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A micro-manual for LISP Implemented in C

Recently I had to go through some code that uses the uIP TCP/IP stack, which reminded me, it has been a long time since I did something in C so I ended up spending the weekend implementing the 10 rules John McCarthy described in his paper A Micro-Manual for Lisp - not the whole Truth.

This is a literate program, the code in this document is the executable source, in order to extract it, open this raw file with emacs and run,

M-x org-babel-tangle
enum type {CONS, ATOM, FUNC, LAMBDA};

typedef struct{
  enum type type;
} object;

typedef struct {
  enum type type;
  char *name;
} atom_object;

typedef struct {
  enum type type;
  object *car;
  object *cdr;
} cons_object;

typedef struct {
  enum type type;
  object* (*fn)(object*,object*);
} func_object;

typedef struct {
  enum type type;
  object* args;
  object* sexp;
} lambda_object;

We begin by defining four types of objects we will be using. CONS is what we use to hold lists, ATOMs are letters or digits anything that is not used by LISP, a FUNC holds a reference to a C function and a LAMBDA holds a lambda expression.

object *read_tail(FILE *in) {
  object *token = next_token(in);

  if(strcmp(name(token),")") == 0)
    return NULL;
  else if(strcmp(name(token),"(") == 0) {
    object *first = read_tail(in);
    object *second = read_tail(in);
    return cons(first, second);
  }else{
    object *first = token;
    object *second = read_tail(in);
    return cons(first, second);
  }
}

object *read(FILE *in) {
  object *token = next_token(in);

  if(strcmp(name(token),"(") == 0)
    return read_tail(in);

  return token;
}

read gets the next token from the file, if it is a left parentheses it calls read_tail to parse the rest of the list, otherwise returns the token read. A list (LIST e1 … en) is defined for each n to be (CONS e1 (CONS … (CONS en NIL))) so read_tail will keep calling itself concatenating cons cells until it hits a right parentheses.

object* init_env(){
  object *env = cons(cons(atom("QUOTE"),cons(func(&fn_quote),NULL)),NULL);
  append(env,cons(atom("CAR"),cons(func(&fn_car),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("CDR"),cons(func(&fn_cdr),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("CONS"),cons(func(&fn_cons),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("EQUAL"),cons(func(&fn_equal),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("ATOM"),cons(func(&fn_atom),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("COND"),cons(func(&fn_cond),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("LAMBDA"),cons(func(&fn_lambda),NULL)));
  append(env,cons(atom("LABEL"),cons(func(&fn_label),NULL)));

  tee = atom("#T");
  nil = cons(NULL,NULL);

  return env;
}

Now that we have a list to execute, we need to define the environment we will be evaluating the expressions in. Environment is a list of pairs during evaluation we replace those atoms with their values, we also define tee to be the atom #T and nil to be the empty list.

object *eval_fn (object *sexp, object *env){
  object *symbol = car(sexp);
  object *args = cdr(sexp);

  if(symbol->type == LAMBDA)
    return fn_lambda(sexp,env);
  else if(symbol->type == FUNC)
    return (((func_object *) (symbol))->fn)(args, env);
  else
    return sexp;
}

object *eval (object *sexp, object *env) {
  if(sexp == NULL)
    return nil;

  if(sexp->type == CONS){
    if(car(sexp)->type == ATOM && strcmp(name(car(sexp)), "LAMBDA") == 0){
      object* largs = car(cdr(sexp));
      object* lsexp = car(cdr(cdr(sexp)));

      return lambda(largs,lsexp);
    }else{
      object *accum = cons(eval(car(sexp),env),NULL);
      sexp = cdr(sexp);

      while (sexp != NULL && sexp->type == CONS){
        append(accum,eval(car(sexp),env));
        sexp = cdr(sexp);
      }

      return eval_fn(accum,env);
    }
  }else{
    object *val = lookup(name(sexp),env);
    if(val == NULL)
      return sexp;
    else
      return val;
  }
}

When we pass an S-Expression to eval, first we need to check if it is a lambda expression if it is we don’t evaluate it we just return a lambda object, if it is a list we call eval for each cell, this allows us to iterate through all the atoms in the list when we hit an atom we lookup its value in the environment if it has a value associated with it we return that otherwise we return the atom, at this point,

(QUOTE A)

is transformed into,

(func-obj atom-obj)

all eval\_fn has to do is check the type of the car of the list, if it is a function\_object it will call the function pointed by the function\_object passing cdr of the list as argument, if it is a lambda\_object we call the fn\_lambda which executes the lambda expression else we return the S-Expression.

Each function_object holds a pointer to a function that takes two arguments, arguments to the function and the environment we are executing it in and returns an object.

object *fn_lambda (object *args, object *env) {
  object *lambda = car(args);
  args = cdr(args);

  object *list = interleave((((lambda_object *) (lambda))->args),args);
  object* sexp = replace_atom((((lambda_object *) (lambda))->sexp),list);
  return eval(sexp,env);
}

A lambda_object holds two lists,

(LAMBDA (X Y) (CONS (CAR X) Y))
args -> (X Y)
sexp -> (CONS (CAR X) Y))

to execute it first thing we do is interleave the args list with the arguments passed so while executing following,

((LAMBDA (X Y) (CONS (CAR X) Y)) (QUOTE (A B)) (CDR (QUOTE (C D))))

list will be,

((X (A B)) (Y (D)))

then we iterate over the sexp and replace every occurrence of X with (A B) and every occurrence of Y with (D) then call eval on the resulting expression.

This covers everything we need to interpret the LISP defined in the paper passing a file containing the following,

(QUOTE A)
(QUOTE (A B C))
(CAR (QUOTE (A B C)))
(CDR (QUOTE (A B C)))
(CONS (QUOTE A) (QUOTE (B C)))
(EQUAL (CAR (QUOTE (A B))) (QUOTE A))
(EQUAL (CAR (CDR (QUOTE (A B)))) (QUOTE A))
(ATOM (QUOTE A))
(COND ((ATOM (QUOTE A)) (QUOTE B)) ((QUOTE T) (QUOTE C)))
((LAMBDA (X Y) (CONS (CAR X) Y)) (QUOTE (A B)) (CDR (QUOTE (C D))))
(LABEL FF (LAMBDA (X Y) (CONS (CAR X) Y)))
(FF (QUOTE (A B)) (CDR (QUOTE (C D))))
(LABEL XX (QUOTE (A B)))
(CAR XX)

should produce,

lisp/ $ gcc -Wall lisp.c && ./a.out test.lisp 
> A
> (A B C)
> A
> (B C)
> (A B C)
> #T
> ()
> #T
> B
> (A D)
> #T
> (A D)
> #T
> A