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Issue:        DEFVAR-INIT-TIME

References: DEFVAR (p68)


Edit history: 23-Apr-87, Version 1 by Pitman

29-Mar-87, Version 2 by Masinter

Problem Description:

The description of DEFVAR is not completely clear about the time at

which the initialization occurs.

On p68 it says ``VARIABLE is initialized to the result of evaluating the

form INITIAL-VALUE unless it already has a value. The INITIAL-VALUE form

is not evaluated unless it is used; this fact is useful if evaluation of

the INITIAL-VALUE form does something expensive like create a large data


At least one implementation interpreted the "unless it is used" to mean

"unless the variable is used" rather than "unless the initial-value is

to be used". The problem is that the "it" is ambiguous. Thus, DEFVAR was

interpreted as a kind of lazy initialization that happened upon the

variable's first unbound reference. (This interpretation appears to have

been further supported by the additional wording in CLtL about not

creating expensive structures that are not needed.)


Clarify that the evaluation of the initial value and the initialization

happen at DEFVAR execution time (if at all). The cause of the confusion

is the statement that the initial value form is not evaluated unless "it

is used". Better to say that INITIAL-VALUE is evaluated if and only if

the variable does not already have a value. Then there would be no

confusion about the time of evaluation.


This clarification follows the intent of the original Common Lisp


Current Practice:

Nearly all implementations implement the proposed interpretation.

Adoption Cost:

None, for most implementations; very small for any the implementation

that adopted delayed evaluation.


This clarification makes the semantics of an important primitive more


Conversion Cost:

Most users presumably expect the behavior currently in practice in most

dialects. There's not a lot of code where the difference comes into play

anyway. Presumably the conversion cost is fairly trivial.


Being a clarification, this really doesn't have much aesthetic effect.


The cleanup committee supports this clarification.

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