.


These tools purport to be portable Common Lisp, apart from a couple which depend on Closer to MOP on some platforms2. If they’re not that’s either a bug in the tools or a bug in the CL implementation. In the former case I very definitely want to know, and I am also willing to add workarounds for the latter although I may be unable to test them on implementations I don’t use.

Zero history

Many of these tools have long and varied histories. However the parts of these histories that are still preserved are entangled with a lot of other code which is not public, so that history is not represented in the publication repo where you are probably reading this. They’re not listed in any sensible order: those up to read-package are all variously old and were collected and published here in early 2021: everything after that was just added chronologically, although some of those modules also have long prehistories.

Naming conventions

All of these tools make use of domain-structured names: packages, modules, features and so on have names which start with a DNS domain name in reverse order and then may continue to divide further. In this case the prefix is org.tfeb.hax: org.tfeb is the DNS component and hax is the division within the DNS part. See the TFEB.ORG tools documentation for a little more on this.

Collecting lists forwards and accumulating: collecting

This is the oldest hack I think, dating back at least to 1989 and perhaps before that. It’s also probably the most useful.

It’s quite often useful to be able to collect a list, in order, while walking over some possibly-large data structure. loop has a collect clause which lets you do this if what you are doing is looping, but you are not always looping, and not everyone is fond of loop3. You can pretty easily collect lists backwards and then remember to reverse them at the end, but that’s frankly ugly and also seemed frighteningly expensive in the 1980s if you wanted to collect a large list. collecting provides two macros which let you collect things into lists in the order in which they were collected. They use tail-pointers which means they don’t have to reverse or search down the lists they are building.

Collecting a single list: collecting / collect

collecting establishes an environment in which there is a locally-defined function called collect which will collect its argument into a list, which list will be eventually returned from collecting. collect is not defined outside the lexical scope of collecting. So, for instance, given

(defun find-numbers (l)
    (labels ((findem (it)
               (typecase it
                 (number (collect it))
                  (dolist (e it)
                    (findem e))))))
      (findem l))))


 > (find-numbers '(1 2 (3 4) (a b 6)))
(1 2 3 4 6)

collect returns its argument.

Collecting multiple lists: with-collectors

with-collectors establishes an environment where multiple named list collectors are available, and will return as many values as there are collectors. For example, given:

(defun classify (l)
  (with-collectors (number other)
    (labels ((findem (it)
               (typecase it
                 (number (number it))
                  (dolist (e it)
                    (findem e)))
                 (t (other it)))))
      (findem l))))


 > (classify '(1 2 (3 4) (a b 6)))
(1 2 3 4 6)
(a b)

As with collecting, the local collector functions return their argument.

Notes on collecting / with-collectors

The collection functions – collect or the functions defined by with-collectors – are declared inline, as are the functions defined by with-accumulators, and so should be very quick. But they are local functions4: you can return them. So this devious trick works, as do tricks like it:

(defun devious ()
  (collecting (collect #'collect)))

(defun peculiar (thing collector)
  (funcall (car collector) thing)
  (cdr collector))

and now

> (let ((c (devious)))
    (peculiar 1 c)
    (peculiar 2 c))
(1 2)

collecting is older than with-collectors by more than a decade I think. However it has an obvious definition as a shim on top of with-collectors and, finally, that now is its definition.

General accumulators: with-accumulators

with-accumulators is a variation on the theme of with-collectors: it allows you to accumulate things based on any function and a secret accumulator variable. with-accumulators takes a number of accumulator specifications as its first argument. These can have either a simple form and a more general form which may be extended in future.

The simple form is (accumulator operatior &optional initially).

The more general form is (accumulator operator &key initially type returner).

An example: let’s say you want to walk some cons tree counting symbols:

(defun count-symbols (tree)
  (with-accumulators ((s +))
    ;; equivalent to (s + 0) or (s + :initially 0 :type integer), say
    (labels ((walk (thing)
               (typecase thing
                 (symbol (s 1))
                 (cons (walk (car thing))
                       (walk (cdr thing)))
      (walk tree))))


 > (count-symbols '(1 2 foo (bar 3)))

A more general function can count symbols and conses:

(defun count-symbols-and-conses (tree)
  (with-accumulators ((s +)
                      (c +))
    (labels ((walk (thing)
               (typecase thing
                 (symbol (s 1))
                 (cons (c 1)
                       (walk (car thing))
                       (walk (cdr thing)))
      (walk tree))))


> (count-symbols-and-conses '(1 2 foo (bar 3)))

The accumulator functions are declared inline and return their argument, which is compatible with collecting / with-collectors.

Notes on with-accumulators

There is no single-accumulator special case: it didn’t seem useful as you need to specify the accumulation operator anyway.

The accumulation operator and returner are names which denote functions, not functions: they can be either symbols or a lambda expressions, they can’t be functions. Specifically it needs to be the case that (operator ...) is a valid form. That means that if you do want to use some function you’d need to provide an operator which was, for instance (lambda (into val) (funcall f into val)).

with-accumulators is very much newer than either of the other two macros, and may be more buggy. It is certainly the case that new keywords may appear in accumulator specifications.

with-accumulators can implement collecting or with-collectors:

(with-accumulators ((collect
                     (lambda (into it)
                       (let ((lit (list it)))
                         (if into
                             (setf (cdr (cdr into)) lit
                                   (cdr into) lit)
                           (setf into (cons lit lit))))
                     :initially nil
                     :returner car))
  (collect something)

This keeps the state in a cons in the obvious way, and then uses a returner function to return only the interesting bit of the cons. collecting and with-collectors are not actually implemented in terms of with-accumulators, although they could be.

It’s arguably the case that the accumulator functions should return the current value of the accumulator. This is incompatible with what the list collector functions do, but perhaps might be more useful. But, in fact, the right thing in that case would be for them to return what the returner function returns (because the accumulator value might be some internal state, as it is with the implementation of a version of collecting. And I wanted to be able to assume that the returner function is called exactly once, so it’s allowed to be destructive.

Package, module

collecting lives in org.tfeb.hax.collecting and provides :org.tfeb.hax.collecting.

Wrapping method combination: wrapping-standard

The standard CLOS method combination defines several sorts of methods, and prescribes the order in which they get called:

  1. the most-specific :around method, uses call-next-method to invoke possible further :around methods until it reaches the least-specific :around method, for which call-next-method invokes …
    1. … the most-specific :before method to the least-specific :before method in order, or …
    2. … the most-specific primary method, which can use call-next-method to invoke less-specific primary methods, after which …
    3. … the least-specific to most-specific :after methods run in order …
  2. … and the remaining parts of the :around methods run in most-to-least-specific order.

Sometimes it is useful for a class fairly high up the tree to be able to wrap code around this whole process: for instance a class might want to establish a lock and be very sure that no child class could run code outwith the dynamic extent where the lock was established, or it might be responsible for managing a cache in which it stores the results of the remaining methods This is what the wrapping-standardmethod combination provides.

The wrapping-standard method combination. A generic function declared with wrapping-standard method combination supports a new method qualifier, :wrapping: these methods are exactly like :around methods except:

So the ordering of methods is now

  1. the least-specific :wrapping method, uses call-next-method to invoke further :wrapping methods until it reaches the most-specific :wrapping method, for which call-next-method invokes …
    1. the most-specific :around method, uses call-next-method to invoke possible further :around methods until it reaches the least-specific :around method, for which call-next-method invokes …
      1. … the most-specific :before method to the least-specific :before method in order, or …
      2. … the most-specific primary method, which can use call-next-method to invoke less-specific primary methods, after which …
      3. … the least-specific to most-specific :after methods run in order …
    2. … and the remaining parts of the :around methods run in most-to-least-specific order …
  2. … and the remaining parts of the :wrapping methods run in least-to-most-specific order.

An example: given

(defgeneric compute-thing (x &key)
  (:method-combination wrapping-standard))

(defvar *cache* (make-hash-table))

(defmethod compute-thing :wrapping ((x t) &key (force nil) (cache *cache*))
  (if (or force (not (gethash x cache)))
      (setf (gethash x cache) (call-next-method))
    (values (gethash x cache))))

(defmethod compute-thing :wrapping ((x number) &key)
        (format t "~&wrapping (number)")
    (format t "~&wrapped (number)~%")))

(defmethod compute-thing :around ((x t) &key)
        (format t "~&>around (t)")
    (format t "~&<around (t)~%")))

(defmethod compute-thing :around ((x number) &key)
        (format t "~&>around (number)")
    (format t "~&<around (number)")))


 > (compute-thing 1)
wrapping (number)
>around (number)
>around (t)
(I am doing hard sums)
<around (t)
<around (number)
wrapped (number)

> (compute-thing 1)


A long time ago I did some benchmarks of wrapping-standard and found no observable difference to the standard method combination. If there are any they are very small.

Package, module

wrapping-standard lives in org.tfeb.hax.wrapping-standard and provides :org.tfeb.hax.wrapping-standard.

Applicative iteration: iterate

I’ve always liked Scheme’s named-let construct. It’s pretty easy to provide a shim around labels in CL which is syntactically the same, but since CL doesn’t promise to turn tail calls into jumps, it may cause stack overflows. When I wrote iterate I was still using, part of the time, a Symbolics LispM, and they didn’t turn tail calls into jumps. So I wrote this little hack which, if it knows that the implementation does not handle tail-call elimination, and if the name of the local function contains loop (in any case) will compile ‘calls’ to it as explicit jumps. Otherwise it turns them into the obvious labels construct.

Well, that’s what it used to do: the flag which controls whether it thinks an implementation supports tail-call elimination is now always set to true, which means it will always create correct code, even if that code may cause stack overflows on implementations which don’t eliminate tail calls5. The old code is still there in case anyone wants to look at it.

There is a single macro: iterate6:

(iterate foo ((x 1)
              (y 2))
  (foo (+ x 1) (- y 1))

turns into

(labels ((foo (x y)
           (foo (+ x 1) (- y 1))
  (foo 1 2))

Combined with collecting, iterate provides a surprisingly pleasant minimalist framework for walking over data structures in my experience.

Package, module

iterate lives in org.tfeb.hax.iterate and provides :org.tfeb.hax.iterate.

Local dynamic state: dynamic-state

Dynamic binding is something you don’t want very often, but you always end up wanting it somewhere: when programming in languages such as Python I’ve ended up having to reinvent dynamic binding7.

But quite often what you really want is not global special variables – variables which exist at the top-level – but local special variables, which exist only in some dynamic scope. This is easy to do in CL:

(defun foo (arg)
  (let ((%error-count% 0))
    (declare (special %error-count%))
    (bar arg)
    (when (> %error-count% 0)
      (format *error-output* "~%~D error~:*~P~%" %error-count%))))

(defun bar (arg)
  (let ((%error-count% 12))
    ;; this binding is lexical
    (spon arg %error-count%)))

(defun spon (arg count)
  (declare (special %error-count%))     ;we want the dynamic variable
  (when (> arg count)
    (incf %error-count%)))


> (foo 1)

> (foo 13)

1 error

I wanted a mechanism to encapsulate this kind of approach to locally establishing one or more special variables, which bindings could then be accessed and mutated by functions possibly far down the call stack, while making sure that only the right variables were bound and accessed. This is what define-dynamic-state does.

define-dynamic-state defines a pair of macros: one for establishing some dynamic state and one for accessing the same bit of state. The names of the variables which can be bound in a given piece of dynamic state are known to the macros, which reduces the possibility of errors. Giving the uses of dynamic state like this names also helps make code clearer.

Assume we want some dynamic state which allows us to keep track of error counts, as above. We could define that like this:

(define-dynamic-state (with-error-count with-error-count-access)

This defines a pair of macros, with-error-count and with-error-count-access which are allowed to bind and access two locally special variables: %error-count% and %error-threshold%: any other variables will be a compile-time error. We could use this to write this:

(defun foo (n)
  (with-error-count ((%error-count% 0)
                     (%error-threshold% 3))
    (bar n)
    (when (> %error-count% %error-threshold%)
      (format *error-output* "~%~D error~:*~P~%" %error-count%))))

(defun bar (n)
  (let ((%error-count% (floor (/ n 2))))
    ;; this binding is lexical
    (loop repeat %error-count%
          do (spon n))))

(defun spon (n)
  (with-error-count-access (%error-count%)
    (loop repeat n
          do (incf %error-count%))))

And now

> (foo 3)

> (foo 4)

8 errors

But, for instance, if you try this you’ll get an error at compile-time (really, macroexpansion-time):

> (with-error-count ((%errs% 3)) (bar 2))

Error: %errs% is not a valid dynamic state variable for with-error-count

dynamic-state doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do already: it just tries to make it a bit clearer and less error-prone, especially if you’re using more than one bit of dynamic state. That’s exactly what it was originally written to do.

Package, module

dynamic-state lives in org.tfeb.hax.dynamic-state and provides :org.tfeb.hax.dynamic-state.

Memoizing functions: memoize

Memoization is a clever trick invented by Donald Michie8, and described in Wikipedia. By remembering the results of calls to the function, it can hugely increase performance of certain kinds of recursive function. As an example

(defun fibonacci (n)
   ((= n 0) 0)
   ((= n 1) 1)
   ((> n 1) (+ (fibonacci (- n 1)) (fibonacci (- n 2))))
   ((< n 0) (error "no"))))

This function has a time complexity which is exponential in n, which means that it’s essentially impossible to use it to compute the nth term of the Fibonacci sequence for n being 100, say. But it’s also hugely repetitive: it calls itself on the same values an enormous number of times (in fact the number of times it calls itself with a given value is an element of the Fibonacci sequence!). Well, if we could just remember the last value we could avoid all that. And we can:

> (memoize-function 'fibonacci)

> (time (fibonacci 100))
Timing the evaluation of (fibonacci 100)

User time    =        0.000
System time  =        0.000
Elapsed time =        0.000
Allocation   = 11440 bytes
0 Page faults

And now fibonacci calls itself precisely once for each value of n, remembering the result so it never needs to do it again.

Memoization is easy in principle, especially given hash tables, but slightly fiddly in practice:

This is what memoize attempts to do. Unfortunately it may not do a very good job of it: I wrote it a long time ago and made various mistakes in its initial implementation. I think those mistakes are now, mostly, resolved, but I am not sure they are.

The interface

def-memoized-function defines or redefines a memoized function. Its syntax is the same as defun except that the function name may be either

In the second case the keyword options are those used by memoize-function (see below). A simple example is

(def-memoized-function fibonacci (n)
   ((= n 0) 0)
   ((= n 1) 1)
   ((> n 1) (+ (fibonacci (- n 1)) (fibonacci (- n 2))))
   ((< n 0) (error "no"))))

A more complicated one: if we wanted to memoize a function which computes the nth Fibonacci number represented as a list:

(defun peanoish-fib (l)
   ((null l) l)
   ((null (cdr l)) l)
   (t (append (peanoish-fib (cdr l))
              (peanoish-fib (cddr l))))))

then we would need to compare the list argument with equal, not eql:

(def-memoized-function (peanoish-fib :test #'equal) (l)
   ((null l) l)
   ((null (cdr l)) l)
   (t (append (peanoish-fib (cdr l))
              (peanoish-fib (cddr l))))))

(This doesn’t really help you very much, of course, since this function will allocate vast lists to represent large numbers.)

def-memoized-function uses memoize-function to do its work. It will also make a notinline declamation for the function to disallow the compiler from optimising self-calls.

memoize-function will memoize a function. It needs the name of the function in order to memoize it, so it can replace its definition. Additionally it has two keyword arguments:

memoize-function maintains a list of memoized functions and will refuse to memoize a function which is already memoized.

unmemoize-function will unmemoize a memoized function: its argument is the function name, again.

unmemoize-functions will unmemoize all memoized functions.

clear-memoized-function will clear the memos for the function name it is given;

clear-all-memoized-functions will clear memos for all functions

function-memoized-p will tell you if a given function name is memoized.

memoized-labels is like labels but it will memoize all the local functions it defines. As with def-memoized-function the function specifications can either be function names or lists of a function name and keywords as for memoize-function. Note that this doesn’t use memoize-function of course, because these are only local functions, but it does the same thing. So, for instance

(defun fibonacci (n)
  (check-type n (integer 0) "a natural")
  (memoized-labels ((fib (m)
                      (case m
                        ((0 1) m)
                         (+ (fib (- m 1))
                            (fib (- m 2)))))))
    (fib n)))


memoize is old code: I don’t use it very much, it has had some silly bugs and may still have. I’ve recently fixed it so it should understand (setf x) function names, but I have not tested those fixes very much. Memoized functions are unlikely to be thread-safe.

Package, module

memoize lives in org.tfeb.hax.memoize and provides :org.tfeb.hax.memoize.

Abstract and final classes abstract-classes

An abstract class is a class for which instances can’t be made directly, although they may be able to be made for subclasses of it. Here is a simple example:

(defclass point ()
  (:metaclass abstract-class))

(defclass 2d-point (point)
  ((x :initform 0
      :initarg :x
      :accessor point-x)
   (y :initform 0
      :initarg :y
      :accessor point-y)))

With this, then:

> (make-instance 'point)

Error: Trying to make an instance of point which is an abstract class

> (make-instance '2d-point :x 3 :y 2)
#<2d-point 40201CCBBB>

A final class is a class which may not be subclassed:

(defclass 2d-point (point)
  ((x :initform 0
      :initarg :x
      :accessor point-x)
   (y :initform 0
      :initarg :y
      :accessor point-y))
  (:metaclass final-class))

And now any attempt to subclass 2d-point will fail.

Because I got annoyed with (defclass ... ... ... (:metaclass ...)), there are a couple of defining macros:

A note on the MOP

abstract-classes needs a tiny bit of the MOP. For most platforms it uses Closer to MOP to avoid having to have implementation-dependent code. However for platforms where closer-mop:standard-class is not cl:standard-class, defclass will, by default, create classes whose metaclass is cl:standard-class, while the validate-superclass methods will refer to closer-mop:standard-class9 In the implementations I use where that is true I’ve relied on the implementation’s MOP. Currently this means LispWorks, although there may be others.

Package, module

abstract-classes lives in org.tfeb.hax.abstract-classes and provides :org.tfeb.hax.abstract-classes.

Classes with only one instance: singleton-classes

Sometimes it is useful to have classes for which there is only one instance. One slightly questionable way of doing that is to specialise make-instance so that it simply looks up and returns the single instance. That’s what singleton-classes does: given

(defclass single ()
  (:metaclass singleton-class))


> (eq (make-instance 'single) (make-instance 'single))

There is no macro to make singleton-class classes, as there is for abstract-classes : perhaps there should be.

There is a function, reset-singleton-classes which will remove all the instances of singleton classes, so they will be recreated the next time make-instance is called.


The approach of causing make-instance not always to make an instance is, I think, dubious: I think the whole thing was just a toy to show what was possible. One thing to know is that, for instance, initialize-instance only happens when the single instance is created, which means that given

(defclass one ()
  ((s :initarg :s
      :reader one-s))
  (:metaclass singleton-class))


> (make-instance 'one :s 1)

#<one {1003D4E1F3}>
cl-user> (one-s (make-instance 'one :s 2))

I am not sure if that is correct, but it’s how it works.

Finally, classes whose metaclass is singleton-classes can be subclasses of standard-class classes and each other, but classes whose metaclass isn’t singleton-class can’t be subclasses of ones whose metaclass is (in other words you can’t escape from being a singleton class by subclassing it).

singleton-classes has the same MOP problems as abstract-classes and gets around them in the same way.

Package, module

singleton-classes lives in org.tfeb.hax.singleton-classes and provides :org.tfeb.hax.singleton-classes.

Case-sensitive forms: cs-forms

There have been endless useless wars about case-sensitivity in CL, which I am uninterested in rehearsing. cs-forms provides a mechanism to make a readtable which can read single forms case-sensitively, using, by default #~ as the toggle. While reading case-sensitively, #~ will switch back to a case-insensitive readtable.

It does this by maintaining a pair of readtables, which have #~ defined in such a way as to switch between them. So

(setf *readtable* (make-cs-form-readtable))
#<readtable 402000A18B>

> '(this #~that #~(the #~other))
(this |that| (|the| other))

> '(this #~that #~(the #~other And ON it goes))
(this |that| (|the| other |And| on |it| |goes|))

make-cs-form-readtable makes a readtable in which #~ (where ~ may be specified) is defined to toggle case sensitivity. It takes three keyword arguments:

make-cs-form-readtable will signal an error if the toggle character is already in use.

Note that this works by maintaining a pair of readtables: any other changes to the readtable being copied should be made before make-cs-form-readtable is called.

The main use of this might be to map between names in a language which uses lots of mixed-case identifiers and CL:

(defvar *nmap*
  '((#~sillyName . better-name)
    (#~anotherOne . still-better)))

Package, module

cs-forms lives in org.tfeb.hax.cs-forms and provides :org.tfeb.hax.cs-forms.

Reading forms in a package: read-package

Symbolics LispMs had a nice syntax where package prefixes applied generally: foo:(x y z) meant either the same as (foo:x foo:y foo:z) or possibly (foo::x foo::y foo::z), I’m not sure now. This can’t be done in standard CL as by the time the package prefix has been read you’re already committed to reading a symbol. But this hack lets you do something similar:

> (defpackage :foo
#<The FOO package, 0/16 internal, 0/16 external>

> (setf *readtable* (make-read-package-readtable))
#<readtable 402000446B>

> '#@foo(a b c)
(foo::a foo::b foo::c)

In particular #@<package> <form> will read <form> in <package>.

This all works by a fairly nasty hack: the package is read as (probably) a symbol, and then looked up as a package name (although '#@"FOO" (a b c) will work as well). To avoid an endless profusion of package name clutter, while the package name is read a secret package is current, and the package name read is uninterned from that package once it’s been found. That’s horrible, but it works.

make-read-package-readtable has three keyword arguments:

It may be that some current CL implementations can do the native Symbolics-style thing too, and if they can it’s probably better than this hack.

Package, module

read-package lives in and provides

Commenting forms: comment-form

Racket has a nice #; readmacro which will comment the following form. Now so does CL:

> (setf *readtable* (make-comment-form-readtable))
#<readtable 4020003A13>

> #;
(defun foo ()
(print 1)


With an infix parameter, #; will skip that many forms. Forms are skipped simply by binding *read-suppress*, the same way #+ / #- do. Indeed #; is equivalent to #+(or) apart from the infix character.

make-comment-form-readtable takes three keyword arguments:

Package, module

comment-form lives in org.tfeb.hax.comment-form and provides :org.tfeb.hax.comment-form.

Tracing macroexpansion: trace-macroexpand

It’s sometimes pretty useful to understand what’s going on during macroexpansion: trace-macroexpand lets you do that.

A simple example

In a package where my collecting and with-collectors macros are available (see above).

> (trace-macroexpand t)

> (trace-macro collecting with-collectors)
(collecting with-collectors)

> (collecting (collect 1))
(collecting (collect 1))
 -> (with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
(with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
 -> (let (#:collect-var #:collect-tail) (flet # # ...) ...)

> (with-collectors (a b)
    (a 1)
    (b 2))
(with-collectors (a b) (a 1) ...)
 -> (let (#:a-var #:b-var #:a-tail ...) (flet # # ...) ...)

> (with-collectors (outer)
    (outer (with-collectors (inner)
             (inner 1)
             (inner 2))))
(with-collectors (outer) (outer #))
 -> (let (#:outer-var #:outer-tail) (flet # # ...) ...)
(with-collectors (inner) (inner 1) ...)
 -> (let (#:inner-var #:inner-tail) (flet # # ...) ...)
((1 2))

By default the values of *print-length* and *print-level* are 3 and 2 when tracing macroexpansion so the output is not enormous – what you often want to see is just that a macro is expanded, not all the details. But we can control this:

> (setf *trace-macroexpand-print-length* nil
        *trace-macroexpand-print-level* nil)

> (collecting (collect 1))
(collecting (collect 1))
 -> (with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
(with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
 -> (let (#:collect-var #:collect-tail)
      (flet ((collect (org.tfeb.hax.collecting::it)
               (if #:collect-var
                   (setf (cdr #:collect-tail)
                         (list org.tfeb.hax.collecting::it)
                         #:collect-tail (cdr #:collect-tail))
                 (setf #:collect-tail (list org.tfeb.hax.collecting::it)
                       #:collect-var #:collect-tail))
        (declare (inline collect))
        (collect 1))
      (values #:collect-var))

You can then trace or untrace things in a similar way you can with trace:

> (trace-macro)
(collecting with-collectors)

> (untrace-macro with-collectors)

And you can also turn tracing on and off globally:

> (macroexpand-traced-p)

> (trace-macroexpand nil)

> (macroexpand-traced-p)

Finally you can arrange to trace all macros in a package:

> (trace-macro-package :org.tfeb.hax.collecting)

> (trace-macro)

> (collecting (collect 1))
(collecting (collect 1))
 -> (with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
(with-collectors (collect) (collect 1))
 -> (let (#:collect-var #:collect-tail) (flet # # ...) ...)

It can trace itself:

> (trace-macro trace-macro)

CL-USER 52 > (trace-macro)
 -> (org.tfeb.hax.trace-macroexpand::trace-macros 'nil)

How it works, caveats

All trace-macroexpand does is to install a hook on *macroexpand-hook and use this to drive the tracing. It is careful to call any preexisting hook as well, so it does not interfere with anything else. However, don’t unilaterally change *macroexpand-hook* while macro tracing is active: turn it off first, as things will become confused otherwise. If it detects bad states (for instance if tracing is off but the wrapped hook isn’t nil, or if tracing seems to be on but the wrapped hook is nil) it will signal errors and there are restarts which may help recover. But it’s best to not get into these states.

Tracing output goes to *trace-output*.

The interface

The interface is fairly large, as there are a reasonable number of options, some of which can be controlled in various ways.

trace-macroexpand turns macroexpansion tracing on or off, globally. It has a single optional argument: if it is true (the default) it turns it on, if it is false it turns it off. It returns the previous state. Compiling or loading trace-macroexpand will unilaterally force macroexpansion tracing off, to avoid problems with tracing happening as the code which does the tracing is being redefined.

macroexpand-traced-p tells you if macroexpansion is off or on. Again, the initial state is always off.

call/macroexpand-tracing calls a function with macroexpansion tracing on or off. It’s useful, for instance, for seeing what happens when you compile a file. Its argument is a function of no arguments to call, and an optional second argument controls whether macroexpansion is on (the default) or off during the dynamic extent of the call.

with-macroexpand-tracing is a macro shim around call/macroexpand-tracing: use it as (with-macroexpand-tracing () ...) or (with-macroexpand-tracing (state) ...):

> (with-macroexpand-tracing () 1)
(with-macroexpand-tracing nil 1)
 -> (call/macroexpand-tracing (lambda # 1) t)

trace-macro is like trace for macros: you give it names of macros and it will tell the system that their expansion should be traced. Like trace it’s a macro. It returns (expands to) the list of all traced macro names.

untrace-macro is like untrace, and like it it’s a macro.

*trace-macroexpand-traced-names* is a list of the names of all macros being traced by name: it’s what trace-macro & untrace-macro maintain. You can change or bind this list at will.

trace-macro-package will turn tracing on for zero or more packages. It takes any number of arguments, which are ‘package designators’, where this means one of:

It returns the canonicalised list of package designators being traced: each of these is a string, t or nil. trace-macro-package is a function, not a macro.

untrace-macro-package takes zero or more package designators to be untraced. It is not an error if they are not being traced. It returns the canonicalised list of package designators. It is a function, not a macro.

*trace-macroexpand-traced-packages* is the canonical list of package designators maintained by the previous two functions. You can bind or modify this.

*trace-macroexpand-print-length* and *trace-macroexpand-print-level* are the values of *print-length* and *print-level* in effect during tracing. By default they are 3 and 2 respectively.

*trace-macroexpand-printer*, if it is not nil, should be a designator for a function of four arguments: the stream to trace on, the macro form, the expanded macro form and the environment: it will be called to print or otherwise record the expansion. In this case no binding is done of printer control variables: the function is responsible for anything it wants to do.

*trace-macroexpand-maybe-trace* is a kill switch: if it is false no tracing will happen, whatever anything else may say.

*trace-macroexpand-trace-hook* , if non-nil, should be a function which controls whether tracing should happen, overriding everything else except *trace-macroexpand-maybe-trace*.

Package, module

trace-macroexpand lives in org.tfeb.hax.trace-macroexpand and provides :org.tfeb.hax.trace-macroexpand.

Defining global functions with lexical environments: define-functions

It’s a little fiddly in CL to define global functions with non-empty lexical environments. The obvious approach:

(let ((c 0))
  (defun counter ()
    (prog1 c
      (incf c))))

Is problematic because the function definition will not generally be known about at compile-time. It’s also ugly, compared with the equivalent in Scheme10:

(define counter
  (let ((c 0))
    (λ ()
        (set! c (+ c 1))))))

define-functions deals with this: you can say

(define-function counter
  (let ((c 0))
    (lambda ()
      (prog1 c
        (incf c)))))

define-function, and define-functions on which it’s built, arrange for suitable declamations to keep the compiler happy and expand into code which will define the function or functions properly at load-time.

Function specifications

Because define-function & define-functions need to write a declamation of the type of the function and because you may want to add documentation, the argument to it is either:

The macros are smart enough to realise that a list of the form (setf x) is a function name.

Interface macros

define-function defines a single global function to be the result of a form. It returns the name of the function being defined.

define-functions defines a number of functions. Its first argument is a list of function specifications as above, and its remaining arguments are either

define-functions can be used to define sets of global functions which share a lexical environment:

(define-functions (inc dec)
  (let ((c 0))
     (lambda ()
       (incf c))
     (lambda ()
       (decf c)))))

It returns the names of the functions defined as multiple values.

There are also equivalents for macros, although these seem unlikely to be useful.

define-macro-function defines a macro. A macro specification is either

Note that the second argument of define-macro-function should evaluate to a macro function: a function which takes two arguments, which are a macro form and an environment.

define-macro-functions is to define-macro-function as define-functions is to define-function.

Finally, we can use trace-macroexpand to poke at these:

 > (setf *trace-macroexpand-print-length* nil
         *trace-macroexpand-print-level* nil)

> (define-function counter
    (let ((c 0))
      (lambda ()
        (prog1 c
          (incf c)))))
(define-function counter (let ((c 0)) (lambda () (prog1 c (incf c)))))
 -> (define-functions (counter)
      (let ((c 0)) (lambda () (prog1 c (incf c)))))
(define-functions (counter) (let ((c 0)) (lambda () (prog1 c (incf c)))))
 -> (progn
      (declaim (ftype function counter))
      (multiple-value-bind (#:f0)
          (let ((c 0)) (lambda () (prog1 c (incf c))))
        (unless (functionp #:f0) (error "A function isn't: ~A" #:f0))
        (setf (fdefinition 'counter) #:f0))
      (values 'counter))

Package, module

define-functions lives in org.tfeb.hax.define-functions and provides :org.tfeb.hax.define-functions.

Local bindings: binding

Different languages take different approaches to declaring – binding – variables and functions locally in code.

Racket is pretty clear how what it does works:

(define foo ...)

turns into something like

(letrec ([foo ...])

I thought it would be fun to implement a form which does this for CL, and that’s what binding does.

binding is a form, directly within whose body several special binding forms are available. These forms are:

For bind the two cases are:

For bind/macro the two cases are really the same although the expansions are different:

For bind/values there are also two cases:

bind/destructuring doesn’t have any variants.

bind/values also has a special magic: if you use nil as the name of a ‘variable’, that binding is quietly ignored. This helps in cases where, for instance, you need only some of the values of a form:

  (bind/values (nil interesting) (two-valued-function))
  ... interesting ...)

All of these forms are coalesced to create the minimum number of binding constructs in the generated code (this is why bind corresponds to let*), so:

  (print 1)
  (bind x 1)
  (bind y 2)
  (print 2)
  (bind (f1 v)
    (+ x v))
  (bind (f2 v)
    (+ y (f1 v)))
  (f2 1))

corresponds to

  (print 1)
  (let* ((x 1) (y 2))
    (print 2)
    (labels ((f1 (v)
               (binding (+ x v)))
             (f2 (v)
               (binding (+ y (f1 v)))))
      (f2 1))))

and so on. bind/values and bind/destructuring are not coalesced as it makes no sense to do so.


The bodies of local functions and macros bound by binding are themselves wrapped in binding forms, but declarations are raised out of these forms. So

  (bind (f i)
    (declare (type fixnum i))
    (bind j (* i 2))
    (if (fixnump j)
        (f j)
  (f 1))

expands to

(labels ((f (i)
           (declare (type fixnum i))
             (bind j (* i 2))
             (if (fixnump j)
                 (f j)
  (f 1))

and hence to

(labels ((f (i)
           (declare (type fixnum i))
           (let* ((j (* i 2)))
             (if (fixnump j)
                 (f j)
  (f 1))

Apart from this case,bind &c work only directly within binding: there is no code walker, intentionally so. There are top-level definitions of bind &c as macros which signal errors at macroexpansion time.

I thought about using _ (or symbols with that name) as the ‘ignore this binding’ for bind/values to be compatible with, for instance, Racket, but I decided that using nil could break no existing programs so was safer.

binding uses iterate to do iteration, so it relies on an implementation which can turn this into tail calls (or has a big enough stack, which will probably be the case for most practical source code).

Package, module, dependencies

binding lives in org.tfeb.hax.bindingand provides :org.tfeb.hax.binding. binding depends on collecting and iterate at compile and run time. If you load it as a module then, if you have require-module, it will use that to try and load them if they’re not there. If it can’t do that and they’re not there you’ll get a compile-time error.

Special strings: stringtable

format has a very useful feature: there is a special format control ‘tilde newline’ which will cause format to skip both the newline and any following whitespace characters11. This makes writing long format control strings much easier, which is useful since format control strings do tend to be long. You can, then, use (format nil ...) as a way of simply creating a string with, if you want, newlines being ignored.

I wanted to do something that was both less and more than this: I wanted a way of writing literal strings such that it was possible to, for instance, ignore newlines to help source formatting, but without involving format so I didn’t have to worry about all the other format controls, or about explicitly trying to make sure format got called before runtime to avoid overhead. I also wanted the possibility of being able to define my own special handlers in such strings, with all of this working at read time.

This is what stringtables do: they provide a way of reading literal strings where the string reader, as well as the usual escape character (which can be set), has zero or more ‘special’ characters which can cause user-defined functions to be called, all controlled by a stringtable object. The whole thing is like a simplified version of the normal CL reader, with the stringtable object playing the role of the readtable (this is why they are called ‘stringtables’ of course). In fact the various functions in the interface intentionally echo those of the normal reader interface: that interface is a bit clunky I think, but I thought it was better to be culturally compatible with it than invent something new.

A critical difference between stringtables and the reader is that the special character handlers in stringtables have fallbacks: these can be specified, but the default fallback is a function which simply returns the character, or the special character and the character.

The stringtable reader can be glued into the normal reader on a macro character, and there is a function to do this. This uses #"..." by default, although it can use any other delimiter (for a while, it used #/.../ as the default). Although the system is now rather general, there is also a function which sets up a default special handler to skip newlines and following whitespace.


Here’s a tiny example, using the gluing functions to make read use stringtables and then to tell the default stringtable to use the newline skipper.

 > (setf *readtable* (make-stringtable-readtable))
#<readtable 402002208B>

> (set-stringtable-newline-skipper)
#<stringtable 421017BA03>

> (read)
#"this is ~

a string with no newlines in it ~
      at all"
"this is a string with no newlines in it at all"

Here’s another example which puts the stringtable reader on the interim #/.../ syntax:

> (setf *readtable* (make-stringtable-readtable :delimiter #\/))
#<readtable 4020022E5B>

> (set-stringtable-newline-skipper)
#<stringtable 4210196123>

> (read)
#/foo ~
"foo bar"

Reading special strings

The algorithm for reading a special string is:

An end of file before an unescaped delimiter is reached is an error.

The interface

*stringtable* is the current stringtable object, by analogy with *readtable*. Initially it is set to a copy of the standard stringtable, which:

*stringtable-fallback-absorb-special* is a variable which controls the behaviour of the default fallback handler: if it is true then it will absorb the special character and simply return the subcharacter; if it is false it will return both the special character and the subcharacter. User-defined fallback handlers are encouraged to respect this variable. The default value is true.

copy-stringtable makes a copy of a stringtable. It has three optional arguments.

The argument convention for this function is clunky, but it is done this way for compatibility with copy-readtable. Providing nospecial is the only way to make a stringtable with no special characters at all.

stringtable-escape-character is the accessor for the escape character of a stringtable. The escape character can be set to nil as a special case, which is equivalent to there being no escape character.

make-stringtable-special-character makes a special character in a stringtable. If there is already one there it will remove all of its subcharacters and optionally replace the fallback function. It has one mandatory argument and two optional arguments:

The function returns t by analogy with make-dispatch-macro-character.

get-stringtable-special-character gets the handler function for a special character and subcharacter in a stringtable. It has two mandatory arguments and one optional argument:

The function returns two values:

set-stringtable-special-character defines a handler for a special character and subcharacter pair. It has three mandatory arguments and one optional argument:

The function returns t.

read-string-with-stringtable is the interface to reading special strings. It is intended to be called from a reader macro function. It has one mandatory argument and two optional arguments:

It returns the string read, or signals an error if something went wrong.

The remaining two functions are not part of the core behaviour of the module, but make it easy to set up the useful common case (or my useful common case, anyway).

make-stringtable-readtable makes a readtable with a stringtable reader attached to a macro character. It has three keyword arguments:

The returned readtable will have a macro character set up for the delimiter subcharacter of #\# which will read special strings with delimiter.

Note this function is not fully general: its purpose in life is to set up the common case. It’s perfectly possible to have special string readers on other characters, but if you want to do that you need to do it yourself.

set-stringtable-newline-skipper is a function which installs a suitable newline-skipper handler for a stringtable. It has three keyword arguments:

This function will in fact install the skipper function on both #ewline, #\Return and #\Linefeed (even if some of those are the same character). The ‘white warner’ functions get installed on #\Space and #\Tab and will do nothing, but will generate a warning: the aim of this is to detect the common mistake of a trailing space.

The function returns the stringtable.

This function relies on some slightly non-standard characters: I think they exist in all common implementations however. If I find ones where they don’t exist I will conditionalise the code for them.


As mentioned above, a lot of the interface is trying to mirror the standard readtable interface, which is why it’s a bit ugly.

I’ve talked about things ‘being an error’ above: in fact in most (I hope all) cases suitable conditions are signaled

Stringtables are intended to provide a way of reading literal strings with some slightly convenient syntax12: it is not a system for, for instance, doing some syntactically-nicer or more extensible version of what format does. There are other things which do that, I’m sure.

Originally the default delimiter for make-stringtable-readtable was #\", as it is now . For a while it was #\/, because I worried that #"..." would be likely to clash with other hacks, but #/.../ finally seemed too obvious a syntax fir regular expressions to use for this. You can always choose what you want to have.

Package, module, dependencies

stringtable lives in org.tfeb.hax.stringtable and provides :org.tfeb.hax.stringtable. stringtable depends on collecting and iterate at compile and run time. If you load it as a module then, if you have require-module, it will use that to try and load them if they’re not there. If it can’t do that and they’re not there you’ll get a compile-time error.

Object accessors: object-accessors

with-accessors & with-slots are pretty useful macros. Since symbol-macrolet exists it’s pretty easy to provide a similar facility for accessor functions for completely arbitrary objects. That’s what with-object-accessors does: it does exactly what with-accessors does, but for completely arbitrary objects and functions13. As an example:

(defun foo (c)
  (with-object-accessors (car cdr) c
    (setf car 1                         ;(setf (car c) 1)
          cdr 2)                        ;(setf (cdr c) 2)

As with with-accessors you can provide names which are different than the accessor names:

(defstruct long-name-thingy

(defun bar (lnt)
  (with-object-accessors ((s long-name-thingy-long-name-slot)) lnt
    (setf s 1)

There is absolutely nothing special about with-object-accessors: it’s just the obvious thing you would write using symbol-macrolet. Its only reason to exist is so that it does exist: versions of it no longer have to be endlessly rewritten. It is careful to evaluate the object only once, so (with-object-accessors (car cdr) (cons 1 2) ...) would work, say.

Package, module

object-accessors lives in org.tfeb.hax.object-accessors and provides :org.tfeb.hax.object-accessors.

The TFEB.ORG Lisp hax are copyright 1989-2021 Tim Bradshaw. See LICENSE for the license.

  1. The initial documentation for these hacks was finished on 20210120 at 18:26 UTC: one hour and twenty-six minutes after Joe Biden became president of the United States. 

  2. I expect both abstract-classes and singleton-classes might have portability problems around the MOP, and I’d welcome fixes to these. 

  3. The modern form of loop also did not portably exist when collecting was written. 

  4. Once upon a time they were local macros, because I didn’t trust ancient CL compilers to inline functions, with good reason I think. 

  5. If you are using such an implementation, well, sorry. 

  6. iterate was once called taglet and given that it’s not particularly about iteration that might be a better name for it: I’m not going to change it back now though. 

  7. Fortunately, and a bit surprisingly to me, Python has facilities which let you do this fairly pleasantly. Something on my todo list is to make this implementation public. 

  8. See  ’Memo’ Functions and Machine Learning, Donald Michie, Nature 218 (5136): 19–22. PDF copy

  9. And I was not willing to put in explicit extra methods for validate-superclass for cl:standard-class since the whole purpose of using Closer to MOP was to avoid that kind of nausea. 

  10. In fact, Racket. 

  11. Or, optionally, not to skip the newline but to skip any whitespace following it. 

  12. As an example of this, it would be quite possible to define a special handler which meant that, for instance #/this is ~U+1234+ an arbitrary Unicode character/would work. 

  13. It’s quite possible that with-accessors will work for completely arbitrary objects and accessors already of course, but I don’t think you can portably rely on this.