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Forum:		Compiler


References: CLOS chapters 1 & 2 (88-002R)

CLOS chapter 3 (89-003)




Edit History: V1, 10 Mar 1989, Sandra Loosemore

V2, 13 Mar 1989, Sandra Loosemore

V3, 21 Mar 1989, Sandra Loosemore (fix error language)

V4, 11 Jun 1989, Sandra Loosemore (Gregor's amendment)

V5, 23 Jun 1989, Sandra Loosemore (wording changes per Pitman)

Status: Proposal MINIMAL passed, June 89

Recommendation to drafting committee: clarify that the

provisions listed under DEFCLASS are intended to affect

warnings emitted by the compiler.

Problem Description:

Do the CLOS defining macros (DEFCLASS, DEFMETHOD, DEFGENERIC, and

DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION) have compile-time side-effects similar

to those for DEFSTRUCT or DEFMACRO?

A part of the problem is that we do not currently have a full

understanding of all the issues involved. In particular, work on

defining the CLOS meta-object protocol is still in progress. The goal

of this proposal is to say enough about the behavior of these macros

in the standard so that users can use them portably in compiled code,

but to leave as much of the behavior as possible unspecified to avoid

placing undue restrictions on the meta-object protocol.


State that top-level calls to the CLOS defining macros have the

following compile-time side-effects. Any other compile-time behavior

is explicitly left unspecified.


* The class name may appear in subsequent type declarations.

* The class name can be used as a specializer in subsequent



* The generic function can be referenced in subsequent DEFMETHOD forms.

* DEFGENERIC does not arrange for the generic function to be callable

at compile time.


* DEFMETHOD does not arrange for the method to be callable at compile

time. If there is a generic function with the same name defined at

compile time, compiling a DEFMETHOD does not add the method to that

generic function. (That is, the method is added to the generic

function only when the DEFMETHOD is actually executed.)

The error-signalling behavior described in the specification of

DEFMETHOD in CLOS chapter 2 (if the function isn't a generic function

or if the lambda-list is not congruent) happens only when the defining

form is executed, not at compile time.

The forms in EQL specializers are evaluated when the defining form

is executed. The compiler is permitted to build in knowledge

about what the form in an EQL specializer will evaluate to in cases

where the ultimate result can be syntactically inferred without

actually evaluating it.


* The method combination can be used in subsequent DEFGENERIC forms.

The body of a DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION form is evaluated no earlier

than when the defining macro is executed and possibly as late as

generic function invocation time. The compiler may attempt to

evaluate these forms at compile time but must not depend on being able

to do so.


The compile-time behavior of DEFCLASS is similar to DEFSTRUCT or


DEFGENERIC and DEFMETHOD are similar to DEFUN, which doesn't add the

function definition to the compile-time environment. Since generic

functions may be freely redefined between compile and run time (just

like any other function), a method may end up "belonging" to a

different generic function at load time than at compile time. This

is why it is inappropriate to signal errors about congruency problems

(etc) until the method is actually added to the generic function at

run time.

Current Practice:

The items listed under DEFCLASS in proposal MINIMAL are fairly standard

programming style.

Flavors does not support compile-time instantiation of classes. It

does not make method combinations available at compile-time either, but

Moon considers that to be a bad design choice.

Cost to implementors:


Cost to users:

Unknown, but probably fairly small.

Wrapping an (EVAL-WHEN (EVAL COMPILE LOAD) ...) around the appropriate

definitions will make sure they are fully defined at compile-time.

Alternatively, the definitions could be placed in a separate file,

which is loaded before compiling the file that depends on those



Programmers can rely on programs that use the CLOS defining macros

being able to compile correctly in all implementations, without having

to wrap explicit EVAL-WHENs around every macro call.


This writeup is based on discussions between Moon, Gray, and

Loosemore, who are mostly in agreement on the things presented in

proposal MINIMAL. We have purposely avoided saying anything about

whether meta-objects representing the classes, methods, etc. get

created at compile-time, or whether such meta-objects are fully or

partially defined. The basic questions addressed by this issue are

what kinds of things can be defined and then used during compilation

of the same file that defines them, and what restrictions might apply.

These proposals are not completely compatible with the meta-object

protocol document (89-003). Gregor Kiczales says:

No one believes that what is written in draft 10 of the MOP is valid.

Sandra Loosemore says:

Although I admit I don't understand all of the issues involved with

the meta-object protocol, I prefer proposal MINIMAL over

NOT-SO-MINIMAL. I don't think leaving the issue of whether or not

classes can be instantiated at compile-time unspecified places an

undue burden on users, and it does leave more freedom for the

meta-object protocol to decide what the right behavior really is.

Dick Gabriel notes:

The question I have about the process going on with respect to the

CLOS-MACRO-COMPILATION issue is whether the fine-grained behavior of

CLOS under various compilation/evaluation situations is being


At this stage of the game I worry that we might go a little too far in

one direction in specification when we are actually engaged in design

work. This isn't intended to be a criticism of any committees, but I

would feel a lot more comfortable with a conservative specification

that defined well-formed programs being loaded or compiled in fresh

Common Lisps with a pretty simple eval-when model that is easier to

specify and which makes it easy for all but the hairiest

compilation-environment-frobbing programs to be written.

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