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Forum:         Cleanup


References: CLtL pp 107-108 (APPLY)

Related issues: DYNAMIC-EXTENT


Edit history: 8-Dec-88, Version 1 by Masinter

9-Dec-88, Version 2 by Clinger (add rationale, more discussion)

12-Dec-88, Version 3 by Clinger (delete bogus examples)

Problem description:

In the special case of calling a function with an &REST list via APPLY,

Common Lisp fails to specify whether a new copy of the list is freshly

allocated. For example, given





return T?

This issue is different from the question of the extent of "rest lists" in

the case when they *are* newly allocated which is indefinite; the issue

DYNAMIC-EXTENT also contains some proposals about extent.


Specify that &REST lists are newly allocated in the case when the function

is called via APPLY.


Specify that the value of an &REST parameter is permitted, but not required,

to share (top-level) structure with the last argument to APPLY.


Specify that the value of an &REST parameter is required

to share (top-level) structure with the last argument to APPLY.

>> this needs better spec about how the args match <<




(APPLY #'FOO *MY-LIST*) => T ;on Symbolics systems and probably

; many stock hardware implementations

This implies that



*MY-LIST* => (D B C) ;on Symbolics systems and probably many stock

; hardware implementations

Another example: which of the following have the same semantics?

(setq x '(1 2 3))

[1] (apply #'foo 1 2 3 NIL)

[2] (apply #'foo 1 2 (cddr x))

[3] (apply #'foo 1 (cdr x))

[4] (apply #'foo x)

[5] (funcall #'foo 1 2 3)


[1]-[5] are equivalent.


Any answer to the question is correct for some conceivable implementation.

Abstracting over implementations, this means that [1]-[5] are pairwise



[1]-[4] are pairwise non-equivalent in all implementations. This proposal

leaves open the question of whether [1] is equivalent to [5].

And finally:

Should (defun foo (&rest x) ...)

behave (aside from efficiency) as if it were defined:

(defun foo (&rest G0047) ;Gensym really

(let ((x (copy-list G0047)))



The semantics of APPLY is unclear. In consequence it is impossible

to write portable code that relies on &REST arguments sharing structure

with the last argument to APPLY. Portable code can rely on &REST arguments

*not* sharing structure with the last argument to APPLY, but only by

performing an explicit COPY-LIST on all &REST arguments; this is redundant

and inefficient in implementations where &REST arguments are newly

allocated anyway.

Current practice:

Some implementations always share. Some implementations never share.

A few may share interpreted and not share compiled, or vice versa.

Cost to Implementors:

None for MAY-SHARE, since that is the status quo. Both of the other

proposals entail a significant cost for some implementations.

If MUST-SHARE is adopted, then implementations that don't share structure

may be nearly impossible to convert. If NEWLY-ALLOCATED is adopted, then

implementations that do share will have to insert a call to COPY-LIST

inside either APPLY or &REST list handling, which will slow things down

and may be difficult as well.

Cost to Users:

No matter what, somebody gets hurt. MAY-SHARE means you have to

write awkward and inefficient code if you care. (This is already

the case for portable code.) MUST-SHARE means you have to add

explicit calls to COPY-LIST to code that assumes the contrary.

NEWLY-ALLOCATED means you have to rewrite code that assumes sharing.

Cost of non-adoption:

Great confusion over the issue. A certain amount of awkwardness and

inefficiency would remain inevitable if you want to write portable code.

Performance impact:

MUST-SHARE costs least in consing, but might slow down function call

for some implementations. MAY-SHARE lets implementations pick, has

least impact. NEWLY-ALLOCATED requires consing in cases where it

didn't before.


Less confusion. Improved portability.


Differing, strongly held opinions.


The Revised3 Report on Scheme specifies that the equivalent of a

&REST argument must be a newly allocated list, to avoid precisely this


The argument for MUST-SHARE is that copying is inefficient, so

&REST should never cause copying of a list passed to it from APPLY.

Functions that desire a new copy can just call COPY-LIST.

Two arguments for MAY-SHARE are:

1. In no other place does Common Lisp automatically unshare structure,

except when the user is explicitly modifying the structure (as in REMOVE).

Making APPLY automatically unshare would be a semantic wart.

2. If APPLY copies its last argument, recursive programs that receive an

&REST argument and pass it to APPLY become inefficient. A linear time

algorithm can change to a quadratic time algorithm. While the efficiency

could be regained through compiler flow analysis in many cases, it's

better not to put the inefficiency into the language in the first place.

The DYNAMIC-EXTENT proposal would allow &REST lists

that were "newly allocated" to have dynamic extent if they were

to be passed down via APPLY. This puts the burden in the

right place.

Two (closely related) arguments for NEWLY-ALLOCATED:

1. The programmer's model of function calling is simpler: functions

take arguments, and any two calls that pass the same arguments to the

same function are equivalent. The MAY-SHARE and MUST-SHARE proposals

require a model in which functions generally take their arguments in

the form of a list, and the extent to which that list shares structure

with other lists in the system becomes an important part of the

semantics of a function call.

2. It's not only smashing a &rest argument that's a problem, it's

smashing any list that has been given as the last argument to APPLY as

well. Consider the following in an implementation that doesn't copy

the last argument to APPLY when it is passed as a &rest argument:

> (defvar *message*)


> (defun set-message (&rest mess)

(setq *message* mess))


> (let ((winner (list 'a 'winner)))

(apply #'set-message winner)

(setf (cdr winner) (list 'loser))



Is *message* (A WINNER) or (A LOSER)? (It might be

(#<DTP-LOCATIVE 76123756> #<DTP-ODD-PC 12313453> ...)

but that's a different problem.) This suggests that once a list has

been given as the last argument to APPLY it is no longer OK to modify


Gail Zacharias talked about the common idiom of simply doing a COPY-LIST

on every &rest argument, to insure some normalcy. Her reasoning seems

to bolster the case for those who claim that the current CL semantics

(MAY-SHARE) are deficient:

Subject: &REST Lists

Date: 24 Mar 88 12:23:15 EST (Thu)

From: gz@spt.entity.com (Gail Zacharias)

. . .

If Common Lisp doesn't require unshared &rest lists, then I think

it must provide a declarative version of this idiom so the COPY-LIST can

be portably avoided when it's redundant. Seems to me that the fact that

this is a common case where users find a need for conditionalization

indicates a real deficiency in Common Lisp's specification.

. . .

So we have a responsibility to resolve the very thorny issue


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