Bonface K. Munyoki Linux enthusiast. Audiophile. Huge anime fan. "Retired" amateur competitive swimmer. Tinkeror. Former typography nerd.
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September 07, 2017

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Implementing Lisp pairs in Python 3.6.1


I wrote this article earlier on my blog here.

I've come to like Python. It makes rapid prototyping things way easier. I also appreciate that it treats functions as first class citizens, something that (maybe) many Python hackers do not know. I thought it'd be cool to implement one of Scheme's(Scheme is a Lisp variant) basic structures, the pair, in Python. I'll use a form of Message Passing to do this(more on this later).

First, here's what a pair looks like in Scheme:

;; We define a as a pair comprising 1 and 3
(def a (cons 1 3))

;; We access the first element of a pair by
;; running (car <element>). In our case, this
;; would give: 1
(car a)

;; We access the second element of a pair by
;; running (cdr <element>). This will give: 3
(cdr a)

Here's how our implementation of cons, car, cdr looks like:

def cons(x, y):
    def dispatch(m):
        if m == "car":
            return x
        elif m == "cdr":
            return y
        else:
            print("error dude")
    return dispatch

Here, we define an internal procedure dispatch that receives some "message" and acts on it. If the "message" is a car it will return the first element of cons' arguments. If it's a cdr, it'll return the second element; otherwise, a simple error message is printed. Our cons function returns a procedure as its return value. As we shall see later, our "message" will be passed to this return value. Now let's create our car and cdr functions.

def car(z):
    return z("car")

def cdr(z):
    return z("cdr")

Both car and cdr take a pair(a cons object) as it's arguments. The right value is returned depending on the "message passed". The name "message passing" comes from the image that a data object(in our case the pairs) is an entity that receives the requested operation name as a "message". Let's create some fancy pairs :)

x = cons(2, 3)

# Let's print the first element of x:
print(car(x))

# Let's print the second element of x:
print(cdr(x))
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