diary at Telent Netowrks

How the other half live#

Thu, 08 Apr 2004 00:03:51 +0000

How the other half live

This evening I went to the scheme uk meeting, to discuss "threading implementations in Common Lisp (probably with a certain amount of focus on what to do with special bindings).". The Schemers were, of course, rightly horrified at the whole concept of dynamic bindings, but once over their initial shock that any language should have something so evil, we did have an interesting discussion. (Slides here, slide viewing software and general discussion of same here.)

One of the reasons I wanted to talk about special variables in the presence of smart people is that it's been a contentious point for SBCL threading lately. We're agreed on the general concept: a special has a global value and may additionally be dynamically bound per-thread; threads only see the global value if they don't have bindings. What there seems to be some contention over (and looking back over my diary entries over the last couple of months I see I've referred to this before) is the initial values that a new thread gets when it starts up: are they (a) the values in the thread that called MAKE-THREAD, or (b) the global values?

The alternative is to do what apparently every other threaded CL does. (Despite what you may have read about SBCL's attitude to backward compatibility, this is actually a pretty compelling argument on its own.) Here's one example of a situation, loosely based on an actual SLIME problem, where that would work better: you've written an alternate listener that stores, say, a stream connecting it to emacs into emacs-io. IO on this stream must obey a particular protocol where requests are responded to in sequence. If the user types something into your listener that happens to start a thread, that new thread inherits your emacs-io handle, and if it then wants to print something on this stream (or worse yet, read messages from it) - perhaps because it's triggered the debugger - it will almost certainly be talking out of turn.

I'm actually now not totally convinced that I've explained the SLIME situation correctly, because if I have I think that's their fault, and it certainly seemed more convincingly an SBCL issue at the time it was explained to me...

Anyway, what's interesting is that despite the fact I've slowly come round to thinking that global values would be more sensible, the Schemers pretty much universally said "current values" when I asked them. So, hmm. There also seemed to be fairly strong consensus on how much locking the library should do around things like stream buffer and hashtable access (less, rather than more), which is gratifying.