SRFI 45: Primitives for Expressing Iterative Lazy Algorithms

by André van Tonder

status: final (2004/4/5)

See also SRFI 155: Promises.


Lazy evaluation is traditionally simulated in Scheme using delay and force. However, these primitives are not powerful enough to express a large class of lazy algorithms that are iterative. Indeed, it is folklore in the Scheme community that typical iterative lazy algorithms written using delay and force will often require unbounded memory.

Although varous modifications of delay and force had been proposed to resolve this problem (see e.g., the SRFI-40 discussion list) they all fail some of the benchmarks provided below. To our knowledge, the current SRFI provides the first exhaustive solution to this problem.

As motivation, we first explain how the usual laziness encoding using only delay and force will break the iterative behavior of typical algorithms that would have been properly tail-recursive in a true lazy language, causing the computation to require unbounded memory.

The problem is then resolved by introducing a set of three operations:

    {lazy, delay, force}
which allow the programmer to succinctly express lazy algorithms while retaining bounded space behavior in cases that are properly tail-recursive. A general recipe for using these primitives is provided. An additional procedure {eager} is provided for the construction of eager promises in cases where efficiency is a concern.

Although this SRFI redefines delay and force, the extension is conservative in the sense that the semantics of the subset {delay, force} in isolation (i.e., as long as the program does not use lazy) agrees with that in R5RS. In other words, no program that uses the R5RS definitions of delay and force will break if those definition are replaced by the SRFI-45 definitions of delay and force.