When the Lisp reader encounters a macro character on an input stream, special parsing of subsequent characters on the input stream is performed.
A macro character has an associated function called a reader macro function that implements its specialized parsing behavior. An association of this kind can be established or modified under control of a conforming program by using the functions set-macro-character and set-dispatch-macro-character.
Upon encountering a macro character, the Lisp reader calls its reader macro function, which parses one specially formatted object from the input stream. The function either returns the parsed object, or else it returns no values to indicate that the characters scanned by the function are being ignored (e.g., in the case of a comment). Examples of macro characters are backquote, single-quote, left-parenthesis, and right-parenthesis.
A macro character is either terminating or non-terminating. The difference between terminating and non-terminating macro characters lies in what happens when such characters occur in the middle of a token. If a non-terminating macro character occurs in the middle of a token, the function associated with the non-terminating macro character is not called, and the non-terminating macro character does not terminate the token's name; it becomes part of the name as if the macro character were really a constituent character. A terminating macro character terminates any token, and its associated reader macro function is called no matter where the character appears. The only non-terminating macro character in standard syntax is sharpsign.
If a character is a dispatching macro character C1, its reader macro function is a function supplied by the implementation. This function reads decimal digit characters until a non-digit C2 is read. If any digits were read, they are converted into a corresponding integer infix parameter P; otherwise, the infix parameter P is nil. The terminating non-digit C2 is a character (sometimes called a ``sub-character'' to emphasize its subordinate role in the dispatching) that is looked up in the dispatch table associated with the dispatching macro character C1. The reader macro function associated with the sub-character C2 is invoked with three arguments: the stream, the sub-character C2, and the infix parameter P. For more information about dispatch characters, see the function set-dispatch-macro-character.
For information about the macro characters that are available in standard syntax, see Section 2.4 (Standard Macro Characters).