SteelSeries GoLisp Is Now Opensource

16 Jul 2014

by Dave Astels

I posted a teaser for SteelSeries GoLisp a while ago. I’m pleased to announce that we’ve now opensourced it.

SteelSeries GoLisp is a relatively complete implementation of the core of a Scheme flavored Lisp. It supports a Scheme style of lexical scoping, and includes a sizable number of core built-in functions. A macro facility is included, as well. Other than some of the more esoteric functions being missing, it should be usable for running code from SICP.

SteelSeries GoLisp is completely implemented in Go. Our reason for building this was for use as an embeddable scripting environment for our Go application. It is very easy to run Lisp code from Go, either by loading Lisp source files, or by evaluating a string of Lisp code. Furthermore, you can easily add primitive functions, written in Go, in your application without having to edit any of the GoLisp code.

For details on the language, see the full language reference.

I’ve prepared a little application to show how GoLisp can be embedded and used. You can clone/fork it from

The repo for GoLisp is at

Calling Lisp from Go

The example is based on an equation evaluator that accepts simple algebraic equations using basic operators and parentheses, such as:

2+3 => 5
2+3*4 => 24
(2+3)*4 => 20

Starting with that, I integrated GoLisp. My first step was to add support for using lisp functions in equations. The convert2postfix function gets a branch to handle function names, along with theisLispFunction predicate.

The function handler creates a Symbol from the token and looks it up in GoLisp’s global environment frame. This makes sure it is a name known to GoLisp. Then I check that it is, indeed, a function. If either check fails, it returns an error. Otherwise I push the token onto the functions stack which keeps track of the names and nesting as well as whether it’s in an argument list. I also needed to quietly ignore the argument separating commas.

var func_rx = regexp.MustCompile(`([a-zA-Z\-\_]+)`)

func isLispFunction(token string) bool {
    return func_rx.MatchString(token)

var stack Stack
var functions Stack

for _, token := range tokens {

    if isLispFunction(token) {
        f := Global.ValueOf(SymbolWithName(token))
        if NilP(f) {
            err = errors.New(fmt.Sprintf("No function named %s", token))
        } else if !FunctionP(f) {
            err = errors.New(fmt.Sprintf("%s is not a function", token))
        } else {

    } else if token == "," {

    } else if isOperator(token) {

Later in the function, I need to tweak the closing paren handler to insert the function name into the result and pop it from the functions stack if the paren closes an argument list


} else if token == ")" {
    for {
        top, err := stack.Top()
        if err == nil && top != "(" {
            pop, _ := stack.Pop()
            result = append(result, pop.(string))
        } else {
            stack.Pop() // pop off "("
            if !functions.IsEmpty() {
                f, _ := functions.Pop()
                result = append(result, f.(string))
            break PAREN

That lets us have things like foo(2,4*6) get converted to 2, 4, 6, *, foo in the postfix array. Next I need to handle GoLisp functions in the evaluator. To do that I added the following branch to the evaluatePostfix function:

} else if isLispFunction(token) {
    //"<token>(<float1> <float2>...)"
    f := Global.ValueOf(SymbolWithName(token))
    var numberOfArgs = 0
    if TypeOf(f) == FunctionType {
        numberOfArgs = f.Func.RequiredArgCount
    } else if TypeOf(f) == PrimitiveType {
        numberOfArgs = f.Prim.NumberOfArgs

    var args []*Data

    // collect args
    for i := 0; i < numberOfArgs; i++ {
        op, err := stack.Pop()
        if err != nil {
            return nil, err
        float := BigratToFloat(op.(*big.Rat))
        args = append(args, FloatWithValue(float32(float)))
    val, err := Apply(f, Reverse(ArrayToList(args)), Global)
    if err != nil {
        return nil, err
    result = FloatToBigrat(float64(FloatValue(val)))
} else {

This starts by fetching the value of the function name token from the global environment frame. Note that I’ve already checked it’s validity in the infix->postfix converter. Then, based on whether it is a user defined or primitive function, I extract the number of arguments it expects. There is a limitation here in that you can’t use primitives that can take a variable number of functions. This could be dealt with by keeping a count of arguments provided and using that. That would also allow us to do argument count validation.

Once I know how many arguments are expected, I pop them off the stack and build an array of GoLisp floating point values. The array is then converted to a GoLisp list (which has to be reversed due to the effect of having popped the arguments) to which the named function is applied. This passes control to the GoLisp runtime which does the evaluation.

That’s one side of the integration.

When the app starts up it loads in any .lsp files in the lisp directory. The example repo contains the following in functions.lsp:

(define (fact x)
  (cond ((< x 2) 1)
        (else (* x (fact (- x 1))))))

(define (double-fact x)
  (* 2 (go-fact x)))

(define (multiply x y)
  (* x y))

(define (scale x)
  (* x CONSTANT))

I can now use the functions fact and multiply in some equations (I’ll discuss the rest a bit later):

> fact(4)
==> 24/1
> fact(2+2)
==> 24/1
> fact(4)*2
==> 48/1
> multiply(3,5)
==> 15/1
> multiply(2,fact(4))
==> 48/1

Defining Lisp primitives in Go

Now let’s look at the other side of integration: calling Go from Lisp. Have a look at the file lisp_prims.go. In it I define a constant for use in Lisp as well as the go-fact function I used from the double-fact function in functions.lsp. I’ll step through it now.

The usual package and imports as required. Notice that I import golisp, and alias it to . to make the code less wordy.

import (
    . ""

Next is an initializer. Since I import golisp, the lisp runtime is setup by the time this initializer is executed, so I can use the Global environment frame.

First, a global identifier CONSTANT is define (aka bound to) the floating point value 42.0. Any global constant you desire can be created in this way and will be available in your lisp code, e.g. the scale function:

> scale(2)
==> 84/1

Next a primitive function is defined. In this case it is namedgo-fact, takes a single argument, and is implemented by the Go function GoFactImpl. The binding is placed in the global environment frame.

func init() {
    Global.BindTo(SymbolWithName("CONSTANT"), FloatWithValue(float32(42.0)))
    MakePrimitiveFunction("go-fact", 1, GoFactImpl)

Now for the primative’s implementation. Every primitive implementation function has an identical signature (other than name). They take a Lisp list of arguments and the environment top evaluate in. They return the result as a Lisp object, as well as a possible error.

By definition, primitives receive their argument unevaluated, so if it’s called with a symbol as an argument, e.g. (go-fact x) it’s first argument will be the symbol, e.g. x. The first step is usually to evaluate the arguments and do any required type checks. I know there is a single argument, so I simply Eval(Car(args)). That results in a Lisp value and a possible error. The error is handled however is appropriate, which is often simply to return it.

func GoFactImpl(args *Data, env *SymbolTableFrame) (result *Data, err error) {
    val, err := Eval(Car(args), env)
    if err != nil {

Now that the argument has been evaluated without error, I can check that it’s the type I expect: in this case a float.

    if !FloatP(val) {
        return nil, errors.New("go-fact requires a float argument")

Then I can confidently extract the Go value. In this case since I need an integer for computing a factorial, I’ll convert it now.

    n := int(FloatValue(val))

Then it’s just a matter of doing what the function should do: compute the factorial.

    f := 1
    for i := 1; i <= n; i++ {
        f *= i

Now that I have the result, I convert it back to a lisp value and return it.

    return FloatWithValue(float32(f)), nil

And that’s it. Now I can use go-fact in the equations:

> go-fact(4)
==> 24/1

Code in Go, calling into Lisp, which calls back into Go. The cycle is complete.