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Forum:		Compiler


References: CLtL pp. 56, 77-80, 324








Edit history: 11/07/88, V1 by Cris Perdue

11/14/88, V2 by Cris Perdue

11/22/88, V3 by Cris Perdue

12/20/88, V4 by Cris Perdue

01/06/89, V5 by Sandra Loosemore (minor editorial

clarifications, expand discussion)

03/05/89, V6 by Cris Perdue (more response to comments,

especially from Moon and and from Loosemore)

03/05/89, V7 by Loosemore (more editorial tweaks)

03/13/89, V8 by Loosemore (discussion)

03/22/89, V9 by Loosemore (restructure)

04/03/89, V10 by Loosemore (amendment)

Status: Proposal SPECIFY passed March 1989.

Problem description:

CLtL does not specify what objects can be in compiled constants and it

does not say what relationship there is to be between the constant

passed to the compiler and the one that is established by compiling

and then loading its file. Relevant remarks in CLtL concerning file

compilation and the definition of QUOTE suggest that the compiler

handles constants in ways that are not actually possible.

Introduction to the proposal:

The proposal CONSTANT-COMPILABLE-TYPES:SPECIFY attempts to spell out

what types can appear in compiled constants, and what it means when

they appear.

The key is a definition of an equivalence relationship between Lisp

objects, "similarity as constants". Code passed through the file

compiler and then loaded must behave as though quoted constants in it

are "similar" to quoted constants in the corresponding source code.

Issue CONSTANT-COLLAPSING addresses the issue of whether, for two

objects that are not EQL in the source code (but which are similar as

constants), the corresponding objects in the compiled code may be


Issue CONSTANT-CIRCULAR-COMPILATION addresses the issue of whether,

for two objects that are EQL in the source code, the corresponding

objects in the compiled code must also be EQL.

Comments within the text of the proposal are enclosed in double angle

brackets, <<like this>>.


An object may be used as a quoted constant processed by COMPILE-FILE

if the compiler can guarantee that the resulting constant established

by loading the compiled file is "similar as a constant" to the


Some types of objects, such as streams, are not supported in constants

processed by the file compiler. Such objects may not portably appear

as constants in code processed with COMPILE-FILE. Conforming

implementations are required to handle such objects either by having

the compiler and/or loader reconstruct an equivalent copy of the

object in some implementation-specific manner; or by having the

compiler signal an error.

Of the types supported in constants, some are treated as aggregate

objects. For these types, being similar as constants is defined

recursively. We say that an object of these types has certain "basic

attributes", and to be similar as a constant to another object, the

values of the corresponding attributes of the two objects must also be

similar as constants.

This kind of definition has problems with any circular or "infinitely

recursive" object such as a list that is an element of itself. We use

the idea of depth-limited comparison, and say that two objects are

similar as constants if they are similar at all finite levels. This

idea is implicit in the definitions below, and applies in all the

places where attributes of two objects are required to be similar as


The following terms are used throughout this proposal:

The term "constant" refers to a quoted or self-evaluating constant,

not a named (defconstant) constant.

The term "source code" is used to refer to the objects constructed

when COMPILE-FILE calls READ, and additional objects constructed by

macroexpansion during COMPILE-FILE.

The term "compiled code" is used to refer to objects constructed by


Two objects are defined to be "similar as a constant" if and only if

they are both of one of the types listed below and satisfy the

additional requirements listed for that type.


Two numbers are similar as constants if they are of the same type

and represent the same mathematical value.


Two characters are similar as constants if they both represent

the same character.

<<Note that this definition has to depend on the results of the

Character Set proposals. The intent is that this be compatible with

how EQL is defined on characters.>>


Issue COMPILE-FILE-SYMBOL-HANDLING defines how the file compiler

and loader handle interned symbols.

An uninterned symbol in the source code is similar as a constant

to an uninterned symbol in the compiled code if their print names

are similar as constants.


A package in the source code is similar as a constant to a package in

the compiled code if their names are similar as constants. Note that

the loader finds the corresponding package object as if by calling

FIND-PACKAGE with the package name as an argument. An error is

signalled if no package of that name exists at load time.


Let us say that two random-states are functionally equivalent if

applying RANDOM to them repeatedly always produces the same

pseudo-random numbers in the same order.

Two random-states are similar as constants if and only if copies of

them made via MAKE-RANDOM-STATE are functionally equivalent.

Note that a constant random-state object cannot be used as the "state"

argument to the function RANDOM (because RANDOM side-effects this

data structure).


Two conses are similar as constants if the values of their respective

CAR and CDR attributes are similar as constants.


Two arrays are similar as constants if the corresponding values each

of the following attributes are similar as constants:

For 1-dimensional arrays:

LENGTH, ARRAY-ELEMENT-TYPE, and ELT for all valid indices.

For arrays of other dimensions:


In addition, if the array in the source code is a SIMPLE-ARRAY, then

the corresponding array in the compiled code must also be a

SIMPLE-ARRAY. If the array in the source code is displaced, has a

fill pointer, or is adjustable, the corresponding array in the

compiled code is permitted to lack any or all of these qualities.

Hash Table

Two hash tables are similar as constants if they meet the following

three requirements:

(1) They both have the same test (e.g., they are both EQL hash tables).

(2) There is a unique one-to-one correspondence between the keys of

the two tables, such that the corresponding keys are similar as


(3) For all keys, the values associated with two corresponding keys

are similar as constants.

If there is more than one possible one-to-one correspondence between

the keys of the two tables, the results are unspecified. A conforming

program cannot use such a table as a constant.


Two pathnames are similar as constants if all corresponding pathname

components are similar as constants.

Stream, Readtable, Method

Objects of these types are not supported in compiled constants.


Issue CONSTANT-FUNCTION-COMPILATION specifies how the compiler and

loader handle constant functions.

Structure, Standard-object

<<There is a cl-cleanup issue, LOAD-OBJECTS, pending which proposes

a mechanism for dealing with objects.>>


For the benefit of users, this proposal tries to define a fairly large

set of types that all Common Lisp implementations are to handle. It

also attempts to leave room for implementations to differ. Some

implementations have made opposing choices because the language

doesn't specify one over the other. Some implementations already

handle constants that this proposal defines as not valid in Common

Lisp programs, and that is useful to users of those systems.

Different implementors have different amounts of resources to apply to

their system, and implementations differ in their whole approach in

some cases.

This proposal appears to reflect user demand and appears not to exceed

the capabilities of most implementations of the language.

Current practice:

>From Gail Zacharias (Nov 14): "Coral pretty much implements this

proposal (I think we currently coalesce hash table keys, but that's

just a bug that will be fixed). We also fasdump packages (using the

package name) and compiled functions (but not foreign functions). For

symbols, we dump the name, and if (roughly speaking) the symbol would

get printed with a package prefix, we also dump the package name and

load the symbol into that package (otherwise it gets loaded into the

current load-time package)."

>From David Gray (Nov 9): "The Explorer can compile constant functions,

read tables, and hash tables; an error is signalled for a stream. A

package object used to break the compiler but in release 5 it has been

fixed to generate instructions to call FIND-PACKAGE on the package

name at load time." (Nov 15): [The Explorer does not guarantee

retention of displaced-to and displaced-index-offset attributes.]

"The Explorer also does not currently support dumping closures (either

compiled or evaluated), although non-closure compiled functions can be


>From David Moon (Jan 24): "Symbolics Genera current practice: aside

from some current bugs we have with circular structures of certain

types and with preserving the identity of CONSes under EQ, this is

more or less consistent with our current practice, if you made the

changes implied by my earlier comments. We preserve the :displaced-to

and :fill-pointer array attributes. I doubt that we do what the

proposal says for hash-tables, readtables, and random-states. We

support dumping compiled and interpreted functions, but not closures,

which in effect means we don't support dumping functions."

>From Sandra Loosemore (Mar 3): "UCL currently can handle only

constants that are of type number, character, symbol, cons,

simple-vector, or string (which it turns into simple-string). It

signals an error if an attempt is made to compile any other kind of

object as a constant."

Adoption cost:

Not known. Probably moderate or low -- for most implementations. The

cost would be to implementors rather than users since this part of the

language is currently underspecified. The author believes the cost

will be reasonable for KCL, an implementation where there is some

concern about this issue.

This proposal is close to compatible with the Franz, Lucid, Coral,

Texas Instruments, and Symbolics implementations. It is probably

compatible or nearly compatible with other "Lisp Machine"



Users would be able to use aggregate objects in constants with

confidence about the behavior of their code.

Conversion cost:

Where this proposal *requires* different behavior than an existing

implementation, there is a conversion cost for users of that

implementation. It appears that this cost will be small, less than

the cost of leaving things unspecified.


Since there is no adequate definition at present, a fuller definition

would be more esthetic.


This proposal does leave some user-visible attributes of objects

unspecified across the compile-and-load process, except that they must

be consistent with the attributes that must be retained. This

situation is a compromise between the desire for full specification on

the one hand, and on the other hand the desire to leave freedom for

different implementations to remain different and to support some

optimizations such as compacting hash tables and "simplifying" arrays.

Proposals will be entertained for tighter specification of datatypes

such as arrays.

The definition of similarity for random-states supports the

possibility of random states that are immutable because of being in

compiled constants.

Readtables need not be supported by an implementation. If a readtable

contains only symbols to represent functions, here is Cris Perdue's

suggested spec for similarity of readtables:

Character syntax type for each character in the table;

function for each readmacro character, mappings for

dispatch macros; whether terminating or nonterminating

for each readmacro.

Interest has been expressed by a number of people including users, in

support for user-definable "dumping" of CLOS objects and structure

instances. The cleanup issue LOAD-OBJECTS deals with this.

This subsumes the issue CONSTANT-ARRAY-ATTRIBUTES.

Earlier versions of this proposal specified an additional constraint

on uninterned symbols, requiring EQLness to be preserved across the

entire file. However, this special case was removed because it was

thought that including it in this issue made its presentation

unnecessarily complicated, since preservation of EQLness is really a

separate issue (CONSTANT-CIRCULAR-COMPILATION). A consequence of the

decision to remove the special casing for uninterned symbols is that,

unless we accept one of the two CONSTANT-CIRCULAR-COMPILATION

proposals that requires EQLness of constants to be preserved, the

behavior for uninterned symbols will be rather strange. PCL will

reportedly break if uninterned symbols that are EQL in the source code

do not remain EQL in the compiled code.

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