## Howto Solve Context Collision

Pondering the philosophy behind the language

### Howto Solve Context Collision

I am new to newLISP, and just can't find out how to solve this problem.

As we know, we can surround a macro to avoid variable capture.
But if we write two diffierent modules without knowing the other one, we might
encounter a context collision, i.e. useing the same name for context.

here is an example:

In module 'A', we define a macro 'my-set' and put it in context 'my-set'(just to illustrate).
Code: Select all
`; A.lsp(context 'my-set)(define-macro (my-set a b)  (set (eval a) b))(context MAIN)(context 'A)(define (my-test x)  (letex (x x) (my-set:my-set 'y x)))(context MAIN)`

And now we write module 'B' without recognizing the existence of module 'A'.
Code: Select all
`; B.lsp(context 'my-set)(define-macro (my-set a b)  (set  (eval b) a))(context MAIN)(context 'B)(define (my-test x)  (letex (x x) (my-set:my-set x 'y)))(context MAIN)`

Now we see that we have two implementations of 'my-set' macro in the same
context, if we load these two files at the same time, one will break the other.
if we load 'A.lsp' first, and then 'B.lsp', then the definition of 'my-set' in
B will overwrite that in 'A.lsp', so the 'my-test' function in 'A.lsp' will
fail.

Cause contexts can be seen globally instead of being shadowed by the other
contexts. And we might be using different modules written by different people,
and somehow they might have context collision, and I just wondering how to deal
with this situation.

Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:13 am

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Use only one context per module file. Different programmers maintain different contexts. The MAIN context is the only place where other contexts should be loaded and controls the main organization of the program and is maintained by a lead programmer. No context should redefine functions during runtime in contexts not maintained by the same developer.
Lutz

Posts: 5279
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2002 4:45 pm

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Lutz wrote:Use only one context per module file. Different programmers maintain different contexts. The MAIN context is the only place where other contexts should be loaded and controls the main organization of the program and is maintained by a lead programmer. No context should redefine functions during runtime in contexts not maintained by the same developer.

Using only one context per module file is a good convention. But in this
case, there won't be an easy solution of solving variable capture when defining
macros(in a module).

Also, that means we are not allow to use context as a 'dict' or 'hash table'
when writing modules.

How to deal with this situation?

Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:13 am

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Hashes / dictionaries are globally accessible data (contexts), which can be changed by different other modules. By why would this be a problem, the same happens to databases or other global data intended for global use.

The thing happening in your example is not caused by variable capture or dynamic scoping, but is simply the effect of redefining the context my-set during run-time. I expanded the example with printing statements and usage of the my-test function to show the effect:

Code: Select all
`; A.lsp(context 'my-set)(define-macro (my-set:my-set a b)  (set (eval a) b))(context MAIN)(context 'A)(println "A before " my-set:my-set)(define (my-test x)  (letex (x x) (my-set:my-set 'y x)))(my-test 123)(println "A after " my-set:my-set)(context MAIN); B.lsp(context 'my-set)(define-macro (my-set:my-set a b)  (set  (eval b) a))(context MAIN)(context 'B)(println "B before " my-set:my-set)(define (my-test x)  (letex (x x) (my-set:my-set x 'y)))(my-test 456)(println "B after " my-set:my-set)(context MAIN)`

and this is the output:

Code: Select all
`A before (lambda-macro (my-set:a my-set:b) (set (eval my-set:a) my-set:b))A after (lambda-macro (my-set:a my-set:b) (set (eval my-set:a) my-set:b))B before (lambda-macro (my-set:a my-set:b) (set (eval my-set:b) my-set:a))B after (lambda-macro (my-set:a my-set:b) (set (eval my-set:b) my-set:a))`

The only effect we can see, is caused by explicitly redefining the my-set:my-set function. The A:my-test and B:my-test functions have no effect on my-set:myset

Variable capture via macros ( really fexprs ) of the type as described here: http://www.newlisp.org/downloads/newlis ... ml#scoping is only possible via interactions inside the same context. That context is under the control of one developer, or better, you have all macros in their own context. Then any symbol brought into the space of the macro is foreign and cannot interact.

On a more general note:

Dynamic scoping is frequently cited as an argument against newLISP. In practice, I never have seen variable capture problems in my own code or code of others. When sticking to the "separate contexts" rule and putting macros in to their own contexts, problems cannot occur.

A few years ago I worked on a team of seven developers for over a year, all except I, using newLISP for the first time and building a multi-module distributed application for search. Some of the programmers were experienced in programming, others new to the craft. One was an experienced CL programmer. We never saw problems caused by dynamic scoping. Many newLISP users don't even fully understand the whole concept and avoid free variables as a matter of good programming style.

Today, I believe that the problems with dynamic scoping are vastly exaggerated, which is sad, because people have stopped using dynamic scoping as a tool, exploiting its special characteristics, e.g.: switching and separation of concerns.

The real problems in dynamic languages are of different nature. E.g. misspelling variables, because there is no need to pre-declare them, or confusing types of different variables in duck typed functions.

In any case "Welcome to newLISP". I hope you stay with us for a longer time.
Lutz

Posts: 5279
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2002 4:45 pm

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Today, I believe that the problems with dynamic scoping are vastly exaggerated, which is sad, because people have stopped using dynamic scoping as a tool, exploiting its special characteristics, e.g.: switching and separation of concerns.

Lutz... I would love to hear more about this. I am a struggling convert to the world of functional programming and dynamic scope bewilders me. :-/
bairui

Posts: 64
Joined: Sun May 06, 2012 2:04 am
Location: China

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Thank you very much Lutz.

Now I have more confidence in using dynamic scope.

And understand that we can avoid variable capture by putting macros(fexprs) into a seperate context, and use it inside another context. Without interactions, no variable caputure will ever happen to macros(fexprs).

Just for discussion, consider the follwing situation:

Now we have this convension when writting modules(all I can think up):
1. segregate macros. => put them into a seperate context.
2. wrap all codes with a context. => i.e. the name of the module.
3. use only one context(which is specified by No.2) except those used as data
containers(such as dict/hash table)

And what if two developers use the same contex name for different
purpose?
Here, we use contexts as data(dict/hash table, etc.) inside
another global context(to specify module name). Suppose developer A use the
context 'dict' to store (word
explanations) pairs, and developer B happen to use the same context for holding
(word frequency) pairs. Now we have to use both modules, because these two
modules will affect the other by operate on the same context 'dict', both will
fail to some extent.

How to deal with this one?

I have little experience of joinning large projects, but I do believe with the
modules for newLisp increasing, there will be a name collision. Of course we
can have all contexts as data named with a prefix such as "A-dict" or something
like that, which I believe is easy and will work, besides, can we prevent this
from happenning instead of fixed it as a bug?

Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:13 am

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

And what if two developers use the same contex name for different
purpose? ... How to deal with this one?

I think this issue should be considered as part of project management, not language design. If two developers working closely on the same project are not already working consistently to some agreed policies, then the project is probably going to fail anyway..

Interesting discussion.
cormullion

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Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:28 pm
Location: latiitude 50N longitude 3W

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Name clashes occur in any programming language and must be dealt with as part of development management, as Cormullion states. Name clashes occur in different programming languages at different time. They can occure in C, C++ and in Java too. In fully compiled languages, they can be catched during compile time before running.

The problem is more critical in fully dynamic languages like newLISP, where you can create and delete symbols during runtime. For normal grouping of code into context modules, the rules outlined in the previous post work, because these are created and dealt with before runtime. For hashes created and deleted at runtime do the following:

Using the uuid function you could create a dictionary at runtime and guaranteed to be unique. Fortunately contexts in newLISP can be referred to with variables, which could be local to a context. So you don't have to know the name of the dictionary context when writing your program before the context is created, and you don't have to deal with hard to remember UUID strings.

The following code shows this as an example:

Code: Select all
`(context 'A)(set 'mydict (let (s (sym (append "dict" (uuid)) MAIN)) (new Tree s)))(bayes-train (parse "this sentence has words and words") mydict)(bayes-train (parse "and more words") mydict)(println "mydict in A:" (mydict))(context MAIN)(context 'B)(set 'mydict (let (s (sym (append "dict" (uuid)) MAIN)) (new Tree s)))(mydict "foo" "hello world")(mydict "bar" 1234567)(println "mydict in B:" (mydict))(println "association in B: " (mydict "foo"))(context MAIN)(exit)`

Both contexts A and B use the same internal name mydict to refer to a dictionary context created using the sym and uuid functions. This is the output:

Code: Select all
`mydict in A:(("and" (2)) ("has" (1)) ("more" (1)) ("sentence" (1)) ("this" (1)) ("words" (3)))mydict in B:(("bar" 1234567) ("foo" "hello world"))association in B: hello world`

In A word frequencies are counted. Note, that frequencies are in parenthesis, because you could count and compare several corpuses using bayes-query. In B general associations are made.

if you are into counting words and parsing text: http://www.nuevatec.com/query.html
Lutz

Posts: 5279
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2002 4:45 pm

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

This trick works!

And I think we should always use this trick when using a context as a data
container inside a module.

Thanks again for being so patient. And surely I will stay with newlisp, it is
just amazing.

Posts: 8
Joined: Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:13 am

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

bairui wrote:Lutz... I would love to hear more about this. I am a struggling convert to the world of functional programming and dynamic scope bewilders me. :-/

Hello bairui,

I'm going to try to explain how dynamic scope of variables and static (lexical) scope of variables differ. If you don't understand it after reading this, I will bet money that it is the fault of my bad explanation. :)

Free and bound variables

To answer this question, we should first look at a simple classification of variables: free variables versus bound variables. To explain what free and bound variables are, consider this code snippet which is at the top-level in newLISP.

Code: Select all
`(define x 42)  ; <-- 0(+ x y)  ; <-- 1(let (y 1) (+ x y))  ; <-- 2(let (x 42 y 1) (+ x y))  ; <-- 3(lambda (y) (+ x y))  ; <-- 4(define (dumb-sum y) (+ x y)) ; <-- 5`

Expression 1 has two variables: x and y. Both of them are free. Expression 2 has the same variables, but only x is free -- y is bound. Why? Because the let is responsible for binding y (and BTW this is why the second item of any let form is called "the let bindings").

Here's a good idea to keep in the mind in determining whether a variable is free or bound in an expression: every variable is free until it is *bound* by something -- that is, until something puts binds, or fetters, on it. That's what let did to y in Expression 2. (Bad let!) :))

[Aside: BTW, it is not conventional to say that (non-lambda) top-level defines (as in Expression 0) "bind" variables. Hence, while associating x to 42, x is not considered bound there. In short, ignore non-lambda top-level defines.]

Expression 3 has x and y both bound, i.e. they are both bound variables and no variables in that expression are free.

When you write a lambda form, the parameter list tells you which variables are going to be bound by lambda. So, Expression 4 has y as bound and x as free. Expression 5, while being a top-level define, defines a lambda, and as we said about lambdas, they bind variables. So, in Expression 5, as we saw in Expression 4, y is bound and x is free.

The following are "binders" (in maths they are called "quantifiers") of variables: let, lambda, local, etc. (I'd have to look at the manual to get an exhaustive list, but hopefully you get the idea).

Dynamic scope versus static (or lexical) scope

Now, consider the following code snippet, again at the top level.

Code: Select all
`(define x 42)(define (f y) (let ((x 13)) (g y)))(define (g z) (list x z))(define (h x y) (list x y))`

Notice that f calls g before it can "return" a value. It calls g with its own parameter y. Now the question is, with these definitions, what should be the value of the expression (f 3)?

Clearly, this depends on what the value of x. Why? Because x is free in g; that is, x is free in this expression: (lambda (z) (list x z)). Well then, x can take on one of two values: either 42 or 13. So, that means that the value of (f 3) is either (42 3) or (13 3). So which is it?

The answer has to do with the type of variable scoping that prevails in the language. The value of (f 3) in Scheme (which has static scope) is (42 3) but in newLISP (dynamic scope), it's (13 3). That's because Scheme only "sees" the value of x due to the top level definition, but newLISP sees the x binding up the call stack (as f calls g, there's that intervening let).

Finally, let's not forget the function h defined above. What is the value of (h 1 2)? The answer is that it is the list (1 2), both in dynamically scoped languages AND in statically scoped langauges. Why this is so easy to resolve and why this point is important, is because there are no free variables in h!

So, the question of what is the value of such-and-such in dynamic scope versus lexical scope, only depends on how the free variables are resolved (or evaluated) in the greater expression being evaluated. At the heart of the variable scoping scheme (whether it be dynamic or static) is this issue of "how the free variables are resolved." That's pretty much it.

That's why it is good programming practice to not have free variables in your expressions when you don't need them. (In order words, think about the "boundness" of your variables and don't be a lazy programmer. :)) However, there are times when you need to have a free variable in the expression on purpose, like if you want to wire in a run-time switch in your code (Lutz mentioned this earlier in this thread), but in general, when you code you should be dealing in bound variables only. This practice/discipline will really help eliminate many problems that could creep up in your code without it. (Inadvertent free variables tend to be less of a problem with lexical variable scope; however, being mindful of the "boundness" of variables should be observed as a practice with lexically scoped languages also).

I hope this helps a little.
(λx. x x) (λx. x x)
rickyboy

Posts: 594
Joined: Fri Apr 08, 2005 7:13 pm
Location: Front Royal, Virginia

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Thanks, rickyboy! That helped a lot. I installed racket to see the difference.

Hmm... This is premature of me to say so, but... I like the way newlisp does this better than racket. Which is to say... to my mind, that your are letting x have another value before (g) is called, then it better show up in (g) with that value - not the lexically scoped value, 42.

I think I know why this is strange to me now. I am used to lexically scoped languages where any modification to x would be a permanent change, so referencing x back at the main scope after the (f 2) call would yield the now-modified value, 13 (in the languages I use). So, the (let ((x 13)) ...) code temporarily shadows (you say binds) the global (you say free (the free term may not be limited to globals... right?)) variable x with the value 13. When that (let) expression ends, the binding ends and therefore x goes back to being the value it was prior to this dynamic scope change, 42.

Ok. Apart from some obvious quirks in my terminology, let's say I get that now. Thank you! So, now I'd like to understand what Lutz meant when he said there were good uses for dynamic scope that us lexical scopers are deprived of. Could you elaborate on: "switching and separation of concerns"?

:-D
bairui

Posts: 64
Joined: Sun May 06, 2012 2:04 am
Location: China

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

If you want to know it all and have time on this weekend :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_concerns

So basically concerns are groups of topic requirements which have to be covered by your program. The most famous tool at the moment to achieve this is Object Oriented Programming (OOP). But dynamic scoping can do it too. In Rickyboy's example, different concerns are expressed via the value of the variable x, which is 42 by default, but could be shadowed with other values, e.g. 13 in function f.

Now things get get hairy when you deal with crosscutting concerns. It's possible to solve the situation using OOP but complicated:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-cutting_concern

The solution is Aspect Oriented Programming (AOP):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspect-ori ... rogramming

Here comes Pascal Costanza and proves, that AOP type of programming is really a natural thing for dynamically scoped languages! Google for 'aspect oriented programming and dynamic scoping' and you will get this Article as one of the links:

http://www.p-cos.net/documents/dynfun.pdf

There is a neat way to switch concerns using contexts in newLISP. Imagine your task is formatting documents. Your two main methods are using HTML or using Markdown (a simple markup language by John Gruber).

On a higher level, you want write only one program doing the formatting, but you want an easy way to switch between both, and perhaps you want to add LATEX later but not change your main program.

This is how to do it in newLISP contexts:
Code: Select all
`(context 'HTML)(define (format-title text)    (string "<h1>" text "</h2>"))(context MAIN)(context 'Markdown)(define (format-title text)    (string "===" text "==="))(context MAIN)(define (format-page method text)    (method:format-title text))(println (format-page HTML "hello world"))(println)(println (format-page Markdown "hello world"))(exit)`

and this would be the output:
Code: Select all
`<h1>hello world</h2>===hello world===`

So basically you are using a variable named method to hold the contexts required.
Lutz

Posts: 5279
Joined: Thu Sep 26, 2002 4:45 pm

### Re: Howto Solve Context Collision

Excellent, Lutz.

Those WP articles and the PDF helped a lot. Thanks! :-)

Your example of handling separate concerns with contexts was clear. That reminds me of one of the GOF patterns... strategy? (I never got into the habit of quoting GOF patterns.)

However, your example shows... completely separate concerns rather than cross-cutting concerns. I googled for AOP in newlisp rather unsuccessfully. It seems that dragonfly has a (wrap_func) that provides an aspect of it (no pun intended).

I will have to play with this to truly understand it. But now I have the means to begin that journey. Thanks, Lutz & rickyboy. Much appreciated. :-D
bairui

Posts: 64
Joined: Sun May 06, 2012 2:04 am
Location: China