1.2 Combining with C Code

Like a shell, Guile can run interactively—reading expressions from the user, evaluating them, and displaying the results—or as a script interpreter, reading and executing Scheme code from a file. Guile also provides an object library, libguile, that allows other applications to easily incorporate a complete Scheme interpreter. An application can then use Guile as an extension language, a clean and powerful configuration language, or as multi-purpose “glue”, connecting primitives provided by the application. It is easy to call Scheme code from C code and vice versa, giving the application designer full control of how and when to invoke the interpreter. Applications can add new functions, data types, control structures, and even syntax to Guile, creating a domain-specific language tailored to the task at hand, but based on a robust language design.

This kind of combination is helped by four aspects of Guile’s design and history. First is that Guile has always been targeted as an extension language. Hence its C API has always been of great importance, and has been developed accordingly. Second and third are rather technical points—that Guile uses conservative garbage collection, and that it implements the Scheme concept of continuations by copying and reinstating the C stack—but whose practical consequence is that most existing C code can be glued into Guile as is, without needing modifications to cope with strange Scheme execution flows. Last is the module system, which helps extensions to coexist without stepping on each others’ toes.

Guile’s module system allows one to break up a large program into manageable sections with well-defined interfaces between them. Modules may contain a mixture of interpreted and compiled code; Guile can use either static or dynamic linking to incorporate compiled code. Modules also encourage developers to package up useful collections of routines for general distribution; as of this writing, one can find Emacs interfaces, database access routines, compilers, GUI toolkit interfaces, and HTTP client functions, among others.