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Xi πŸ—Ό

Xi (pronounced Zai) is a dynamic, stack-based concatenative language, written in Oak and using Oak types and semantics. I wrote Xi over the 2021 Labor Day weekend as a learning exercise to understand how stack languages work and why they're interesting. Xi is modeled mainly after Factor, but this implementation is neither complete nor robust -- there's basically no error handling, for example, and Xi is not meant to be a faithful re-implementation of Factor. It should run correct programs correctly, but will often fail on bad input.

// Factorials to 10!
factorial : nat prod
10 ( ++ factorial print ) each-integer

// Fibonacci sequence to fib(25)
(fib) : dup 2 < ( drop swap drop ) ( ( swap over + ) dip -- (fib) ) if
fib : 1 1 rot (fib)
25 ( fib print ) each-integer

I've written more in-depth about my experiments with concatenative languages on the Oak blog.


Xi is dynamically typed, and operates on the same basic values as Oak except that all numbers are floats. Like other concatenative stack programming languages, each statement (line) in a Xi program is a sequence of words, where each word manipulates a single global data stack in some way, usually by moving and changing a few values at the top of the stack. Literal values like numbers and strings simply move those values onto the stack.

For example, the word + pops the top two values off the stack, adds them together, and pushes the sum back on the stack.

1 2 10
// stack: < 1 2 10 >
// stack: < 1 12 >
// stack: < 13 >

We can also write these words all next to each other, and have the same program.

1 2 10 + +
// stack: < 13 >

This is where the name concatenative language comes from -- putting words next to each other composes those functions together in a predictable way.

Sometimes, we need to shuffle some items in the stack around to work on the right values without doing any other computation. These are called stack shuffling words. Xi provides 4 basic ones, from which more complex words can be defined:

2 dup
// stack: < 2 2 > β€” duplicates the top value

1 2 3 ( + ) dip
// stack: < 3 3 > β€” runs a quotation (words inside `( ... )`) underneath the
// topmost value on the stack

1 2 drop
// stack: < 1 > β€” simply drops the topmost value on the stack

10 20 swap
// stack: < 20 10 > β€” swaps the top 2 values' places on the stack

As an example of basic composition, we can define rot, which rotates the top 3 items' places in the stack, like this.

// define the word "rot"
rot : ( swap ) dip swap

1 2 3 rot
// stack: < 2 3 1 >

Xi's syntax is, like most concatenative languages, minimal. There are three kinds of primitive values: single-quoted strings, number (floating point) literals, and booleans true and false. Xi has lists and objects, delimited using [ ... ] and { ... } respectively, though there isn't much of a vocabulary to work with objects. Finally, Xi has quotations, which are sequences of words that can be evaluated later, analogous to closures in other high-level languages. These types of values also represent the entirely of Xi's type system. There is no more sophisticated class system as in Factor.

Xi is a learning project, and thus not a great introduction to concatenative programming if you're new to it yourself. If you want to learn more about concatenative programming, you might want to check out these resources I found helpful as I learned about this space myself.

Xi repl

Xi has a basic repl, which I used to test and debug words before adding them to my programs. Simply running ./xi.oak without any arguments will start the repl. Through the repl, you can run any Xi code. However, there are a few specific "debugging words" that are useful for inspecting program state when in the repl.

  • . will pop the top value off of the stack and print it out.
  • .s ("s" for "stack") will print out a representation of the entire data stack at that point in the program
  • .e ("e" for "environment") will print out a dictionary of every word currently defined in scope and their definitions


Though Xi is a pedagogical toy language and not exactly practical due to its brittleness and minimalism, there are a few sample programs I wrote to demonstrate how Xi programs work, and test my implementation. Besides these two, there is a small unit testing helper and test suite in ./test/unittests.xi.


Here is some sample Xi code, the FizzBuzz program. Though each statement must be in a single line in Xi, I've broken them up here into multiple lines for readability.

// FizzBuzz in Xi

// n -> _
fizzbuzz : dup 15 divisible? (
    'FizzBuzz' print drop
) (
    dup 3 divisible?
        'Fizz' print drop
    ) (
        dup 5 divisible?
        ( 'Buzz' print drop ) ( print ) if
) if

// main
100 ( ++ fizzbuzz ) each-integer

Here, the word fizzbuzz consumes a number at the top of the data stack and prints either 'Fizz', 'Buzz', 'FizzBuzz', or the number to output. The main program 100 ( ++ fizzbuzz ) each-integer performs the quotation (++ fizzbuzz) for each integer counting up from 0 to 100, exclusive. Running this program with

./xi.oak ./samples/fizzbuzz.xi

should produce the correct output.


The sample ./samples/factorial.xi computes factorials of every number from 1 to 10, inclusive, and prints it. This program is a great demonstration of how elegant and concise well-designed concatenative programs can be, if the right primitives are composed well. This program is just two short lines:

factorial : nat prod
10 ( ++ factorial print ) each-integer

First, we define the word factorial that takes a number, generates a list of numbers counting up from 1 to that number (nat), and takes their total product (prod). Then we loop through every number from 1 to 10, and compute the factorial and print it. This generates the correct output



Xi is a project written in the Oak programming language. All of the core language and "kernel" is defined in a single Oak program, ./xi.oak.

A small unit test suite is defined in ./test/unittests.xi. To run it, simply run

./xi.oak ./test/unittests.xi


A dynamic, stack-based concatenative toy programming language.








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