Chapter 9: Meta-programming

Where we take a peek behind the curtains of the compiler.

Metaprogramming is the art of making programs... that make programs.

There are many techniques and tools for achieving this, but one that is very familiar to Lisp fans is to use macros to generate code at compile-time.

However, we're not going to talk about macros in this chapter.

Instead, I'll reveal the infrastructure that makes macros possible, and we'll discuss macros in the next chapter.

The Lux type

Yeah, I'm aware that it's weird there's a type with the same name as the language, but I couldn't figure out a better name.

The Lux compiler was designed to integrate very well with the language itself.

Most compilers are just programs that take source code and emit some binary executable or some byte-code.

But the Lux compiler opens itself for usage within Lux programs and provides Lux programmers with a wealth of information.

The Lux type enters the stage.

(type .public Lux
  (Rec Lux
     [#info            Info
      #source          Source
      #location        Location
      #current_module  (Maybe Text)
      #modules         (List [Text Module])
      #scopes          (List Scope)
      #type_context    Type_Context
      #expected        (Maybe Type)
      #seed            Nat
      #scope_type_vars (List Nat)
      #extensions      Any
      #eval            (-> Type Code (-> Lux (Either Text [Lux Any])))
      #host            Any])))
By the way, the `Lux` type and other weird types you may not recognize there are all defined in the `library/lux` module.
Check [the documentation for the Standard Library]( for more details.

The Lux type represents the state of the Lux compiler at any given point.

It is not a reflection of that state, or a subset of it.

It is the state of the Lux compiler; and, as you can see, it contains quite a lot of information about compiled modules, the state of the type-checker, the lexical and global environments, and more.

Heck, you can even access the yet-unprocessed source code of a module at any given time.

That's pretty neat.

You can actually write computations that can read and even modify (careful with that one) the state of the compiler.

This turns out to be massively useful when implementing a variety of powerful macros.

For example, remember the use and at macros from chapter 7?

They actually look up the typing information for the structures you give them to figure out the names of members and generate the code necessary to get that functionality going.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The possibilities are really vast when it comes to using the information provided by the Lux compiler state.

The Meta type

But, how do I use it?

Well, that is where the Meta type and the library/lux/meta module come into play.

The library/lux/meta module houses many functions for querying the Lux compiler state for information, and even to change it a little bit (in safe ways).

I won't go into detail about what's available, but you'll quickly get an idea of what you can do if you read the documentation for it in the Standard Library.

However, one thing I will say is that those functions rely heavily on the Meta type, which is defined thusly:

(type .public (Meta a)
  (-> Lux (Either Text [Lux a])))
The `Meta` type is defined in the `library/lux` module, although most functions that deal with it are in the `library/lux/meta` module.

The Meta type has a Functor, and a Monad, but they are a bit rather complicated.

You saw some Functor/Monad examples in the last chapter, but this is more colorful.

Meta instances are functions that given an instance of the Lux compiler state, will perform some calculations which may fail (with an error message); but if they succeed, they yield a value, plus a (possibly updated) instance of the Lux compiler state.

Lux metaprogramming is based heavily on the Meta type, and macros themselves rely on it for many of their functionalities, as you'll see in the next chapter.

Where do Lux instances come from?

Clearly, Lux instances are data, but the compiler is not available at all times.

The compiler is only ever present during... well... compilation.

And that is precisely when all of your Lux-dependant code will execute.

Basically, in order for you to get your hands on that sweet compiler information, your code must be run at compile-time.

But only macro code can ever do that, so you will have to wait until the next chapter to learn the conclusion to this story.

This chapter feels a little empty because the topic only makes sense within the context of macros.

But macros by themselves are a huge subject, and involve more machinery than you've seen so far.

However, I wanted to give you a taste of what's possible in order to whet your appetite, while keeping the chapter focused.

In the next chapter, I'll complete this puzzle, and you'll be given access to a power greater than you've ever known (unless you've already been a lisper for a while).

See you in the next chapter!