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Lua Lisp Language
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Fennel (formerly fnl) is a lisp that compiles to Lua. It aims to be easy to use, expressive, and has almost zero overhead compared to handwritten Lua.

  • Full Lua compatibility - You can use any function or library from Lua.
  • Zero overhead - Compiled code should be just as or more efficient than hand-written Lua.
  • Compile-time macros - Ship compiled code with no runtime dependency on Fennel.
  • Embeddable - Fennel is a one-file library as well as an executable. Embed it in other programs to support runtime extensibility and interactive development.


  • The tutorial is a great place to start
  • The reference describes all Fennel special forms
  • The API listing shows how to integrate Fennel into your codebaes
  • The Lua primer gives a very brief intro to Lua with pointers to further details
  • The test suite has basic usage examples for most features.

For a small complete example that uses the LÖVE game engine, see pong.fnl.

The changelog has a list of user-visible changes for each release.


Hello World

(print "hello, world!")

Fibonacci sequence

(fn fib [n]
 (if (< n 2)
  (+ (fib (- n 1)) (fib (- n 2)))))

(print (fib 10))


At there's a live in-browser repl you can use without installing anything.

Check your OS's package manager to see if Fennel is available there. If you use LuaRocks you can run luarocks install fennel.

Otherwise clone this repository, and run ./fennel to start a repl. Use ./fennel my-file.fnl to run code or ./fennel --compile my-file.fnl > my-file.lua to perform ahead-of-time compilation.

See the API documentation for how to embed Fennel in your program.

Differences from Lua

  • Syntax is much more regular and predictable (no statements; no operator precedence)
  • It's impossible to set or read a global by accident
  • Pervasive destructuring anywhere locals are introduced
  • Clearer syntactic distinction between sequential tables and key/value tables
  • Separate looping constructs for numeric loops vs iterators instead of overloading for
  • Opt-in mutability for local variables
  • Opt-in arity checks for lambda functions
  • Ability to extend the syntax with your own macros and special forms

Differences from other lisp languages

  • Lua VM can be embedded in other programs with only 180kb
  • Access to excellent FFI
  • LuaJIT consistently ranks at the top of performance shootouts
  • Inherits aggressively simple semantics from Lua; easy to learn
  • Lua VM is already embedded in databases, window managers, games, etc
  • Low memory usage
  • Readable compiler output resembles input

(Obviously not all these apply to every lisp you could compare Fennel to.)



Copyright © 2016-2019 Calvin Rose and contributors

Released under the MIT license

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