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Re: letrec semantics

From: Alexander Asteroth
Subject: Re: letrec semantics
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2022 18:23:32 +0100
User-agent: mu4e 1.8.11; emacs 28.2

Dear Jean,

thanks for pointing that out which confirmed my interpretation of the


On Mon, Nov 28 2022, 10:25:46, Jean Abou Samra <> wrote:

> [[PGP Signed Part:Undecided]]
> Le 28/11/2022 à 09:33, Alexander Asteroth a écrit :
>  Dear all,
> I know this topic has been discussed in the past. I found at least one
> discussion in 2003 in which in the end referred to
> even earlier discussions in comp.lang.scheme. But still I'm confused
> about this and wonder if someone could help with this or point me to a
> discussion that resolves the following issue.
> In R5RS it sais about letrec:
>  Semantics: The 〈variable〉s are bound to fresh locations
> holding undefined values, the 〈init〉s are evaluated in the
> resulting environment (in some unspecified order), each
> 〈variable〉 is assigned to the result of the corresponding
> 〈init〉, the 〈body〉 is evaluated in the resulting environmet [...]
> As I (and others) understand 
>  scheme@(guile-user)> (letrec ((b a)(a 7)) b)
> $1 = 7
> should be equivalent (of course in a new scope) to:
>  scheme@(guile-user)> (define b #nil)
> scheme@(guile-user)> (define a #nil)
> scheme@(guile-user)> (set! b a)
> scheme@(guile-user)> (set! a 7)
> scheme@(guile-user)> b
> $2 = #nil
> but obviously it is't. Why is b assigned to a's reference rather than
> it's value in letrec? ... and would it be a correct implementation of
> R5RS-letrec to return #nil from the letrec above?
> Interesting. R5RS says:
> “One restriction on letrec is very important: it must be possible
> to evaluate each <init> without assigning or referring to the value of
> any <variable>. If this restriction is violated, then it is an error.
> The restriction is necessary because Scheme passes arguments by value
> rather than by name. In the most common uses of letrec, all the <init>s
> are lambda expressions and the restriction is satisfied automatically.”
> Note that “it is an error” does not mean that an error must be raised.
> This is clarified in the section “Error situations and unspecified behavior”:
> “When speaking of an error situation, this report uses the phrase ``an error
> is signalled'' to indicate that implementations must detect and report the
> error. If such wording does not appear in the discussion of an error,
> then implementations are not required to detect or report the error, though
> they are encouraged to do so. An error situation that implementations are
> not required to detect is usually referred to simply as ``an error.''”
> Therefore, your program is buggy, and what Guile does is R5RS-conformant 
> because
> R5RS does not define this case.
> However, R6RS differs from R5RS on this point:
> “Implementation responsibilities: Implementations must de-
> tect references to a 〈variable〉 during the evaluation of the〈init〉expressions
> (using one particular evaluation order and order of evaluating the 〈init〉
> expressions).If an implementation detects such a violation of the restriction,
> it must raise an exception with condition type &assertion.”
> Therefore, according to R6RS, Guile is buggy because it should raise
> an error in this case.
> Best,
> Jean
> [[End of PGP Signed Part]]

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