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The RScheme Revival Project

branch: master
README
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================ RScheme (release 0.7.3.3) =================

README

This is the README file for RScheme release 0.7.3.3.

What is RScheme?

RScheme is an object-oriented, extended version of the Scheme dialect of
Lisp.  RScheme is freely redistributable, and offers reasonable performance
despite being extraordinarily portable.  RScheme can be compiled to C, and
the C can then compiled with a normal C compiler to generate machine code.
This can be done from a running system, and the resulting object code can be
dynamically linked into RScheme as a program executes.  By default,
however, RScheme compiles to bytecodes which are interpreted by
a (runtime) virtual machine.  This ensures that compilation is fast and
keeps code size down.  In general, we recommend using the (default) bytecode
code generation system, and only compiling your time-critical code to
machine code.  This allows a nice adjustment of space/time tradeoffs.

To the casual user, RScheme appears to be an interpreter.  You
can type RScheme code at a read-eval-print loop, and it executes the
code and prints the result.  In reality, every expression you type to
the read-eval-print-loop is compiled and the resulting code is executed.

Features of RScheme

RScheme has a lot of useful features:

  0. A very liberal license, similar to Tcl's, which allows RScheme to
     be used in commercial software with little burden on the user except
     to acknowledge the source.  See the COPYING file.

  1. R4RS (Revised**4 Report on Scheme) compliant Scheme.  It's the
     full standard Scheme language, making it useful for writing portable
     programs, or using programs written for other Scheme dialects.
     Scheme is a small but powerful language with garbage
     collection, first-class procedures, list processing features,
     lexical scope, etc.  Various introductory texts on Scheme and
     Scheme programming are available.

  2. Object system.  Everything in RScheme is an object in an object-oriented
     system.  That is, RScheme is "objects all the way down" rather than
     being a hybrid language like C++ or most Lisp object systems---the
     built-in R4RS Scheme data types are all classes in the class hierarchy,
     as they should be.  Currently, only a simple object system with
     single inheritance and single dispatching is supported.  Our object
     system is approximately a subset of TinyCLOS, with some Dylan-like
     extensions.
  
  3. Threads.  RScheme supports user-level threads portably, even on
     operating systems that don't have threads at all.  RScheme multiplexes
     several user threads onto one OS-level process.  These threads
     appear to be preemptive from the normal user's point of view.
     (For example, nonblocking I/O can be used automatically so that 
     one thread doing a read from a network socket doesn't block the
     whole system;
     the reading thread will actually issue a nonblocking read request
     and a thread switch will activate a waiting thread.  You don't
     have to schedule threads "cooperatively" --- just use threads
     and specify nonblocking i/o.  RScheme does the rest.)  [note: by
     default, the system uses stdio for input and output.  You will require
     the facilities of the syscalls package to have a useful threads system
     that does console or network I/O]

  4. Sockets, globbing, etc.  Rscheme has several important features
     for writing serious programs, especially under UNIX.  It is suitable
     for writing networked servers, for example---that's one of the things
     it was designed for.  RScheme does not currently have as many shell
     programming features as Olin Shivers' scsh (the Scheme shell), but
     we will add more, and we may port full scsh to RScheme.

  5. Separately-compilable and linkable modules.  The module system is
     pretty straightforward and simple, similar to Scheme-48's module
     system and a subset of Dylan's.  It makes development easy by
     supporting separate compilation and dynamic module linking.

  6. Real-time garbage collection, using Wilson and Johnstone's algorithm.
     This is a hard real-time garbage collector, in principle, though
     the default configuration is only soft real time.  This is sufficient
     for most purposes, such as writing interactive applications and
     network servers---e.g., to avoid spurious network timeouts because
     a thread is delayed by a GC.

     Unlike most language implementations that compile to C, RScheme does
     NOT use conservative pointer finding in its garbage collector.
     RScheme's strategy for compiling to C supports precise identification
     of root pointers, as well as pointers in heap-allocated objects,
     eliminating potential storage leaks and unreliability due to
     misidentification of pointers.  (We don't want to overstate our
     case here, however---conservative pointer finding works surprisingly
     well, and Hans Boehm et al. have done an amazing job on free conservative
     GC's for use with C, C++, etc.  We have avoided dependence on conservative
     pointer finding because we simply didn't need it, and the supprot for
     precise pointer identification can be helpful for a variety of other
     purposes.)

     [For more on RTGC, see <http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/oops> ]

  7. Persistence, using the strategy described in Wilson and Kakkad's
     "pointer swizzling at page fault time".

     Our persistent object store avoids the need to read and write data
     to files, for most purposes.  Data can simply be saved on disk as
     a special kind of virtual memory image, and processes can open
     a persistent store and start traversing its data structures in the
     usual way---pages of data are faulted into virtual memory as needed,
     on demand, with performance comparable to normal paging.

  8. The ability to hand-code time-critical routines in C and plug them
     into applications written mostly in RScheme.  Since at the moment
     we can't claim to have a state-of-the-art compiler that generates
     awesome code for everything, we allow speed freaks to hand-code
     important things in C and integrate them into their programs.  (We
     discourage the overuse of this feature!  RScheme provides acceptable
     performance for most programs, and for most parts of most other
     programs, so if you overdo it, you're just making life harder for
     yourself.)

  9. Big number support.  For this, you need to have the gmp libraries
     and the header file longlong.h from the gmp sources.

Where to get RScheme
 
If you have found this file on a web server, in a net announcement, or
whatever, and you want RScheme, you can ftp it from ftp.rscheme.org as
pub/rscheme/rs-0.7.3.3.tar.gz.

What's in the Distribution

If you have ftp'd and untar'd the distribution, you probably found
this file at the top level.  Also at this level are several subdirectories,
described below.

  README  This file---the one you're reading.

  INSTALL How to configure, compile, and install RScheme

  COPYING License for free use

  doc     This holds the documentation of the system.  Included are
          a user reference (user_ref.ps) and notes on the design
	  and implementation (design_and_impl.ps).  The documentation
	  source is not shipped in this distribution.

  modules This is the source for the compiler and various other modules,
          in RScheme.  Most of the subdirectories hold the code for some
          particular module.

  handc   This is miscellaneous handwritten C code, mostly runtime support
          code such as the GC and the low-level parts of the thread
          system.  This source gets copied into `src/' by the top-level
	  build process.

  compiler This contains the "cross" compiler, which is written in the
	   language implemented by RScheme 0.6, but compiles code for 0.7.
	   (this is also the off-line module module, rsc, because it works
	   in 0.7 too)

  test    This directory holds regression test files

  src     The is is the C code generated automatically from RScheme code.
          The subdirectories correspond to the subdirectories
          of `modules/', and hold the C code generated from the RScheme code
          in those directories, plus copies of the subdirectories of `handc/'.

  bytcodes This contains the definitions of the bytecode operations and
	   hooks for the bytecode compiler to make use of the low-level
	   type system.

  packages This contains the standard, but optional, packages, such as
	   the persistent store (rstore) and posix interface package
	   (syscalls).


Goals of the RScheme project
============================

We have two major goals for RScheme: building a very useful system, and
building a clean and powerful system that can be used to implement
a variety of langauge constructs, or even entirely different languages,
portably and with good performance.  

In more detail, our goals are

  1. To build a useful language that has all of the basic features that
     any good modern programming language should have, and which provides
     decent performance without being a big complicated monster.  To
     be useful, it should be extremely portable.  Nobody should have to
     worry that the vendor will go out of business and the software won't
     be ported to new platforms.  Hence, we compile to C.  As long as there
     are C compilers on new platforms, it should be very easy to port
     RScheme and get good performance.  We don't expect C to die in the
     next few decades---it's the FORTRAN of the next 30 years.

     Compiling to C has its drawbacks.  C was not designed to be a compiler
     intermediate representation for other languages, so it is not the
     optimal backend.  On the other hand, we have found novel strategies
     for mapping RScheme onto C with surprisingly little degradation of
     performance.  (We don't just use C as a portable assembler, as some
     people do.  For example, in many cases, nested RScheme expressions
     can be compiled to nested C expressions, and the C compiler will do
     a good job of register allocation and instruction scheduling.)

     GNU C provides several handy extensions, such as the ability to use
     hardware registers to hold important global variables.  RScheme
     will take advantage of these features if the configure process
     recognizes an opportunity.

  2. To build a useful framework for research and development in programming
     language design and implementation.  RScheme was originally motivated
     by our frustration with existing language implementations, which are
     mostly very limited and very inefficient---or big, hairy, and nonnportable
     monsters.  Typically, implementors of interesting new languages write
     whole new compilers for them, because none of the existing compilers
     are flexible enough and understandable enough to make it worth reusing
     other people's code.  As a result, there are a whole lot of mediocre
     to bad langauge implementations out there, and that's a shame.  People
     keep using languages like C and C++ because they know there will be
     decent compilers for them everywhere.

     We want to leverage C's momentum, and allow better languages to be easily
     implemented with reliably good performance on essentially all common
     platforms.


-- Donovan Kolbly                       RScheme Development Group
   			                d.kolbly@rscheme.org
					http://www.rscheme.org/~donovan/
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