CSE 341 -- Scheme Basics

Scheme profile

Lisp application areas:

Lisp was developed in the late 50s by John McCarthy. The Scheme dialect was developed by Guy Steele and Gerry Sussman in the mid 70s. In the 80s, the Common Lisp standard was devised. Common Lisp is a kitchen sink language: many many features.

Primitive Scheme data types and operations

Some primitive (atomic) data types: Case is generally not significant (except in characters or strings). Note that you can have funny characters such as + or - or ! in the middle of symbols. (You can't have parentheses, though.) Here are some of the basic operators that scheme provides for the above datatypes. Some operators are predicates, that is, they are truth tests. In Scheme, they return #f or #t. Peculiarity: in MIT Scheme, the empty list is equivalent to #f, and #f is printed as (). But good style is to write #t or #f whenever you mean true or false, and to write () when you really mean the empty list. Also see "Boolean Peculiarities" below.

Applying operators, functions

Ok, so we know the names of a bunch of operators. How do we use them? Scheme provides us with a uniform syntax for invoking functions:
  (function arg1 arg2 ... argN)

This means all operators, including arithmetic ones, have prefix syntax. Arguments are passed by value (except with special forms, discussed later, to allow for nice things like short circuiting).

  (+ 2 3)
  (abs -4)
  (+ (* 2 3) 8)
  (+ 3 4 5 1)
  ;; note that + and * can take an arbitrary number of arguments
  ;; actually so can - and / but you'll get a headache trying to remember
  ;; what it means
  ;; semicolon means the rest of the line is a comment 

The List Data Type

Perhaps the single most important built in data type in Scheme is the list. In Scheme, lists are unbounded, possibly heterogeneous collections of data. Examples:
  (elmer fudd)
  (2 3 5 7 11)
  (2 3 x y "zoo" 2.9)
Box-and-arrow representation of lists:
                 _______________        ________________ 
                |       |       |      |        |       |
                |   o   |   ----|----->|    o   |   o   |
                |___|___|_______|      |____|___|___|___|
                    |                       | 	    | 	 
                    |                       |	    | 
                   elmer                  fudd      ()
                 _______________        _____________  	 
                |       |       |      |        |  / | 	 
                |   o   |   ----|----->|    o   | /  |   
                |___|___|_______|      |____|___|/___|   
                    |                       | 	      	 
                    |                       |	      
                   elmer                  fudd      


Here are some important functions that operate on lists:

(For your convenience, Scheme also predefines compositions of car and cdr, e.g., (cadr s) is defined as (car (cdr s)).)

Predicates for lists:

Evaluating Expressions

Users typically interact with Scheme though a read-eval-print loop (REPL). Scheme waits for the user to type an expression, reads it, evaluates it, and prints the return value. Scheme expressions (often called S-Expressions, for Symbolic Expressions) are either lists or atoms. Lists are composed of other S-Expressions (note the recursive definition). Lists are often used to represent function calls, where the list consists of a function name followed by its arguments. However, lists can also used to represent arbitrary collections of data. In these notes, we'll generally write:
<S-expression> => <return-value>
when we want to show an S-expression and the evaluation of that S-expression. For instance:
  (+ 2 3)      => 5
  (cons 1 () ) => (1)
Evaluation rules:
  1. Numbers, strings, #f, and #t are literals, that is, they evaluate to themselves.
  2. Symbols are treated as variables, and to evaluate them, their bindings are looked up in the current environment.
  3. For lists, the first element specifies the function. The remaining elements of the list specify the arguments. Evaluate the first element in the current environment to find the function, and evaluate each of the arguments in the current environment, and call the function on these values. For instance:
      (+ 2 3)              => 5
      (+ (* 3 3) 10)       => 19
      (= 10 (+ 4 6))       =>  #t

Using Symbols (Atoms) and Lists as Data

If we try evaluating (list elmer fudd) we'll get an error. Why? Because Scheme will treat the atom elmer as a variable name and try to look for its binding, which it won't find. We therefore need to "quote" the names elmer and fudd, which means that we want scheme to treat them literally. Scheme provides syntax for doing this. The evaluation for quoted objects is that a quoted object evalutes to itself.
'x                    => x
(list elmer fudd)   => error! elmer is unbound symbol
(list 'elmer 'fudd) => (elmer fudd)
(elmer fudd)        => error! elmer is unknown function
'(elmer fudd)       => (elmer fudd)
(equal? (x) (x))      => error! x is unknown function
(equal? '(x) '(x))    => #t
(cons 'x '(y z))      => (x y z)
(cons 'x () )         => (x)
(car '(1 2 3))        => 1
(cdr (cons 1 '(2 3))) => (2 3)
Note that there are 3 ways to make a list:
  1. '(x y z) => (x y z)
  2. (cons 'x (cons 'y (cons 'z () ))) => (x y z)
  3. (list 'x 'y 'z) => (x y z)
Internally, quoted symbols and lists are represented using the special function quote. When the reader reads '(a b) it translates this into (quote (a b)), which is then passed onto the evaluator. When the evaluator sees an expression of the form (quote s-expr) it just returns s-expr. quote is sometimes called a "special form" because unlike most other Scheme operations, it doesn't evaluate its argument. The quote mark is an example of what is called "syntactic sugar."
  'x          => x
  (quote x)   => x
(Alan Perlis: "syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon".)


Scheme has both local and global variables. In Scheme, a variable is a name which is bound to some data object (using a pointer). There are no type declarations for variables. The rule for evaluating symbols: a symbol evaluates to the value of the variable it names. We can bind variables using the special form define:
(define symbol expression)

Using define binds symbol (your variable name) to the result of evaluating expression. define is a special form because the first parameter, symbol, is not evaluated.

The line below declares a variable called clam (if one doesn't exist) and makes it refer to 17:

(define clam 17)

clam          => 17

(define clam 23)  ; this rebinds clam to 23

(+ clam 1) => 24
(define bert '(a b c))
(define ernie bert)  
Scheme uses pointers: bert and ernie now both point at the same list.

In 341 we'll only use define to bind global variables, and we won't rebind them once they are bound, except when debugging.

Lexically scoped variables with let and let*

We use the special form let to declare and bind local, temporary variables. Example:
;; general form of let
(let ((name1 value1)
      (name2 value2)
      (nameN valueN))

;; reverse a list and double it

;; less efficient version:
(define (r2 x) 
  (append (reverse x) (reverse x)))

;; more efficient version:
(define (r2 x) 
  (let ((r (reverse x)))
        (append r r)))
The one problem with Let is that while the bindings are being created, expressions cannot refer to bindings that have been made previously. For example, this doesn't work, since x isn't known outside the body:
(let ((x 3)
      (y (+ x 1)))
    (+ x y))
To get around this problem, Scheme provides us with let*:
(let* ((x 3)          
      (y (+ x 1)))
    (+ x y))

Defining your own functions

Lambdas: Anonymous Functions

You can use the lambda special form to create anonymous functions. This special form takes

(lambda (param1 param2 ... paramk)  ; list of formals
        expr)                       ; body

lambda expression evaluates to an anonymous function that, when applied (executed), takes k arguments and returns the result of evaluating expr. As you would expect, the parameters are lexically scoped and can only be used in expr.


(lambda (x1 x2)
        (* (- x1 x2) (- x1 x2)))

Evaluating the above example only results in an anonymous function, but we're not doing anything with it yet. The result of a lambda expression can be directly applied by providing arguments, as in this example, which evaluates to 49:

((lambda (x1 x2)
         (* (- x1 x2) (- x1 x2)))
 2 -5)   ; <--- note actuals here

Defining Named Functions

If you go to the trouble of defining a function, you often want to save it for later use. You accomplish this by binding the result of a lambda to a variable using define, just as you would with any other value. (This illustrates how functions are first-class in Scheme. This usage of define is no different from binding variables to other kinds of values.)

(define square-diff  
        (lambda (x1 x2)
                (* (- x1 x2) (- x1 x2))))

Because defining functions is a very common task, Scheme provides a special shortcut version of define that doesn't use lambda explicitly:

(define (function-name param1 param2 ... paramk)

Here are some more examples using define in this way:

(define (double x)
        (* 2 x))

(double 4) => 8

(define (centigrade-to-fahrenheit c)
        (+ (* 1.8 c) 32.0))

(centigrade-to-fahrenheit 100.0) => 212.0
The x in the double function is the formal parameter. It has scope only within the function. Consider the three different x's here...
(define x 10)

(define (add1 x)
  (+ x 1))

(define (double-add x)
  (double (add1 x)))

(double-add x)   => 22

Functions can take 0 arguments:

(define (test) 3)
(test)  => 3

Note that this is not the same as binding a variable to a value:

(define not-a-function 3)
not-a-function    => 3
(not-a-function)  => ;The object 3 is not applicable.

Equality and Identity: equal?, eqv?, eq?

Scheme provides three primitives for equality and identity testing:
  1. eq? is pointer comparison. It returns #t iff its arguments literally refer to the same objects in memory. Symbols are unique ('fred always evaluates to the same object). Two symbols that look the same are eq. Two variables that refer to the same object are eq.
  2. eqv? is like eq? but does the right thing when comparing numbers. eqv? returns #t iff its arguments are eq or if its arguments are numbers that have the same value. eqv? does not convert integers to floats when comparing integers and floats though.
  3. equal? returns true if its arguments have the same structure. Formally, we can define equal? recursively. equal? returns #t iff its arguments are eqv, or if its arguments are lists whose corresponding elements are equal (note the recursion). Two objects that are eq are both eqv and equal. Two objects that are eqv are equal, but not necessarily eq. Two objects that are equal are not necessarily eqv or eq. eq is sometimes called an identity comparison and equal is called an equality comparison.
(define clam '(1 2 3))
(define octopus clam)              ; clam and octopus refer to the same list

(eq? 'clam 'clam)            => #t
(eq? clam clam)              => #t  
(eq? clam octopus)           => #t
(eq? clam '(1 2 3))          => #f ; (or (), in MIT Scheme)
(eq? '(1 2 3) '(1 2 3))      => #f 
(eq? 10 10)                  => #t ; (generally, but implementation-dependent)
(eq? 10.0 10.0)              => #f ; (generally, but implementation-dependent)
(eqv? 10 10)                 => #t ; always
(eqv? 10.0 10.0)             => #t ; always
(eqv? 10.0 10)               => #f ; no conversion between types
(equal? clam '(1 2 3))       => #t
(equal? '(1 2 3) '(1 2 3))   => #t
Scheme provides = for comparing two numbers, and will coerce one type to another. For example, (equal? 0 0.0) returns #f, but (= 0 0.0) returns #t.

Logical operators

Scheme provides us with several useful logical operators, including and, or, and not. Operators and and or are special forms and do not necessarily evaluate all arguments. They just evaluate as many arguments as needed to decide whether to return #t or #f (like the && and || operators in C++). However, one could easily write a version that evaluates all of its arguments.
(and expr1 expr2 ... expr-n)   
; return true if all the expr's are true
; ... or more precisely, return expr-n if all the expr's evaluate to
; something other than #f.  Otherwise return #f

(and (equal? 2 3) (equal? 2 2) #t)  => #f

(or expr1 expr2 ... expr-n)   
; return true if at least one of the expr's is true
; ... or more precisely, return expr-j if expr-j is the first expr that
; evaluates to something other than #f.  Otherwise return #f.

(or (equal? 2 3) (equal? 2 2) #t)  => #t

(or (equal? 2 3) 'fred (equal? 3 (/ 1 0)))  => 'fred

(define (single-digit x)
   (and (> x 0) (< x 10)))

(not expr)   
; return true if expr is false

(not (= 10 20))     => #t

Boolean Peculiarities

In R4 of Scheme the empty list is equivalent to #f, and everything else is equivalent to #t. However, in R5 the empty list is also equivalent to #t! Moral: only use #f and #t for boolean constants.


if special form

(if condition true_expression false_expression)

If condition evaluates to true, then the result of evaluating true_expression is returned; otherwise the result of evaluating false_expression is returned. if is a special form, like quote, because it does not automatically evaluate all of its arguments.

(if (= 5 (+ 2 3)) 10 20)     => 10 
(if (= 0 1) (/ 1 0) (+ 2 3)) => 5  
; note that the (/ 1 0) is not evaluated

(define (my-max x y)     
   (if (> x y) x y))    

(my-max 10 20)                   => 20 

(define (my-max3 x y z)
   (if (and (> x y) (> x z))
       (if (> y z) 

cond -- a more general conditional

The general form of the cond special form is:
(cond (test1 expr1)
      (test2 expr2)
      (else exprn))
As soon as we find a test that evaluates to true, then we evaluate the corresponding expr and return its value. The remaining tests are not evaluated, and all the other expr's are not evaluated. If none of the tests evaluate to true then we evaluate exprn (the "else" part) and return its value. (You can leave off the else part but it's not good style.)

(define (weather f)
   (cond ((> f 80) 'too-hot)
         ((> f 60) 'nice)
         ((< f 35) 'too-cold)
         (else 'typical-seattle)))

Commenting Style

If Scheme finds a line of text with a semicolon, the rest of the line (after the semicolon) is treated as whitespace. However, a frequently used convention is that one semicolon is used for a short comment on a line of code, two semicolons are used for a comment within a function on its own line, and three semicolons are used for an introductory or global comment (outside a function definition).