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vicsy/dev | a Lispy, embedded Forth

posted Feb 25th 2017, 04:00 pm


I've been craving for a simple but powerful embedded language that feels just right for a long, long time. I'm aware of Lua, but that's still not the kind of simplicity and seamless integration I'm aiming for. Since I'm mostly slinging Common Lisp these days, I decided to go all in and see how far it's possible to take the idea within that context.


If you have no idea what Forth is; a first step is to think of it as Reverse Polish Notation for code, the kind of code Yoda would write. Like Lisp, Forth is more idea than implementation; arguably even more so than Lisp because of it's simplicity. While widely popular in embedded hardware circles, it's unfortunately mostly forgotten outside of that niche. Unfortunate because it's one of the most trivial languages to implement, and a solid foundation for embedded and/or domain specific languages.


There's a saying in Forth circles; that if you've seen one Forth compiler, you've seen one Forth compiler. Lifoo tries hard to borrow just enough ideas from Common Lisp to make the integration seamless, without sacrificing the simplicity of Forth.

Lifoo> 1 2 +


Lifoo> (1 2 +)

(1 2 +)

Lifoo> (1 2 +) eval


Lifoo> (1 2 +) compile

        (LIFOO-PUSH 1)
        (LIFOO-PUSH 2)
        (LIFOO-SAFE-CALL [word: + (number number)]))

Lifoo> (1 2 +) compile link

#<FUNCTION {1003F99E8B}>

Lifoo> (1 2 +) compile link call



Forth likes to call it's functions words, and Lifoo keeps with that tradition. Words can be defined from within the language or via the API, using either Lifoo or Lisp.

Lifoo> (:foo cons)@ (symbol) :foo define
       :bar foo

(:FOO . :BAR)

Lifoo> (lifoo-push (concatenate 'string
                                (lifoo-pop))) lisp $
       (string string) :+ define
       "def" "abc" +


(define-word :foo (symbol) ()
  :foo cons)

(define-lisp-word :+ (string string) ()
  (lifoo-push (concatenate 'string


A basic REPL is provided for playing around with code in real-time.

CL-USER> (lifoo-repl:lifoo-repl)
Welcome to Lifoo,
press enter on empty line to evaluate,
exit ends session

Lifoo> "hello Lifoo!" print ln

hello Lifoo!

Lifoo> exit


Stack tracing takes on a whole new meaning in Forth, Lifoo offers integrated tracing to help untangle messy stacks.

Lifoo> (number number) :+ word trace


Lifoo> "Every :+ entry and exit is traced from here" log


Lifoo> 1 2 +


Lifoo> untrace


Lifoo> "Nothing is traced from here" log


Lifoo> 3 4 +


Lifoo> print-trace

LOG   Nothing is traced from here
EXIT  + (3)
ENTER + (2 1)
LOG   Every :+ entry and exit is traced from here

You may find more in the same spirit here and here, and a full implementation of this idea and more here.

peace, out


This project is running on a shoestring budget; please consider helping out, every contribution counts.

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