Книга: Practical Common Lisp

Macros

Macros

While special operators extend the syntax of Common Lisp beyond what can be expressed with just function calls, the set of special operators is fixed by the language standard. Macros, on the other hand, give users of the language a way to extend its syntax. As you saw in Chapter 3, a macro is a function that takes s-expressions as arguments and returns a Lisp form that's then evaluated in place of the macro form. The evaluation of a macro form proceeds in two phases: First, the elements of the macro form are passed, unevaluated, to the macro function. Second, the form returned by the macro function—called its expansion—is evaluated according to the normal evaluation rules.

It's important to keep the two phases of evaluating a macro form clear in your mind. It's easy to lose track when you're typing expressions at the REPL because the two phases happen one after another and the value of the second phase is immediately returned. But when Lisp code is compiled, the two phases happen at completely different times, so it's important to keep clear what's happening when. For instance, when you compile a whole file of source code with the function COMPILE-FILE, all the macro forms in the file are recursively expanded until the code consists of nothing but function call forms and special forms. This macroless code is then compiled into a FASL file that the LOAD function knows how to load. The compiled code, however, isn't executed until the file is loaded. Because macros generate their expansion at compile time, they can do relatively large amounts of work generating their expansion without having to pay for it when the file is loaded or the functions defined in the file are called.

Since the evaluator doesn't evaluate the elements of the macro form before passing them to the macro function, they don't need to be well-formed Lisp forms. Each macro assigns a meaning to the s-expressions in the macro form by virtue of how it uses them to generate its expansion. In other words, each macro defines its own local syntax. For instance, the backwards macro from Chapter 3 defines a syntax in which an expression is a legal backwards form if it's a list that's the reverse of a legal Lisp form.

I'll talk quite a bit more about macros throughout this book. For now the important thing for you to realize is that macros—while syntactically similar to function calls—serve quite a different purpose, providing a hook into the compiler.[51]

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