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Sequence Evaluation and Tail Recursion

The portion of the explicit-control evaluator at ev-sequence is analogous to the metacircular evaluator's eval-sequence procedure. It handles sequences of expressions in procedure bodies or in explicit begin expressions.

Explicit begin expressions are evaluated by placing the sequence of expressions to be evaluated in unev, saving continue on the stack, and jumping to ev-sequence.

ev-begin
  (assign unev (op begin-actions) (reg exp))
  (save continue)
  (goto (label ev-sequence))
The implicit sequences in procedure bodies are handled by jumping to ev-sequence from compound-apply, at which point continue is already on the stack, having been saved at ev-application.

The entries at ev-sequence and ev-sequence-continue form a loop that successively evaluates each expression in a sequence. The list of unevaluated expressions is kept in unev. Before evaluating each expression, we check to see if there are additional expressions to be evaluated in the sequence. If so, we save the rest of the unevaluated expressions (held in unev) and the environment in which these must be evaluated (held in env) and call eval-dispatch to evaluate the expression. The two saved registers are restored upon the return from this evaluation, at ev-sequence-continue.

The final expression in the sequence is handled differently, at the entry point ev-sequence-last-exp. Since there are no more expressions to be evaluated after this one, we need not save unev or env before going to eval-dispatch. The value of the whole sequence is the value of the last expression, so after the evaluation of the last expression there is nothing left to do except continue at the entry point currently held on the stack (which was saved by ev-application or ev-begin.) Rather than setting up continue to arrange for eval-dispatch to return here and then restoring continue from the stack and continuing at that entry point, we restore continue from the stack before going to eval-dispatch, so that eval-dispatch will continue at that entry point after evaluating the expression.

ev-sequence
  (assign exp (op first-exp) (reg unev))
  (test (op last-exp?) (reg unev))
  (branch (label ev-sequence-last-exp))
  (save unev)
  (save env)
  (assign continue (label ev-sequence-continue))
  (goto (label eval-dispatch))
ev-sequence-continue
  (restore env)
  (restore unev)
  (assign unev (op rest-exps) (reg unev))
  (goto (label ev-sequence))
ev-sequence-last-exp
  (restore continue)
  (goto (label eval-dispatch))

Tail recursion

In chapter 1 we said that the process described by a procedure such as

(define (sqrt-iter guess x)
  (if (good-enough? guess x)
      guess
      (sqrt-iter (improve guess x)
                 x)))
is an iterative process. Even though the procedure is syntactically recursive (defined in terms of itself), it is not logically necessary for an evaluator to save information in passing from one call to sqrt-iter to the next.[*] An evaluator that can execute a procedure such as sqrt-iter without requiring increasing storage as the procedure continues to call itself is called a tail-recursive evaluator. The metacircular implementation of the evaluator in chapter 4 does not specify whether the evaluator is tail-recursive, because that evaluator inherits its mechanism for saving state from the underlying Scheme. With the explicit-control evaluator, however, we can trace through the evaluation process to see when procedure calls cause a net accumulation of information on the stack.

Our evaluator is tail-recursive, because in order to evaluate the final expression of a sequence we transfer directly to eval-dispatch without saving any information on the stack. Hence, evaluating the final expression in a sequence--even if it is a procedure call (as in sqrt-iter, where the if expression, which is the last expression in the procedure body, reduces to a call to sqrt-iter)--will not cause any information to be accumulated on the stack.[*]

If we did not think to take advantage of the fact that it was unnecessary to save information in this case, we might have implemented eval-sequence by treating all the expressions in a sequence in the same way--saving the registers, evaluating the expression, returning to restore the registers, and repeating this until all the expressions have been evaluated:[*]

ev-sequence
  (test (op no-more-exps?) (reg unev))
  (branch (label ev-sequence-end))
  (assign exp (op first-exp) (reg unev))
  (save unev)
  (save env)
  (assign continue (label ev-sequence-continue))
  (goto (label eval-dispatch))
ev-sequence-continue
  (restore env)
  (restore unev)
  (assign unev (op rest-exps) (reg unev))
  (goto (label ev-sequence))
ev-sequence-end
  (restore continue)
  (goto (reg continue))

This may seem like a minor change to our previous code for evaluation of a sequence: The only difference is that we go through the save-restore cycle for the last expression in a sequence as well as for the others. The interpreter will still give the same value for any expression. But this change is fatal to the tail-recursive implementation, because we must now return after evaluating the final expression in a sequence in order to undo the (useless) register saves. These extra saves will accumulate during a nest of procedure calls. Consequently, processes such as sqrt-iter will require space proportional to the number of iterations rather than requiring constant space. This difference can be significant. For example, with tail recursion, an infinite loop can be expressed using only the procedure-call mechanism:

(define (count n)
  (newline)
  (display n)
  (count (+ n 1)))
Without tail recursion, such a procedure would eventually run out of stack space, and expressing a true iteration would require some control mechanism other than procedure call.


next up previous contents
Next: Conditionals, Assignments, and Definitions Up: The Explicit-Control Evaluator Previous: The Core of the
Ryan Bender
2000-04-17