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C Reader for the Next Thousand Lisps
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CRNTL: C Reader for the Next Thousand Lisps

Current status

  • No dependencies outside of C standard libraries
  • Assumes UTF-8, newline line endings; wchar_t is used throughout
  • Symbols and keywords must currently be ASCII
  • Comments are parsed (and ignored)
  • Tagged literals and discard-next-value (#_) are supported
  • Each parsed value contains tokenizer state including line and column
  • Parser produces (AFAIK) correct output on well-formed input
  • Pretty decent error reporting
  • A sample usage of the parser is in main.c; Makefile builds it as crntl
  • On macOS, crntl.o builds to just under 20K (apologies for the bloat)
  • There exists an iOS framework for using CRNTL in Swift. It is currently being used in Thunk NYC Corp.'s computational notebook app:


My attraction to Clojure back in '09 was based on several things. First, there were some killer apps i.e. Incanter and Cascalog. Second, I appreciated the pragmatism of making peace with the JVM in order to benefit from its ecosystem. And third, there was the Clojure reader.

As a long-time Schemer, I had a profound appreciation of the language's support for list, vector, set, and dictionary literals -- and the way in which the language itself took advantage of its enriched reader to improve the expressiveness and concision of its syntax.

There are other reasons to appreciate Clojure vis a vis other Lisps, of course. There is its commitment to immutability and its wilingness to cast off some of the historical absurdities of Lisp e.g. by replacing car and cdr with first and rest.

But Clojure was not the first Lisp and it won't be the last Lisp, and, embracing that spirit, I think it's important to capture the benefits of the Clojure reader in a form that people will be able to build upon as they move on from the Clojure ecosystem. I know I myself stayed too long.

The goal of this project is to produce a parser not just for EDN but for Clojure, meaning a parser that can understand syntax quoting and metadata and derefencing and so forth. Ideally it will be able to preserve comments and other surface syntax features, but I consider such things "stretch goals."

CRNTL is written in C, still the lingua franc of contemporary computing. I am focused on writing iOS apps at the moment so I will eventually be putting effort into making sure that this project plays nicely with Swift.

Finally, I do not intend to enshrine the limitations of the current Clojure reader. I am open to evolving this project beyond of the Clojure reader, assuming the changes are worthwhile and mostly backwards compatible. At present, I am most open to a HEREDOC or multiline string extension.


Given a file test.txt with contents

(def hilbert-rules {:L [:+ :R :F :- :L :F :L :- :F :R :+]
                    :R [:- :L :F :+ :R :F :R :+ :F :L :-]})

(defn produce-steps [rules start-steps iters]
  (loop [steps start-steps
         i iters]
    (if (zero? i)
      (filter #{:- :+ :F} steps)
      (recur (flatten (for [sym steps] (sym rules sym)))
             (dec i)))))

from this gist the command ./crntl < test.txt produces the ouput

List value
.Symbol value: def
.Symbol value: hilbert-rules
.Dictionary value
...Keyword value: L
...Vect value
....Keyword value: +
....Keyword value: R
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: -
....Keyword value: L
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: L
....Keyword value: -
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: R
....Keyword value: +
...Keyword value: R
...Vect value
....Keyword value: -
....Keyword value: L
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: +
....Keyword value: R
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: R
....Keyword value: +
....Keyword value: F
....Keyword value: L
....Keyword value: -
List value
.Symbol value: defn
.Symbol value: produce-steps
.Vect value
..Symbol value: rules
..Symbol value: start-steps
..Symbol value: iters
.List value
..Symbol value: loop
..Vect value
...Symbol value: steps
...Symbol value: start-steps
...Symbol value: i
...Symbol value: iters
..List value
...Symbol value: if
...List value
....Symbol value: zero?
....Symbol value: i
...List value
....Symbol value: filter
....Set value
.....Keyword value: -
.....Keyword value: +
.....Keyword value: F
....Symbol value: steps
...List value
....Symbol value: recur
....List value
.....Symbol value: flatten
.....List value
......Symbol value: for
......Vect value
.......Symbol value: sym
.......Symbol value: steps
......List value
.......Symbol value: sym
.......Symbol value: rules
.......Symbol value: sym
....List value
.....Symbol value: dec
.....Symbol value: i
End of input
Gracefully exiting


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