References: functions (p32), types (p33), FUNCTIONP (p76),
SYMBOL-FUNCTION (p90), APPLY (p107), COERCE (pp51-52)
Edit History: 26-Feb-87, Version 1 by Gabriel
15-Mar-87, Version 2 by Cleanup Committee
10-May-87, Version 3 by Fahlman
29-May-87, Version 4 by Masinter (incorporate comments)
15-Jun-87, Version 5 by Fahlman (include two options)
23-Oct-87, Version 6 by Masinter (only STRICT-REDEFINITION)
09-Nov-87, Version 7 by Masinter (minor cleanup)
14-Nov-87, Version 8 by Pitman (major restructuring)
13-Feb-88, Version 9 by Masinter, (add back 2nd option)
19-May-88, Version 10 by Masinter, (modify as per X3J13)
24-May-88, Version 11 by van Roggen
(don't coerce lists, relax SYMBOL-FUNCTION reqs)
4-Sep-88, Version 12 by Masinter
(incorporate amendments adopted at June 88 X3J13)
The definition of the term ``function'' in CLtL includes all symbols and
many lists in addition to `true' functions.
Also, page 47 of CLtL states that the FUNCTION type specifier can only
be used for declaration and not for discrimination. Some of the original
Common Lisp designers maintain that this restriction on the use of the
FUNCTION specifier was meant to apply only to long-form FUNCTION
specifiers, but since this intent was not explicitly stated, the status
of FUNCTION as a type is blurred.
A consequence of the p47 confusion is that (FUNCTIONP x) cannot portably
be relied upon to be equivalent to (TYPEP x 'FUNCTION).
This proposal is basically the STRICT-REDEFINITION proposal of version 9
of this issue, correcting a few typos, changing section 2E as
agreed upon at X3J13 March 1988, allowing symbols but not lists to
be FUNCALLed or APPLYed, and relaxing some SYMBOL-FUNCTION/FBOUNDP
1. Redefine the type FUNCTION so that it can be used for discrimination
as well as declaration.
1a. The types CONS, SYMBOL, ARRAY, NUMBER, CHARACTER, and FUNCTION
are pairwise disjoint. In particular, a list may not be used
to implement any FUNCTION subtype.
1b. Define that the type COMPILED-FUNCTION is a subtype of FUNCTION.
Implementations are free to define other subtypes of FUNCTION.
2. Define that a ``function'' as used throughout the CLtL is restricted
to be exactly those objects of type FUNCTION.
2a. This type no longer includes objects of type SYMBOL or lists
whose CAR is LAMBDA.
2b. The behavior of FUNCTIONP is defined to be exactly equivalent to
#'(LAMBDA (X) (TYPEP X 'FUNCTION)). This is an incompatible
2c. Clarify that the list form of the FUNCTION type specifier may
still only be used for declaration.
2d. Clarify that the symbol form of the FUNCTION type specifier may
be used for type discrimination.
2e. FUNCALL and APPLY and all Common Lisp functions that
take function arguments to also take a symbol, which will
be coerced to a function as if by SYMBOL-FUNCTION.
2f. This is an incompatible change in that it is an error to pass
anything other than a function or symbol as the functional
3. Clarify that the result of a FUNCTION special form must be a function.
3a. This implies that some (FUNCTION name) may be implicitly interpreted
as (THE FUNCTION (FUNCTION name)).
4. Clarify that it is an error to use the special form FUNCTION on a
symbol that does not denote a function in the lexical environment in
which the special form appears. Specifically, it is an error to use the
FUNCTION special form on a symbol that denotes a macro or special form.
4a. Some implementations may choose not to signal this error for
performance reasons, but implementations are forbidden from
defining the failure to signal an error as a `useful' behavior.
5. Clarify that FBOUNDP must return true for a symbol naming a macro or
a special form, and that it is permissible to call SYMBOL-FUNCTION
on any symbol for which FBOUNDP returns true.
5a. The value returned by SYMBOL-FUNCTION when FBOUNDP returns true
but the symbol denotes a macro or special form is not well-defined,
but SYMBOL-FUNCTION will not signal an error.
5b. SETF of SYMBOL-FUNCTION requires a FUNCTION as the new value.
It is an error to set the SYMBOL-FUNCTION of a symbol to a
symbol or a list or the value returned by SYMBOL-FUNCTION on
the name of a macro or a special form.
5c. The motivation for this distinction between FUNCTION and
SYMBOL-FUNCTION is that FUNCTION is intended for day-to-day
use within programs while SYMBOL-FUNCTION is a data structure
accessor used primarily for meta-level applications and not
recommended for general use. It is provided primarily to
complete the set of accessors on symbols.
6. COERCE is extended to allow objects to be coerced to type FUNCTION.
6a. (COERCE symbol 'FUNCTION) extracts the SYMBOL-FUNCTION of the
given symbol, signalling an error if the symbol is not FBOUNDP or
if the symbol names a macro or a special-form.
6b. (COERCE x 'FUNCTION), where the value of x is a list that
begins with LAMBDA, will return a FUNCTION similar to
(EVAL '(FUNCTION ,x)).
7. Clarify that the value of *MACROEXPAND-HOOK* is first coerced to a
function before being called as the expansion interface hook by
The fuzzy definition of ``function'' has descended from older dialects of
Lisp, such as Maclisp. Many places in existing code make assumptions about
the current meaning, making any change painful.
It is very important both for documentation clarity and for program type
discrimination (such as CLOS) to have a clear term which denotes a
This proposal is a compromise between a CONSERVATIVE proposal (which left
FUNCTION alone and introduced a new type), and a STRICT-REDEFINITION proposal,
which incompatibly changed not only the FUNCTION type and SYMBOL-FUNCTION,
but also the behavior of FUNCALL, APPLY and functions with functional
For compatibility reasons symbols are still acceptable to FUNCALL et al.,
but for aesthetic reasons lambda-expressions (lists whose CAR is LAMBDA
and whose CADR is a list) are no longer acceptable.
In some implementations, (TYPEP x 'FUNCTION) signals an error.
In some implementations, (TYPEP x 'FUNCTION) is true for values
returned by FUNCTION, symbols that are FBOUNDP, and lambda expressions.
In some implementations, (TYPEP x 'FUNCTION) is true only for values
returned by FUNCTION.
Implementations vary on what my go into the function cell, depending on
how much error checking they want to have to do at function call time, and
depending on whether they store other kinds of information (such as special
form information) in the function cell.
Few current Common Lisp implementations have exactly the
semantics described in this proposal.
Cost to Implementors:
Bringing type predicates (FUNCTIONP, etc.) and higher order functions
(APPLY, etc.) into compliance should require little effort in most
Compiled functions are true functions in almost all current
implementations, but in many implementations, interpreted functions and
closures stored in the function cell of a symbol are represented as lists.
Under this proposal, this representation would have to be different
(implemented either as structures or as some special internal data type).
The behavior of COMPILE, STEP, TRACE, and possibly ED would have to be
modified to deal with functions that are not lists (but from which the
list form can be reconstructed if necessary).
Cost to Users:
The changes to FUNCTIONP and the FUNCTION type declaration are relatively easy
to deal with.
Because CLtL's language was somewhat fuzzy about what might go into the
function cell of a symbol, some code that explicitly deposited symbols
or lists in a symbol's function cell, or expected lists back, will
have to change. Such code was already not portable, however, since some
implementations signal an error when this is done.
The original STRICT-REDEFINITION proposal required users to deal with
the use of symbols and lambda-expressions as functional arguments. However
this proposal is compatible with current CLtL definition in the use of
symbols, which would be the hardest change to make. There are probably
relatively few uses of lambda-expressions as ``functions'', which can
be dealt with by (EVAL `(FUNCTION ,lambda-expresssion)).
The term ``function'' would be given a useful and precise meaning.
The FUNCTION datatype would be useful for type discrimination in CLOS.
The type hierarchy would be simplified.
This proposal brings Common Lisp slightly closer to Scheme and the
work of the EuLisp committee. Scheme, for example, also has the concept
of a ``procedure'' which is compatible with the FUNCTION type.
This proposal improves the aesthetics of the language.
Lambda-expressions do not obey the normal, apparent scoping rules because
free variables cannot refer to lexical bindings. This is because
coercing a list to a function would mean (EVAL `(FUNCTION ,list)).
The following code does -not- count the number of nodes in a graph:
(LET ((COUNTER 0))
(TRAVERSE-THING '(LAMBDA (NODE) (INCF COUNTER))
since it is not the same as
(LET ((COUNTER 0))
(TRAVERSE-THING #'(LAMBDA (NODE) (INCF COUNTER))
which does pass around a closure incrementing the LET variable.
(These examples assume COUNTER wasn't PROCLAIMed SPECIAL.)
Making the coercion of lambda-expressions to functions explicit with
the use of EVAL will encourage less confusing code and also highlight
that use of EVAL.
This issue has been discussed at great length; this section attempts
only to summarize the important points.
There is general agreement that the definition of the FUNCTION data type
must be clarified or revised. The cleanup of the type hierarchy is important
to the CLOS group.
The description of COMPILE must be changed, since it is no longer
meaningful to speak of a symbol with a definition that "is a
lambda-expression". We believe this is a subject for a separate
proposal, as the behavior of COMPILE needs additional clarification.
Many different alternatives have been discussed both in the cleanup committee
and X3J13. Two proposals were circulated at the March 1988 meeting of X3J13;
this version is the result of discussions at that meeting. It is a compromise
between the conflicting goals of backward compatibility, flexibility in the
language, and simple semantics.
This proposal does not address the issue of when coercion to functions occur.
For example, it is allowed to write
(MAPCAR 'FROB my-list)
It is not specified when the coercion of FROB to its SYMBOL-FUNCTION
occurs. For example,
(DEFUN FROB (X)
(WHEN (> X 0) (SETF (SYMBOL-FUNCTION 'FROB) #'(LAMBDA (X) NIL)))
(MAPCAR 'FROB '(-1 -1 1 1))
may return different results if MAPCAR coerces its functional argument
once rather than for each element. This may require a separate