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References: CLtL pp.410-3


Edit history: Version 1, 20-Mar-89, by Moon

Version 2, 9-May-89, by Moon (rewrite based on mail)

Version 3, 17-Jun-89, by Moon (add discussion, current practice)

Problem description:

CLtL is overly restrictive on the possible values for pathname components.

These restrictions are described in a funny way that makes it unclear

whether they are requirements, guidelines, or just an example.

The restrictions are not all written down in one place, but they appear

to be as follows:

Host nil, :wild, string, or list of strings

Device nil, :wild, string, or something else ("structured")

Directory nil, :wild, string, or something else ("structured")

Name nil, :wild, string, or something else ("structured")

Type nil, :wild, or string

Version nil, :wild, :newest, positive integer, implementation

dependent symbol, or implementation-dependent integer

less than or equal to zero. Suggestions include :oldest,

:previous, :installed, 0, and -1.


allow any component to be :UNSPECIFIC. This has been voted in.

PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST proposes a list of strings and keyword

symbols for the directory component.

PATHNAME-CANONICAL-TYPE proposes some new operations but does not

change the possible values of the type component.

PATHNAME-WILD proposes a portable way to test for implementation

dependent component values that indicate wildcard matching. It

does not change the possible values of any component.


The points of the proposal have been numbered/lettered to facilitate

discussion of individual points.

0. Pathname component value strings never contain the punctuation

characters that are used to separate pathname fields (e.g. slashes and

dots in Unix). Punctuation characters appear only in namestrings.

Characters used as punctuation can appear in pathname component values

with a non-punctuation meaning if the file system allows it (e.g. a Unix

file name that begins with a dot).

When examining pathname components, conforming programs must be prepared

to encounter any of the following values:

1. Any component can be NIL, which means the component has not

been specified.

2. Any component can be :UNSPECIFIC, which means the component has

no meaning in this particular pathname.

3. The device, directory, name, and type can be strings.

4. The host can be any object, at the discretion of the implementation.

5. The directory can be a list of strings and symbols as detailed in

PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST (this assumes that it passes.)

6. The version can be any symbol or any integer. The symbol :NEWEST

refers to the largest version number that already exists in the file

system when reading, overwriting, appending, superseding, or directory

listing an existing file, and refers to the smallest version number

greater than any existing version number when creating a new file.

Other symbols and integers have implementation-defined meaning.

It is suggested, but not required, that implementations use positive

integers starting at 1 as version numbers, recognize the symbol :OLDEST

to designate the smallest existing version number, and use keyword

symbols for other special versions.

Wildcard pathnames can be used with DIRECTORY but not with OPEN, and

return true from WILD-PATHNAME-P (if issue PATHNAME-WILD passes). When

examining wildcard components of a wildcard pathname, conforming programs

must be prepared to encounter any of the following additional values

in any component or any element of a list that is the directory component:

7. :WILD, which matches anything.

8. A string containing implementation-dependent special wildcard


9. Any object, representing an implementation-dependent wildcard


When constructing a pathname from components, conforming programs

must follow these rules:

a. Any component can be NIL. NIL in the host may mean a default host

rather than an actual NIL in some implementations.

b. The host, device, directory, name, and type can be strings. There

are implementation-dependent limits on the number and type of

characters in these strings.

c. The directory can be a list of strings and symbols as detailed in

PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST (this assumes that it passes.) There are

implementation-dependent limits on the list's length and contents.

d. The version can be :NEWEST.

e. Any component can be taken from the corresponding component

of another pathname. When the two pathnames are for different

file systems (in implementations that support multiple file

systems), an appropriate translation occurs. If no meaningful

translation is possible, an error is signalled. The definitions

of "appropriate" and "meaningful" are implementation-dependent.

f. When constructing a wildcard pathname, the name, type, or version

can be :WILD, which matches anything.

g. An implementation might support other values for some components,

but a portable program cannot use those values. A conforming program

can use implementation-dependent values but this can make it

non-portable, for example, it might work only with Unix file systems.


The changes relative to CLtL plus PATHNAME-UNSPECIFIC-COMPONENT

are as follows:

The removal of punctuation characters during parsing is specified.

"Structured" components are disallowed in non-wildcard pathnames,

except for the specific structuring of directories specified


"Structured" hosts are allowed, a generalization of CLtL's list

of strings.

The type and version can be "structured" in wildcard pathnames.

The difference between what component values a program can depend

on being able to use, versus what component values a program must

be prepared to encounter, is clarified.

The implementation-dependent variations are identified explicitly.


This should make it easier to write portable programs that deal with

pathnames and make it easier for implementors by clarifying the

framework into which they must fit. Also it should make it easier

to write the Common Lisp language specification by resolving some

things that were unclear about the status quo.

Adding "structured" hosts conforms to current practice.

Substituting a default host for NIL conforms to current practice

in implementations that require all pathnames to have a specific host.

Confining "structured" devices and names to wildcard pathnames, and

replacing "structured" directories with an explicit specification of

the form of the directory value, should improve portability without causing

any harm.

:WILD is only required to be supported in the name, type, or version,

which are the easiest to implement and the most useful in applications.

Current practice:

All versions of Symbolics Genera violate CLtL in the matter of hosts,

since it uses standard-objects as the host component. Genera deviates

slightly from PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST, but otherwise conforms to


Like Genera, the Explorer current practice is to use an object instead of

a string for the host component. The directory component is a list of

strings, not yet supporting the symbols specified in proposal

PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST; other than that, the Explorer conforms to


Macintosh Allegro Common Lisp 1.2.2 uses NIL and "" for :UNSPECIFIC,

and uses a string with punctuation characters instead of a list for

the directory. MAKE-PATHNAME won't set a component to NIL when

:DEFAULTS is used, it merges with the defaults instead.

Otherwise it seems consistent with what is proposed.

Lucid Common Lisp 3.0.1 under Unix uses NIL for :UNSPECIFIC, and uses

a list for directories of somewhat different form from what is proposed

in PATHNAME-SUBDIRECTORY-LIST. Lucid lets you store arbitrary information

in the version field with MAKE-PATHNAME :VERSION and will return it with

PATHNAME-VERSION (as long as it's a symbol or an integer), even though

it's not used. Otherwise it seems consistent with what is proposed.

Ibuki Common Lisp Release 01/01 behaves the same as Lucid, including the

same form of structured directory, except it doesn't have the ability to

store information in the unused pathname version field, and it has the

same bug in MAKE-PATHNAME that the Macintosh has. Otherwise it seems

consistent with what is proposed.

Other implementations were not surveyed.

This proposal assumes that no current or planned implementation

uses "structured" names except possibly for wildcards.

Cost to Implementors:

Most implementations already conform, except for the changes required


the cost of this proposal itself should be minimal. It is conceivable

that an implementation may exist that has to change its pathname

representation, for example one that uses numbers as "structured" devices.

Some implementations may have to change their treatment of punctuation


Cost to Users:


Cost of non-adoption:

Pathnames will continue to be a poorly specified part of the language.

Performance impact:

None of any significance.


The boundary between the specified behavior of pathnames and the

implementation-dependent behavior of pathnames will be more clear.


Sandra Loosemore comments:

As I've said before, I don't think that trying to construct or pick

apart pathnames by component can be accomplished portably in any case,

because even if you restrict the representation of what can appear in

the various components, the objects you stuff in may or may not make

sense for a particular file system. Instead, I would much prefer to

deprecate MAKE-PATHNAME and the PATHNAME-xxx accessors and leave the

question of representation of components unspecified in the standard.

I realize that this position may be seen as being too extreme. In

that case I'd be willing to shut up and go along with proposal SPECIFY

as long as my position gets noted in the writeup.

Larry Masinter and Dave Moon both feel that we should be able to

prescribe exact pathname component values for popular file systems, so

that multiple implementations will behave the same way when using the

same file system. Obvious candidates as the key file systems are MS/DOS,

Macintosh, Unix, and VAX/VMS. A call for volunteers to write up tables

for any of them produced absolutely no response, however.

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