Syntax Implicits
1 Guide
1.1 Rash
2 Stability
3 Reference
define-syntax-implicit
with-syntax-implicits
splicing-with-syntax-implicits
syntax-implicit-value
4 Code and License
7.9

Syntax Implicits

William Hatch <william@hatch.uno>

 (require syntax-implicits) package: syntax-implicits

1 Guide

TL;DR: syntax implicits are basically a generalization of syntax parameters. But their use case is mostly disjoint from syntax parameters.

Syntax implicits are a way to hygienically have implicit bindings that are configurable for different scopes. In other words, some macro forms may have optional arguments with an implicit default, where that default can be configured. The configuration is done with with-syntax-implicits (or splicing-with-syntax-implicits). The with-syntax-implicits form is different from but can be compared to syntax-parameterize and let-syntax.

To motivate syntax parameters, let’s walk through a contrived example. This hello macro desugars to an expression that prints hello to some planet. If no planet is given it uses a default.

(define-syntax (hello stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(hello)
     ; In this case we want to use a default
     #'(hello 'mercury)]
    [(hello planet) #'(printf "hello ~a\n" planet)]))

What if we want to make that planet configurable, so we can write something like this:
(with-default-planet 'mars
  ; print “hello mars”
  (hello)
  ; print “hello jupiter”
  (hello 'jupiter))
 
; print “hello mercury”, the overall default
(hello)
(with-default-planet 'roshar
  ; print “hello roshar”
  (hello))

We have some options to accomplish this.

First, we could reach for syntax parameters.
(define-syntax-parameter planet (syntax-parser [(_) #''mars]))
(define-syntax (hello stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(hello)
     #'(hello (planet))]
    [(hello planet)
     #'(eprintf "hello ~a\n" planet)]))
(define-syntax (with-default-planet stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ a-planet body ...+)
     #'(syntax-parameterize ([planet (syntax-parser [(_) #'a-planet])])
         body ...)]))

This lets us configure the default planet! But there’s a catch once we consider using the hello macro in a macro template.

What do we want to happen when we write:
(with-default-planet 'jupiter
  (define-syntax hello-jupiter
    (syntax-parser [(_) #'(hello)])))

The name indicates that we want hello-jupiter uses to say “hello jupiter”, and the hello macro is indeed defined in a with-default-planet that says jupiter. Now let’s use it:
(with-default-planet 'jupiter
  (define-syntax hello-jupiter
    (syntax-parser [(_) #'(hello)]))
  ; This seems to work...
  (hello-jupiter)
  (with-default-planet 'neptune
    ; This will print “hello neptune”!
    (hello-jupiter)))

Now, if we want the “configuration” to always be tied to the innermost configuration at the use site of the hello-jupiter macro, then syntax parameters are great. But that’s clearly not the intended thing here, where we want to be able to choose a default at the hello-jupiter definition site that carries through to the use site.

For our second option, we could decide we don’t care about hygiene and use a let-syntax and manual hygiene-bending.
; Define the overall default
(define-syntax (planet stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_) #''mars]))
(define-syntax (hello stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(hello)
     ; Here we bend hygiene so we refer to the binding of
     ; the symbol `planet` at the `hello` use site, which is
     ; the definition site of a macro that uses `hello`
     ; in its template.
     #`(hello #,(datum->syntax stx (list 'planet)))]
    [(hello planet) #'(printf "hello ~a\n" planet)]))
(define-syntax (with-default-planet stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ a-planet body ...+)
     ; Here we bend syntax so we are introducing a binding with
     ; the scope of the `with-default-planet` use site.
     #`(let-syntax ([#,(datum->syntax stx 'planet)
                     (syntax-parser [(_) #'a-planet])])
         body ...)]))
 
(with-default-planet 'jupiter
  (define-syntax hello-jupiter
    (syntax-parser [(_) #'(hello)]))
  (hello))

This version gives us the effect of binding the configuration at the hello use site. However, now it’s not hygienic. If the user of hello and with-default-planet happens to have some other definition of the symbol planet, it will be captured by with-default-planet.

(let ([planet (λ () 'uranus)])
  (with-default-planet 'jupiter
    (define-syntax hello-jupiter
      (syntax-parser [(_) #'(hello)]))
    (with-default-planet 'saturn
      ; This prints “hello jupiter” like we wanted!
      (hello-jupiter)
      ; But...
      ; This will print “hello saturn”, despite the apparent
      ; lexical binding of `planet` being `'uranus`!
      (hello (planet)))))

Also, if we for some reason wanted to hide the value of ‘planet‘ so it couldn’t be used (eg. a private opaque flag of some sort), we couldn’t help but leak it because we have to provide the overall default ‘planet‘ binding in the first place, and we can’t even change its name. As you probably suspected, hygiene bending is not good for building abstractions!

The solution is syntax implicits. Syntax implicits provide a hygienic way to have configurable syntax-parameter-like identifiers that get their value anchored at different lexical sites.

(define-syntax-implicit planet (syntax-parser [(_) #''mercury]))
(define-syntax (hello stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    ; We put the context of `stx` on the parentheses,
    ; anchoring the use of `planet` to the use site
    ; of the `hello` macro.
    ; If we didn't change the context of the parentheses
    ; we would always be getting the value of `planet`
    ; from this macro template's context.
    ; But note that we are using the identifier `planet`
    ; with the context of this template, so it's always
    ; referring to the syntax-implicit defined above,
    ; not capturing some local binding of `planet`.
    [(_) #`(hello #,(datum->syntax stx (list #'planet)))]
    [(_ planet) #'(printf "hello ~a\n" planet)]))
(define-syntax (with-default-planet stx)
  (syntax-parse stx
    [(_ a-planet body ...+)
     #'(with-syntax-implicits ([planet (syntax-parser [(_) #'a-planet])])
         body ...)]))
 
(let ([planet (λ () 'uranus)])
  (with-default-planet 'jupiter
    (define-syntax hello-jupiter
      (syntax-parser [(_) #'(hello)]))
    (with-default-planet 'middle-earth
      ; Prints “hello middle-earth”.
      (hello)
      ; Correctly prints “hello jupiter”.
      (hello-jupiter)
      ; No capture of local variables like `planet`.
      (hello (planet)))))

This version works as expected – hello-jupiter prints “hello jupiter” whether it’s in a with-default-planet or not, users can use the name planet without it being captured, and in fact the binding of planet doesn’t even need to be provided to users, so it can safely hold eg. a private flag value.

The hello example is dumb and contrived, but highlights a real problem for macros that want configurable defaults. However, it’s not the end of the story. What about macros that define macros that want the configuration captured at the use site (IE the definition site of the inner macro)? You could imagine a chain of macro definitions where each macro defines a new macro up to arbitrary depth N, where you may want the configuration to be based on the definition site of any macro from the first to the Nth (or the use site, which corresponds to definition sites 2 to N+1). By using syntax-implicit-value in the appropriate template, you can choose which definition/use site the macro chain uses to get the binding.

So we can compare normal identifier binding with define-syntax or let-syntax, “dynamic” or “floating” binding with syntax parameters, and anchored binding with syntax-implicits.

If you imagine synatx implicits allowing you to choose site 1 to N+1, syntax parameters are like syntax implicits that are automatically anchored at site N+1. However, if site N+1 is what you always want, syntax implicits are more unwieldy than syntax parameters because you have to take more effort to explicitly specify that. Importantly, site N+1 in a chain of macros by different authors would require cooperation between those authors – it’s not really realistic to manually use syntax implicits as a replacement for syntax-parameters.

Another way to look at syntax implicits is that they are like the implicit identifiers in Racket such as #%app, #%datum, and so on which are automatically inserted by the macro expander. But syntax implicits are hygienic, unlike those identifiers. When discussing Racket, people often say “there are no special names, not even lambda”. But there are special names – #%app and friends! If they were implemented by inserting syntax implicits instead of inserting identifiers there could really be no special names.

1.1 Rash

More realistically, but with less detail, I’ll explain the original motivation for syntax implicits. In the Rash shell language there are several macros with optional arguments where I wanted users to be able to configure the value. For example, the default pipeline starter, the default line macro, etc. I wanted configurability for most default arguments, so that different users (and the same user in different contexts) could choose which is the best default, or make shorthand macros with appropriate defaults that still allows overriding. I originally started using syntax parameters, until I realized that they had the wrong semantics. I made a one-off version of syntax implicits for one implicit thing, then another, then decided I should make a re-usable library. Well, finally, I’m making this library to that end.

2 Stability

I’m afraid of commitment. So I don’t want to commit to stability right now. That said, I don’t think I’ll need to change the API in the future. So... maybe let me know if you want to rely on it and maybe I’ll commit to stability at that point.

3 Reference

syntax

(define-syntax-implicit name default-value)

Defines a syntax implicit. The default-value is used whenever name is used outside of any with-syntax-implicits. The value of a syntax implicit is often a syntax transformer (eg. via syntax-parser), but could be something else. When a syntax implicit is used as a macro, the context for which value to use is retrieved from the parentheses of the macro call.

syntax

(with-syntax-implicits ([implicit value] ...) body ...)

Configures syntax implicits to have the given values in the body forms.

Note that the fields of this macro are at different phases, similar to let-syntax or syntax-parameterize. The name of each implicit and the body are both at the same phase as the with-syntax-implicits macro use, while the value for each implicit is at phase +1 relative to the macro use phase.

syntax

(splicing-with-syntax-implicits ([implicit value] ...) body ...)

Like with-syntax-implicits, but splices into definition forms in the manner of splicing-let-syntax or splicing-syntax-parameterize.

procedure

(syntax-implicit-value id    
  [#:context context])  any/c
  id : identifier?
  context : syntax? = id
Provided for-syntax.

The id must be bound to a syntax implicit. Gives the value of the implicit for context. This is particularly useful for situations where you want the syntax implicit to be some value other than a macro transformer, or for situations where you can’t add the appropriate context to a parenthesis (eg. an identifier macro).

4 Code and License

The code is available on github.

This library is distributed under the MIT license and the Apache version 2.0 license, at your option. (IE same license as Racket.)