Loops in Lisp Part 3: Iterate

This is part 3 of Loops in Lisp. For part 1 on how you can build any kind of looping construct you want out of just goto and macros, click here. For part 2 on Loop, click here.

The Iterate library is pretty awesome. It provides a macro iterate (and an alias for it, iter) that is basically a Lispy version of loop. The most obvious consequence of this is that iterate uses a lot more parens than loop does:

;; Loop code
(loop for i from 1 to 10
      collect i)

;; Iterate code
(iter (for i from 1 to 10)
      (collect i))

Even though all of the extra parens make iterate much uglier than loop, they give iterate all of the advantages of Lisp syntax. One such advantage is the ability to embed iterate clauses within Lisp code and vice versa. While you cant do this with loop, you can do it with iterate because the syntax of iterate is so similar to the syntax of ordinary Lisp code. Here is what happens when you try to embed a collect clause within Lisp code with loop and with iterate:1

;; Not valid loop code.
(loop for i from 1 to 10
      do (when (evenp i)
           (collect i)))

;; Valid iterate code
(iter (for i from 1 to 10)
      (when (evenp i)
        (collect i)))

Although the ability to seamlessly go between Lisp code and iterate is pretty awesome, the greatest feature provided by iterate is also the entire reason why Lisp syntax has so many parens in the first place. Lisp syntax (and by extension iterate) makes it easy to write macros! Because of this, you can add pretty much any feature you want to iterate. As a simple example, heres how you could define an iterate clause specifically for looping over the digits of a number:2

(defun digits (n)
  "Returns a list of the digits of N."
  (map 'list #'digit-char-p (princ-to-string n)))

(defmacro-clause (for var in-digits-of n)
  `(for ,var in (digits ,n)))

And here is how you would use it:

(iter (for i in-digits-of 123)
      (sum i))
=> 6

I cannot express how awesome this is. If you want an iterate clause for iterating over SQL queries, you can add it. If you want an iterate clause for looping over your own custom data structure, you can add it. You can add any feature you want all because iterate allows for the use of macros!

Personally, I prefer to use iterate over loop. Even though it is uglier, it is much more extensible than loop because it decides to use a Lisp like syntax.

  1. It is possible to write a valid version of the loop code below by using the version of when provided by loop. Although that trick works for this specific case, it doesn’t allow for the use of arbitrary Lisp expressions like iterate does.
  2. Defmacro-clause is a macro provided by Iterate that can be used to define new iterate clauses.

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