Languages as Libraries, PLDI 2011

We've just finished up the final version of our PLDI 2011 paper on language extension in Racket. The paper describes how the module system and the syntax system work together to support new languages with new static semantics, such as Typed Racket. Here's the abstract:

Programming language design benefits from constructs for extending the syntax and semantics of a host language. While C's string-based macros empower programmers to introduce notational shorthands, the parser-level macros of Lisp encourage experimentation with domain-specific languages. The Scheme programming language improves on Lisp with macros that respect lexical scope.

The design of Racket—a descendant of Scheme—goes even further with the introduction of a full-fledged interface to the static semantics of the language. A Racket extension programmer can thus add constructs that are indistinguishable from “native” notation, large and complex embedded domain-specific languages, and even optimizing transformations for the compiler backend. This power to experiment with language design has been used to create a series of sub-languages for programming with first-class classes and modules, numerous languages for implementing the Racket system, and the creation of a complete and fully integrated typed sister language to Racket's untyped base language.

This paper explains Racket's language extension API via an implementation of a small typed sister language. The new language provides a rich type system that accommodates the idioms of untyped Racket. Furthermore, modules in this typed language can safely exchange values with untyped modules. Last but not least, the implementation includes a type-based optimizer that achieves promising speedups. Although these extensions are complex, their Racket implementation is just a library, like any other library, requiring no changes to the Racket implementation.

To learn how to implement your own new language in Racket, start with this documentation.