Angel \”Java\” Lopez on Blog

November 25, 2014

SimpleLisp (1) Compiling Lisp to JavaScript

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I implemented Lisp as interpreter, using C#, Java, and JavaScript. See:

The implementation of a Lisp is a good programming exercise. Lisp is a simple and powerful language, with functions as first class citizens. And with the “twist” of implementing functions that don’t evaluate their arguments, and macros.

This time, I want to implement a Lisp, but as a compiler. I started to write a Lisp compiler in JavaScript, that generates JavaScript. The project:

As usual, I worked using the Test-Driven Development workflow. With simple use cases, I implemented the needed features. This is my first Lisp compiler, so I’m trying new implementation approaches. I know Clojure, as a basis for a Lisp compiler. I should implement:

Symbols: identifiers witn name and associated value. Now, I’m compiling them to JavaScript variables. In SimpleLisp, a symbol can be defined at top, in a let block, or as a function argument. Then, I produce a top variable (or a least, a module variable), or a local variable in let, or an argument in function.

Functions: I’m translating a normal function in Lisp to a normal function in JavaScript. The main difference is that Lisp functions returns a value, there are no commands, all are expression, as in Ruby. A list in SimpleLisp is then compiled to a function call in JavaScript.

Special Forms: Their implementation is a novelty to me. In a compiler, I could generate directly the final code for each list with a head that is an special form. So, I’m compiling directly to JavaScript any list with head if, do, let, etc… . A list (if ….) is compiled to a JavaScript if, but returning a value.

Macros: In a compiler, I could adopt a new implementation: to expand the macro at COMPILING TIME. I’m not sure yet if I can take this approach in every case. Notably, in Clojure a macro is not a functional value: a macro cannot be passed as an argument. A macro make sense only at compiling time.

A final use case: write a web site using Node.js/Express in SimpleLisp.

Stay tuned!

Angel “Java” Lopez

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