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Shawnigan Lake

Lake Scheme

A quick and dirty scheme written in C, for fun and to use while reading The Little Schemer. Very quick and dirty, a weekend hack gone awry.

Lake Scheme uses RSR5 as a guideline but does not strictly adhere. Specifically some of the standard naming is confusing so it has been clarified. Other things have been changed just to make life in the repl more palatable.

Compiling & Running

Portable C99, no dependencies, nothing to configure, no documentation!

You'll need some version LLVM for clang, and GNU make. Compiles with GCC too if you prefer, just change the Makefile.

Once you have all that you can build the repl:

$ make repl && build/repl

There are booleans, symbols, integers, strings, lists, dotted lists (pairs), lambdas, a few special forms, and some primitive functions. You can evaluate these as you expect in a Scheme repl:

> #t
> (quote symbol)
> '(a list of symbols)
(a list of symbols)
> 101
> "hello"
> '(1 . 2)
(1 . 2)
> (lambda () "hello")
(lambda () "hello")
> ((lambda (x) (+ x 1)) 41)

Hooray! That sure is repl-ish.

If you want to build a static library:

$ make liblake

The binary will be in build/liblake.a and you may do with it as you like. Lake creates no global variables and has no shared state. Everything is neatly wrapped up in a LakeCtx so theoretically you can run multiple interpreters in the same process. I haven't tried it yet but it should work.


There are a few tests right now and more are on the way. Run them like so:

$ make test

Special Forms

Lake's special forms are:

  • quote
  • define
  • set!
  • and
  • or
  • lambda
  • if
  • when
  • cond

And an illustrative repl session:

> (define answer 7)
> answer
> (set! answer 42)
> answer
> (define drop2 (lambda (a b . rest) rest))
> (drop2 1 2 3 4)
(3 4)
> (define list (lambda rest rest))
> (list 1 2 3 4)
(1 2 3 4)
> (if #t "hooray" "sad panda")
> (when #f (nuke 'the-world)) ; never executes
> (cond ((> 0 1) "backwards") ((< 0 1) "correct") (else "bizarre"))

Woah, we even managed to define a useful function without using any primitives!


There are primitives though. So few they can be easily named, and they are named thusly:

  • car, cdr, cons
  • null?
  • pair?
  • is? and equal? (is? is like eq? just renamed for clarity)
  • not
  • math operations: add, subtract, multiply, and divide (+ - * /)
  • numeric comparisons: equals, less than, greater than (= < >)

Deviating from RSR5 eq? is called is? in Lake Scheme, which I find much clearer.

> (define a (list 1 2 3 4))
> (define b (list 1 2 3 4))
> (is? a b)
> (equal? a b)

If you like you can write () instead of '() for nil.

Naked Calls

One final thing to note is an experiment called naked calls (or expressions). These are only valid at the top level in the repl and are just lists without parens, like so:

> define empty? (lambda (x) (or (null? x) (is? x 0) (equal? x "")))
> empty? 4
> empty? (cdr '(a))
> empty?
(lambda (x) (or (null? x) (is? x 0) (equal? x "")))

A naked expression with one value evaluates to the single value it contains so that typing in an atomic expression doesn't produce strange results. Due to this behaviour one caveat is that if you want to invoke a function without arguments you cannot use a naked list. When evaluating code from a file naked lists are not parsed at all.


  • finish tests

Lake still needs:

  • primitive functions:
    • compare values
    • eval and apply
  • native type operations on:
    • symbol
    • boolean (logic)
    • string
    • function (eval, apply)
    • dotted list (head, tail)
  • type conversions, hopefully in a more general way than RSR5
  • a minimal stdlib

There's enough here to start reading so I'm going to see where the book takes me. Other than that as much of the language as possible should be moved from C-land into Scheme-land, like the repl. The present functionality should require less C than there currently is.


Sami Samhuri (@_sjs)


© 2011 Sami Samhuri sami@samhuri.net

MIT licensed