Elk: The Extension Language Kit

Oliver Laumann* and Carsten Bormann**

* Technische Universität Berlin, Germany
** Universität Bremen, Germany


In the past, users of an application generally were at the mercy of its authors when it came to adapting it to their individual needs and tastes. Fitting an application with an extension language (or embedded language) enables users to customize and enhance it without having to modify its source code. Recently, variants of Lisp have become increasingly popular for this purpose, to the point where the abundance of different dialects has grown into a problem. Of the two standardized dialects of Lisp, only Scheme is suitably modest, yet sufficiently general, to serve as an extension language.

      Elk, the Extension Language Kit, is a Scheme implementation that is intended to be used as a general, reusable extension language subsystem for integration into existing and future applications. Applications can define their own Scheme data types and primitives, providing for a tightly-knit integration of the C/C++ parts of the application with Scheme code. Library interfaces, for example to the UNIX operating system and to various X Window System libraries, show the effectiveness of this approach. Several features of Elk such as dynamic loading of object files and freezing of fully customized applications into executables (implemented for those UNIX environments where it was feasible) increase its usability as the backbone of a complex application. Elk has been used in this way for seven years within a locally-developed ODA-based multimedia document editor; it has been used in numerous other projects after it could be made freely available five years ago.

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