I'm currently writing a LISP parser that iterates through some AutoLISP code and does its best to make it a little easier to read (changing prefix notation to infix notation, changing setq assignments to "=" assignments, etc.) for those that aren't used to LISP code/only learned object oriented programming.

While writing commands that LISP uses to add to a "library" of LISP commands, I came across the LISP command "progn". The only problem is that it looks like progn is simply executing code in a specific order and sometimes (not usually) assigning the last value to a variable.

Am I incorrect in assuming that for translating progn to object-oriented understanding that I can simply forgo the progn function and print the statements that it contains? If not, what would be a good equivalent for progn in an object-oriented language?


Everything in Lisp is an expression, meaning that it returns a value. The progn function executes a series of functions/forms, ignoring the return values of all but the last call/form, which it returns as its own return value.

E.g. in the following code

  (some-method 'a 'b 'c)
  (another-method 1 2 3)
  (final-method "x" "y" "z"))

the value returned by the call to final-method would be the value returned by the enclosing progn call.

An OOP equivalent would be:

public FinalReturnType prognImpl123()
    someMethod(Sym("a"), Sym("b"), Sym("c"));
    anotherMethod(1, 2, 3);
    return finalMethod("x", "y", "z");

As progns you encounter will likely be nested in other expressions, you'll want your translations to return something.

  • What would be the purpose of such a thing? To apply side-effects from the first two functions, but throw away their results? Why would there be side-effects in a functional language? Jun 5 '14 at 20:16
  • 2
    @RobertHarvey Yes, side-effects is the main use I can see. I usually use progn (do in Clojure) to do side-effects like printing to the command line (which I hack in while debugging). You can have side-effects in Lisp since it is not a purely functional language -- some argue it's not functional at all, just conducive to a functional style; I like to consider it functional since that's the style I use when I program in it.
    – paul
    Jun 5 '14 at 20:29
  • 2
    To my understanding, functional programming does not try to eliminating side-effects, but to separate them clearly from side-effect free code and use them only when necessary. Even a purely functional language like Haskell (every expression is referentially transparent) allows side-effects (e.g. by executing I/O actions).
    – Giorgio
    Jun 5 '14 at 20:47
  • @Giorgio Well said; when writing my comment about being able to have side-effects I was thinking mostly variable mutation or IO deep in the bowels of the code.
    – paul
    Jun 5 '14 at 21:01

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