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% Learning Racket #2: Macros, Macros and a Bit of Modules

series: top: “Learning Racket” series toplink: /#racket prev: /learning-racket-1 next: /learning-racket-3

After spending two days doing nothing but sleeping, waking up, watching the visitor counter, reading comments on HN and falling asleep again... Okay, here we go.

Day 4

let vs. define

As I mentioned before, I'm going to switch to using internal defines wherever possible instead of let-forms. However, my plan is a bit more complicated; first I need to learn some things.

How to make an alias for define?

The thing is, “define” is too long. Why not use def instead? And the name doesn't seem to be taken already.

Will the same way that I used to define an alias for lambda work now?

> (define-syntax-rule (def id body) (define id body))

> (def name "Artyom")

> name

I have a feeling, however, that it won't work if body consists of multiple expressions. Let's check.

(def (vector-swap vec i j)
  (def t (vector-ref vec i))
  (vector-set! vec i (vector-ref vec j))
  (vector-set! vec j t))

And indeed I get an error message :(

def: use does not match pattern: (def id body) in: (def (vector-swap
vec i j) (def t (vector-ref vec i)) (vector-set! vec i (vector-ref vec
j)) (vector-set! vec j t))

Okay. define-syntax-rule is, as the docs say, a special form, and probably allows more interesting patterns than id. Let's skip some (okay, more than a dozen) chapters and read about...

TRG: 16.1. Pattern-Based Macros

A pattern-based macro replaces any code that matches a pattern to an expansion that uses parts of the original syntax that match parts of the pattern.

I wonder what would happen if I define two macros in terms of each other. Will it work? In what order are macros applied? (Oh darn, now I'm curious about how Lisp interpreters work in general. Don't think about it, don't think about it...)

The simplest way to create a macro is to use define-syntax-rule:

(define-syntax-rule pattern template)

As a running example, consider the swap macro, which swaps the values stored in two variables. It can be implemented using define-syntax-rule as follows:

(define-syntax-rule (swap x y)
  (let ([tmp x])
    (set! x y)
    (set! y tmp)))

So that's how to swap two variables in Racket. Call-by-value, right.

> (let ([x 'x] [y 'y])
    (swap x y)
    (list x y))

'(y x)

Cool. What about misuse-resistance?

> (let ([x 'x] [y 'y])
    (swap (add1 x) (sub1 y))
    (list x y))

set!: not an identifier in: (add1 x)

Not cool – this error is as misleading as Haskell's infamous *** Exception: Prelude.head: empty list which pops whenever somewhere somebody tries to extract the first element of an empty list. Can I at least restrict swap to just single identifiers?

What patterns am I allowed to use?

Where's the big blinking link saying “10 Amazing Racket Macro Patterns You Didn't Know About”?

What do docs say about define-syntax-rule?

Equivalent to

(define-syntax id
  (syntax-rules ()
   [(id . pattern) template]))

Ni-ice. What about syntax-rules?

Equivalent to

(lambda (stx)
  (syntax-case stx (literal-id ...)
    [(generated-id . pattern) (syntax-protect #'template)]  ...))

Further down the rabbit hole. syntax-case?

(syntax-case stx-expr (literal-id ...)
  clause ...)

      clause = [pattern result-expr]
             | [pattern fender-expr result-expr]

     pattern = _
             | id
             | (pattern ...)
             | (pattern ...+ . pattern)
             | (pattern ... pattern ellipsis pattern ...)
             | (pattern ... pattern ellipsis pattern ... . pattern)
             | #(pattern ...)
             | #(pattern ... pattern ellipsis pattern ...)
             | #&pattern
             | #s(key-datum pattern ...)
             | #s(key-datum pattern ... pattern ellipsis pattern ...)
             | (ellipsis stat-pattern)
             | const

stat-pattern = id
             | (stat-pattern ...)
             | (stat-pattern ...+ . stat-pattern)
             | #(stat-pattern ...)
             | const

    ellipsis = ...


[after reading all patterns' descriptions]

None of them seem to match “single identifier” (or “number”, for that matter, or “string”...). In fact, I glanced over this chapter and haven't found anything relevant. But this seems like a problem which should be common enough; maybe it's discussed in the next chapter?

  1. Syntax Objects
  2. Macro Transformer Procedures
  3. Mixing Patterns and Expressions: syntax-case
  4. with-syntax and generate-temporaries
  5. Compile and Run-Time Phases
  6. General Phase Levels
    1. Phases and Bindings
    2. Phases and Modules
  7. Syntax Taints

Hm, which one should I choose... My gut tells me it's subchapter 3. (By “my gut” I mean, of course, the part of brain which is trained to recognise words it has seen before and ignore everything else.)


...With this definition, (swap x 2) provides a syntax error originating from swap instead of set!.

I won't look at how it's don— no, wait, it's actually more or less understandable even at this point; perhaps I should just read this small chapter from the beginning and see how much I can understand.

TRG: 16.2.3. Mixing Patterns and Expressions: syntax-case

Unlike syntax-rules, the syntax-case form does not produce a procedure. Instead, it starts with a stx-expr expression that determines the syntax object to match against the patterns. Also, each syntax-case clause has a pattern and expr, instead of a pattern and template. Within an expr, the syntax form – usually abbreviated with #' – shifts into template-construction mode; if the expr of a clause starts with #', then we have something like a syntax-rules form:

> (syntax->datum
   (syntax-case #'(+ 1 2) ()
    [(op n1 n2) #'(- n1 n2)]))

'(- 1 2)

As I understand it, #' (which is an alias for syntax) creates a representation for expressions which can include patternish stuff like .... Then, syntax-case allows matching on such representations and transforming them; finally, syntax->datum reverses the transformation carried out by #'.

What would syntax->datum do when it encounters a pattern?

> (syntax->datum #'(id ...))
syntax: no pattern variables before ellipsis in template in: ...

I see.

Wait... I don't actually know that patterns accepted by syntax-case are the same ones which #' wants, right? And indeed:

A syntax object combines a simpler Racket value, such as a symbol or pair, with lexical information about bindings, source-location information, syntax properties, and tamper status. In particular, an identifier is represented as a symbol object that combines a symbol with lexical and other information.

Sigh. I'm tempted to delete the above paragraphs and pretend that I understood everything correctly from the first try. Must... resist... temptation...

...Okay, second try. As I understand it, #' (which is an alias for syntax) creates a representation for Racket expressions, taking into consideration scoping – i.e. say, 'map is not related to map in any way, but #'map is. (For Haskellers here, it seems to be the same thing as [| map |].) Then, syntax-case allows matching on such representations and transforming them; finally, syntax->datum reverses the transformation carried out by #'.

We could write the swap macro using syntax-case instead of define-syntax-rule or syntax-rules:

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-case stx ()
    [(swap x y) #'(let ([tmp x])
                    (set! x y)
                    (set! y tmp))]))

I wonder: [gee, am I saying “I wonder” too often...] which of those swaps is responsible for the actual name I use when calling the swap macro?

(define-syntax (eyjafjallajökull stx)
  (syntax-case stx ()
    [(swap a b) #'(let ([t a])
                    (set! a b)
                    (set! b t))]))
> (let ([x 1] [y 2])
    (swap x y)
    (list x y))

swap: unbound identifier in module in: swap

So it's the first one. (In fact, re-reading the docs for syntax-case suggests that I can even replace (swap a b) with (_ a b) and nothing will change.)

What does () mean in (syntax-case stx () ...?

The answer, again, is found in the docs. (When reading, keep in mind that everything that could've been inside of () is referenced as “literal-id”.)

An id matches any syntax object when it is not bound to ... or _ and does not have the same binding as any literal-id. The id is further bound as pattern variable for the corresponding fender-expr (if any) and result-expr.

An id that has the same binding as a literal-id matches a syntax object that is an identifier with the same binding in the sense of free-identifier=?.

Apparently, it allows me to select which identifiers won't be interpreted as wildcards in syntax-case patterns.

Let me try:

(define-syntax (: stx)
  (syntax-case stx (+)
    [(_ l ... + r ...)  #'(+ (: l ...)
                             (: r ...))]))

<pattern> ... is supposed to match any number of tokens which match the pattern (I wonder whether it's left- or right-associative, by the way). The exact syntax of ... is unclear (for instance, how do I match any-number-of more complex patterns? And how do I refer to matched tokens later?), but for now I'm satisfied with this partial understanding.

Ctrl-R and...

syntax-case: misplaced ellipsis in pattern (follows other ellipsis)
in: ...

At first I thought it was just me being stupid, but after some tinkering around and googling I found this message on Racket mailing list, which states that it's impossible to do with syntax-case and advises to use syntax-parse.

Why, why must everything be Inferior By Default? But anyway:

(define-syntax (: stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:literals (+)
    [(_ l ... + r ...)  #'(+ (: l ...)
                             (: r ...))]))

Note how #:literals (+) – an optional parameter – is used instead of a mandatory list parameter.

> (: 1 + 2)
:: expected more terms starting with the literal symbol `+' or any
term in: (1)

Ah right, I forgot about the base case.

(define-syntax (: stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:literals (+)
    [(_ l ... + r ...)  #'(+ (: l ...)
                             (: r ...))]
    [(_ x)              #'x]))
> (: 1 + 2)

Great. Now I have to add more operators!

(define-syntax (: stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:literals (+ - * / ^)
    [(_ l ... + r ...)  #'(+ (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... - r ...)  #'(- (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... * r ...)  #'(* (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... / r ...)  #'(/ (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l     ^ r ...)  #'(expt l      (: r ...))]
    [(_ x)              #'x]))

(This works because when * and / are processed, we've already dealt with all + and -. Also, the case for ^ is different because it's right-associative.)

syntax-parse: literal is unbound in phase 0 (phase 0 relative to the
enclosing module) in: ^

Hey, what? The only difference between + and ^ is that the latter isn't already bound to expt. Why would it matter if I'm doing the interpretation myself anyway...

Turns out that it matters. The sidenote to #:literals section says:

Unlike syntax-case, syntax-parse requires all literals to have a binding. To match identifiers by their symbolic names, use #:datum-literals or the ~datum pattern form instead.

There's probably some good reason for it, but I've no idea what it could be.

(define-syntax (: stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:datum-literals (+ - * / ^)
    [(_ l ... + r ...)  #'(+ (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... - r ...)  #'(- (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... * r ...)  #'(* (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l ... / r ...)  #'(/ (: l ...) (: r ...))]
    [(_ l     ^ r ...)  #'(expt l      (: r ...))]
    [(_ x)              #'x]))
> (: 1 + 3 - (+ 1 2 3) * 4 / 5 + 3 * 7 ^ 2 ^ 2 * 5 - 3 / 5 / 8 - 9 / 7)
36012 47/56

It works, it works!

(And, as you can see, it evals everything correctly (this time I checked it in GHCi to make sure) and also isn't limited to just numbers – I can use any Racket expressions as tokens.)


  1. Paste the long expression into code area (not REPL) and reload (it should print the result of its evaluation upon reload).

  2. Press the “Macro Stepper” button in the upper right corner.

  3. Press “Step” repeatedly.

  4. Have fun!

I wanted to add actual evaluation here as well (so that I'd see how (+ 1 2) gets simplified to 3), but didn't find any functions named reduce-syntax or eval-syntax-and-syntaxify-again. I'll put it off for a while.

Do you still remember where it all started? I wanted to write a def macro and then decided to read one “small chapter”. Ha.

Night-time rambles

  • hm, I wonder whether people who try to follow this all will find it very confusing

  • nah, probably not

  • there's not much to follow actually

  • and hopefully they don't expect to learn Racket merely by reading how I was learning it

  • they'll have to write their own macros and make their own mistakes

  • because nobody has ever learned a programming language without writing a line of code

  • ...right?


I've spent half of this day writing down what I forgot to write down yesterday and fixing typos / minor inaccuracies. So, no learning today.

These posts are split in three-days-sized chunks. However, a) it takes me more than three days to write about three days, and b) learning-and-writing is twice as slow as just learning (but probably also better). If you want to have an estimate of how long it will take you to acquire the same knowledge I have at some point, divide the time it took me to do it by 2–6 (the actual coefficient depends on your intelligence and whether you prefer to ask questions or spend hours googling everything by yourself).

Speaking of questions... I am the type of person who would rather die make a hundred Google queries than ask for help from a human, and I suspect I'm not the only one who is like that. So, here's an offer: if you have a question which is related to what I've covered so far, you should submit it and I'll try to investigate it. You get an answer, and I get more knowledge / don't have to strain my imagination thinking “hm, what other questions I could have but didn't?”.

Day 5

Back to TRG 16.2.3

One advantage of using syntax-case is that we can provide better error reporting for swap. For example, with the define-syntax-rule definition of swap, then (swap x 2) produces a syntax error in terms of set!, because 2 is not an identifier. We can refine our syntax-case implementation of swap to explicitly check the sub-forms:

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-case stx ()
    [(swap x y)
     (if (and (identifier? #'x)
              (identifier? #'y))
         #'(let ([tmp x])
             (set! x y)
             (set! y tmp))
         (raise-syntax-error #f
                             "not an identifier"
                             (if (identifier? #'x)

With this definition, (swap x 2) provides a syntax error originating from swap instead of set!.

Understood. (Notice how identifier? is defined not on things (x) but on syntax objects (#'x).)

It still annoys me that this is how I should be writing swap. However, I have two hopes:

  1. syntax-parse turns out to be more advanced and lets me do what I want.

  2. Syntax pattern language is in some way extensible and I can define my own pattern which only matches identifiers.

Docs for syntax-parse:

Both syntax-parse and the specification facility, syntax classes, use a common language of syntax patterns, which is described in detail in Syntax Patterns.

Click... As you can see, syntax-parse's pattern language is a bit richer than syntax-case's. EH-patterns! A-patterns! ~peek! ~peek-not! O, wonder! How many goodly creatures patterns are there here!..

...ahem. This works:

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ (~var x id) (~var y id)) #'(let ([t x])
                                     (set! x y)
                                     (set! y t))]))
> (swap 3 x)
swap: expected identifier in: 3

~var x id means that x must belong to the class of identifiers (the full list of standard classes is here). Moreover, there turns out to be a convenient shortcut:

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x:id y:id) #'(let ([t x])
                       (set! x y)
                       (set! y t))]))

Moreover, I can define my own conventions for literal names!

#lang racket

(require syntax/parse)
(require (for-syntax syntax/parse))

(define-conventions xyz-as-ids
  [x id] [y id] [z id])

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:conventions (xyz-as-ids)
    [(_ x y) #'(let ([t x])
                 (set! x y)
                 (set! y t))]))
syntax-parse: expected identifier defined as a conventions in:

Oops. What's even more interesting, the example still works:

(define-conventions xyz-as-ids
  [x id] [y id] [z id])

(syntax-parse #'(a b c 1 2 3)
    #:conventions (xyz-as-ids)
    [(x ... n ...) (syntax->datum #'(x ...))])
'(a b c)

Wait... I can remember reading something about having to use syntax/parse and (for-syntax syntax/parse) being a bad sign. Where it was?.. Google says: here.

The phase level mismatch is easily remedied by putting the syntax class definition within a begin-for-syntax block: ...

Sigh. That's what I get for jumping back and forth instead of following the tutorial.

#lang racket

(require (for-syntax syntax/parse))

  (define-conventions xyz-as-ids
    [x id] [y id] [z id]))

(define-syntax (swap stx)
  (syntax-parse stx #:conventions (xyz-as-ids)
    [(_ x y) #'(let ([t x])
                 (set! x y)
                 (set! y t))]))
> (swap 3 x)
swap: expected identifier in: 3

Back to def

Skipping the unfinished rest of chapter 16.1 because, because... fuck it, just because. I'm not in the mood.

(By the by: why doesn't DrRacket indent syntax-parse correctly? This is inconvenient.)

(define-syntax (def stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x ...) #'(define x ...)]))

Seems wrong to spend a day hopping around only to write this, but whatever.

Improvement #1: multiple declarations

This is stupid:

(def x 1)
(def y 2)
(def z 3)

This – isn't:

(def [x 1] [y 2] [z 3])

Okay, hm. To define many things inside of a single expression, I can use begin with multiple defines:

> (begin
    (define x 1)
    (define y 2))

> (list x y)
'(1 2)

Ha, the unanswered question from previous day finally came up. How do I lift syntax expressions?

For instance, how can I write a macro which transforms 1 2 3 into '(3 2 1)? This won't work:

(define-syntax (rev stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x ...) #'(reverse (list x ...))]))

The trouble is – as you can check with Macro Stepper – that reverse is a part of generated code, while I want it to be applied to the syntax object at compile time.

And, as usual, I've traded 15 seconds of asking a person on #racket for 15 minutes of reading the docs.

Piece #1: syntax-e “unpacks” one layer of syntax-ing:

> (syntax-e #'(1 2 (add1 3)))
'(#<syntax:6:15 1> #<syntax:6:17 2> #<syntax:6:19 (add1 3)>)

Piece #2: datum->syntax packs everything back:

> (datum->syntax #f (list 1 2 3))
#<syntax (1 2 3)>

It doesn't do anything on objects which are already packed (unlike syntax):

> (datum->syntax #f (list 1 #'2 3))
#<syntax (1 2 3)>

> #'(list 1 #'2 3)
#<syntax:40:4 (list 1 (syntax 2) 3)>

With these two pieces, reversing a list finally becomes an easy task:

(define-syntax (rev stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x ...) (define xs (syntax-e #'(x ...)))
               (define rev-xs (reverse xs))
               (datum->syntax stx (cons list rev-xs))]))

(rev 1 2 3)

I've just remembered about my favorite learning method: whenever you feel like “there should be a library function for this”, ditch all guides and tutorials and read the fucking manual. In this case, reading the fucking manual turned up that there is a syntax-local-eval function here and it does exactly what I wanted (remember?):

> (require (for-syntax racket/syntax))

> (begin-for-syntax (print (syntax-local-eval #'(+ 1 2))))

Now this should be enough to see how things are evaluated:

(define-syntax (evaluating stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x ...) (datum->syntax #f 
                 (syntax-local-eval #'(x ...)))]))

...turns out it isn't:

> (evaluating + 1 2)
?: literal data is not allowed;
 no #%datum syntax transformer is bound in: 3

Hm. Googling the error message turns up a couple of links, but they aren't helpful. Some guy wrote something about context... Maybe it's because I thought that datum->syntax doesn't need any context and wrote #f instead of stx like I always did before?

(define-syntax (evaluating stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ x ...) (datum->syntax stx 
                 (syntax-local-eval #'(x ...)))]))
> (evaluating + 1 2 3)

(Now I wonder how it managed to compute 6 at all.)

I've spent the last hour trying to make my infix-macro show reduction steps properly, and I think now it's not possible to do with just a couple of added lines. Maybe later. G'night!

Day 6

First, a fun fact: how'd you write a macros which takes many lists, each with two elements, and reverses the order of those elements inside each pair?


(define-syntax (foo stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ (a b) ...) #'(list (b a) ...)]))
> (foo (3 +) (5 /))
'(3 1/5)

Lesson: I underestimated the power of ellipses. Don't be like me.

Behold, the def macro which handles multiple declarations!

(define-syntax (def stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ (v:id ex:expr) ...)  #'(begin (define v ex) ...)]))

(ex:expr means that ex is an expression.)

> (def [x 1] [y 2] [z 3])

> (list z y x)
'(3 2 1)

Improvement #2: defining functions together with variables

Should be pretty easy. Here's the syntax I want:

(def [(f x y)  (/ (+ x y) 2)]
     [pi       3.141592653589793])

(Interesting, I just found out I know pi exactly to the precision of double.)

And here's the proposed desugaring:

(begin (define f (lambda (x y) (/ (+ x y) 2)))
       (define pi 3.141592653589793))

Well. First of all, let's define another macro – def1 – which would be handling a single definition.

(define-syntax (def1 stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ v:id ex:expr)
       #'(define v ex)]
    [(_ (f:id p:id ...) body ...+)
       #'(define f (lambda (p ...) body ...))]))

(...+ means “many, but at least one”.)

(For whatever reason DrRacket has been barfing at this definition when I tried it with the example, but accepting it after swapping the clauses. Ctrl-R didn't help and I had to restart DrRacket.)

Then def becomes a bit simpler:

(define-syntax (def stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ (d ...) ...)  #'(begin (def1 d ...) ...)]))

(The reason for using (_ (d ...) ...) instead of (_ d ...) is that I don't want to pass brackets to def1.)

Non-improvement: recursive declarations

Originally I wanted to implement them too (and even written a couple of paragraphs about how I found out that the standard way of producing undefined in Racket seems to be (letrec ([x x]) x)), but then it turned out to be working already. So, just see it in action (and please don't blame me for stealing an example from the letrec docs):

(def [(is-even? n) (or (zero? n) (is-odd? (sub1 n)))]
     [(is-odd? n)  (and (not (zero? n)) (is-even? (sub1 n)))])
> (list (is-even? 6) (is-odd? 6))
'(#t #f)

Improvement #3: multiple return values

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death let-values, which allows binding multiple return values. Unfortunately, the syntax let-values uses clashes with syntax for function definitions.

What syntax should I choose? Something like [_ (x y) (values 1 2)], perhaps? But then I lose the ability to define _.

What is not definable?


> (define #:answer 37)
define: expected 42 in: #:answer 37

Just kidding, just kidding.

> (define #:answer 37)
define: bad syntax in: #:answer

And, luckily, #: also counts as a keyword. So, one more clause...

(define-syntax (def1 stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ v:id ex:expr)
       #'(define v ex)]
    [(_ #: (v:id ...) ex:expr)
       #'(define-values (v ...) ex)]
    [(_ (f:id p:id ...) body ...+)
       #'(define f (lambda (p ...) body ...))]))

And here's how to use it:

> (def [#: (l r) (split-at (range 10) 5)])

> (list l r)
'((0 1 2 3 4) (5 6 7 8 9))

Semi-improvement #4: indentation

For some reason I was thinking that indentation information is somehow stored with functions/macros themselves. I was wrong.

To make def indent correctly, add it to EditPreferencesEditingIndentingBegin-like Keywords.

To fix syntax-parse, add it to Lambda-like Keywords (I wonder why it isn't there already).

Making a module

def nicely concludes these three days I've spent learning about macros. I intend to use it instead of various let-forms in the future – so I'd better make a module exporting it.

Google “racket modules”. Since I'm feeling sleepy lucky, follow the first link.

Each Racket module typically resides in its own file. For example, suppose the file "cake.rkt" contains the following module:

#lang racket

(provide print-cake)

; draws a cake with n candles
(define (print-cake n)
  (show "   ~a   " n #\.)
  (show " .-~a-. " n #\|)
  (show " | ~a | " n #\space)
  (show "---~a---" n #\-))
(define (show fmt n ch)
  (printf fmt (make-string n ch))

Okay, I added (provide def) to my file.

The following "random-cake.rkt" module imports "cake.rkt":

#lang racket

(require "cake.rkt")

(print-cake (random 30))

Not nice. I want artyom/def or something.

A collection is a hierarchical grouping of installed library modules. A module in a collection is referenced through an unquoted, suffixless path. For example, the following module refers to the "date.rkt" library that is part of the "racket" collection:

#lang racket

(require racket/date)

(printf "Today is ~s\n"
        (date->string (seconds->date (current-seconds))))

An unquoted, suffixless path... Yeah.

You could add a new collection by placing files in the Racket installation or one of the directories reported by (get-collects-search-dirs). Alternatively, you could add to the list of searched directories by setting the PLTCOLLECTS environment variable. The best option, however, is to add a package.

I'll check what get-collects-search-dirs returns just for the sake of it, but the best option is probably the best one, right?

> (require setup/dirs)

> (get-collects-search-dirs)

Creating a package does not mean that you have to register with a package server or perform a bundling step that copies your source code into an archive format. Creating a package can simply mean using the package manager to make your libraries locally accessible as a collection from their current source locations.

For example, suppose you have a directory "/usr/molly/bakery" that contains the "cake.rkt" module (from the beginning of this section) and other related modules. To make the modules available as a "bakery" collection, either

  • Use the raco pkg command-line tool:

    raco pkg install --link /usr/molly/bakery

    where the --link flag is not actually needed when the provided path includes a directory separator.

  • Use DrRacket's Package Manager item from the File menu. In the Do What I Mean panel, click Browse..., choose the "/usr/molly/bakery" directory, and click Install.


$ ls code/racket/artyom

$ raco pkg install code/racket/artyom
raco setup: version: 6.0 [3m]
raco setup: installation name: 6.0
raco setup: variants: 3m
raco setup: 3 making: <pkgs>/artyom
raco setup: --- creating launchers ---
raco setup: --- installing man pages ---
raco setup: --- building documentation ---
raco setup: --- installing collections ---
raco setup: --- post-installing collections ---

Wow, so simple. Check:

#lang racket

(require artyom/def)

(def [success? #t])


Does it automatically pick up changes? To test this, I'm going to sneakily edit def.rkt without telling anybody.

(provide deaf)


(define-syntax (deaf stx)

A-a-and... Yes! It behaves just as expected – no source–bytecode incompatibilities, no cached definitions, nothing, it just picked up the updated def.rkt right after reload. I didn't even have to restart DrRacket. Awesome. Gotta use def everywhere from now on.



  • I'm afraid that with the level of flexibility Racket allows, I'll never get to writing an actual program – most likely I'll be spending my time improving Racket itself (well, or at least changing it to suit my tastes). It's a dangerous road, because ultimately you can't really improve the tool you're not using. So, as a public promise (?), I want to state that in less than a year I'll write and open-source some medium-sized project in Racket. (And, of course, I'll be documenting the process.)

    (An update from 2 years after: the promise has been totally broken.)

  • I need not say anything about macros at this point, do I.

  • This part turned out to be both shorter and more tangled than the previous part. Sorry.


gus_massa (from HN)

...has posted a comment in which they're nitpicking about define-syntax-rule; in particular, it seems to be that define-syntax-rule works with patterns just fine.


What do the docs say again?

Equivalent to

(define-syntax id
  (syntax-rules ()
   [(id . pattern) template]))

but with syntax errors potentially phrased in terms of pattern.

Pattern, template... Okay, that's right.

Hm, “but”... What's it actual definition? (I wish Racket docs included “source” links like Haskell docs do.)

I'll have to check it with DrRacket. First I need to type some valid expression involving define-syntax-rule (is there a way to get to the source without jumping thru such hoops, by the by?):

(define-syntax-rule (blah) blah)

Then I can use Open Defining File from context menu of define-syntax-rule. It opens misc.rkt, which contains a rather lengthy definition consisting of pattern-failure, which, well, seems to be used for reporting pattern matching failures, and define-syntax-rule itself:

(define-syntax define-syntax-rule
  (lambda (stx)
    (let-values ([(err) (lambda (what . xs)
                          (apply raise-syntax-error
                                 'define-syntax-rule what stx xs))])
      (syntax-case stx ()
        [(dr (name . pattern) template)
         (identifier? #'name)
         (syntax/loc stx
           (define-syntax name
             (lambda (user-stx)
               (syntax-case** dr #t user-stx () free-identifier=? #f
                 [(_ . pattern) (syntax-protect (syntax/loc user-stx template))]
                 [_ (pattern-failure user-stx 'pattern)]))))]
        [(_ (name . ptrn) tmpl)         (err "expected an identifier" #'name)]
        [(_ (name . ptrn))              (err "missing template")]
        [(_ (name . ptrn) tmpl etc . _) (err "too many forms" #'etc)]
        [(_ head . _)                   (err "invalid pattern" #'head)]))))

Hm, okay, what am I protected against?

"expected an identifier"

(define-syntax-rule ('not-an-id x ... p)
  (p x ...))
define-syntax-rule: expected an identifier in: (quote not-an-id)


(define-syntax ('not-an-id stx)
  (syntax-case stx ()
    [(_ x ... p) #'(p x ...)]))
> ('not-an-id 1 2 3 +)
quote: received value from syntax expander was not syntax
  received: #<procedure>

Not nice – it didn't even get caught at compile-time.

"missing template"

(define-syntax-rule (foo x ... p))
define-syntax-rule: missing template in:
  (define-syntax-rule (foo x ... p))

I can guess what define-syntax will do...

(define-syntax (foo stx)
  (syntax-case stx ()))
> (foo 1 2 3 +)
foo: bad syntax in: (foo 1 2 3 +)

I won't bother checking the rest.

I won't bother using define-syntax-rule either, tho. If I ever need to extend a macro defined with it, it'll be more troublesome to switch to syntax-parse than if I used it right from the start. Not to mention that syntax-parse supports more cool stuff and who doesn't like cool stuff?

(Oh, and if I ever get tired of typing define-syntax ... stx ... syntax-case ... stx, I'll be sure to write a macro to make it easier.)