Protobj: Prototype-Delegation Object Model in Scheme

Protobj: Prototype-Delegation Object Model in Scheme

Version 0.2, 2005-06-19, `'

by Neil W. Van Dyke <>

     Copyright (C) 2005 Neil W. Van Dyke.  This program is Free
     Software; you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms
     of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free
     Software Foundation; either version 2.1 of the License, or (at
     your option) any later version.  This program is distributed in
     the hope that it will be useful, but without any warranty; without
     even the implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a
     particular purpose.  See <>
     for details.  For other license options and consulting, contact
     the author.


Protobj is a Scheme library that implements a simple
prototype-delegation object model, somewhat similar to that of Self
(, and also related
to those of SLIB `object'
( and OScheme
(  Protobj was written
mainly as a `syntax-rules' learning exercise, but also because people
ask about prototype object models for Scheme from time to time.  Like
most object systems, Protobj should be regarded as an amusement.  The
Protobj library defines both a verbose set of procedures, and terse
special syntax.

   Protobj is based on objects with named slots that can contain
arbitrary values.  Object have immediate slots, and single parent
objects from which additional slots are inherited.  When setting in a
child object a slot inherited from the parent, a new immediate slot is
created in the child so that the parent is unaffected and the slot is
no longer inherited.

   Methods are simply closures stored in slots.  When a method is
applied, the first term of the closure is the receiver object.  Unlike
Self, getting getting the contents of the slot is distinguished from
invoking a method contained in the slot.  This distinction was made due
to the way first-class closures are often used in Scheme.

   An object is cloned by invoking the `clone' method.  The default root
object's `clone' method creates a new child object without any
immediate slots, rather than copying any slots.  This behavior can be
overridden to always copy certain slots, to copy immediate slots, or to
copy all inherited slots.  An overriding `clone' method can be
implemented to apply its parent's `clone' method to itself and then set
certain slots in the new child appropriately.

   Protobj requires R5RS, SRFI-9, SRFI-23, and SRFI-39.


The following is a quick tour of Protobj using the terse special syntax.

  1. Bind `a' to the new object that is created by cloning the default
     root object (`%' is special syntax for invoking the `clone'
          (define a (%))

  2. Verify that `a' is an object and that `a''s parent is the default
     root object:
          (object? a) => #t
          (eq? (^ a) (current-root-object)) => #t

  3. Add to `a' a slot named `x' with value `1':
          (! a x 1)

  4. Get `a''s slot `x''s value:
          (? a x) => 1

  5. Bind `b' to a clone of `a':
          (define b (% a))

  6. Get `b''s slot `x''s value, which is inherited from `a':
          (? b x) => 1

  7. Set `a''s slot `x''s value to `42', and observe that `b' inherits
     the new value:
          (! a x 42)
          (? a x) => 42
          (? b x) => 42

  8. Set `b''s slot `x''s value to `69', and observe that A retains its
     own `x' value although B's `x' value has been changed:
          (! b x 69)
          (? a x) => 42
          (? b x) => 69

  9. Add to `a' an `xplus' slot containing a closure that implements a
     method of the object:
          (! a xplus (lambda ($ n) (+ (? $ x) n)))

 10. Apply the method to the `a' and `b' objects (`b' inherits any new
     slots added to `a'):
          (@ a xplus 7) => 49
          (@ b xplus 7) => 76

 11. Observe the shorthand syntax for applying methods to an object
     multiple times, with the syntax having the value of the lastmost
          (@ a (xplus 1000) (xplus 7)) => 49

 12. Bind to C an object that clones A and adds slot Y with value `101':
          (define c (% a (y 101)))

 13. Get the values of both the `x' and `y' slots of `c':
          (? c x y) => 42 101

 14. Finally, bind `d' to a clone of `a' that overrides `a''s `x' slot:
          (define d (% a (x 1) (y 2) (z 3)))
          (? d x y z) => 1 2 3

Basic Interface

The basic interface of Protobj is a set of procedures.

> (object? x)
     Predicate for whether or not X is a Protobj object.

> (object-parent obj)
     Yields the parent object of object OBJ.

> (object-set! obj slot-symbol val)
     Sets the slot identified by symbol SLOT-SYMBOL in object OBJ to
     value `val'.

> (object-get obj slot-symbol)
     Yields the value of slot named by symbol SLOT-SYMBOL in object OBJ
     (immediate or inherited).  If no slot of that name exists, an
     error is signaled.

> (object-get obj slot-symbol noslot-thunk)
     Yields the value of slot named by symbol SLOT-SYMBOL in object OBJ
     (immediate or inherited), if any such slot exists.  If no slot of
     that name exists, then yields the value of applying closure

> (object-apply obj slot-symbol { arg }*)
     Applies the method (closure) in the slot named bySLOT-SYMBOL of
     object OBJ.  The first term of the method is OBJ, and one or more
     ARG are the remaining terms.  If no such slot exists, an error is

> (object-apply/noslot-thunk obj noslot-thunk slot-symbol {)
          arg }*
     Like `object-apply', except that, if the slot does not exist,
     instead of signalling an error, the value is the result of applying

> (object-raw-clone/no-slots-copy obj)
> (object-raw-clone/copy-immed-slots obj)
> (object-raw-clone/copy-all-slots obj)
     These procedures implement different ways of cloning an object,
     and are generally bound as `clone' methods in root objects.
     `/no-slots-copy' does not copy any slots, `/copy-immed-slots'
     copes immediate slots, and `/copy-all-slots' copies all slots
     including inherited ones.

> current-root-object
     Parameter for the default root object.  The initial value is a
     root object that has `object-raw-clone/no-slots-copy' in its
     `clone' slot.

Terse Syntax

Since Protobj's raison d'etre was to play with syntax, here it is.  Note
that slot names are never quoted.

> (^ obj)
     Parent of OBJ.

> (! obj slot val)
> (! obj (slot val) ...)
     Sets object OBJ's slot SLOT's value to VAL.  In the second form of
     this syntax, multiple slots of OBJ may be set at once, and are set
     in the order given.

> (? obj { slot }+)
     Yields the values of the given SLOTs of OBJ.  If more than one
     SLOT is given, a multiple-value return is used.

> (@ obj slot { arg }*)
> (@ obj { (slot { arg }* ) }+)
     Applies OBJ's SLOT method, with OBJ as the first term and ARGs as
     the remaining terms.  In the second form of this syntax, multiple
     methods may be applied, and the value is the value of the last
     method application.

> (% [ obj { (slot val) }* ])
     Clones object OBJ, binding any given SLOTs to respective given


The Protobj test suite can be enabled by editing the source code file
and loading Testeez (


Version 0.2 -- 2005-06-19
     Fixed bug in `%protobj:apply*' (thanks to Benedikt Rosenau for
     reporting).  Changed `$' syntax to `?', so that `$' could be used
     for "self" in methods.  Documentation changes.

Version 0.1 -- 2005-01-05
     Initial release.