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6.2.5. Advanced Usage

6.2.5. Advanced Usage

The elps project is intended to be used as an embedded language, allowing programs to be extended easily and dynamically.


To initialize a new environment set its Reader and load the packages you that want to be accessible.

env := lisp.NewEnv(nil)
env.Reader = parser.NewReader()
lerr := lisp.InitializeUserEnv(env)
if !lerr.IsNil() {
   log.Panicf("initialization error: %v", lerr) 
lerr = lisplib.LoadLibrary(env)
if !lerr.IsNil() {
    log.Panicf("stdlib error: %v", lerr)

InitializeUserEnv loads the base language package, lisp. The remaining packages in the standard library are loaded through the lisplib.LoadLibrary(env) function call. If there are packages in the standard library which should not be accessible use an alternative function or write your own library loader using the LoadLibrary source code as a reference.

Evaluating expressions

Lisp code can be 'loaded' (parsed and evaluated) using the env.Load family of functions.

ret := env.LoadString("code.lisp", lispcode)
if ret.Type == lisp.LError {
    // handle an error

Writing Functions

Programs embedding elps can write functions in Go which can be loaded into packages, bound under a given symbol.

Testing Functions

Use go package and the lisp package testing to write tests for custom packages. See the standard library's tests for examples of how to use these packages together.

Working with lisp types

All lisp values are represented in Go as the LVal type. The lisp type of a value can determined by checking the LType value stored in the LVal.Type field.

In general, a function MUST NOT modify fields of an LVal. There are cases where functions are "destructive" and modify storage referenced by certain data types. However even these functions MUST NOT modify top-level top level LVal fields in order to maintain soundness of computation. For example, a destructive function may be defined that modifies LVal.Cells[0] by re-assigning it to a new value.

v.Cells[0] = Int(-v.Cells[0].Int)

On the other hand, it would be invalid behavior to instead set the value of v.Cells[0].Int to a new value. Such a modification may cause side effects in unexpected places.

Primitive types

String values (those with Type equal to LString) and Symbols (those with Type LSymbol) store their data in the LVal.Str field. Floats and Ints store their data in the LVal.Float and LVal.Int fields respectively.

Lists are stores as SExpr types. Though typically, when returning a list from a function, a quoted SExpr is desired. Quoted SExprs can be conveniently created using the QExpr() function.

return QExpr([]*lisp.LVal{lisp.Int(1), lisp.Int(2), lisp.Float(3.0)})

Boolean values

The only false value in the elps language is nil (), an empty expression. An LVal can be checked as nil by calling its IsNil() method. Instead of calling IsNil() to determine the falsehood of a value the True function will determine a value's truth value.

ok := env.Eval(lisp.SExpr([]*lisp.LVal{"ok?"}))
if lisp.True(ok) {  // equivalent to !ok.IsNil()

Conversion functions

Additionally, types can be converted from an LVal into a native Go type using the functions GoString, GoInt, GoFloat, etc.

An application could extract the string "hello" using the following code.

s, _ := GoString(env.GetGlobal(lisp.Symbol("data")))
if s != "hello" {

These functions for converting types to native values are experimental in nature and their semantics could change.

Operating on Go types

To pass a native Go value to lisp code wrap it in a call to lisp.Native() so the value can be put into an S-expression.

    lisptime := lisp.Native(time.Now())
    expr := SExpr([]*lisp.LVal{"my-function", lisptime})

You can then write functions which operate on the value by unboxing the Native field of the corresponding argument LVal.

func builtinPrintTime(env *lisp.LEnv, args *lisp.LVal) *lisp.LVal {
    lisptime := args.Cells[0]
    if lisptime.Type != lisp.LNative {
        return env.Errorf("argument is not a time: %v", lisptime.Type)
    t, ok := lisptime.Native.(time.Time)
    if !ok {
        return env.Errorf("argument is not a time: %v", lisptime)
    return lisp.Nil()

Lisp code can operate on primitive Go types and structs using the golang package.

type AppData struct {
    Person struct {
        Name string

Given the above struct definition, when an AppData object is wrapped with lisp.Native() lisp code can extract exported struct fields using functions in the golang package.

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