Pierre R. Mai's Miscellany

The personal pages of Pierre R. Mai

Evaluation Order in Function Forms


In this blog post Ingvar Mattsson was wondering about the printed line resulting from evaluating:

(defun frob (x) (format t 'Frob: ~a~%' x))
  (frob (defun frob (x) (format t 'New frob: ~a~%' x))

This provides an example where I think the ANSI Common Lisp standard is actually very helpful, since it often tries to go out of its way to point out things that are explicitly left undefined, instead of simply leaving them left undefined by not defining them, as many other standards (out of fear of being ambiguous) do. Quoting from the HyperSpec, Section Function Forms:

Although the order of evaluation of the argument subforms themselves is strictly left-to-right, it is not specified whether the definition of the operator in a function form is looked up before the evaluation of the argument subforms, after the evaluation of the argument subforms, or between the evaluation of any two argument subforms if there is more than one such argument subform. For example, the following might return 23 or 24.

(defun foo (x) (+ x 3))
(defun bar () (setf (symbol-function 'foo) #'(lambda (x) (+ x 4))))
(foo (progn (bar) 20))

Thus we can see that the effect of evaluating the orginal two forms is indeed undefined (as already suspected by Ingvar Mattsson) as to which function definition is called in the second form, without going to the trouble of trying to take into account possible differences between evaluation and compilation, compile-time effects of defun, etc.

Which is my long-winded way of saying a big thank you to the people involved in creating the ANSI Common Lisp standards document (with special thanks to all involved in creating, releasing and maintaining the HyperSpec online text equivalent thereof, especially of course Kent Pitman), which is one of the nicest language standards I have had the pleasure of working with and against.