The Description of Large Systems

Unknown author (1984-09-01)

In this paper we discuss the problems associated with the description and manipulation of large systems when their sources are not maintained as single fields. We show why and how tools that address these issues, such as Unix MAKE and Lisp Machine DEFSYSTEM, have evolved. Existing formalisms suffer from the problem that their syntax is not easily separable from their functionality. In programming languages, standard "calling conventions" exist to insulate the caller of a function from the syntactic details of how that function was defined, but until now no such conventions have existed to hide consumers of program systems from the details of how those systems were specified. We propose a low-level data abstraction which can support notations such as those used by MAKE and DEFSYSTEM without requiring that the introduction of a new notation be accompanied by a completely different set of tools for instantiating or otherwise manipulating the resulting system. Lisp is used for presentation, bit the issues are not idiosyncratic to LISP.