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Status: Passed, as amended, Jun89 X3J13


References: 5.1.2 Variables (CLtL pp55-56),

Slots (88-002R, p1-10)

Category: CHANGE

Edit history: 29-Nov-88, Version 1 by Pitman

3-Jul-89, Version 2 by Masinter (as per Jun89X3J13)

Problem Description:

CLtL does not specify what happens if you attempt to call a named function

which is in fact undefined. In most implementations, it would be devastating to

actually jump to code which you had not verified to be a function, so this error

should be easily caught -- yet, CLtL does not guarantee that an error will be

signalled even in the safest, least fast OPTIMIZE settings.

CLtL (p56) specifies that "it is an error to refer to a variable that is unbound."

CLOS (p1-10) specifies that "when an unbound slot is read, the generic function

SLOT-UNBOUND is invoked. The system-supplied primary method for SLOT-UNBOUND

signals an error."

CLOS and CLtL are not in agreement on their treatment of unbound variables.

CLtL is very weak in that it guarantees no support for reliably detecting

and signalling an error when the error situation occurs, even in the safest,

least fast OPTIMIZE setting.

CLOS is very strong in that it forces detection of the error in all

situations -- even in the fastest, least safe OPTIMIZE setting.

The disparate positions for treatment of variables and slots should be

reconciled, either by finding a compromise or by justifying the apparent

inconsistency. The final story should explain function references as well.


Define that reading an undefined function or an unbound variable

must be detected in the highest safety setting,

but the effect is undefined in any other safety setting. That is,

- Reading an undefined function should signal an error.

- Reading an an unbound variable should signal an error.

By ``reading an undefined function'' in the above, we mean to

include both references to the function using the FUNCTION

special form, such as F in (FUNCTION F) and references to the

function in a call, such as F in (F X).

For the case of INLINE functions (in implementations where they are

supported), it is permissible to consider that performing the inlining

constitutes the read, so that an FBOUNDP check need not be done at

execution time. Put another way, the effect of FMAKUNBOUND of a function

on potentially inlined references to that function is undefined.

Specify that the type of error signalled when an undefined function

is detected is UNDEFINED-FUNCTION, and that the NAME slot of the

UNDEFINED-FUNCTION condition is initialized to the name of the

offending function.

Specify that the type of error signalled when a unbound variable

is detected is UNBOUND-VARIABLE, and that the NAME slot of the

UNBOUND-VARIABLE condition is initialized to the name of the

offending variable.

Introduce a new condition type, UNBOUND-SLOT, which inherits from

CELL-ERROR. This new type has an additional slot, INSTANCE, which

can be initialized using the :INSTANCE keyword to MAKE-CONDITION.

Introdue a new function UNBOUND-SLOT-INSTANCE to access INSTANCE slot.

Specify that the type of error signalled by the default primary

method for the SLOT-UNBOUND generic function is UNBOUND-SLOT,

and that the NAME slot of the UNBOUND-SLOT condition is initialized

to the name of the offending variable, and that the INSTANCE slot

of the UNBOUND-SLOT condition is initialized to the offending instance.

Test Case:




>>Error: The variable X is not bound.



This makes it easier to treat slots like variables.

This makes it possible to better rely on an unbound variable error being

signalled when one has occurred.

This makes it possible to compile out useless error checking in CLOS

code where the code is debugged and the checking is redundant.

For the case of undefined functions, blindly jumping to an undefined

function is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Every implementation

should guarantee at least some way to get error checking of undefined


Current Practice:

Until recently, Symbolics Cloe did not ever signal an error on unbound

variable, even in the safest case. The excuse was that this was a CLtL

didn't require it, but it was sometimes an impediment to debugging.

Some benchmarks for Symbolics Cloe (which currently only claims to

implement New Flavors, not CLOS) could be faster if checking for unbound

instance variables could be optimized away.

Symbolics Genera doesn't care about safety issues in variable access

because the check can be done by microcode.

Cost to Implementors:

This change does not force a change to any current implementation, except

those which do not yet signal unbound variable or undefined function errors

even in the safest setting.

Cost to Users:

This checking might slow down some code which is written for the safest

setting yet does not need this check.

Any implementation-specific code which depended on these references not

signalling would be broken. Such code was not portable, of course.

Any CLOS code which depends on SLOT-UNBOUND being called even in low safety

settings would be broken. The amount of such code at this point is likely

to be little or none. If such cases did exist, local or global changes to

safety settings would correct the problem (at some cost in speed).

Cost of Non-Adoption:

Some important error checking would not occur.

Some important optimizations could not be done.

The language would seem internally less consistent.


The costs of non-adoption would be avoided.


This would regularize things a little.


Pitman thinks this would be a good idea.

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