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Issue EXIT-EXTENT Writeup

Status: proposal MINIMAL, as amended, passed Mar 89 X3J13 by vote of 11-5.


References: CATCH, THROW (p 142),



Dynamic extent (CLtL p.37),

Nested dynamic extents (CLtL p.38),

Blocks can only be exited once (CLtL p.120),

Catch is disestablished just before the values

are returned (CLtL p.139).

Related issues: UNWIND-PROTECT-NON-LOCAL-EXIT is superseded

by this one.


Edit history: ... Version 5 of UNWIND-PROTECT-NON-LOCAL-EXIT, 23-May-88 ...

Version 1, 5-Sep-88, by Moon, for discussion

Version 2, 1-Oct-88, by Masinter, minor edits

Version 3, 7-Oct-88, by Moon, wording improvements

Version 4, 7-Dec-88, by Masinter, add MEDIUM from


Version 5, 12-Dec-88, Masinter, clarify MINIMAL allows MEDIUM

Version 6, 8-Jan-89, Masinter, fix some bugs

Version 7, 4-Apr-89, Moon, amend per X3J13 Mar-89, and make

rationale and examples consistent with that

Problem description:

CLtL does not specify precisely when the dynamic extent (lifetime)

of a nonlocal exit such as a CATCH, BLOCK, or TAGBODY ends.

For example, at what point is it no longer possible to RETURN-FROM

a particular BLOCK?

An "exit" refers to a point from which control can be transferred.

For a THROW or RETURN-FROM, the "exit" is the corresponding CATCH

or BLOCK body. For a GO, the "exit" is the form within the TAGBODY

which was being executed at the time the GO is performed.

The extent of an exit is dynamic; it is not indefinite. The extent

of an exit begins when the corresponding form (CATCH, BLOCK or TAGBODY

clause) is entered. When the extent of an exit has ended, it is no

longer legal to return from it.

The extent of an exit is not the same thing as the scope of the

designator by which the exit is identified. For example, a BLOCK

name has lexical scope but the extent of its exit is dynamic; the

scope of a CATCH tag could differ from the extent of the CATCH's

return point. (That's part of what is at issue here.)

The ambiguity at issue arises for the case where there are transfers

of control from the cleanup clauses of an UNWIND-PROTECT.

When a transfer of control is initiated by GO, RETURN-FROM or THROW,

a variety of events occur before the transfer of control is complete.

In particular,

(a) the cleanup clauses of any intervening UNWIND-PROTECT clauses

are evaluated,

(b) intervening dynamic bindings of special variables and catch tags

are undone,

(c) intervening exits are "abandoned", i.e., their extent ends and it

is no longer legal to attempt to transfer control through them,

(d) the extent of the exit being invoked ends,

(e) control is finally passed to the target.

The order of these events is not explicit in CLtL, however. The

implementation note on p.142 gives a clue about the interweaving

of (a) and (b), but there are differing opinions about the times

at which (c) and (d) may occur. In particular,

Is it legal for an implementation to end the extent of all

intervening exits before processing the cleanup clauses of intervening


What is the dynamic context at the time UNWIND-PROTECT clauses are

evaluated: how is the unwinding of dynamic bindings intertwined with

evaluation of UNWIND-PROTECT cleanup clauses?


The extent of an exit being "abandoned" because it is being passed over

ends as soon as the transfer of control is initiated. That is, the

event (c) occurs at the beginning of the initiation of the transfer of

control. In the language of the implementation note on p.142, the

extent ends at the beginning of the second pass. It is an error to

attempt a transfer of control to an exit whose dynamic extent has


The event (d) occurs at the end of the transfer of control.

Otherwise, events (a) and (b)--the undoing of dynamic binding of special

variables and CATCH tags, and the execution of UNWIND-PROTECT cleanup

clauses--are performed in the order corresponding to the reverse order

in which they were established, as implied by the implementation note

on p.142. The effect of this is that the cleanup clauses of an UNWIND-PROTECT

will see the same dynamic bindings of variables and CATCH tags as were

visible when the UNWIND-PROTECT was entered.

This proposal is called "minimal" because it gives exits the smallest

extent consistent with CLtL, except that event (d) occurs later than

CLtL requires. A program that presumed a longer extent would be in

error. Implementations may support longer extents for exits than is

required by this proposal; in particular, an implementation which

allowed the larger extent of the MEDIUM proposal below would still



The events of (a), (b), (c) and (d) are interwoven in the reverse

order in which they were established. In particular, the extent of

a passed-over exit ends when control reaches a frame that was

established before the exit was established.

In particular, it is legal, during the evaluation of an UNWIND-PROTECT

cleanup form executed because of a non-local transfer of control, to

initiate a new transfer of control to an exit intervening between the

UNWIND-PROTECT and the original target; the original processing of

transfer of control is abandoned.


;; Error under either proposal: BLOCK exits normally before RETURN

(funcall (block nil #'(lambda () (return))))

;; Error under either proposal: normal exit before GO

(let ((a nil))

(tagbody t (setq a #'(lambda () (go t))))

(funcall a))

;; Error under either proposal: TAGBODY is passed over, before GO

(funcall (block nil

(tagbody a (return #'(lambda () (go a))))))

;;returns 2 under MEDIUM and MINIMAL, was error under MINIMAL version 6

(block nil

(unwind-protect (return 1)

(return 2)))

;;returns 2 under MEDIUM, is error under MINIMAL

(block a

(block b

(unwind-protect (return-from a 1)

(return-from b 2))))

;; returns 2 under MEDIUM and MINIMAL, was error under MINIMAL version 6

(catch nil

(unwind-protect (throw nil 1)

(throw nil 2)))

;; returns 2 under MEDIUM, is error under MINIMAL

;; because the catch of B is passed over by

;; the first THROW, hence portable programs must assume its dynamic extent

;; is terminated. The binding of the catch tag is not yet disestablished

;; and therefore it is the target of the second throw.

(catch 'a

(catch 'b

(unwind-protect (throw 'a 1)

(throw 'b 2))))

;; the following was an error under MINIMAL version 6; the extent of

;; the inner catch terminates as soon as the THROW commences, even

;; though it remains in scope. Thus, the THROW of :SECOND-THROW

;; sees the inner CATCH, but its extent has ended.

;; under MEDIUM and MINIMAL version 7,

;; it prints "The inner catch returns :SECOND-THROW"

;; and then returns :OUTER-CATCH.

(catch 'foo

(format t "The inner catch returns ~s.~%"

(catch 'foo

(unwind-protect (throw 'foo :first-throw)

(throw 'foo :second-throw))))


;; Following returns 10 under either proposal. The inner

;; CATCH of A is passed over, but because that CATCH

;; is disestablished before the THROW to A is executed,

;; it isn't seen.

(catch 'a

(catch 'b

(unwind-protect (1+ (catch 'a (throw 'b 1)))

(throw 'a 10))))

;; Following is an error under MINIMAL because the extent of

;; the (CATCH 'BAR ...) exit ends when the (THROW 'FOO ...)

;; commences.

;; Under MEDIUM, the pending exit to tag FOO is discarded by the

;; second THROW to BAR and the value 4 is transferred to

;; (CATCH 'BAR ...), which returns 4. The (CATCH 'FOO ...)

;; then returns the 4 because its first argument has returned

;; normally. XXX is not printed.






;; Following returns 4 under either proposal; XXX is not printed.

;; The (THROW 'FOO ...) has no effect on the scope of the BAR

;; catch tag or the extent of the (CATCH 'BAR ...) exit.






;;The following are legal and print 5 under either proposal:

(block nil

(let ((x 5))

(declare (special x))

(unwind-protect (return)

(print x))))

(block nil

(let ((x 5))

(declare (special x))


(if (test) (return))

(print x))))


For MINIMAL: Giving exits the smallest extent consistent with CLtL

maximizes freedom for implementations; there are few applications,

if any, that require a longer extent. Delaying event (d) until

the transfer of control is completed allows multiple attempts to

exit from a single exit, if the first attempt is interrupted,

possibly by an error.

For MEDIUM: Giving exits a longer extent has cleaner semantics.

Current practice:

Both implementations of Symbolics Genera (3600 and Ivory) end the extent

of a target BLOCK or CATCH at the moment the values are returned, and

end the extent of a passed-over exit at the moment the THROW, RETURN, or

GO commences. This choice of extent maximizes efficiency within the

particular stack structure used by these implementations, by avoiding

the need to retain the control information needed to use a passed over

exit through the transfer of control. Genera signals an error if an

attempt is made to use an exit that has been passed over.

In some implementations, it is possible for a throw or non-local exit

to be effectively "stopped" by an UNWIND-PROTECT cleanup clause that

performs a non-local transfer of control to a passed-over exit.

Some implementations crash or otherwise generate garbage code for

non-local exits from cleanup clauses of UNWIND-PROTECT.

Cost to Implementors:

No currently valid implementation will be made invalid by the MINIMAL

proposal. Some implementors may wish to add error checks if they

do not already have them.

MEDIUM would have a high cost for those implementations that currently

have shorter extent.

Cost to Users:

Most user programs don't do this, so there is likely little cost

of converting existing code in any case. In any case, current implementations

differ enough that this issue ostensibly does not

affect current portable programs. Some users might have code that

relies on the "unstoppable loops" that can be created with the MEDIUM



Either proposal would make Common Lisp more precisely defined.

Cost of non-adoption :

The semantics of exits will remain ambiguous.


Precisely specifying the meaning of dynamic extent improves the language.

Leaving implementations free to implement a longer extent if they choose

can be regarded as unesthetic, but consistent with Common Lisp philosophy.

Having a CATCH that is in scope even though its extent has ended may

seem unesthetic, but it is consistent with how BLOCK behaves.


This issue is controversial. It was first discussed under the issue

named UNWIND-PROTECT-CLEANUP-NON-LOCAL-EXIT. The issue was recast as

the more global one of "extent of exits" rather than the specific

one of "what happens if a cleanup in an UNWIND-PROTECT does a non-

local exit", but the problem cases for both topics are the same.

The goal of the MINIMAL proposal is to clarify the ambiguity in CLtL while

minimizing changes to the current situation. The MEDIUM proposal

defines the extent of an exit to end at the last moment possible

within some particular reference implementation. It has

a cost to implementors whose implementation is not identical to the

reference implementation. Another alternative proposal, not considered

here, would duck the issue by outlawing all non-local exits from UNWIND-PROTECT

cleanup forms. That alternative would have a substantial cost to some users.

Scheme is cleaner: it avoids this issue by specifying that the extent

of an exit never ends.

An argument for the MEDIUM proposal was made based on the example:

(block foo

(block bar


(return-from foo 'foo)

(return-from bar 'bar))))

Since there is no reason for FOO and BAR not to be treated interchangeably,

calling this an error would be inappropriate.

It was argued that the MINIMAL proposal is equivalent to practically

outlawing non-local exits from UNWIND-PROTECT cleanup clauses, because

there is no general way to determine the target of the non-local exit

that caused the cleanup clause to be invoked.

The following example was offered as an argument against MINIMAL. Given:

(block nil


(unwind-protect (return)

(error "foo")) ;probably an error, under the proposal

(error ()

(print "foo"))))

If the ERROR handler has the same scope and extent a CATCH in the same place

would have (and that seems reasonable, though I'm not certain that the

condition system specifically requires that interpretation), then the handler

will be apparent to the call to ERROR, but will no longer be a valid target

(its extent was exited by the RETURN in the UNWIND-PROTECT body).

The extent of an object with dynamic extent is the extent of the form

which created it. Code which is executed "within" that form is within

the extent of the object(s). This applies to all dynamic objects, such

as special variable bindings, not just exits. Actually, I think the intent

of the implementation note on p.142 is fairly clear and supports this

interpretation. The supposedly ambiguous use of "frame" should be read

as something like "form which establishes a dynamic extent". It might be

clearer if the last sentence were changed to read something like:

"On the second pass the stack is actually unwound. Each form which establishes

a dynamic extent is undone in reverse order of creation until the matching

CATCH is reached. The meaning of undoing a form depends on the type of form.

For UNWIND-PROTECT, it means executing the cleanup forms. For CATCH it means

removing the CATCH tag. For dynamic bindings it means undoing the binding,

restoring the previous saved value. {This is not an exhaustive listing of the


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