Getting Started with Gerbil Development

This is a quick start guide to setting up your Gerbil development environment, starting from scratch.

Install Gambit

  • Clone the repo from github
  • Follow the instructions from gambit/INSTALL.txt to install configure and install gambit, as the process for building from source tends to change frequently.

I usually configure Gambit for development with the following incantation:

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/gambit \
            --enable-single-host \
            --enable-multiple-versions \
            --enable-shared \
            --enable-openssl \
            --enable-default-runtime-options=f8,-8,t8 \
            --enable-poll # For Linux and BSD; don't use this on macOS

Importantly, for other programs (including your shell and Gerbil) to find Gambit, you must add $GAMBIT_PREFIX/bin to your PATH. Furthermore, for the dynamic linker to find the Gambit libraries, you must add $GAMBIT_PREFIX/lib to your LD_LIBRARY_PATH.

Note that on Gambit v4.9.4 or later (actually, v4.9.3-1101-g1f1ce436), you may omit the --enable-default-runtime-options=f8,-8,t8 option, that has become default, and/or you should add the new i8 to be complete.

Also, if you are on Linux or BSD, I recommend using --enable-poll, which will use the more scalable poll-based i/o scheduler (instead of the default select-based one).

If you intend to build static applications for servers, then you should use the following configuration:

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/gambit \
            --enable-single-host \
            --enable-multiple-versions \
            --enable-openssl \
            --enable-default-runtime-options=f8,-8,t8 \

This removes --enable-shared, which will build gambit without shared libraries and thus result in static linkage of Gambit in executables.

I (vyzo) have the following in my .bashrc:

add_path $GAMBIT/bin
add_ldpath $GAMBIT/lib

with the helper functions defined as:

add_path() {
    if [[ ! "$PATH" =~ $1 ]]; then
        export PATH="$PATH:$1"

add_ldpath() {
    if [ -z "$LD_LIBRARY_PATH" ]; then
        export LD_LIBRARY_PATH="$1"
    elif [[ ! "$LD_LIBRARY_PATH" =~ $1 ]]; then
        export LD_LIBRARY_PATH="$LD_LIBRARY_PATH:$1"

Install Gerbil

Clone the repo from github, optionally configure, and build. If you use the default options, you may just use the command below, and skip to the next section about configuring your shell:

$ ./src/

If you want to configure Gerbil with non-default options, instead use some variant of the below:

$ cd gerbil/src
$ ./configure --prefix=/path/to/which/to/install/gerbil --gambit=/path/to/installed/gambit \
  --enable-feature1 --enable-feature2 --disable-feature3 --disable-feature4 --enable-feature5
$ ./
$ ./install

The configure step is not necessary if you use the default options. However, it recommended when installing Gerbil to some target destination different from its source directory, at which point you will also want the ./install step. The install step is not needed if you don't specify a prefix.

The Gerbil compiler depends on many files installed in its "home directory". When determining what directory to use as the Gerbil home directory, Gerbil will look at the GERBIL_HOME environment variable. If it is defined, Gerbil will use the location specified as its home directory. When the variable isn't defined, then the behavior depends on the --prefix option specified while configuring Gerbil. If Gerbil was configured with --prefix=/some/path, then the specified path is used as its home directory. You can specify --prefix=/usr/local or --prefix=/opt/gerbil or --prefix=$HOME/local/stow/gerbil-v0.17 or whatever follows your software installation discipline. Finally, if Gerbil was configured without --prefix, then Gerbil uses the parent directory of the directory in which gxi is installed. Note that in this final case, the autodetection relies on gxi not being a symlink, but on your PATH pointing to its physical directory or an absolute path being used; then again you can define GERBIL_HOME or configure with --prefix so autodetection isn't needed. (Note that incompatibility with a previously defined GERBIL_HOME is a frequent source of trouble in newbies who make multiple attempts at building from source).

Similarly, Gerbil will use the path specified by the GERBIL_GSC environment variable to find the Gambit Scheme compiler. If the path is not specified, then it will look at the path specified by the --gambit option when it was configured. If not specified, then it will assume that the command gsc in your PATH is the version of Gambit you use. It is then important that gsc and gcc in your PATH are the same as were used to compile Gerbil and Gambit respectively.

Finally, Gerbil consults the GERBIL_BUILD_CORES environment variable to determine whether to build its code in parallel, e.g. export GERBIL_BUILD_CORES=4. This is disabled by default. See details and explanations in the documentation for :std/make.

You can see what the default features are and aren't by using ./configure --help: it will offer you options that modify the defaults by enabling features that aren't enabled by default, or disabling features that are enabled by default.

Configure your Shell

To complete your installation, you have to configure your shell to find Gerbil, by editing e.g. your $HOME/.profile, $HOME/.bashrc or $HOME/.zshenv. Whether you install Gerbil to some directory or not, be sure to add your $GERBIL_HOME/bin to your PATH so your shell and other programs can find gxi and gxc; alternatively, you could symlink the installed gxi and gxc binaries into a directory already in your $PATH. You may also define GERBIL_HOME, or leave it undefined (or unexported) and let Gerbil autodetect where it was installed. I (vyzo) have the following in my .bashrc:

export GERBIL_HOME=$HOME/gerbil
add_path $GERBIL_HOME/bin

Write some code

You can get started right away and write a script, but let's do a simple compiled library module and an executable as it is more relevant for real world development.

First create your workspace -- I recommend you use a top package for your libs so that you don't have namespace conflicts. So let's make our project with you using myuser as the top package name, and your source live in myproject. You should of course pick something more representative for your top package namespace, like your github user id.

So, let's make a simple library module:

$ mkdir -p myproject/src/myuser
$ cd myproject/src/myuser

# Create a gerbil.pkg file for our project
$ cat > gerbil.pkg <<EOF
(package: myuser)

$ cat > <<EOF
(export #t) ; export all symbols
(def (hello who)
 (displayln "hello " who))

Now let's compile it. By default, gxc will place compiler artefacts in ~/.gerbil/lib. You can change this by exporting the GERBIL_PATH variable. You may also explicitly use the -d option; but then you'll have to add your libdir to GERBIL_LOADPATH.

$ gxc

You now have a compiled module, which you can use in the interpreter:

$ gxi
> (import :myuser/mylib)
> (hello "world")
hello world

Next let's make an executable:

$ cat > <<EOF
(import :myuser/mylib)
(export main)
(def (main who)
 (hello who))

and let's compile it and run it:

$ gxc -exe -o mybin
$ ./mybin world
hello world

Note that this is a dynamically linked executable, the module has been compiled dynamically in the gerbil libdir and the executable is a stub that loads it and executes main, which means that your GERBIL_HOME (and GERBIL_LOADPATH if you are putting your artefacts in a different place, like myproject/lib) must be set.

You can also compile a statically linked executable, which can work without a local gerbil environment:

$ gxc -static  # compile dependent library statically first
$ gxc -static -exe -o mybin-static
$ ./mybin-static world
hello world

The advantage of static executables is that they can work without a local Gerbil installation, which makes them suitable for binary distribution. They also start a little faster, as there is no dynamic module loading at runtime. In addition, because all dependencies from the stdlib are compiled in together, you can apply global declarations like (declare (not safe)) to the whole program, which can result in significant performance gains. And as of Gerbil-v0.13-DEV-50-gaf81bba the compiler performs full program optimization, resulting in further performance benefits.

The downside is long compilation times and the limitation that the executable won't be able to use the expander or the compiler, as the meta parts of the Gerbil runtime are not linked in.

Note that when creating static executables, you will need to pass on options to the linker if you're relying on foreign libraries. For example, to include a dependency on zlib:

$ gxc -static -exe -o mybin-static -ld-options -lz

The -ld-options are being passed on to gsc which in turn adds the specified options to the command that invokes the C linker.