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Son of Scheme: Introducing Schetoo

Posted by kernelbob on February 13, 2010

I’ve started a new Scheme project. This one is called Schetoo. The name has connotations of “Scheme Two”, “me too”, and “Gentoo” (a hardcore Linux distribution and a breed of penguin).

A ‘blogger named Peter Michaux started a series in January called Scheme from Scratch. His goal was to write a very quick and dirty Scheme, just enough to bootstrap a Scheme compiler. I read his postings and decided to get started again.

Schetoo is similar in concept to my first Scheme, kbscheme. In fact, I reused a fair amount of code to get Schetoo up and running faster. But at the same time, I’m applying what I learned to try to get a better design.

I’ve published the code on GitHub.


The primary goal for Schetoo is pedagogical. I want to understand the Scheme language and how to design language runtimes. I intend to focus on performance more than last time, because kbscheme was running for many seconds just initializing itself.

Another goal is to have no dynamic memory outside of the heap. No recursion so stack size is bounded. No mallocs. At present, it falls short of that in two ways. My I/O subsystem uses malloc for memory buffers, and the print routine is recursive. Both were thrown together early on to get something running, and both will eventually be rewritten. I’ll rewrite I/O in C and rewrite print in Scheme so it can remain recursive.

The third goal is to integrate macro translation into Schetoo. I’m not sure how that will work.


Right now, Schetoo is usable for toy programs.

It has a heap with lots of primitive data types: bindings, bytevectors, Booleans, Unicode characters, continuations, fixnums, pairs, procedures, records, record type descriptors (RTDs), strings, symbols, and vectors. The interpreter also has a hierarchy of condition types constructed from records. (A Scheme condition is like a Python exception object.)

It has an assortment of primitives for operating on and converting among those types. I count 44 primitives at the moment.

The reader came from kbscheme, and just like kbscheme, it handles the whole R6RS Scheme language except for non-fixnum numbers.

It also has an evaluator with a nice extension mechanism for adding more procedures and special forms. Some of the more interesting forms I’ve implemented are apply, call/cc, define, eval, if, lambda, quote and set!.

There is an exception mechanism, and all the forms are wired to generate exceptions as needed. There is no way to set an exception handler yet — the default handler just prints the message and pops back to the REPL.

Finally, there’s a clever mechanism to track stack-based heap roots with zero overhead. That will be the subject of a future post.

I’m planning to implement dynamic-wind and multiple-value expressions someday. The evaluator was designed with them in mind, but they’re not implemented yet.


Once again, the implementation language is C. The overall structure is a trampoline-style interpreter using explicit continuations instead of a call stack. This time, I’m planning to write less C and more Scheme. I’m almost at the point where the read-eval-print loop (REPL) can be written in Scheme.

I used the same basic heap and garbage collector design as last time. There are two significant differences, though.

First, small objects are stored as immediate pointers. Those include fixnums, (Unicode) characters, Booleans, the empty list, and some other constants. For example, the Boolean false is represented as a pointer with the binary value 0x0000000E. There’s nothing stored at address 0x0000000E, it’s just a bit pattern.

Second, I’ve implemented records. Records are Scheme’s objects. Each record has a class (called a record type descriptor or RTD), and classes have single inheritance. Those both went into the heap design fairly easily.

The evaluator is also similar at a high level, but completely different in the details. There is a virtual machine (VM), and the VM is a little better defined than last time. I think I’ll write a future post about the VM design, too.

And exceptions got designed in early. That’s an important part of building a usable interactive environment.

Next Steps

I’d like to get the REPL into Scheme. To do that, I need user exception handlers and I/O primitives.


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