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The Core of the Evaluator


  \begin{figure}\par\figcaption {The {\tt eval}--{\tt apply} cycle exposes the essence
of a computer language.}\end{figure}

The evaluation process can be described as the interplay between two procedures: eval and apply.

Eval

Eval takes as arguments an expression and an environment. It classifies the expression and directs its evaluation. Eval is structured as a case analysis of the syntactic type of the expression to be evaluated. In order to keep the procedure general, we express the determination of the type of an expression abstractly, making no commitment to any particular representation for the various types of expressions. Each type of expression has a predicate that tests for it and an abstract means for selecting its parts. This abstract syntax makes it easy to see how we can change the syntax of the language by using the same evaluator, but with a different collection of syntax procedures.

Primitive expressions

Special forms

Combinations

Here is the definition of eval:

(define (eval exp env)
  (cond ((self-evaluating? exp) exp)
        ((variable? exp) (lookup-variable-value exp env))
        ((quoted? exp) (text-of-quotation exp))
        ((assignment? exp) (eval-assignment exp env))
        ((definition? exp) (eval-definition exp env))
        ((if? exp) (eval-if exp env))
        ((lambda? exp)
         (make-procedure (lambda-parameters exp)
                         (lambda-body exp)
                         env))
        ((begin? exp) 
         (eval-sequence (begin-actions exp) env))
        ((cond? exp) (eval (cond->if exp) env))
        ((application? exp)
         (apply (eval (operator exp) env)
                (list-of-values (operands exp) env)))
        (else
         (error "Unknown expression type - EVAL" exp))))

For clarity, eval has been implemented as a case analysis using cond. The disadvantage of this is that our procedure handles only a few distinguishable types of expressions, and no new ones can be defined without editing the definition of eval. In most Lisp implementations, dispatching on the type of an expression is done in a data-directed style. This allows a user to add new types of expressions that eval can distinguish, without modifying the definition of eval itself. (See exercise [*].)

Apply

Apply takes two arguments, a procedure and a list of arguments to which the procedure should be applied. Apply classifies procedures into two kinds: It calls apply-primitive-procedure to apply primitives; it applies compound procedures by sequentially evaluating the expressions that make up the body of the procedure. The environment for the evaluation of the body of a compound procedure is constructed by extending the base environment carried by the procedure to include a frame that binds the parameters of the procedure to the arguments to which the procedure is to be applied. Here is the definition of apply:

(define (apply procedure arguments)
  (cond ((primitive-procedure? procedure)
         (apply-primitive-procedure procedure arguments))
        ((compound-procedure? procedure)
         (eval-sequence
           (procedure-body procedure)
           (extend-environment
             (procedure-parameters procedure)
             arguments
             (procedure-environment procedure))))
        (else
         (error
          "Unknown procedure type - APPLY" procedure))))

Procedure arguments

When eval processes a procedure application, it uses list-of-values to produce the list of arguments to which the procedure is to be applied. List-of-values takes as an argument the operands of the combination. It evaluates each operand and returns a list of the corresponding values:[*]

(define (list-of-values exps env)
  (if (no-operands? exps)
      '()
      (cons (eval (first-operand exps) env)
            (list-of-values (rest-operands exps) env))))

Conditionals

Eval-if evaluates the predicate part of an if expression in the given environment. If the result is true, eval-if evaluates the consequent, otherwise it evaluates the alternative:

(define (eval-if exp env)
  (if (true? (eval (if-predicate exp) env))
      (eval (if-consequent exp) env)
      (eval (if-alternative exp) env)))

The use of true? in eval-if highlights the issue of the connection between an implemented language and an implementation language. The if-predicate is evaluated in the language being implemented and thus yields a value in that language. The interpreter predicate true? translates that value into a value that can be tested by the if in the implementation language: The metacircular representation of truth might not be the same as that of the underlying Scheme. [*]

Sequences

Eval-sequence is used by apply to evaluate the sequence of expressions in a procedure body and by eval to evaluate the sequence of expressions in a begin expression. It takes as arguments a sequence of expressions and an environment, and evaluates the expressions in the order in which they occur. The value returned is the value of the final expression.

(define (eval-sequence exps env)
  (cond ((last-exp? exps) (eval (first-exp exps) env))
        (else (eval (first-exp exps) env)
              (eval-sequence (rest-exps exps) env))))

Assignments and definitions

The following procedure handles assignments to variables. It calls eval to find the value to be assigned and transmits the variable and the resulting value to set-variable-value! to be installed in the designated environment.

(define (eval-assignment exp env)
  (set-variable-value! (assignment-variable exp)
                       (eval (assignment-value exp) env)
                       env)
  'ok)
Definitions of variables are handled in a similar manner.[*]

(define (eval-definition exp env)
  (define-variable! (definition-variable exp)
                    (eval (definition-value exp) env)
                    env)
  'ok)
We have chosen here to return the symbol ok as the value of an assignment or a definition.[*]

Exercise. Notice that we cannot tell whether the metacircular evaluator evaluates operands from left to right or from right to left. Its evaluation order is inherited from the underlying Lisp: If the arguments to cons in list-of-values are evaluated from left to right, then list-of-values will evaluate operands from left to right; and if the arguments to cons are evaluated from right to left, then list-of-values will evaluate operands from right to left.

Write a version of list-of-values that evaluates operands from left to right regardless of the order of evaluation in the underlying Lisp. Also write a version of list-of-values that evaluates operands from right to left.  


next up previous contents
Next: Representing Expressions Up: The Metacircular Evaluator Previous: The Metacircular Evaluator
Ryan Bender
2000-04-17