Somebody asked me about gambit-c the other day, and why I was using that as opposed to some other language or runtime for my own-time coding stuff. Despite the scheme language being all cool, the thing that really made his eyes light up was the C features in gambit (it is called gambit-c for a reason). Here's some cool stuff you can do with gambit:

  1. Scheme compiles to native machine code
  2. The gambit scheme compiler compiles to C, which gcc then compiles to shared libraries or executables. The gsc command wraps this whole process, so you do a 'gsc < myschemefile>' which drops a shared library out of the other end. The (load) procedure in gambit will import either interpreted scheme code or compiled object files into the process, so you're good to go. In addition, the gsc compiler can also be run as an interactive interpreter (gsc -i) which acts just like the normal gambit scheme repl interpreter except you also have access to the compiler from your code. E.g. As well as dropping interpreted scheme code into the repl I can also compile a file and load it into the running repl process without dropping to the command line - cool!.
  3. You can embed C code directly into gambit scheme files.
  4. (c-include) lets you paste C code into your scheme, and (c-lambda) lets you define lambdas in C. This is really sweet. I thought the python C api was good, but because you have to write your c stuff in seperate files it always requires some sort of make/build system, and that's always been just too much of a barrier for me to use it day-to-day. With gambit you can just switch in a few lines of C into your performance hotspot and you're good to go. This also gives you trivial access to C libraries and low-level stuff - e.g. I use it for mmapped files. Having the C in the same file as scheme means the GCC compiler can optimize and inline C code into compiled scheme and vice-versa. The other advantage of this approach is that the gambit-c environment pretty much requires you to have a C compiler in the mix, so as a developer I can rely on it being there when distributing source to other developers, pasting code into emails etc..
  5. You can compile and load C into a running scheme process
  6. Actually this is just a mix of (1) and (2), but it's really cool when you think about what's going on. Make an update to your C code and dynamically re-load it into your running process. I have an emacs keybinding which executes a 'cload' function in the repl:
    (define (cload f)
      (compile-file f)
      (load f))
    I.e. edit the C code, whack the button and it's in the repl process. This keeps the dev loop really tight even when writing C.
  7. You can compile the whole thing into a native binary.
  8. This is especially cool and important when you consider that gambit-c isn't currently a popular runtime. It means you can distribute native binaries of your app for windows and mac users so that they can try your app without worrying about dependencies.

(*) N.B. although uncommon outside the lisp world, these compilation features are actually pretty common in lisp/scheme implementations. E.g. I think chicken, bigloo and SBCL provide simililar things.