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A tiny self-hosting Lisp-to-C compiler

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This is a self-hosting compiler of a Lisp dialect to C in 6 pages of code. I've tried to make it as simple as possible, with almost no concessions to performance or extra functionality -- it's meant to be educational rather than useful.


$ git clone [email protected]:darius/ichbins.git

(Or get a tarball from $ cd ichbins $ make

To compile a program named foo.scm and then run it: $ ./ichbins foo.c $ cc foo.c -o foo $ ./foo

There's a sketchy overview of the language and system in Overview.text.

To make a change to the compiler and rebuild it, just typing 'make' isn't sufficient because of the circular dependency. 'make' will build an executable named ichbins2, compiling the current source with the previous executable. To replace that executable, type './bless', which does two tests:

* That the tests in the tests/ directory pass.

  • That the old and new versions of the compiler executable produce the same C output from the compiler source. This test typically passes for routine changes to the source, but it's perfectly OK for it to fail; you should just be sure you can say why this case is expected. Then do 'mv ichbins2 ichbins' by hand and do ./bless again; this time it must pass, or something's buggered.

The Lisp dialect implemented here is documented in


I'm a nut who wants to grow a beautiful wholeness from tiny beginnings. This is a rewrite of 'icbins', which had the same larger goal in mind but a more immediate focus on playing with bootstrapping.

Direct influences include:

Steele & Sussman, "The Art of the Interpreter"

Marc Feeley, "Scheme in 90 Minutes" (which compiles a more powerful Scheme subset, but is longer and not self-hosting)

The name 'ichbins' could stand for "I Can Hardly Believe It's Not Scheme!"

See also for a more featureful descendant.


To Johnicholas Hines for example code.

To Manuel Simoni and Kragen Sitaker for feedback.


Copyright 2007 Darius Bacon under the terms of the MIT X license found at

Darius Bacon [email protected]

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