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Common Lisp Extensions

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5.2.3 Customizing Setf

Common Lisp defines three macros, define-modify-macro, defsetf, and define-setf-method, that allow the user to extend generalized variables in various ways.

Special Form: define-modify-macro name arglist function [doc-string]
This macro defines a "read-modify-write" macro similar to incf and decf. The macro name is defined to take a place argument followed by additional arguments described by arglist. The call

(name place args...)

will be expanded to

(callf func place args...)

which in turn is roughly equivalent to

(setf place (func place args...))

For example:

(define-modify-macro incf (&optional (n 1)) +)
(define-modify-macro concatf (&rest args) concat)

Note that &key is not allowed in arglist, but &rest is sufficient to pass keywords on to the function.

Most of the modify macros defined by Common Lisp do not exactly follow the pattern of define-modify-macro. For example, push takes its arguments in the wrong order, and pop is completely irregular. You can define these macros "by hand" using get-setf-method, or consult the source file `cl-macs.el' to see how to use the internal setf building blocks.

Special Form: defsetf access-fn update-fn
This is the simpler of two defsetf forms. Where access-fn is the name of a function which accesses a place, this declares update-fn to be the corresponding store function. From now on,

(setf (access-fn arg1 arg2 arg3) value)

will be expanded to

(update-fn arg1 arg2 arg3 value)

The update-fn is required to be either a true function, or a macro which evaluates its arguments in a function-like way. Also, the update-fn is expected to return value as its result. Otherwise, the above expansion would not obey the rules for the way setf is supposed to behave.

As a special (non-Common-Lisp) extension, a third argument of t to defsetf says that the update-fn's return value is not suitable, so that the above setf should be expanded to something more like

(let ((temp value))
  (update-fn arg1 arg2 arg3 temp)

Some examples of the use of defsetf, drawn from the standard suite of setf methods, are:

(defsetf car setcar)
(defsetf symbol-value set)
(defsetf buffer-name rename-buffer t)

Special Form: defsetf access-fn arglist (store-var) forms...
This is the second, more complex, form of defsetf. It is rather like defmacro except for the additional store-var argument. The forms should return a Lisp form which stores the value of store-var into the generalized variable formed by a call to access-fn with arguments described by arglist. The forms may begin with a string which documents the setf method (analogous to the doc string that appears at the front of a function).

For example, the simple form of defsetf is shorthand for

(defsetf access-fn (&rest args) (store)
  (append '(update-fn) args (list store)))

The Lisp form that is returned can access the arguments from arglist and store-var in an unrestricted fashion; macros like setf and incf which invoke this setf-method will insert temporary variables as needed to make sure the apparent order of evaluation is preserved.

Another example drawn from the standard package:

(defsetf nth (n x) (store)
  (list 'setcar (list 'nthcdr n x) store))

Special Form: define-setf-method access-fn arglist forms...
This is the most general way to create new place forms. When a setf to access-fn with arguments described by arglist is expanded, the forms are evaluated and must return a list of five items:

  1. A list of temporary variables.

  2. A list of value forms corresponding to the temporary variables above. The temporary variables will be bound to these value forms as the first step of any operation on the generalized variable.

  3. A list of exactly one store variable (generally obtained from a call to gensym).

  4. A Lisp form which stores the contents of the store variable into the generalized variable, assuming the temporaries have been bound as described above.

  5. A Lisp form which accesses the contents of the generalized variable, assuming the temporaries have been bound.

This is exactly like the Common Lisp macro of the same name, except that the method returns a list of five values rather than the five values themselves, since Emacs Lisp does not support Common Lisp's notion of multiple return values.

Once again, the forms may begin with a documentation string.

A setf-method should be maximally conservative with regard to temporary variables. In the setf-methods generated by defsetf, the second return value is simply the list of arguments in the place form, and the first return value is a list of a corresponding number of temporary variables generated by gensym. Macros like setf and incf which use this setf-method will optimize away most temporaries that turn out to be unnecessary, so there is little reason for the setf-method itself to optimize.

Function: get-setf-method place &optional env
This function returns the setf-method for place, by invoking the definition previously recorded by defsetf or define-setf-method. The result is a list of five values as described above. You can use this function to build your own incf-like modify macros. (Actually, it is better to use the internal functions cl-setf-do-modify and cl-setf-do-store, which are a bit easier to use and which also do a number of optimizations; consult the source code for the incf function for a simple example.)

The argument env specifies the "environment" to be passed on to macroexpand if get-setf-method should need to expand a macro in place. It should come from an &environment argument to the macro or setf-method that called get-setf-method.

See also the source code for the setf-methods for apply and substring, each of which works by calling get-setf-method on a simpler case, then massaging the result in various ways.

Modern Common Lisp defines a second, independent way to specify the setf behavior of a function, namely "setf functions" whose names are lists (setf name) rather than symbols. For example, (defun (setf foo) ...) defines the function that is used when setf is applied to foo. This package does not currently support setf functions. In particular, it is a compile-time error to use setf on a form which has not already been defsetf'd or otherwise declared; in newer Common Lisps, this would not be an error since the function (setf func) might be defined later.

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