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13.2 Expansion of a Macro Call

A macro call looks just like a function call in that it is a list which starts with the name of the macro. The rest of the elements of the list are the arguments of the macro.

Evaluation of the macro call begins like evaluation of a function call except for one crucial difference: the macro arguments are the actual expressions appearing in the macro call. They are not evaluated before they are given to the macro definition. By contrast, the arguments of a function are results of evaluating the elements of the function call list.

Having obtained the arguments, Lisp invokes the macro definition just as a function is invoked. The argument variables of the macro are bound to the argument values from the macro call, or to a list of them in the case of a &rest argument. And the macro body executes and returns its value just as a function body does.

The second crucial difference between macros and functions is that the value returned by the macro body is an alternate Lisp expression, also known as the expansion of the macro. The Lisp interpreter proceeds to evaluate the expansion as soon as it comes back from the macro.

Since the expansion is evaluated in the normal manner, it may contain calls to other macros. It may even be a call to the same macro, though this is unusual.

Note that Emacs tries to expand macros when loading an uncompiled Lisp file. This is not always possible, but if it is, it speeds up subsequent execution. See How Programs Do Loading.

You can see the expansion of a given macro call by calling macroexpand.

— Function: macroexpand form &optional environment

This function expands form, if it is a macro call. If the result is another macro call, it is expanded in turn, until something which is not a macro call results. That is the value returned by macroexpand. If form is not a macro call to begin with, it is returned as given.

Note that macroexpand does not look at the subexpressions of form (although some macro definitions may do so). Even if they are macro calls themselves, macroexpand does not expand them.

The function macroexpand does not expand calls to inline functions. Normally there is no need for that, since a call to an inline function is no harder to understand than a call to an ordinary function.

If environment is provided, it specifies an alist of macro definitions that shadow the currently defined macros. Byte compilation uses this feature.

          (defmacro inc (var)
              (list 'setq var (list '1+ var)))
          
          (macroexpand '(inc r))
               ⇒ (setq r (1+ r))
          
          (defmacro inc2 (var1 var2)
              (list 'progn (list 'inc var1) (list 'inc var2)))
          
          (macroexpand '(inc2 r s))
               ⇒ (progn (inc r) (inc s))  ; inc not expanded here.
— Function: macroexpand-all form &optional environment

macroexpand-all expands macros like macroexpand, but will look for and expand all macros in form, not just at the top-level. If no macros are expanded, the return value is eq to form.

Repeating the example used for macroexpand above with macroexpand-all, we see that macroexpand-all does expand the embedded calls to inc:

          (macroexpand-all '(inc2 r s))
               ⇒ (progn (setq r (1+ r)) (setq s (1+ s)))
— Function: macroexpand-1 form &optional environment

This function expands macros like macroexpand, but it only performs one step of the expansion: if the result is another macro call, macroexpand-1 will not expand it.