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Module system for the Gambit-C Scheme system
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Black Hole

Black Hole is an R5RS compatible module system for Gambit which allows you to easily import libraries into your code including macros, which previously has been tricky on Gambit. Conversely you can also export your own code and create your own libraries to fully modularise your development.


Black Hole installs itself in the Gambit interpreter and compiler as a macro expander. The installation of Black Hole basically consists of downloading it, compiling it, and making sure it is loaded at the proper times. Compilation isn't necessary, and it can be loaded manually from the REPL by loading "build.scm". This approach is merely for convenience:

  • Download Black Hole
  • Compile Black Hole by running gsc build from a terminal inside the Black Hole source directory.
  • Make a symbolic link called bsc that points to gsc and put it in your PATH.
  • Put this in your ~/.gambcini file, changing blackhole-path to point to where Black Hole is installed:

      (let ((blackhole-path "~~lib/modules"))
        (and (equal? (path-strip-directory (car (command-line))) "bsc")
             (load (path-expand "build" blackhole-path))
               (set! module#ns-file (path-expand "ns.dat" blackhole-path))
               (println "Loaded Black Hole."))))
  • You can now run Black Hole with the command bsc


In Black Hole, a module corresponds directly to a .scm source code file. To create a new module, create a .scm file.

Black Hole is designed to add as little extra syntax as possible from plain R5RS code. A simple R5RS .scm file without any external dependencies is without modification a valid Black Hole module.

Importing and exporting names

By default, all defined functions, globals and macros are exported. To control that, place an export form at the top of the file, that enumerates the names that should be exported. For instance you could create a file named "a-module.scm" with the following contents:

(export a-procedure a-number)

(define secret-number 1)
(define (a-procedure var) (+ secret-number var))
(define a-number 5)

For a module system to be useful, a module has to be able to use code from other modules. That is done with the import form. import takes one or more module identifiers. A module identifier can be several things, but the most common kind of module identifier is a symbol. (import a-module) will import the module in the file "a-module.scm".

These paths are always relative to the directory where the module file is located (or the working directory if in the REPL). (import ../dir/module) imports the module that is found at "../dir/module.scm"

Compiling modules

Modules are not compiled like plain Gambit with the gsc command; They are compiled from the REPL:

  • (module-compile! 'test) compiles the module found in "test.scm".
  • (module-compile/deps! 'test) compiles the module found in "test.scm" and all its dependencies.
  • (module-compile-to-standalone "a.out" 'test) compiles the module found in "test.scm" to a standalone executable "a.out"


In essence, Black Hole is a macro expander. Black Hole extends Gambit with hygienic macros. It adds support for the special forms define-syntax, let-syntax and letrec-syntax. Currently, Black Hole supports macros through explicit renaming (er-macro-transformer), syntactic closures (sc-macro-transformer and rsc-macro-transformer) and R5RS syntax-rules.

It also adds a macro expansion function, expand-macro. It can be used to inspect what is happening with the macro expansion:

> (expand-macro '(let ((a 'hello)) a))
(let ((1#a 'hello)) 1#a)

define-macro macros are supported, but beware that they might get special identifier objects instead of just symbols when combined with hygienic macros. Usage of the other forms of macros is strongly recommended.

Known issues

The syntactic tower is only partially implemented. This can lead to confusion about what code is executed on compile-time versus run-time. If you don't use macros, or only use syntax-rules macros, these issues will never arise.

The hygiene system doesn't do DSSSL parameter scoping quite right. In particular, #!key and #!optional parameters with default values of other parameters in the same parameter list don't work:

> (define (fun a #!key (b a))
> (fun a)
*** ERROR IN (console)@6.6 -- Unbound variable: ~#a

More information / Contact

Please drop me a line at per dot eckerdal at gmail dot com or use the Gambit mailing list if you have any questions.

The Black Hole page at the Gambit wiki might also be of interest.

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