Ok, time to look at macros. Being new to lisps, I’m especially new to macros. I have been meaning to read On Lisp for a few months, so like the SICP, I’ll show you stuff from the macros chapter and then try to write them in clojure.
In, On Lisp (Chapter 7), Paul Graham writes:
The expression generated by the macro will be evaluated in place of the original macro call. A macro call is a list whose first element is the name of the macro. What happens when we type the macro call into the toplevel? Lisp notices that [it] is the name of a macro, and
- builds the expression specified by the definition, then
- evaluates that expression in place of the original macro call
Macros simply allow you to write code that gets executed at compile time to generate code, which is then run. There really isn’t anything quite like them in popular non-lisp languages, though there are a couple of .NET languages with language altering macros. They are much more powerful than the preprocessor macros in C, and C++ template meta-programming can sometimes get you the effect, but templates were not designed for this, so it is too cumbersome most of the time.
We have been using macros in clojure throughout this series. In fact, since Lisps evaluate all of their arguments before calling a function, whenever you see code where all of the arguments are not evaluated, you are either looking at something built-in to the language (e.g. if) or a macro (e.g. cond). You can look at boot.clj to see the definitions of them. For example, here’s lazy-cons:
(defmacro lazy-cons [x & body]
(list ‘fnseq x (list* `fn  body)))
Remember, we used lazy-cons to make lazy sequences. lazy-cons acts like cons, except it does not evaluate the rest-expr until rest is called on the resulting list. We can use macroexpand-1 (which returns the unevaluated macro expansion of a macro call) to see how this works:
user=> (defn rfn  (prn “Called”) ‘(3))
user=> (def lazylist (lazy-cons 1 (rfn)))
user=> (first lazylist)
user=> (rest lazylist)
user=> (rest lazylist)
user=> (macroexpand-1 ‘(lazy-cons 1 (rfn)))
(fnseq 1 (clojure/fn  (rfn)))
user=> (first (eval (macroexpand-1 ‘(lazy-cons 1 (rfn)))))
user=> (rest (eval (macroexpand-1 ‘(lazy-cons 1 (rfn)))))
So, a lazy-cons is just a short hand to using a fnseq and wrapping the rest in a function that will be called whenever rest is called on the fnseq. That’s a typical use of a macro — codifying common uses to make your programs shorter. And, lazy-cons cannot be implemented as a function, because if it were, its arguments would need to be evaluated, which defeats the purpose.
Ok, let’s write some macros (Documentation on the clojure macro page and the clojure reader page). On Lisp, section 7.3 (Defining Simple Macros) presents this one for while.
(defmacro while (test &body body)
`(do () ((not ,test)) ,@body))
Here it is in clojure:
(defmacro while [test & body]
`(loop  (if ~test (do ~@body (recur)))))
In clojure, you don’t have many mutable objects — here’s how you use while with a thread-local var binding:
(def x 10)
(prn (macroexpand ‘(while (> x 0) (prn x) (set! x (dec x)))))
(binding [x 10] (while (> x 0) (prn x) (set! x (dec x))))
Here’s the output:
(loop  (if (> x 0) (do (prn x) (set! x (dec x)) (recur))))