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(elisp)Intro Eval

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Introduction to Evaluation

   The Lisp interpreter, or evaluator, is the program that computes the
value of an expression that is given to it.  When a function written in
Lisp is called, the evaluator computes the value of the function by
evaluating the expressions in the function body.  Thus, running any
Lisp program really means running the Lisp interpreter.

   How the evaluator handles an object depends primarily on the data
type of the object.

   A Lisp object that is intended for evaluation is called an
"expression" or a "form".  The fact that expressions are data objects
and not merely text is one of the fundamental differences between
Lisp-like languages and typical programming languages.  Any object can
be evaluated, but in practice only numbers, symbols, lists and strings
are evaluated very often.

   It is very common to read a Lisp expression and then evaluate the
expression, but reading and evaluation are separate activities, and
either can be performed alone.  Reading per se does not evaluate
anything; it converts the printed representation of a Lisp object to the
object itself.  It is up to the caller of `read' whether this object is
a form to be evaluated, or serves some entirely different purpose.
Note: Input Functions.

   Do not confuse evaluation with command key interpretation.  The
editor command loop translates keyboard input into a command (an
interactively callable function) using the active keymaps, and then
uses `call-interactively' to invoke the command.  The execution of the
command itself involves evaluation if the command is written in Lisp,
but that is not a part of command key interpretation itself.  Note:
Command Loop.

   Evaluation is a recursive process.  That is, evaluation of a form may
call `eval' to evaluate parts of the form.  For example, evaluation of
a function call first evaluates each argument of the function call, and
then evaluates each form in the function body.  Consider evaluation of
the form `(car x)': the subform `x' must first be evaluated
recursively, so that its value can be passed as an argument to the
function `car'.

   Evaluation of a function call ultimately calls the function specified
in it.  Note: Functions.  The execution of the function may itself
work by evaluating the function definition; or the function may be a
Lisp primitive implemented in C, or it may be a byte-compiled function
(Note: Byte Compilation).

   The evaluation of forms takes place in a context called the
"environment", which consists of the current values and bindings of all
Lisp variables.(1)  Whenever a form refers to a variable without
creating a new binding for it, the value of the variable's binding in
the current environment is used.  Note: Variables.

   Evaluation of a form may create new environments for recursive
evaluation by binding variables (Note: Local Variables).  These
environments are temporary and vanish by the time evaluation of the form
is complete.  The form may also make changes that persist; these changes
are called "side effects".  An example of a form that produces side
effects is `(setq foo 1)'.

   The details of what evaluation means for each kind of form are
described below (Note: Forms).

   ---------- Footnotes ----------

   (1) This definition of "environment" is specifically not intended to
include all the data that can affect the result of a program.

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