Potion Lang

 ~ p ooOOOo tion ~
      oO      %% a little
        Oo    fast language.
   ___/ /          
 /v^  `  ,

~ Potion! ~

Potion is an object- and mixin-oriented (traits)

Its exciting points are:

  • Just-in-time compilation to x86 and x86-64
    machine code function pointers. This means
    she’s a speedy one. Who integrates very
    well with C extensions.

    The JIT is turned on by default and is
    considered the primary mode of operation.

  • Intermediate bytecode format and VM. Load
    and dump code. Decent speed and cross-
    architecture. Heavily based on Lua’s VM.

  • A lightweight extremely fast generational copying
    Cheney GC, based on Basile Starynkevitch’s work on Qish.

  • Bootstrapped “id” object model, based on
    Ian Piumarta’s soda languages. This means
    everything in the language, including
    object allocation and interpreter state
    are part of the object model.
    (See COPYING for citations.)

  • Interpreter is thread-safe and reentrant.
    I hope this will facilitate coroutines,
    parallel interpreters and sandboxing.

  • Small. Under 10kloc. Right now we’re like
    6,000 or something. Install sloccount
    and run: make sloc.

  • Reified AST and bytecode structures. This
    is very important to me. By giving access
    to the parser and compiler, it allows people
    to target other platforms, write code analysis
    tools and even fully bootstrapped VMs. I’m
    not as concerned about the Potion VM being
    fully bootstrapped, especially as it is tied
    into the JIT so closely.

  • Memory-efficient classes. Stored like C
    structs. (Although the method lookup table
    can be used like a hash for storing arbitrary

  • The JIT is also used to speed up some other
    bottlenecks. For example, instance variable
    and method lookup tables are compiled into
    machine code.

However, some warnings:

  • Strings are immutable (like Lua) and byte
    arrays are used for I/O buffers.

  • Limited platform support for coroutines.
    This affects exceptions. I’m and feeling
    rather uninspired on the matter. Let’s hear
    from you.

  • The parser is not GC safe. This affects eval.
    Do not waste too much memory inside eval.

  • No OS threads yet.

~ a whiff of potion ~

5 times: "Odelay!" print.


add = (x, y): x + y.
add(2, 4) string print


hello =
  "(x): ('hello ', x) print." eval
hello ('world')

~ how it transpired ~

This isn’t supposed to happen!

I started playing with Lua’s internals and reading
stuff by Ian Piumarta and Nicolas Cannasse. And I,
well… I don’t know how this happened!

Turns out making a language is a lovely old time,
you should try it. If you keep it small, fit the
VM and the parser and the stdlib all into 10k
lines, then it’s no sweat.

To be fair, I’d been tinkering with the parser
for years, though.

~ the potion pledge ~


(And, incidentally, everything is a function.)

~ items to understand ~

  1. A traditional object is a tuple of data
    and methods: (D, M).

    D is kept in the object itself.
    M is kept in classes.

  2. In Potion, objects are just D.

  3. Every object has an M.

  4. But M can be altered, swapped,
    added to, removed from, whatever.

  5. Objects do not have classes.
    The M is a mixin, a collection
    of methods.

    Example: all strings have a “length”
    method. This method comes with Potion.
    It’s in the String mixin.

  6. You can swap out mixins for the span
    of a single source file.

    Example: you could give all strings a
    “backwards” method. But just for the
    code inside your test.pn script.

  7. You can re-mix for the span of a
    single closure.

To sum up:



~ unique ideas (to be implemented) ~

Potion does have a few unique features

  • It is two languages in one.

    The language itself is objects and closures.

    Number add = (x): self + x.

    But it also includes a data language.

    app = [window (width=200, height=400)
        [button "OK", button "Cancel"]]

    The code and data languages can be interleaved
    over and over again. In a way, I’m trying to find
    a middle ground between s-expressions and stuff like
    E4X. I like that s-expressions are a very light data
    syntax, but I like that E4X clearly looks like data.

    When s-expressions appear in Lisp code, they look
    like code. I think it is nice to distinguish the two.

  • Deeply nested blocks can be closed quickly.
    I don’t like significant whitespace, personally.
    But I don’t like end end end end.

      say = (phrase):
        10 times (i):
          20 times (j):
            phrase print

    The closing “_ say” ends the block saved to “say” var.

    Normally, blocks are closed with a period. In this case
    we’d need three periods, which looks strange.

      say = ():
        10 times:
          20 times:
            "Odelay!" print

    If you prefer, you can give it some space. Or you can
    use a variable name introduced by the block,

      say = (phrase):
        10 times (i):
          20 times (j):
            phrase print
      _ phrase
      say = (phrase):
        10 times (i):
          20 times (j):
            phrase print
        _ i

    Maybe it all looks strange. I don’t know. I’m just trying
    things out, okay?

  • Elimination of line noise.

    I avoid @, #, $, %, {}.
    Stick with ., |, (), [], =, !, ?. Easier on the eyes.
    These are common punctuations in English.

  • I try to defer to English when it comes to punctuation rules.

    Period means “end”. (In other langs it means “method call”.)
    Comma breaks up statements.
    Space between messages gives a noun-verb feeling.

    window open (width=400, height=500)
  • Named block args.

    (1, 2, 3) map (item=x, index=i): i display, x + 1.
  • Assign is match + bind really (~ planned ~).

    Assignments are side-effects only, but here extended. Atoms on the
    left-hand side (lhs) are trivial, but we prefer the power of LISP’s
    destructuring-bind within macros, or prolog or elixirs matching. So
    = is actually a match operator which will recursively check if the
    expressions on both left and right side match, and binds all found
    lhs variables.

      (1, x) = (1, 2) => (x=2)
      (1, x) = (2, 3) => false
      1 = 2           => false

    _ is a special variable which matches everything, but is never bound,
    | seperates the head and tail from a list or lick.

    So we can check trees like this:

      (_, x, 2)   = (0, 1, 2)   and say x #=> 1
      [_, [x, 1]] = [0, [1, 2]] and say x #=> 1
      [_, x]      = [0, [1, 2]] and say x #=> [1, 2]
      [_ | x]     = [0, 1, 2]   and say x #=> [1, 2]
      fun = (a, b): [0, [a, b]].
      [_ | [x, 1]] = fun(1, 2)  and say x #=> 1

~ feverish and fond thankyous ~

I am gravely indebted to Basile Starynkevitch, who fielded my
questions about his garbage collector. I favor French hackers
to an extreme (Xavier Leroy, Nicolas Cannasse, Guy Decoux,
Mathieu Bochard to name only a portion of those I admire) and
am very glad to represent their influence in Potion’s garbage

Matz, for answering my questions about conservative GC and
for encouraging me so much. Potion’s stack scanning code and
some of the object model come from Ruby.

Steve Dekorte for the Io language, libgarbagecollector and
libcoroutine — I referred frequently to all of them in
sorting out what I wanted.

Of course, Mauricio Fernandez for his inspiring programming
journal housed at eigenclass.org/R2/ and for works
derived throughout the course of it — extprot most of all.
Many of my thoughts about language internals (object repr,
GC, etc.) are informed by him.

Ian Piumarta for peg/leg. I use a re-entrant custom version
of it, but the original library is sheer minimalist parsing

Final appreciations to Jonathan Wright and William Morgan
who pitched in, back in the wee hours of Potion’s history.

~ license ~

See COPYING for legal information. It’s an MIT license,
which lets you do anything you want with this. I’m hoping
that makes it very nice for folks who want to embed a little
Potion in their app!

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