Access update – corrected SETF expanders and more examples

In the first released version of access I defined the setf versions as (defun (setf accesses) (new o &rest keys)…). In order to make this work out for plists and alists (where adding a key can result in a new HEAD element), I was forced to return the updated object rather than the “new” value that setf usually returns. I was unhappy with this oddity at the time but didn’t know directly how to fix it (obviously some macrology was in order to capture the “place” being modified).

Today I looked into the docs for define-set-expander and saw how to transform my code into “correct” setf’s. To do this i transformed my previous setf functions into set-access and set-accesses which return (values new-value possibly-new-object). I then define my setf expanders in terms of calling those functions and setting the place passed in to possibly-new-object. It took a little while to figure out and I’m still not entirely sure I wrote the optimal common lisp for this. However I was able to elide the outer setf from these expressions in the tests (setf pl (setf (access pl ‘one) ‘new-val)) and now the new (setf (access pl ‘one) ‘new-val) returns ‘new-val as would be expected.

There were some requests for more, better examples of where access might be useful:

  • My html components have a plist representing direct html attributes. I update these with (setf (accesses ctl ‘attributes ‘name) “myFormName”) and its correlary (accesses ctl #’attributes :name). Note that both forms work even though one uses a local symbol and one a keyword (they are compared by symbol-name so that I can think about it less). Also I am ok referring to the attributes function by name or function object (both will result in calling the attributes function on ctl).
  • Another example from the web domain: I often store a reference to a database object on the control that is responsible for displaying it. Thus getting the database primary key off of the data for a control can be (accesses client-form ‘data ‘adwolf-db:accountid). This allows me (where useful) to ignore the difference between an unsaved, new object and an object that hasn’t been created yet (for things like putting the id in the url, the difference is irrelevant).
  • While not currently implemented this way, my group-by library which groups items into nested alists or hashtable could potentially use access to handle the different implementations
  • Printing my database objects in debug / log messages, I want to output some columns (but only if the database object has those). This way I can define one printer for all my db objects with a minimum of fuss
    (defmethod print-object ((o clsql:mssql-db-object) (s stream))
    "Print the database object, and a couple of the most common identity slots."
    (print-unreadable-object (o s :type t :identity t)
    (iter (for c in '(id accountid serviceid transactionid title amount name))
    (for v = (access o c))
    (when v (format s "~A:~A " c v)))

In general I find access useful whenever I need to operate on some set of keys that may or may not exist in a dictionary-like object and I don’t care to receive any errors related to missing keys.


  • A keys / values interface to ease arbitrary dictionary iteration would be a worthy addition (alexandria seems to have all the relevant functions implemented, so it would mostly be a dispatch to those)
  • When a dictionary doesnt exist, there should be someway of telling it how to create that dictionary (currently you will get a plist).
  • Extensibility to allow support for other dict like structures.

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