Ryan Rawson <>
Wed Aug 23 19:43:54 CEST 2006

Meta functions? like as in scheme:

(define (lambda (x y)
                  (lambda (x)
                       (* x y) ) ) )


I think Erlang has a very weak meta programming ability.  You can't
define your "meta functions" in the language - they are strings.

An excellent blog article:

Talks about the same thing in Ruby - Ruby has limited metaprogramming
abilities, mostly turning text strings into functions.  Steve (the
author) talks about why this is less than desirable and how and why a
fuller metaprogramming model is preferable.


On 8/23/06, Yariv Sadan <> wrote:
> hi Jay,
> Thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts about metaprogramming
> with Erlang. When I first created Smerl, I knew I was just scratching
> the surface of what one could do with the ability for manipulating
> Erlang modules on the fly, and I was waiting to see what ideas other
> people will come up with.
> I have actually been using Smerl quite a lot, and over time I have
> discovered I needed some higher level features from Smerl that go
> beyond adding and removing functions to modules: metacurrying,
> parameter embedding and module extensions. To implement these
> features, Smerl performs deep surgery inside a function's abstract
> form. Is that "real" metaprogramming?
> Side note: when I created Smerl, I didn't mean to suggest necessarily
> that Smerl *does* metaprogramming, but rather that Smerl facilitates
> metaprogramming. At least with the basic Smerl features, the
> programmer does the actual metaprogramming.
> The techniques that Smerl use (or at least some of them) have been
> done before, at least in Ulf Wiger's rdbms_codegen.erl module. Smerl
> just makes such metaprogramming wizardry easier to accomplish.
> What is metaprogramming? According to wikipedia:
> "Metaprogramming is the writing of programs that write or manipulate
> other programs (or themselves) as their data or that do part of the
> work that is otherwise done at compile time during runtime. In many
> cases, this allows programmers to get more done in the same amount of
> time as they would take to write all the code manually.
> The language in which the metaprogram is written is called the
> metalanguage. The language of the programs that are manipulated is
> called the object-language. The capacity of a programming language to
> be its own meta-language is called reflexivity."
> By this definition, Erlang is a reflexive language, because it allows
> the programmer to write programs that write or manipulate other
> programs. Smerl doesn't add this capability to Erlang -- it only
> exposes it and makes it easier to use.
> > To me metaprogramming is writing code that dynamically changes the rules
> > of the language.
> Using Smerl in my project, I am certainly using Erlang very
> differently. I'm creating a lot of metafunctions (skeletons for
> functions that are to be metacurried in runtime) and abstract modules
> to be used as parents for modules that are to be generated in runtime.
> Does that mean Smerl changes the rules of the language? I guess it all
> depends on your definition.
> I think it does :)
> Best,
> Yariv
> On 8/23/06, Jay Nelson <> wrote:
> > When I first saw the smerl post my thinking went like this:
> >
> >    - Normal programs execute and return a value
> >    - When I program, I generate source code and run the compiler
> >    - smerl is just doing normal programming
> >
> > This is a step up from executing, but it is programming.
> >
> > Then I looked on wikipedia and they call Generative Programming a
> > metaprogramming technique, so a for loop that spits out source code is
> > metaprogramming.  I guess it is a question of what your background is in
> > making a determination like that.
> >
> > I progressed through programming languages in the following order:
> >
> > 1) Basic
> > 2) APL
> > 3) RPG
> > 4) Prolog
> > 5) Lisp / Flavors (Symbolics) / Common Lisp Object System (CLOS)
> > 6) C then C++
> > 7) Perl
> > 8) erlang
> > 9) C#
> >
> > I guess I learned some SNOBOL between 5 & 6 and REFAL around the same
> > time.  5 was a progression of 3 different eras.
> >
> > I can't recall ever hearing the term 'quasi-quote' or
> > 'quasi-expression'.  Macros and backquotes were just part of the Lisp
> > language.
> >
> > When I got to C is when I got confused.  It seemed like the language
> > wasn't finished.  Here's what happened when I first start using it:
> >
> > Me: "What is all this malloc / free nonsense?  I've never had to do this
> > before."
> > Coworker (CW): "What do you mean?  All languages require memory management."
> > Me: "I haven't done this in 15 years of programming. Ever."
> >
> > Me: "Ok, show me how to figure out what is wrong."
> > CW: "Fire up the debugger."
> > Me: "Good, I know what that is...   Hmm, what's the value of this thing
> > all in caps?"
> > CW: "It can't tell you, that's a macro.  It's not part of the program."
> > Me: "??  How can that be a macro if it never executes?  It sounds like
> > an editor expansion that somehow escaped from from its environment."
> > Me: "Ok, let me create a new variable and evaluate the expression it
> > represents."
> > CW: "You can't create a new variable silly."
> > Me: "?? Ok, step into the function.  Wait, I see... the incoming arg is
> > wrong.  Let's step back and change it."
> > CW: "No can do."
> > Me: "??  Ok, mentally I'll assume it is changed and...  oh I see the
> > problem.  Let's change this function and continue!"
> > CW: "What planet did you come from?  This is just a debugger!"
> > Me: "Isn't a debugger the thing you use to write code?  You type it in
> > to the listener and you modify it in the debugger.  When you're done you
> > dump it in an editor using the pretty printer.  How do you guys write code?"
> >
> > And that was 15 years ago.  Now it is possible to use Visual programming
> > tools... although you still can't program in the debugger.
> >
> >
> > To me metaprogramming is writing code that dynamically changes the rules
> > of the language.  Writing source code and calling the compiler isn't
> > even generative programming because it feels like using a tool chain to
> > script a series of things a human does at the keyboard.  Generating code
> > (typically attributes, like when receiving a new XML stream with new
> > attributes) that was not there when the compiler first ran is standard
> > fare for a dynamic, runtime language.  Although I've not yet seen one
> > code example in a commercial environment with XML where the
> > implementation has to be recompiled to accept the new attributes.  Why?
> > Because they use static languages and adding a new atom or string is
> > runtime wizardry equated with automatic programming.
> >
> > If you want to see how metaprogramming really works, read "Art of the
> > MetaObject Protocol" by Gregor Kiczales and Jim de Rivieres.  This book
> > is as eye opening as reading a first book on how neutron stars become
> > black holes.  It will either blow your mind or prevent you from having
> > fun writing normal programs again.  Every programmer should read this book.
> >
> > [For those without the time, the book explains how OO is implemented in
> > Lisp using StandardObject, StandardClass and StandardMethod and then
> > shows how you can subclass those instances to **change the behavior of
> > the object system** for example using a different implementation for
> > storing a class or changing the semantics of inheritance or invoking a
> > method.]
> >
> > On further reflection, the metaprogramming in the book is modifying the
> > object-oriented system not Lisp itself.  At some point all things bottom
> > out or else there are no assumptions the system makes.  The reason Lisp
> > was so great was because data and code were one (in the greatest zen
> > sense) so that you could manipulate code with the same ease as data.
> > You didn't need to use a different language or API and then call a
> > compiler and some other arcane incantations.
> >
> >
> > Just some ramblings.  Not to detract from smerl which may prove to be a
> > useful tool for erlang. Judging from wikipedia I am definitely in the
> > minority on the classification of metaprogramming.
> >
> > It's just that erlang is structured with a VM and internal
> > representations and weak text-substitution macros, so this area of
> > research has rather limited potential IMHO.
> >
> > jay
> >
> >

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