1.2 Lisp History

Lisp (LISt Processing language) was first developed in the late 1950s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for research in artificial intelligence. The great power of the Lisp language makes it ideal for other purposes as well, such as writing editing commands.

Dozens of Lisp implementations have been built over the years, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Many of them were inspired by Maclisp, which was written in the 1960s at MIT’s Project MAC. Eventually the implementers of the descendants of Maclisp came together and developed a standard for Lisp systems, called Common Lisp. In the meantime, Gerry Sussman and Guy Steele at MIT developed a simplified but very powerful dialect of Lisp, called Scheme.

GNU Emacs Lisp is largely inspired by Maclisp, and a little by Common Lisp. If you know Common Lisp, you will notice many similarities. However, many features of Common Lisp have been omitted or simplified in order to reduce the memory requirements of GNU Emacs. Sometimes the simplifications are so drastic that a Common Lisp user might be very confused. We will occasionally point out how GNU Emacs Lisp differs from Common Lisp. If you don’t know Common Lisp, don’t worry about it; this manual is self-contained.

A certain amount of Common Lisp emulation is available via the cl-lib library. See Overview in Common Lisp Extensions.

Emacs Lisp is not at all influenced by Scheme; but the GNU project has an implementation of Scheme, called Guile. We use it in all new GNU software that calls for extensibility.