On this page:
1.1.1 Sub-expression Evaluation and Continuations
1.1.2 Tail Position
1.1.3 Multiple Return Values
1.1.4 Top-Level Variables
1.1.5 Objects and Imperative Update
1.1.6 Garbage Collection
1.1.7 Procedure Applications and Local Variables
1.1.8 Variables and Locations
1.1.9 Modules and Module-Level Variables
1.1.9.1 Phases
1.1.9.2 The Separate Compilation Guarantee
1.1.9.3 Cross-Phase Persistent Modules
1.1.9.4 Module Redeclarations
1.1.9.5 Submodules
1.1.10 Continuation Frames and Marks
1.1.11 Prompts, Delimited Continuations, and Barriers
1.1.12 Threads
1.1.13 Parameters
1.1.14 Exceptions
1.1.15 Custodians
8.5.0.8

1.1 Evaluation Model

Racket evaluation can be viewed as the simplification of expressions to obtain values. For example, just as an elementary-school student simplifies

  1 + 1 = 2

Racket evaluation simplifies

(+ 1 1)  2

The arrow → replaces the more traditional = to emphasize that evaluation proceeds in a particular direction toward simpler expressions. In particular, a value, such as the number 2, is an expression that evaluation simplifies no further.

1.1.1 Sub-expression Evaluation and Continuations

Some simplifications require more than one step. For example:

(- 4 (+ 1 1))  (- 4 2)  2

An expression that is not a value can always be partitioned into two parts: a redex (“reducible expression”), which is the part that can change in a single-step simplification (highlighted), and the continuation, which is the evaluation context surrounding the redex. In (- 4 (+ 1 1)), the redex is (+ 1 1), and the continuation is (- 4 []), where [] takes the place of the redex as it is reduced. That is, the continuation says how to “continue” after the redex is reduced to a value.

Before some expressions can be evaluated, some or all of their sub-expressions must be evaluated. For example, in the application (- 4 (+ 1 1)), the application of - cannot be reduced until the sub-expression (+ 1 1) is reduced. Thus, the specification of each syntactic form specifies how (some of) its sub-expressions are evaluated and then how the results are combined to reduce the form away.

The dynamic extent of an expression is the sequence of evaluation steps during which the expression contains the redex.

1.1.2 Tail Position

An expression expr1 is in tail position with respect to an enclosing expression expr2 if, whenever expr1 becomes a redex, its continuation is the same as was the enclosing expr2’s continuation.

For example, the (+ 1 1) expression is not in tail position with respect to (- 4 (+ 1 1)). To illustrate, we use the notation C[expr] to mean the expression that is produced by substituting expr in place of [] in some continuation C:

C[(- 4 (+ 1 1))]  C[(- 4 2)]

In this case, the continuation for reducing (+ 1 1) is C[(- 4 [])], not just C. The requirement specified in the first paragraph above is not met.

In contrast, (+ 1 1) is in tail position with respect to (if (zero? 0) (+ 1 1) 3) because, for any continuation C,

C[(if (zero? 0) (+ 1 1) 3)]  C[(if #t (+ 1 1) 3)]  C[(+ 1 1)]

The requirement specified in the first paragraph is met. The steps in this reduction sequence are driven by the definition of if, and they do not depend on the continuation C. The “then” branch of an if form is always in tail position with respect to the if form. Due to a similar reduction rule for if and #f, the “else” branch of an if form is also in tail position.

Tail-position specifications provide a guarantee about the asymptotic space consumption of a computation. In general, the specification of tail positions accompanies the description of each syntactic form, such as if.

1.1.3 Multiple Return Values

A Racket expression can evaluate to multiple values, to provide symmetry with the fact that a procedure can accept multiple arguments.

Most continuations expect a certain number of result values, although some continuations can accept an arbitrary number. Indeed, most continuations, such as (+ [] 1), expect a single value. The continuation (let-values ([(x y) []]) expr) expects two result values; the first result replaces x in the body expr, and the second replaces y in expr. The continuation (begin [] (+ 1 2)) accepts any number of result values, because it ignores the result(s).

In general, the specification of a syntactic form indicates the number of values that it produces and the number that it expects from each of its sub-expressions. In addition, some procedures (notably values) produce multiple values, and some procedures (notably call-with-values) create continuations internally that accept a certain number of values.

1.1.4 Top-Level Variables

Given

  x = 10

then an algebra student simplifies x + 1 as follows:

  x + 1 = 10 + 1 = 11

Racket works much the same way, in that a set of top-level variables (see also Variables and Locations) are available for substitutions on demand during evaluation. For example, given

(define x 10)

then

(+ x 1)  (+ 10 1)  11

In Racket, the way definitions are created is just as important as the way they are used. Racket evaluation thus keeps track of both definitions and the current expression, and it extends the set of definitions in response to evaluating forms such as define.

Each evaluation step, then, transforms the current set of definitions and program into a new set of definitions and program. Before a define can be moved into the set of definitions, its expression (i.e., its right-hand side) must be reduced to a value. (The left-hand side is not an expression position, and so it is not evaluated.)

defined:

evaluate:

(begin (define x (+ 9 1)) (+ x 1))

defined:

evaluate:

(begin (define x 10) (+ x 1))

defined:

(define x 10)

evaluate:

(begin (void) (+ x 1))

defined:

(define x 10)

evaluate:

(+ x 1)

defined:

(define x 10)

evaluate:

(+ 10 1)

defined:

(define x 10)

evaluate:

11

Using set!, a program can change the value associated with an existing top-level variable:

defined:

(define x 10)

evaluate:

(begin (set! x 8) x)

defined:

(define x 8)

evaluate:

(begin (void) x)

defined:

(define x 8)

evaluate:

x

defined:

(define x 8)

evaluate:

8

1.1.5 Objects and Imperative Update

In addition to set! for imperative update of top-level variables, various procedures enable the modification of elements within a compound data structure. For example, vector-set! modifies the content of a vector.

To explain such modifications to data, we must distinguish between values, which are the results of expressions, and objects, which actually hold data.

A few kinds of objects can serve directly as values, including booleans, (void), and small exact integers. More generally, however, a value is a reference to an object stored somewhere else. For example, a value can refer to a particular vector that currently holds the value 10 in its first slot. If an object is modified via one value, then the modification is visible through all the values that reference the object.

In the evaluation model, a set of objects must be carried along with each step in evaluation, just like the definition set. Operations that create objects, such as vector, add to the set of objects:

objects:

defined:

evaluate:

(begin (define x (vector 10 20))
       (define y x)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

evaluate:

(begin (define x <o1>)
       (define y x)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (void)
       (define y x)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (define y x)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (define y <o1>)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (void)
       (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (vector-set! x 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (vector-set! <o1> 0 11)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 11 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(begin (void)
       (vector-ref y 0))

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 11 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(vector-ref y 0)

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 11 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

(vector-ref <o1> 0)

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 11 20))

defined:

(define x <o1>)
(define y <o1>)

evaluate:

11

The distinction between a top-level variable and an object reference is crucial. A top-level variable is not a value, so it must be evaluated. Each time a variable expression is evaluated, the value of the variable is extracted from the current set of definitions. An object reference, in contrast, is a value and therefore needs no further evaluation. The evaluation steps above use angle-bracketed <o1> for an object reference to distinguish it from a variable name.

An object reference can never appear directly in a text-based source program. A program representation created with datum->syntax, however, can embed direct references to existing objects.

1.1.6 Garbage Collection

+See Memory Management for functions related to garbage collection.

In the program state

objects:

(define <o1> (vector 10 20))
(define <o2> (vector 0))

defined:

(define x <o1>)

evaluate:

(+ 1 x)

evaluation cannot depend on <o2>, because it is not part of the program to evaluate, and it is not referenced by any definition that is accessible by the program. The object is said to not be reachable. The object <o2> may therefore be removed from the program state by garbage collection.

A few special compound datatypes hold weak references to objects. Such weak references are treated specially by the garbage collector in determining which objects are reachable for the remainder of the computation. If an object is reachable only via a weak reference, then the object can be reclaimed, and the weak reference is replaced by a different value (typically #f).

As a special case, a fixnum is always considered reachable by the garbage collector. Many other values are always reachable due to the way they are implemented and used: A character in the Latin-1 range is always reachable, because equal? Latin-1 characters are always eq?, and all of the Latin-1 characters are referenced by an internal module. Similarly, null, #t, #f, eof, and #<void> are always reachable. Values produced by quote remain reachable when the quote expression itself is reachable.

1.1.7 Procedure Applications and Local Variables

Given

  f(x) = x + 10

an algebra student simplifies f(7) as follows:

  f(7) = 7 + 10 = 17

The key step in this simplification is to take the body of the defined function f and replace each x with the actual value 7.

Racket procedure application works much the same way. A procedure is an object, so evaluating (f 7) starts with a variable lookup:

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)

evaluate:

(f 7)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)

evaluate:

(<p1> 7)

Unlike in algebra, however, the value associated with a procedure argument variable can be changed in the body of a procedure by using set!, as in the example (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)). Since the value associated with argument variable x should be able to change, we cannot just substitute the value in for x when we first apply the procedure.

We do not use the term “parameter variable” to refer to the argument variable names declared with a function. This choice avoids confusion with parameters.

Instead, a new location is created for each variable on each application. The argument value is placed in the location, and each instance of the variable in the procedure body is replaced with the new location:

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)

evaluate:

(<p1> 7)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 7)

evaluate:

(+ xloc 10)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 7)

evaluate:

(+ 7 10)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (+ x 10)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 7)

evaluate:

17

A location is the same as a top-level variable, but when a location is generated, it (conceptually) uses a name that has not been used before and that cannot be generated again or accessed directly.

Generating a location in this way means that set! evaluates for local variables, including argument variables, in the same way as for top-level variables, because the local variable is always replaced with a location by the time the set! form is evaluated:

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)

evaluate:

(f 7)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)

evaluate:

(<p1> 7)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 7)

evaluate:

(begin (set! xloc 3) xloc)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 3)

evaluate:

(begin (void) xloc)

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 3)

evaluate:

xloc

objects:

(define <p1> (lambda (x) (begin (set! x 3) x)))

defined:

(define f <p1>)
(define xloc 3)

evaluate:

3

The location-generation and substitution step of procedure application requires that the argument is a value. Therefore, in ((lambda (x) (+ x 10)) (+ 1 2)), the (+ 1 2) sub-expression must be simplified to the value 3, and then 3 can be placed into a location for x. In other words, Racket is a call-by-value language.

Evaluation of a local-variable form, such as (let ([x (+ 1 2)]) expr), is the same as for a procedure call. After (+ 1 2) produces a value, it is stored in a fresh location that replaces every instance of x in expr.

1.1.8 Variables and Locations

A variable is a placeholder for a value, and expressions in an initial program refer to variables. A top-level variable is both a variable and a location. Any other variable is always replaced by a location at run-time; thus, evaluation of expressions involves only locations. A single local variable (i.e., a non-top-level, non-module-level variable), such as an argument variable, can correspond to different locations during different applications.

For example, in the program

(define y (+ (let ([x 5]) x) 6))

both y and x are variables. The y variable is a top-level variable, and the x is a local variable. When this code is evaluated, a location is created for x to hold the value 5, and a location is also created for y to hold the value 11.

The replacement of a variable with a location during evaluation implements Racket’s lexical scoping. For the purposes of substituting xloc for x, all variable bindings must use distinct names, so no x that is really a different variable will get replaced. Ensuring that distinction is one of the jobs of the macro expander; see Syntax Model. For example, when an argument variable x is replaced by the location xloc, it is replaced throughout the body of the procedure, including any nested lambda forms. As a result, future references to the variable always access the same location.

1.1.9 Modules and Module-Level Variables

+See Modules: module, module*, ... for the syntax of modules.

Most definitions in Racket are in modules. In terms of evaluation, a module is essentially a prefix on a defined name, so that different modules can define the same name. That is, a module-level variable is like a top-level variable from the perspective of evaluation.

One difference between a module and a top-level definition is that a module can be declared without instantiating its module-level definitions. Evaluation of a require instantiates (i.e., triggers the instantiation of) the declared module, which creates variables that correspond to its module-level definitions.

For example, given the module declaration

(module m racket
  (define x 10))

the evaluation of (require 'm) creates the variable x and installs 10 as its value. This x is unrelated to any top-level definition of x (as if it were given a unique, module-specific prefix).

1.1.9.1 Phases

+See also General Phase Levels in The Racket Guide.

The purpose of phases is to address the necessary separation of names defined at execution time versus names defined at expansion time.

A module can be instantiated in multiple phases. A phase is an integer that, like a module name, is effectively a prefix on the names of module-level definitions. Phase 0 is the execution-time phase.

A top-level require instantiates a module at phase 0, if the module is not already instantiated at phase 0. A top-level (require (for-syntax ....)) instantiates a module at phase 1 (if it is not already instantiated at that phase); for-syntax also has a different binding effect on further program parsing, as described in Introducing Bindings.

Within a module, some definitions are already shifted by a phase: the begin-for-syntax form is similar to begin, but it shifts expressions and definitions by a relative phase +1. Likewise, the define-for-syntax form is similar to define, but shifts the definition by +1. Thus, if the module is instantiated at phase 1, the variables defined with begin-for-syntax are created at phase 2, and so on. Moreover, this relative phase acts as another layer of prefixing, so that x defined with define and x defined with define-for-syntax can co-exist in a module without colliding. A begin-for-syntax form can be nested within a begin-for-syntax form, in which case the inner definitions and expressions are in relative phase +2, and so on. Higher phases are mainly related to program parsing instead of normal evaluation.

If a module instantiated at phase n requires another module, then the required module is first instantiated at phase n, and so on transitively. (Module requires cannot form cycles.) If a module instantiated at phase n requires another module M for-syntax, then M becomes available at phase n+1, and it later may be instantiated at phase n+1. If a module that is available at phase n (for n>0) requires another module M for-template, then M becomes available at phase n-1, and so on. Instantiations of available modules above phase 0 are triggered on demand as described in Module Expansion, Phases, and Visits.

A final distinction among module instantiations is that multiple instantiations may exist at phase 1 and higher. These instantiations are created by the parsing of module forms (see Module Expansion, Phases, and Visits), and are, again, conceptually distinguished by prefixes.

Top-level variables can exist in multiple phases in the same way as within modules. For example, define within begin-for-syntax creates a phase 1 variable. Furthermore, reflective operations like make-base-namespace and eval provide access to top-level variables in higher phases, while module instantiations (triggered by require) relative to such top-levels are in correspondingly higher phases.

1.1.9.2 The Separate Compilation Guarantee

When a module is compiled, its phase 1 is instantiated. This can, in turn, trigger the transitive instantiation of many other modules at other phases, including phase 1. Racket provides a very strong guarantee about this instantiation called “The Separate Compilation Guarantee”:

Any effects of the instantiation of the module’s phase 1 due to compilation on the Racket runtime system are discarded.

The guarantee concerns effects. There are two different kinds of effects: internal and external.

Internal effects are exemplified by mutation. Mutation is the action of a function such as set-box!, which changes the value contained in the box. The modified box is not observable outside Racket, so the effect is said to be “internal.” By definition, internal effects are not detectable outside the Racket program.

External effects are exemplified by input/output (I/O). I/O is the action of a function such as tcp-connect, which communicates with the operating system to send network packets outside the machine running Racket. The transmission of these packets is observable outside Racket, in particular by the receiving computer or any routers in between. External effects exist to be detectable outside the Racket program and are often detectable using physical processes.

An effect is discarded when it is no longer detectable. For instance, the mutation of a box from 3 to 4 is discarded when it ceases to be detectable that it was ever changed and thus would still contain 3. Because external effects are intrinsically observable outside Racket, they are irreversible and cannot be discarded.

Thus, The Separate Compilation Guarantee only concerns effects like mutation, because they are exclusively effects “on the Racket runtime system” and not “on the physical universe.”

There are many things a Racket program can do that appear to be internal effects but are actually external effects. For instance, bytes-set! is typically an internal effect, except when the bytes are created by make-shared-bytes, which allocates in space observable by other processes. Thus, effects which modify those bytes are not discardable, so bytes-set!, in this case, has an external effect.

The opposite is also true: some things which appear to be external are actually internal. For instance, if a Racket program starts multiple threads and uses mutation to communicate between them, that mutation is purely internal, because Racket’s threads are defined entirely internally (they are not related to operating system threads).

Furthermore, whenever a Racket program calls an unsafe function, the Racket runtime system makes no promises about its effects. For instance, all foreign calls use ffi/unsafe, so all foreign calls are unsafe and their effects cannot be discarded by Racket.

Finally, The Separate Compilation Guarantee only concerns instantiations at phase 1 during compilation and not all phase 1 instantiations generally, such as when its phase 1 is required and used for effects via reflective mechanisms.

The practical consequence of this guarantee is that because effects are never visible, no module can detect whether a module it requires is already compiled. Thus, it can never change the compilation of one module to have already compiled a different module. In particular, if module A is shared by the phase 1 portion of modules X and Y, then any internal effects while X is compiled are not visible during the compilation of Y, regardless of whether X and Y are compiled during the same execution of Racket’s runtime system and regardless of the order of compilation.

The following set of modules demonstrate this guarantee. First, we define a module with the ability to observe effects via a box:

(module box racket/base
  (provide (all-defined-out))
  (define b (box 0)))

Next, we define two syntax transformers that use and mutate this box:

(module transformers racket/base
  (provide (all-defined-out))
  (require (for-syntax racket/base 'box))
  (define-syntax (sett stx)
    (set-box! b 2)
    #'(void))
  (define-syntax (gett stx)
    #`#,(unbox b)))

Next, we define a module that uses these transformers:

(module user racket/base
  (provide (all-defined-out))
  (require 'transformers)
  (sett)
  (define gott (gett)))

Finally, we define a second module that uses these transformers and the user module:

(module test racket/base
  (require 'box 'transformers 'user)
  (displayln gott)
  (displayln (gett))
 
  (sett)
  (displayln (gett))
 
  (displayln (unbox b)))

This module displays:
  • 2, because the (gett) in module user expanded to 2.

  • 0, because the effects of compiling user were discarded.

  • 2, because the effect of (sett) inside test has not yet been discarded.

  • 0, because the effects of sett at phase 1 are irrelevant to the phase 0 use of b in (unbox b).

Furthermore, this display will never change, regardless of which order these modules are compiled in or whether they are compiled at the same time or separately.

In contrast, if these modules were changed to store the value of b in a file on the filesystem, then the program would only display 2.

The Separate Compilation Guarantee is described in more detail in the paper “Composable and Compilable Macros” [Flatt02], including informative examples. The paper “Advanced Macrology and the implementation of Typed Scheme” [Culpepper07] also contains an extended example of why it is important and how to design effectful syntactic extensions in its presence.

1.1.9.3 Cross-Phase Persistent Modules

Module declarations that fit a highly constrained form—including a (#%declare #:cross-phase-persistent) form in the module body—create cross-phase persistent modules. A cross-phase persistent module’s instantiations across all phases share the variables produced by the first instantiation of the module. Additionally, cross-phase persistent module instantiations persist across module registries when they share a common module declaration.

Examples:
> (module cross '#%kernel
    (#%declare #:cross-phase-persistent)
    (#%provide x)
    (define-values (x) (gensym)))
> (module noncross '#%kernel
    (#%provide x)
    (define-values (x) (gensym)))
> (define ns (current-namespace))
> (define (same-instance? mod)
    (namespace-require mod)
    (define a
      (parameterize ([current-namespace (make-base-namespace)])
        (namespace-attach-module-declaration ns mod)
        (namespace-require mod)
        (namespace-variable-value 'x)))
    (define b
      (parameterize ([current-namespace (make-base-namespace)])
        (namespace-attach-module-declaration ns mod)
        (namespace-require mod)
        (namespace-variable-value 'x)))
    (eq? a b))
> (same-instance? ''noncross)

#f

> (same-instance? ''cross)

#t

The intent of a cross-phase persistent module is to support values that are recognizable after phase crossings. For example, when a macro transformer running in phase 1 raises a syntax error as represented by an exn:fail:syntax instance, the instance is recognizable by a phase-0 exception handler wrapping a call to eval or expand that triggered the syntax error, because the exn:fail:syntax structure type is defined by a cross-phase persistent module.

A cross-phase persistent module imports only other cross-phase persistent modules, and it contains only definitions that bind variables to functions, structure types and related functions, or structure-type properties and related functions. A cross-phase persistent module never includes syntax literals (via quote-syntax) or variable references (via #%variable-reference). See Cross-Phase Persistent Module Declarations for the syntactic specification of a cross-phase persistent module declaration.

A documented module should be assumed non–cross-phase persistent unless it is specified as cross-phase persistent (such as racket/kernel).

1.1.9.4 Module Redeclarations

When a module is declared using a name with which a module is already declared, the new declaration’s definitions replace and extend the old declarations. If a variable in the old declaration has no counterpart in the new declaration, the old variable continues to exist, but its binding is not included in the lexical information for the module body. If a new variable definition has a counterpart in the old declaration, it effectively assigns to the old variable.

If a module is instantiated in the current namespace’s base phase before the module is redeclared, the redeclaration of the module is immediately instantiated in that phase.

If the current inspector does not manage a module’s declaration inspector (see Code Inspectors), then the module cannot be redeclared. Similarly, a cross-phase persistent module cannot be redeclared. Even if redeclaration succeeds, instantiation of a module that is previously instantiated may fail if instantiation for the redeclaration attempts to modify variables that are constant (see compile-enforce-module-constants).

1.1.9.5 Submodules

A module or module* form within a top-level module form declares a submodule. A submodule is accessed relative to its enclosing module, usually with a submod path. Submodules can be nested to any depth.

Although a submodule is lexically nested within a module, it cannot necessarily access the bindings of its enclosing module directly. More specifically, a submodule declared with module cannot require from its enclosing module, but the enclosing module can require the submodule. In contrast, a submodule declared with module* conceptually follows its enclosing module, so can require from its enclosing module, but the enclosing module cannot require the submodule. Unless a submodule imports from its enclosing module or vice versa, then visits or instantiations of the two modules are independent, and their implementations may even be loaded from bytecode sources at different times.

A submodule declared with module can import any preceding submodule declared with module. A submodule declared with module* can import any preceding module declared with module* and any submodule declared with module.

When a submodule declaration has the form (module* name #f ....), then all of the bindings of the enclosing module’s bodies are visible in the submodule’s body, and the submodule implicitly imports the enclosing module. The submodule can provide any bindings that it inherits from its enclosing module.

1.1.10 Continuation Frames and Marks

+See Continuation Marks for continuation-mark forms and functions.

Every continuation C can be partitioned into continuation frames C1, C2, ..., Cn such that C = C1[C2[...[Cn]]], and no frame Ci can be itself partitioned into smaller continuations. Evaluation steps add frames to and remove frames from the current continuation, typically one at a time.

Each frame is conceptually annotated with a set of continuation marks. A mark consists of a key and its value. The key is an arbitrary value, and each frame includes at most one mark for any given key. Various operations set and extract marks from continuations, so that marks can be used to attach information to a dynamic extent. For example, marks can be used to record information for a “stack trace” to be presented when an exception is raised, or to implement dynamic scope.

1.1.11 Prompts, Delimited Continuations, and Barriers

+See Continuations for continuation and prompt functions.

A prompt is a special kind of continuation frame that is annotated with a specific prompt tag (essentially a continuation mark). Various operations allow the capture of frames in the continuation from the redex position out to the nearest enclosing prompt with a particular prompt tag; such a continuation is sometimes called a delimited continuation. Other operations allow the current continuation to be extended with a captured continuation (specifically, a composable continuation). Yet other operations abort the computation to the nearest enclosing prompt with a particular tag, or replace the continuation to the nearest enclosing prompt with another one. When a delimited continuation is captured, the marks associated with the relevant frames are also captured.

A continuation barrier is another kind of continuation frame that prohibits certain replacements of the current continuation with another. Specifically, a continuation can be replaced by another only when the replacement does not introduce any continuation barriers. A continuation barrier thus prevents “downward jumps” into a continuation that is protected by a barrier. Certain operations install barriers automatically; in particular, when an exception handler is called, a continuation barrier prohibits the continuation of the handler from capturing the continuation past the exception point.

An escape continuation is essentially a derived concept. It combines a prompt for escape purposes with a continuation for mark-gathering purposes. As the name implies, escape continuations are used only to abort to the point of capture.

1.1.12 Threads

+See Concurrency and Parallelism for thread and synchronization functions.

Racket supports multiple threads of evaluation. Threads run concurrently, in the sense that one thread can preempt another without its cooperation, but threads currently all run on the same processor (i.e., the same underlying operating system process and thread).

Threads are created explicitly by functions such as thread. In terms of the evaluation model, each step in evaluation actually deals with multiple concurrent expressions, up to one per thread, rather than a single expression. The expressions all share the same objects and top-level variables, so that they can communicate through shared state, and sequential consistency [Lamport79] is guaranteed (i.e., the result is consistent with some global sequence imposed on all evaluation steps across threads). Most evaluation steps involve a single step in a single thread, but certain synchronization primitives require multiple threads to progress together in one step; for example, an exchange of a value through a channel progresses in two threads simultaneously.

Unless otherwise noted, all constant-time procedures and operations provided by Racket are thread-safe in the sense that they are atomic: they happen as a single evaluation step. For example, set! assigns to a variable as an atomic action with respect to all threads, so that no thread can see a “half-assigned” variable. Similarly, vector-set! assigns to a vector atomically. Note that the evaluation of a set! expression with its subexpression is not necessarily atomic, because evaluating the subexpression involves a separate step of evaluation. Only the assignment action itself (which takes after the subexpression is evaluated to obtain a value) is atomic. Similarly, a procedure application can involve multiple steps that are not atomic, even if the procedure itself performs an atomic action.

The hash-set! procedure is not atomic, but the table is protected by a lock; see Hash Tables for more information. Port operations are generally not atomic, but they are thread-safe in the sense that a byte consumed by one thread from an input port will not be returned also to another thread, and procedures like port-commit-peeked and write-bytes-avail offer specific concurrency guarantees.

In addition to the state that is shared among all threads, each thread has its own private state that is accessed through thread cells. A thread cell is similar to a normal mutable object, but a change to the value inside a thread cell is seen only when extracting a value from that cell in the same thread. A thread cell can be preserved; when a new thread is created, the creating thread’s value for a preserved thread cell serves as the initial value for the cell in the created thread. For a non-preserved thread cell, a new thread sees the same initial value (specified when the thread cell is created) as all other threads.

Futures and places offer different kinds of concurrency and parallelism, and they have weaker guarantees about shared state. (Places can share state through functions like make-shared-bytes.) Each thread of evaluation in a future or place is constrained to behave consistent with the possibility of some other thread that might inspect any shared data starting at any point that a future or place starts. In the case that two futures or two places share state, each read or write operation to shared state corresponds to a read or write operation at the virtual-memory level, and the operations are constrained to the order they could be observed or affected by a thread. However, Racket does not enforce additional guarantees about reordering that might be performed at the virtual-memory level or below, except in the case of operations that specify such guarantees explicitly (e.g., box-cas!).

1.1.13 Parameters

+See Parameters for parameter forms and functions.

Parameters are essentially a derived concept in Racket; they are defined in terms of continuation marks and thread cells. However, parameters are also “built in,” due to the fact that some primitive procedures consult parameter values. For example, the default output stream for primitive output operations is specified by a parameter.

A parameter is a setting that is both thread-specific and continuation-specific. In the empty continuation, each parameter corresponds to a preserved thread cell; a corresponding parameter procedure accesses and sets the thread cell’s value for the current thread.

In a non-empty continuation, a parameter’s value is determined through a parameterization that is associated with the nearest enclosing continuation frame via a continuation mark (whose key is not directly accessible). A parameterization maps each parameter to a preserved thread cell, and the combination of the thread cell and the current thread yields the parameter’s value. A parameter procedure sets or accesses the relevant thread cell for its parameter.

Various operations, such as parameterize or call-with-parameterization, install a parameterization into the current continuation’s frame.

1.1.14 Exceptions

+See Exceptions for exception forms, functions, and types.

Exceptions are essentially a derived concept in Racket; they are defined in terms of continuations, prompts, and continuation marks. However, exceptions are also “built in,” due to the fact that primitive forms and procedures may raise exceptions.

An exception handler to catch exceptions can be associated with a continuation frame though a continuation mark (whose key is not directly accessible). When an exception is raised, the current continuation’s marks determine a chain of exception handler procedures that are consulted to handle the exception. A handler for uncaught exceptions is designated through a built-in parameter.

One potential action of an exception handler is to abort the current continuation up to an enclosing prompt with a particular prompt tag. The default handler for uncaught exceptions, in particular, aborts to a particular tag for which a prompt is always present, because the prompt is installed in the outermost frame of the continuation for any new thread.

1.1.15 Custodians

+See Custodians for custodian functions.

A custodian manages a collection of threads, file-stream ports, TCP ports, TCP listeners, UDP sockets, byte converters, and places. Whenever a thread, etc., is created, it is placed under the management of the current custodian as determined by the current-custodian parameter.

Custodians also manage eventspaces from racket/gui/base.

Except for the root custodian, every custodian itself is managed by a custodian, so that custodians form a hierarchy. Every object managed by a subordinate custodian is also managed by the custodian’s owner.

When a custodian is shut down via custodian-shutdown-all, it forcibly and immediately closes the ports, TCP connections, etc., that it manages, as well as terminating (or suspending) its threads. A custodian that has been shut down cannot manage new objects. After the current custodian is shut down, if a procedure is called that attempts to create a managed resource (e.g., open-input-file, thread), then the exn:fail:contract exception is raised.

A thread can have multiple managing custodians, and a suspended thread created with thread/suspend-to-kill can have zero custodians. Extra custodians become associated with a thread through thread-resume (see Suspending, Resuming, and Killing Threads). When a thread has multiple custodians, it is not necessarily killed by a custodian-shutdown-all. Instead, shut-down custodians are removed from the thread’s managing custodian set, and the thread is killed when its managing set becomes empty.

The values managed by a custodian are semi-weakly held by the custodian: a will can be executed for a value that is managed by a custodian; in addition, weak references via weak hash tables, ephemerons, or weak boxes can be dropped on the BC implementation of Racket, but not on the CS implementation. For all variants, a custodian only weakly references its subordinate custodians; if a subordinate custodian is unreferenced but has its own subordinates, then the custodian may be garbage collected, at which point its subordinates become immediately subordinate to the collected custodian’s superordinate (owner) custodian.

In addition to the other entities managed by a custodian, a custodian box created with make-custodian-box strongly holds onto a value placed in the box until the box’s custodian is shut down. However, the custodian only weakly retains the box itself, so the box and its content can be collected if there are no other references to them.

When Racket is compiled with support for per-custodian memory accounting (see custodian-memory-accounting-available?), the current-memory-use procedure can report a custodian-specific result. This result determines how much memory is occupied by objects that are reachable from the custodian’s managed values, especially its threads, and including its sub-custodians’ managed values. If an object is reachable from two custodians where neither is an ancestor of the other, an object is arbitrarily charged to one or the other, and the choice can change after each collection; objects reachable from both a custodian and its descendant, however, are reliably charged to the custodian and not to the descendants, unless the custodian can reach the objects only through a descendant custodian or a descendant’s thread. Reachability for per-custodian accounting does not include weak references, references to threads managed by other custodians, references to other custodians, or references to custodian boxes for other custodians.