Paolo Amoroso's Journal


I implemented the last features originally planned for Insphex, my hex dump tool in Common Lisp for Medley Interlisp.

The first new feature is an Exec command for invoking the program. The command HD works the same way as the function INSPHEX:HEXDUMP and accepts the same arguments, a file name and an optional boolean flag to indicate whether the output should go to a separate window:


The other feature is the addition to the File Browser menu of the Hexdump command, which shows the hex dump of the selected files in as many separate windows:

Hexdump File Browser command of the Insphex hex dump tool on Medley Interlisp.

For other commands that produce output in windows the File Browser lets the user view one window at a time, with menu options for skipping through the windows. Insphex doesn't do anything so elaborate though.

Implementing the features was easy as the relevant Interlisp APIs are well documented and I have experience with adding an Exec command to Stringscope.

The Medley Lisp library modules manual covers the File Browser API from page 115 of the PDF, with the explanation of how to add commands on page 118. It's as simple as registering a callback function the command invokes, INSPHEX::FB-HEXDUMP for Insphex.

An issue I bumped into is that instead of 4 arguments as the manual says, the callback actually requires 5. The last, undocumented argument was likely introduced since the publication of the manual.

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I added a GUI to Insphex, the hex dump tool I'm writing in Common Lisp on the Medley Interlisp environment.

The initial version printed the hex dump only to the standard output, now optionally to a separate TEdit window with a command menu. The menu has items for displaying the next page of output, redisplaying from the beginning of the file, and exiting the program.

Window and command menu of the Insphex hex dump tool for Medley Interlisp.

Most window, menu, and other Medley GUI facilities, like the TEdit rich text editor, provide Interlisp APIs in the IL package that Common Lisp programs such as Insphex can access. However, since the APIs usually rely on Interlisp records, from Common Lisp it's often necessary to write quite a few package qualifiers like this example to create a menu record:

           IL:ITEMS IL:← '(ITEM1 ITEM2 ITEM3)
           IL:MENUFONT IL:← '(IL:MODERN 12)
           IL:TITLE IL:← "Menu"
           IL:CENTERFLG IL:← T)

The XCL:DEFINE-RECORD macro helps reduce package qualifiers by wrapping Interlisp records in equivalent Common Lisp structures with ordinary structure accessors, setters, predicates, and constructors. The structures can be in any package, not just IL like Interlisp symbols. XCL:DEFINE-RECORD is described on page 7-3 (page 143 of the PDF) of the Medley 1.0 release notes.

This way Common Lisp blends well with Interlisp and reduces verbosity. For example, this is the Insphex Common Lisp function that creates the output window:

   "Create and return a window to display the hex dump of FILE."
          (COMMANDS (IL:MENUWINDOW (MAKE-MENU :ITEMS '(("Next" :NEXT "Show the next page.")
                                                       ("Reread" :REREAD "Reread the input file.")
                                                       ("Exit" :EXIT "Quit the program."))
                                          '(IL:MODERN 12)
                                          :TITLE "Commands" :CENTERFLG T :WHENSELECTEDFN 
          (WINDOW (IL:WFROMDS OUT)))

The INSPHEX::MAKE-MENU constructor creates a Common Lisp INSPHEX::MENU structure that wraps the Interlisp IL:MENU record.

Most of the Insphex GUI functionality is in place but I need to work on a couple of tweaks.

First, the Insphex window should be read-only whereas now the user can type into the editor buffer. Next, I need to clean up all the allocated resources when the user quits the program via various interaction flows, such as closing the window instead of clicking the Exit menu item.

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I'm developing the new program Insphex (inspect hex), a hex dump tool that is created with and runs on the Medley Interlisp environment.

Similarly to the Linux command hexdump, it shows the contents of files as hexadecimal values and the corresponding ASCII characters. An early version of the program prints the hex dump to the standard output like this.

Output of the Insphex hex dump tool for Medley Interlisp.

I plan to enhance Insphex to optionally display the dump in a separate window one page at a time. An attached menu will have options for showing the next page and exiting. I'll also provide an Exec command for running the program.

The code is in Common Lisp but will include some Interlisp to access the required system functionality.

Although Insphex is useful in itself, I have three main goals for it. First, I want a real project to practice the process for writing Common Lisp with the residential environment of Medley. This is the native way of coding on Medley and takes full advantage of its development environment and features such as the File Manager and the SEdit editor.

Most Medley tools and facilities are written in Interlisp or expose Interlisp APIs through which the functionality can be invoked. So another goal is to interface with Interlisp from Common Lisp to access the functionality I need like windows and menus.

My third goal is to experiment with displaying textual output in TEdit, the Medley word processor where the hex dump will optionally go.

Although the Interlisp API of TEdit supports advanced editing and formatting, Insphex does only basic text output. The primary feature I want is TEdit's ability to automatically handle repainting the window after it's resized or a hidden portion is exposed. This is handy as by default Interlisp windows mostly don't handle the repaint.

Now that the basic functionality of Insphex is in place I will implement displaying the hex dump in a TEdit window.

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When the Medley Interlisp Project began reviving the system around 2020, its Common Lisp implementation was in the state it had when commercial development petered off in the 1990s, mostly prior to the ANSI standard.

Back then Medley Common Lisp mostly supported CLtL1 plus CLOS and the condition system. Some patches submitted several years later to bring the language closer to CLtL2 needed review and integration.

Aside from these general areas there was no detailed information on what Medley missed or differed from ANSI Common Lisp.

In late 2021 Larry Masinter proposed to evaluate the ANSI compatibility of Medley Common Lisp by running the code of popular Common Lisp books and documenting any divergences. In March of 2024 I set to work to test the code of the book Practical Common Lisp by Peter Seibel.

I went over the book chapter by chapter and completed a first pass, documenting the effort in a GitHub issue and a series of discussion posts. In addition I updated a running list of divergences from ANSI Common Lisp.


Part of the code of the book is contained in the examples in the text and the rest in the downloadable source files, which constitute some more substantial projects.

To test the code on Medley I evaluated the definitions and expressions at a Xerox Common Lisp Exec, noting any errors or differences from the expected outcomes. When relevant source files were available I loaded them prior to evaluating the test expressions so that any required definitions and dependencies were present. ASDF hasn't been ported to Medley, so I loaded the files manually.

Adapting the code

Before running the code I had to apply a number of changes. I filled in any missing function and class definitions the book leaves out as incidental to the exposition. This also involved adding appropriate function calls and object instantiations to exercise the definitions or produce the expected output.

The source files of the book needed adaptation too due to the way Medley handles pure Common Lisp files.

Skipped code

The text and source files contain also code I couldn't run because some features are known to be missing from Medley, or key dependencies can't be fulfilled. For example, a few chapters rely on the AllegroServe HTTP server which doesn't run on Medley. Although Medley does have a XNS network stack, providing the TCP/IP network functions AllegroServe assumes would be a major project.

Some chapters depend on code in earlier chapters that uses features not available in Medley Common Lisp, so I had to skip those too.


Having completed the first pass over Practical Common Lisp, my initial impression is Medley's implementation of Common Lisp is capable and extensive. It can run with minor or no changes code that uses most basic and intermediate Common Lisp features.

The majority of the code I tried ran as expected. However, this work did reveal significant gaps and divergences from ANSI.

To account for the residential environment and other peculiarities of Medley, packages need to be defined in a specific way. For example, some common defpackage keyword arguments differ from ANSI. Also, uppercase strings seem to work better than keywords as package designators.

As for the gaps the loop iteration macro, symbol-macrolet, the #p reader macro, and other features turned out to be missing or not work.

While the incompatibilities with ANSI Common Lisp are relativaly easy to address or work around, what new users may find more difficult is understanding and using the residential environment of Medley.

Bringing Medley closer to ANSI Common Lisp

To plug the gaps this project uncovered Larry ported or implemented some of the missing features and fixed a few issues.

He ported a loop implementation which he's enhancing to add missing functionality like iterating over hash tables. Iterating over packages, which loop lacks at this time, is trickier. More work went into adding #p and an experimental symbol-macrolet.

Reviewing and merging the CLtL2 patches is still an open issue, a major project that involves substantial effort.

Future work and conclusion

When the new features are ready I'll do a second pass to check if more of the skipped code runs. Another outcome of the work may be the beginning of a test suite for Medley Common Lisp.

Regardless of the limitations, what the project highlighted is Medley is ready as a development environment for writing new Common Lisp code, or porting libraries and applications of small to medium complexity.

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I finally fixed a longstanding duplicate definitions issue with Femtounit, my Interlisp unit test framework.

Femtounit creates a new File Manager type for unit tests, TESTS. DEFTEST, which defines a test, adds an entry of type TESTS and expands into an internal function that carries out the test when called. The problem was the File Manager noticed and tracked two objects for each DEFTEST, the TESTS entry and the function. But the function is an implementation detail that shouldn't be tracked by the File Manager or seen directly by the user.

To fix the issue, in the DEFDEFINER that creates the new type I added a call to UNMARKASCHANGED immediately after the definition of the internal function. UNMARKASCHANGED undoes the association with the File Manager the creation of the internal function establishes. I had tried DELDEF but it removes both the association and the internal function.

I also refactored the definition of the internal function to use DEFINEQ instead of assigning a LAMBDA to the function cell of the symbol naming the test, which is less clear and obscures the intent.

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Medley is a residential environment for Interlisp and Common Lisp development.

With some effort it's possible to use Medley as a traditional file based Common Lisp environment. But in specific cases a better approach is to bring in Medley's residential environment Common Lisp sources created in file based environments.

In this post I explain the latter, i.e. how to use TextModules to import Common Lisp files into the residential environment. I go over the steps for converting an example program, the database of CD music tracks in Chapter 3 Practical: A Simple Database of Peter Seibel's book Practical Common Lisp.


Using the tools and facilities of the residential environment, such as the File Manager, is the normal way of developing new Lisp programs. To run existing Common Lisp code you don't plan to change often, you can also use Medley as a traditional file based environment.

For existing code written in file based environments you want to use and further develop in Medley, a better option is to import the code into the residential environment and continue working from there. This is what TextModules helps to do.

What is TextModules

TextModules is a Medley tool for bringing Common Lisp sources into the residential environment and place them under the control of the File Manager. It can also do the reverse, i.e. export the File Manager descriptions and metadata to Common Lisp sources accessible from file based environments.

Using TextModules is a one time process. You run the tool once to import the code, then use and modify it with the tools and facilities of the residential environment.

The documentation of textModules starts from page 305 (page 335 of the PDF) of the Lisp Library Modules manual.

Preparing the Common Lisp files

This example involves two of the source files of Seibel's book, packages.lisp and simple-database.lisp in directory practicals-1.0.3/Chapter03 of the code archive.

Unlike CL:LOAD on Medley, TextModules doesn't require any special formatting of Common Lisp source files. For example, they don't need to begin with a semicolon character.

However, the Common Lisp implementation of Medley is incomplete and not ANSI compliant, so be sure to remove or adapt any unsupported forms. This is the case of the database example: packages.lisp makes current the package CL-USER which is missing from Medley. The fix is to substitute xcl-user for cl-user in the file, as XCL-USER is the Medley equivalent of CL-USER.

Another source of incompatibility is the LOOP macro. In Medley it's only a stub that runs an infinite loop no matter what clauses a call specifies.

To import with TextModules code that contains LOOP it would normally be necessary to replace any calls with equivalent expressions. Since this post focuses on TextModules I just use the LOOP calls intended to run an infinite loop, and ignore the others.

Running TextModules

As noted, importing with TextModules is the one time process of running the tool for every source file. Once in the residential environment, you save and manipulate the code as any other code under the File Manager.

First off, load TextModules by evaluating (FILESLOAD TEXTMODULES) at an Interlisp Exec. All its exported symbols are in package TM. Next, call the function TM:LOAD-TEXTMODULE for every Common Lisp file, which is similar to CL:LOAD with some additional processing.

Most Common Lisp programs comprise a file packages.lisp with package definitions, and a number of additional .lisp files that contain the bulk of the code. This dependency requires passing the files to TM:LOAD-TEXTMODULE in the proper order.

The file packages.lisp of the database defines the package for simple-database.lisp, so start with the former. At a Xerox Common Lisp (XCL) Exec with prompt > evaluate:

> (tm:load-textmodule "packages.lisp" :module "SIMPLEDB" :package (find-package "XCL-USER") :install t)

The only required argument is the input file packages.lisp. However, by default TM:LOAD-TEXTMODULE uses the same input file name as the name of the program for the File Manager. It wouldn't make much sense to call a database PACKAGES.LISP. A better choice is to pass the :module parameter with the more descriptive name SIMPLEDB.

The code in packages.lisp begins with an in-package form. To make sure the in-package symbol is accessible without qualifier, it should be read in a package such as XCL-USER that imports the standard Common Lisp symbols. Hence the argument :package (find-package "XCL-USER") in the call.

The argument :install t installs the definitions in the running system. Although not strictly necessary, it's useful for diagnostic purposes and because you likely want to continue working on the imported code.

Next, process simple-database.lisp by evaluating at a XCL Exec:

> (tm:load-textmodule "simple-database.lisp" :module "SIMPLEDB" :package (find-package "XCL-USER") :install t)

Again, the file begins with in-package and the reason for passing the :package argument is the same as for packages.lisp.

Saving the imported code

At this point the imported code is in the running Lisp image and the File Manager is ready to manipulate it. You can check the File Manager noticed the imported definitions by calling FILES? at an Interlisp Exec with prompt :

← (FILES?)
To be dumped:

To save the definitions to the symbolic file SIMPLEDB call MAKEFILE from an Interlisp Exec:


Calling TM:LOAD-TEXTMODULE for every source file, and saving the result to a symbolic file with MAKEFILE, completes the import process.

You may terminate the session and resume later. When you're ready to proceed you can load, run, and modify the imported program as any other code under File Manager control.

Loading and running the imported code

In a new Medley session evaluate (FILESLOAD TEXTMODULES) at an Interlisp Exec. The tool must be in memory whenever you work with imported code, as TextModules sets up a special file environment and readtable the code needs to be read in.

Next, load the symbolic file of the database program by evaluating at a XCL Exec:

> (load "SIMPLEDB")

; Loading {DSK}<home>medley>il>SIMPLEDB.;1
; File created 14-Feb-2024 02:44:46

One of the main entry points of the program is the function add-cds to add new records to the database, one record for each music track of a CD. A typical run from a XCL Exec looks like this:

> (setf *package* (find-package "COM.GIGAMONKEYS.SIMPLE-DB"))
> (add-cds)
Title: Punch My Cards
Artist: The Fortrans
Rating: 6
Ripped [y/n]: n
Another? [y/n]: y
Title: Lisp n Roll
Artist: The Garbage Collectors
Rating: 8
Ripped [y/n]: y
Another? [y/n]: y
Title: Cdr Care Less
Artist: The Garbage Collectors
Rating: 7
Ripped [y/n]: y
Another? [y/n]: n

Since all the symbols of the program are in the package COM.GIGAMONKEYS.SIMPLE-DB, and none are exported, for convenience make the package current by setfing *package* as above.

I intentionally didn't rename the package or create nicknames. This is to show that Common Lisp code may be imported and used with minimal or no changes.

The program provides select and where to query the database. But where uses CL:LOOP features Medley doesn't support. To stay close to the original code, instead of modifying where you can use another function in Seibel's book. Define and call the specialized query function select-by-artist to search the database by artist:

> (defun select-by-artist (artist)
     #'(lambda (cd) (equal (getf cd :artist) artist))
> (select-by-artist "The Garbage Collectors")
((:TITLE "Cdr Care Less" :ARTIST "The Garbage Collectors" :RATING 7 :RIPPED T) (:TITLE "Lisp n Roll" :ARTIST "The Garbage Collectors" :RATING 8 :RIPPED T))

Continuing the development

The imported code works. Now you can load, compile, run, edit, and save it as any other program developed in the residential environment under the File Manager.

You no longer need the original files packages.lisp and simple-database.lisp because you work only with SIMPLEDB. But remember to load TextModules with (FILESLOAD TEXTMODULES) in every session in which you use SIMPLEDB. It's a minor inconvenience but, for automating the task, you may add a loading command to the INIT initialization file or to a script that loads the program.

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Managing Lisp code in the residential environment of Medley differs from similar tasks in traditional file based Common Lisp systems.

In a previous post I explained how the residential environment of Medley works, discussed some of its facilities and tools, and introduced a workflow for managing Common Lisp code under the residential environment. This leverages the way Medley is designed to work and minimizes friction.

In this post I explain how to use Medley as a file based environment, albeit with some friction and reduced functionality.

I show how to edit, organize, and load pure Common Lisp files, i.e. source files not under the control of the File Manager. Pure files are ordinary text files that contain only Common Lisp code, with no metadata or font control commands like the code databases the File Manager maintains.


Letting the residential environment track and control code is the most convenient and productive way of using Medley for Lisp development.

But you can still manually manage pure Common Lisp files. For example, you may want to use from Medley some code you mainly intend to load into the environment and don't change often. This is the case of external libraries and programs developed elsewhere, which you call from new code or run in Medley.

Using Common Lisp code not developed for the pre ANSI implementation of Medley may need adaptation. So let's see how to edit source files.

Editing source files

To create or modify pure Common Lisp files use the TEdit word processor of Medley, not the SEdit structure editor. SEdit doesn't directly manipulate the arbitrary, unstructured text of pure files.

TEdit can read and write ordinary text files, but not by default. To save a file as ASCII execute the command Put > Plain-Text. Execute Get > Unformatted Get to load such a file.

The main downside of using TEdit for Common Lisp is the program is not Lisp aware. It doesn't support automatic indentation, prettyprinting, perenthesis matching, and code evaluation. Another major problem is cursor keys don't work in Medley, which severely limits text editing with TEdit. The Medley team is well aware of the issue.

An alternative is to use your favorite Lisp editor to edit the Common Lisp sources outside of Medley and then load the files from Medley.

Format of Pure Common Lisp files

Although Medley can load pure Common Lisp sources, these files do have some minimal formatting requirements. A pure Common Lisp file must begin with a semicolon ; character, otherwise the system assumes it's an Interlisp file.

Other than that a pure file can contain any Common Lisp feature Medley supports, in any order the language allows.

Loading source files

Once a pure Lisp file is available, load it in Medley with the usual file loading forms such as CL:LOAD. The way symbols are interned depends on whether the file defines or makes current any Common Lisp packages.

Let's go over the main cases: the code has no packages; a single file contains both package and function definitions; the code is split between a file for the package and another for the function definitions.

No package definition

The simplest type of pure file contains no package forms, just function definitions and other Common Lisp expressions.

In this case Medley interns symbols in the USER package without exporting them. The Medley implementation of Common Lisp is closer to CLtLx than ANSI, so it provides the standardized packages LISP (nicknames: COMMON-LISP and CL) and USER instead of COMMON-LISP and COMMON-LISP-USER.

For example, suppose this file SQUARE.LISP defines a function calc-square to compute the square of its argument:


(defun calc-square (x)
  "Return the square of X."
  (* x x))

After evaluating (load "SQUARE.LISP"), at the > prompt of a Common Lisp Exec you call the function using the proper package qualifier:

> (user::square 3)

If the USER package isn't adequate for your code, on Medley CL:LOAD also accepts the keyword parameter :package to supply a package to which *package* is bound when reading the file. For example, at the > prompt of a Xerox Common Lisp (XCL) Exec you can pass the package XCL-USER with a form like:

> (load "SQUARE.LISP" :package (find-package "XCL-USER"))

You must pass an actual package object to :package, not a package designator like :xcl-user.

Since XCL-USER is the default package of XCL Execs no qualifier is required for calling the function:

> (square 3)

Package and definitions in one file

Not using packages may be adequate for very small files. However, typical Common Lisp programs do define their own packages.

This example file PKGDEMO.LISP defines the package PKGDEMO with nickname PD that exports the function FUN, which just prints a message:


(in-package "XCL-USER")

(defpackage "PKGDEMO"
  (:use "LISP" "XCL")
  (:nicknames "PD")
  (:export "FUN"))

(in-package "PKGDEMO")

(defun fun ()
  (format t "Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN."))

The file holds both the package definition and the rest of the code. It's important that the first form in the file be in-package to make current a known package like XCL-USER. XCL-USER is the Medley equivalent of COMMON-LISP-USER and uses the LISP package with the standard Common Lisp symbols.

After loading PKGDEMO.LISP from an XCL Exec with (load "PKGDEMO.LISP") you can call the exported function like this:

> (pkgdemo:fun)
Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN.

or via the package nickname:

> (pd:fun)
Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN.

Separate package and definition files

Unlike PKGDEMO.LISP in the previous example, most Common Lisp programs split the code between at least two files, one holding the package definition and the other the function definitions. Let's rewrite PKGDEMO.LISP by storing the package in the file PKGSPLIT-PKG.LISP:


(in-package "XCL-USER")

(defpackage "PKGDEMO"
  (:use "LISP" "XCL")
  (:nicknames "PD")
  (:export "FUN"))

The function definition goes into the file PKGSPLIT-FUN.LISP that begins with an appropriate in-package followed by the rest of the code:


(in-package "PKGDEMO")

(defun fun ()
  (format t "Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN."))

Finally, make sure to load the package first with (load "PKGSPLIT-PKG.LISP"), then the function with (load "PKGSPLIT-FUN.LISP"). Loading the files creates the same objects as the single file example PKGDEMO.LISP and you can call the function the same way:

> (pkgdemo:fun)
Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN.
> (pd:fun)
Hello from PKGDEMO:FUN.

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One of the cool features of Lisp is examining and modifying a running program.

This allows, for example, to correct a bug by inspecting, editing, fixing, and resuming a program that breaks and lands in the debugger because of an error. To gain familiarity with the process, I recorded a screencast of a Medley session in which I use the debugger to fix a bug in a running Interlisp function and conclude the computation.

Medley provides advanced debugging facilities and tools in the Break Package, including the Break Window which is the main user interface of the debugger. “Package” as in module or subsystem, not Common Lisp package.

In the recorded session I fix this broken Interlisp function to compute the square of the argument:

  (* Return the square of argument X.)
  (TIMES X Y)))

The bug is trivial, a typo. The call to the TIMES multiplication operator passes Y as the second argument instead of the function parameter X.

I begin the recorded session by defining the function with the SEdit Lisp editor. Next, from the Exec (a Lisp REPL) I call the function (CALC.SQUARE 3) and get the error Y is an unbound variable. Then I execute the RETRY Exec command. RETRY evaluates the latest expression and forces entering the debugger if it yields an error.

The topomost few backtrace entries in the Break Window are internal functions called by CALC.SQUARE. From the Break Window's middle-click menu I invoke the REVERT command to move the point of execution back to the CALC.SQUARE call before the error.

This selects the CALC.SQUARE frame where the bug is most likely to be. Inspecting the bindings of the frame provides a clue.

X has the expected value 3 and I confirm it by evaluating X at the debugger REPL. But Y, the variable the error references, doesn't show up in the stack frame. Evaluating Y yields the same error. It's a hint Y shouldn't probably be there and is likely a typo. Therefore, I execute the debugger's EDIT command to open the code of the current function in SEdit. From SEdit I fix the typo and evaluate the modified definition.

The new definition is now in the Lisp image and the current stack frame is still the CALC.SQUARE call in the backtrace. The OK debugger command continues execution from the point of the break, letting the program run the corrected code. The Exec from which I originally called the buggy function finally returns the expected value of the square of 3: 9.

The REVERT, EDIT, and OK commands may be typed at the debugger REPL but I invoked them from the menu to make the menu itself and its options explicit. Similarly, the Done & Close SEdit menu command has the associated keychord C-M-x.

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My exploration of Medley as a Common Lisp development environment proceeds with setting up a workflow for writing and saving code.

The workflow consists of a series of steps in a specific order using appropriate Lisp REPLs and tools. It supports writing the simplest type of Common Lisp software, i.e. programs or libraries in a single package that exports some symbols. I'll eventually extend the workflow to more complex cases such as programs with more than one package.

Since the steps are not intuitive, especially for Medley novices, in this post I'll describe the workflow in detail. But first there are a few concepts to introduce.

Why do you need a workflow in the first place? Because the differences between Medley and modern environments constrain how and in what order Common Lisp code may be written and managed. Before examining the constraints let's describe the differences.

The residential environment of Medley

Writing single package programs is straightforward in modern file based Common Lisp environments. In a new file you just define the package with DEFPACKAGE, then in the rest of the file or at the top of a new one you place a matching IN-PACKAGE followed by the code.

Although it's technically possible to do the same in Medley this doesn't take advantage of its facilities, and you may actually need to fight the system to accomplish what you want. Indeed, Medley is not an ordinary environment. Not only it predates current Common Lisp implementations, it supports a different development process.

In file based Common Lisps you directly edit source files and evaluate or load the code into the running Lisp image.

Medley instead is a “residential environment” in which you edit and evaluate Lisp objects that reside in the image — hence “residential”. Then you save the code to files that are more like code databases than traditional source files.

You don't edit the code databases, which Medley calls “symbolic files”. Rather, you use the SEdit structure editor to modify the code in memory and the “File Manager” to save the code to disk. The beginning of a symbolic file defines metadata, the “file environment”, which describes the Common Lisp package and readtable associated with the code.

The File Manager, also known as “File Package” (not to be confused with Common Lisp packages), is a facility that coordinates the development tools and code management tasks. It notices the changes to Lisp objects edited with SEdit or manipulated in memory, tracks what changed functions and objects need to be saved to symbolic files, and carries out the actions for building programs such as compiling or listing them. The File Manager has some of the functionality of Unix Make.

Figuring what changed is easy in modern Common Lisp environments, as you know which files you edited and need action like saving or compiling. System definition tools like ASDF can track this for you. In Medley it's the File Manager which tracks the changes that take place in the running image and need to be synchronized to disk.


How do the peculiarities of Medley constrain writing Common Lisp code and require a tailored workflow?

The functions and objects of Interlisp programs usually live in the same namespace of Interlisp and its tools. As a consequence, functions and Lisp objects may be mostly defined in any order and accessed without package qualifiers. No special handling is necessary with the File Manager either.

With Common Lisp code, however, a subtle complication arises due to packages and exported symbols.

A good explanation of why things are different, and how the File Manager and file environment interact, is in the documentation of TextModules, a tool for importing Common Lisp code created outside of Medley. Although in the context of TextModules, these remarks give an overview of the same issues the File Manager faces with other Common Lisp code. The TextModules chapter of the Lisp Library Modules manual says on page 311 (page 341 of the PDF):

It is important to separate the environment of the file from its contents because the File Manager (not TextModules) first reads all the forms in the file, and then evaluates them. Text based source files sometimes change the package as needed. This cannot work for the File Manager since the file's forms are all read and then executed, i.e. the package changes would not occur until after the entire file had been read, and forms after any IN-PACKAGE form would have been read incorrectly.

In other words, unless you define packages and access symbols in the proper order, you'll get subtle errors. The solution is a workflow that avoids such errors.

More information on dealing with packages in Medley is in the sources referenced in section “Documentation” of my post on using Common Lisp on Medley.

The workflow

How does the workflow order the development tasks to achieve its goal?

At any one time the workflow accesses only defined symbols and ensures the running Lisp image stays synchronized with the symbolic file. It's not the only or the best possible workflow, just one that works. I put it together after extensively reading the documentation and experimenting.

As I said in the overview of Medley as a Common Lisp environment, when coding in Common Lisp I use two Executives (Lisp REPLs), a Xerox Common Lisp (XCL) Exec and an Interlisp one.

The former is for testing, running, and evaluating Common Lisp code. I use the Interlisp Exec for running system tools and interacting with the File Manager. Since the tools and File Manager facilities are in the Interlisp package, referencing them from a Common Lisp Exec would require qualifying all symbols with the IL: package.

What follows assume you're familiar with basic Interlisp and File Manager features such as SEdit, file coms, FILES?, and MAKEFILE. If not I recommend reading the Medley primer, particulary Chapter 7 “Editing and Saving”. Also, unless otherwise noted, you should carry out the steps in sequence in the same Medley session.

Let's start.

Defining the file environment and a minimal package

Suppose you want to write a Common Lisp program or library stored in the file SINGLEPKG. The package SINGLEPKG, nicknamed SP, will export the two functions FUN1 and FUN2.

From now on, denotes the prompt of an Interlisp Exec and > that of a Xerox Common Lisp (XCL) Exec. Sometimes I'll tell you in which Exec to evaluate expressions.

The first step is to define the file environment. At an Interlisp Exec evaluate:


For now don't use other packages or export any symbols, just enter the form as is.

Although the file environment references package SINGLEPKG, the package doesn't exist yet in the running image. To synchronize the image with the file environment evaluate the definition of a minimal package from an Interlisp Exec:


Next, from an Interlisp Exec evaluate (FILES?) and, when asked where the SINGLEPKG file info should go, respond yes, enter SINGLEPKG as the file name, and confirm the creation of the file.

Defining the first function

Everything is ready to define the first function FUN1. At an Interlisp Exec call SEdit with (ED 'SINGLEPKG::FUN1 '(FUNCTIONS :DONTWAIT)) and select DEFUN from the menu. Enter the code of FUN1:

  (FORMAT T "Hello from FUN1."))

Save and exit with Ctrl-Meta-X and test the function at an XCL Exec (an Interlisp Exec will do too):

Hello from FUN1.

It works, so at an Interlisp Exec evaluate (FILES?) to associate FUN1 with the file SINGLEPKG.

Completing the package definition

The Lisp image contains the new symbol FUN1 in package SINGLEPKG but there's no symbolic file yet, let alone an exported symbol in the file. Therefore, to keep things in sync you need to update the package definition by exporting the function name. This is also an opportunity for adding the SP nickname to the package.

At an Interlisp Exec evaluate (DC SINGLEPKG) to open the file coms in SEdit. Just after the XCL:FILE-ENVIRONMENTS form enter:

     (:USE "LISP" "XCL")
     (:NICKNAMES "SP")

Both colon characters : are required in the function name. The P File Manager command tells the system to execute the following Lisp expressions at load time, so loading SINGLEPKG will define the package and export the symbol.

Save and exit with Ctrl-Meta-X and, at an Interlisp Exec, save the file with (MAKEFILE 'SINGLEPKG) to reflect the updated definitions. This creates the file SINGLEPKG on disk.

Before doing anything else it's better to make sure the package is properly defined and the function exported.

The most reliable way is to exit the Medley session with (IL:LOGOUT), start a new session and, from an Interlisp Exec, evaluate (LOAD 'SINGLEPKG). If there are errors you will have to go back and check whether you went through all the steps correctly. You may need to delete the latest or all versions of the file SINGLEPKG.

Assuming there are no errors the package is properly defined and the function exported. To double check, from an XCL Exec call the exported function like this:

Hello from FUN1.

Since it works you may proceed development by editing the existing function or defining new ones. In the former case you employ SEdit, FILES?, and MAKEFILE as usual. Just make sure to pass to ED the package-qualified function name like (ED 'SINGLEPKG:FUN1 :DONTWAIT).

Things change if you want to define new functions.

Defining more functions

As planned you proceed to define a second function FUN2 exported from package SINGLEPKG. If you're still in the Medley session in which you've just loaded the file SINGLEPKG, continue from there. Otherwise start a new session and load the file with (LOAD 'SINGLEPKG) from any Exec.

At an Interlisp Exec define the new function with (ED 'SINGLEPKG::FUN2 '(FUNCTIONS :DONTWAIT)) and select DEFUN from the menu:

  (FORMAT T "Hello from FUN2."))

Save and exit with Ctrl-Meta-X and test the function at an XCL Exec:

Hello from FUN2.

Call FILES? to associated FUN2 with file SINGLEPKG.

As already done for FUN1 you need to modify the package definition to export the new function. At an Interlisp Exec edit the file coms with (DC SINGLEPKG) and add the symbol FUN2 to the export clause, which will now look like this:

     (:USE "LISP" "XCL")
     (:NICKNAMES "SP")

SEdit replaced the double colon of SINGLEPKG::FUN1 with a single colon as in SINGLEPKG:FUN1. But you still have to type :: for FUN2 because FUN2 hasn't been exported yet.

Save and exit with Ctrl-Meta-X and, at an Interlisp Exec, save the file with (MAKEFILE 'SINGLEPKG).

To synchronize the Lisp image with the symbolic file, which will allow to call the exported function as (SINGLEPKG:FUN2), either load the file SINGLEPKG from a fresh session or, just after editing the file coms, evaluate a revised package definition at an Interlisp Exec:

    (:USE "LISP" "XCL")

Either way, to check that everything works evaluate at an XCL Exec:

Hello from FUN2.


For every new function or Lisp object you want to export from the package, go through the steps of this section again, making sure the Lisp image and the symbolic file stay synchronized. The steps are, in order:

  1. edit the new function
  2. call FILES? to tell the File Manager about the function
  3. edit the file coms to update the package
  4. save the file with MAKEFILE
  5. evaluate the revised package definition

That's all, you're finally ready to develop single package programs. This workflow may seem convoluted at first but things will come more natural as you gain experience with Medley.

#CommonLisp #Interlisp #Lisp

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Medley is the first Lisp system I experimented with on my new Raspberry Pi 400, here is the AArch64 version on the Raspberry Pi OS desktop:

SDL version of Medley Interlisp on a Raspberry Pi 400 under Raspberry Pi OS.

The online version of Medley runs well and smoothly enough in Chromium. There are no major or unexpected performance differences between the Pi 400 and my Chromebox.

But the AArch64 .deb package of the prebuilt Medley distribution is really, really slow on the Pi 400. For example, when launching the program I can see the characters being printed one by one to the Exec window. The problem is the AArch64 release is built for X-Windows, which on the Wayland based Raspberry Pi OS Bookworm goes through Xwayland with degraded performance.

Therefore I built from source the SDL version of Medley that doesn't rely on X-Windows.

Building everything, i.e. compiling Maiko and making the loadups, takes less than five minutes on the Pi 400. Although the process is simple, it took me some trial and error to figure the exact steps from the limited documentation. Nick Briggs helped me troubleshoot the build and advised on how to create a missing makefile.

The SDL version is snappier than the default AArch64 Debian package. Now Medley starts up almost instantly. The only inconvenience common to both versions is they don't recognize my Italian keyboard as they work only with the English US layout.

#Interlisp #pi400

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