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Re: guile and emacs and elisp, oh my!

From: joakim
Subject: Re: guile and emacs and elisp, oh my!
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2010 10:53:12 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/23.1.90 (gnu/linux)

Andy Wingo <address@hidden> writes:

> Greetings, all!
> My name is Andy, and together with Ludovic Court├Ęs I co-maintain Guile.
> I meant to put off writing this note until some months in the future,
> but as people seem to be interested in the topic, now is as good a time
> as any.
> The topic? Emacs and Guile. (Cue cheering and derisions!) I'll be
> telling some history here, from the perspective of one who wasn't there,
> but I believe I have the essentials right.
> Emacs and Guile have a long and lovely history, longer in fact than
> Guile's existence itself. Hacking Emacs is the core of GNU -- as you
> know, Emacs is alive, it's fungible, it's free. The GNU system grew out
> of Emacs and the hack-experience that it represents.
> (I have a friend who regularly chides me when I have to reboot and shut
> down my Emacs -- it's like I'm killing a friend, he says!)
> But when it was decided that GNU should be like a Unix, it was a fall
> from grace, in a sense. The system no longer had the Emacs nature. Time
> passed, and people looked to see how to spread the Emacs nature from
> Emacs itself to the rest of the programs in the GNU system.
> One possibility would be to extract elisp from emacs and use it as an
> extension language. But given that the language would have to be
> extracted anyway, the thought was to use a more modern Lisp dialect,
> Scheme. Thus Guile was born, as the GNU extension language.
> (Its birth coincided unfortunately with the so-called "Tcl wars", but
> Guile was not made because of Tcl. Guile was made out of a need that
> existed outside the polemic. For example, Neil Jerram -- recently
> retired Guile maintainer, may he hack in peace -- mentioned to me once
> that he had contacted Richard quite early on, before the "Tcl wars",
> discussing the need for a GNU extension language, as Elisp was to
> Emacs.)
> But I digress! Tom Lord was the one to make the initial Guile, derived
> from SCM as you know, and though his time with Guile was too short, we
> are privileged to have traces of his code in Guile, and his ethereal
> presence here on this list.
> Since then, about 15 years ago now, Guile has had many maintainers. It
> was stabilized, and documented, and extended, and hacked, and fixed, but
> eventually we realized that Guile's interpreter -- which traversed trees
> of expressions to produce its effects and values -- was just too slow.
> We needed to do some pre-computation on the source; we needed to compile
> it to something.
> Given that the U is for ubiquitous (*not* Unique, all you salt-n-pepa
> fans), we couldn't do native compilation, not directly anyway -- we
> needed something portable. So, with the help of a few hackers, I updated
> some work that Keisuke Nishida did on writing a VM and associated
> compiler for Guile, and that's what we're going to release hopefully
> next month as Guile 2.0.
> We've been trying hard to maintain backwards compatibility for Guile,
> and we've done well, I think. The move from interpreted to compiled code
> has all of the eval-when pitfalls that you all know, but most extensions
> just compile fine with 2.0, and practically all correct Scheme code -- a
> number of errors were not caught with 1.8 and before -- practically all
> of that code runs fine without modification.
> If you really want the whole story, I'd advise you to see my
> presentation at November's GNU Hackers Meeting in Sweden, which can be
> viewed or downloaded here:
>   http://wingolog.org/archives/2010/04/02/recent-developments-in-guile
> Hi! Still with me? Cool :)
> I've said all of this to give some credibility to what I'm going to say
> now.
> Guile can implement Emacs Lisp better than Emacs can.
> We can compile Emacs Lisp to Guile's VM, and make C shims to present a
> suitably compatible C interface to the rest of Emacs' C primitives.
> No one will notice! Except that after a switch, Emacs would be faster,
> more powerful, and have the ability to access all of Guile's facilities
> -- the Scheme language, other languages implemented for Guile
> (Javascript, Lua, ...), a proper ffi, dynamically loadable libraries, a
> module system, the numeric tower (rationals, bignums, etc), Guile's
> existing libraries, delimited continuations (!), fast bytevector access,
> native threads, etc.
> On a language level, I am convinced that not only can Guile implement
> Emacs Lisp, but it can provide a coherent story for tight interaction
> between e.g. minor modes in Javascript and Scheme and Elisp, etc. More
> details will come later, though feel free to bring up specific points.
> There have been some suggestions on the list that "Guile people want to
> rewrite Emacs in Scheme". Though Scheme does have some facilities to
> offer, personally I do not believe in rewriting software. I've failed
> enough times, thank-you-very-much -- and if we could retrofit a compiler
> into Guile in two years via correctness-preserving transformations,
> surely we can replace the implementation of Elisp without causing
> problems.
> My goal is to make it the obvious decision for the Emacs maintainers to
> say, "yes, let's switch to Guile's implementation of elisp, because it
> will make Emacs better and have no drawbacks". We're not there yet --
> and that's why I wanted to put off this mail -- but we'll get there.
> I guess that's all I have to say, for now -- my bandwidth is not with
> Emacs right now, as there are enough things to take care of in Guile
> itself. But, I'll be responding to this thread, and lurking on the
> list, so do get in contact if you have a concern.

I find this very interesting. Do you have some form of plan how to
integrate this form of Guile and Emacs? Can it be done incrementally,
that is, can the current elisp system and the guile system coexist in
the same Emacs? If so, more hackers could help out with the integration,

> In the meantime, happy hacking!
> Andy
Joakim Verona

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