Lisp on Embedded Systems

I had a very inspiring conversation today. I was trying to lay out why one should learn Lisp. I found that there are tons of reasons why Lisp is superior to other Languages. But I found some articles in the web that can explain that much better then me. There are some Articles written by Paul Graham that describe the reasons beautifully. For example “If Lisp is So Great” or “Revange of the Nerds“. I can only encourage you to read them.

What I found very interesting is the main statement of these Articles. Popularity of a Language is not the same as greatness as very well explained in the second Article. Another statement is that programming languages are slowly closing up with functionality and paradigms found in lisp. That is also one of the reasons why I started learning it, because I heard about that trend some time ago somewhere in the big depths of the net.

Most articles are stating that Lisp is the way to go to create web applications and financial systems. But I would even go further. I think it is also the way to go for embedded systems. Some people may think that Lisp is too big and too slow to use it for development on embedded systems. But look at your cellphone. It will probably have a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) running on it. What is that thing? It is a full emulation of a system. It runs bytecode. It is slow like hell but people still develop applications for cellphones compleatly written in java. I bet that there are phones that have their entire software written in Java. Now we look at Lisp. I found a comparison between JDK and SBCL here. It really seems that Java is faster and uses up less memory in most cases. At least taking a glimpse on the Graph. But as I already posted before. SBCL is not perfect. But there are developments like “Headless” coming that will better up that situation. On another site I found that the commercial Allegro Common Lisp implementation is the fastest. But sadly I do not see any benchmarks anywhere. And it does not support any embedded system.

I think that even if the benchmarks show that Lisp may be less efficient in speed and memory usage, it is only a matter of time and dedication to change that. But what do you buy with that loss of efficiency anyways. You get a REPL (you can interact with everything in the running program) you get binary upload (you can change the code of a running program) you get macros.

But for the beginning we could start with something more simple then the full fledged Common Lisp on embedded. There is still L (a Common Lisp language subset specially designed for embedded systems) and Mars realtime kernel to run L on. I sadly have not found a project site for that only a paper. I ask myself how much of Lisp goodness it provides.

Next semester I will have to make a project in embedded systems and the topic is not yet fully set. But I hope that I will be able to work towards the target of running lisp on embedded systems. I already asked my Professor about the idea and he is not negative but he still wants to talk about it. So wish me luck. (also I hope that my partners for the project will be willing to work in that direction too)

If you have any pointers and ideas about this topic then do not hesitate. I will appreciate any pointer.

[Update] Corrected minor stylistic mistakes.

3 thoughts on “Lisp on Embedded Systems

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  2. John Sambrook

    One way to satisfy the desire to learn and use Lisp is to use it to facilitate the development of embedded systems code. That is, you can sometimes use Lisp to create applications that generate code that is later compiled and executed on the embedded target.

    I’ve written about this a bit on my blog, although in my case I was talking about Python rather than Lisp. But as a recovering Common Lisp hacker, I have to applaud your desire to learn Lisp. In my view it will be time well spent.

    I also echo your thoughts regarding the work of Paul Graham. Definitely worth a read.


    John Sambrook


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