Functional programming language
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Functional programming language

Nil (which stands for '(not in lisp)) is a small, functional language with a bytecode compiler and virtual machine. It's very much a work in progress, with no fixed specification for even the semantics.


Types are integers (bignums), floats (double precision), strings, lists and functions. The literals for the first three are what you'd expect. Lists are created using the builtin list function.


  • Atom

  • Function call

     (function argument)
     (function argument argument)
  • Definition

     (def name value)
  • Anonymous Function

     (fun (x) (* x x))
     (fun (x y) (* y x))
     (fun xs (car xs))
  • Conditional

     (if condition true-case false-case)
  • List constructor

     (list 1)
     (list 1 2 3 4)

To define a function f(x) = x², you'd say

    (def f (fun (x)
        (^ x 2)))

This is a function that calculates the product of a list of numbers:

    (def product (fun (m)
        (if m
                (* (car m) (product (cdr m)))

Where (car x) returns the first item of the non-empty list x (the head) and (cdr x) returns a new list containing all but that first item (the tail).

For a more complicated example, here's the McCarthy 91 function and a loop that calls it 16 times with a value of 99:

(def M (fun (n)
    (if (> n 100.0)
            (- n 10.0)
        (M (M (+ n 11.0))))))

(def loop (fun (n)
    (print (M 99.0))
    (if (> n 1.0) (loop (- n 1.0)) 0.0)))

(loop 16.0)


(> a b)     - defined on numbers
(= a b)     - defined on numbers
(+ a b)     - defined on numbers and lists
(- a b)     - defined on numbers
(* a b)     - defined on numbers
(/ a b)     - defined on numbers
(^ a b)     - defined on numbers
(print a)   - defined on everything
(car a)     - defined on lists
(cdr a)     - defined on lists


To compile the source code, and after installing "go" from your distributions package manager (e.g. sudo apt-get install golang), run

go build test.go

Then run programs by typing

./test example.nil