Getting Started with Common Lisp on OS X

I was reading Nikodemus Siivola's excellent Common Lisp FAQ and came across a reference to Jonathan Fischer's guide to getting started with Common Lisp on OS X. If you're an Machead who's wanting to get started with CL, these instructions will help a lot. Fischer outlines his plan as

  1. Install SBCL
  2. Install Aquaemacs
  3. Install Quicklisp
  4. Configure everything to work together.

The rest of post expands on the individual steps of the outline.

My only quibble with Fischer's plan is the recommendation to use Aquaemacs instead of GNU Emacs. I've used Aquaemacs and it's a great tool but I much prefer GNU Emacs. Perhaps I'm not enough of a Machead to worry about having the Emacs UI modified to do things the Mac way but I like using the “standard” Emacs because it's always more up to date and because it's available and works the same on all the platforms that I use.

In the comments, Greg Pfeil makes the case for Clozure Common Lisp as easier to install and having an IDE for the Mac. I've used CCL and it's definitely a great CL implementation. I use SBCL because it's used by many of the Lispers I admire and follow and seems to be preferred by most experienced Lisp hackers. The integrated CCL IDE holds no attraction at all for me. As I've written before, I'm all about using and mastering a single editor for ALL my work. In fact, my original impetus for moving from Vim to Emacs was to get Slime so I don't need no stinkin' IDE. Again, though, I used CCL for some time and I can recommend it without hesitation.

If you've been wanting to try out CL but it seemed too hard to get started, Fischer's post may be just what you need.

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  • Chad

    I'd say that Aquamacs is fine for people who are more interested in focusing on learning Common Lisp. Once upon a time, there were philosophical differences that mattered, but David works both on Aquamacs and directly on GNU Emacs these days, so it's mostly a matter of whether you prefer a `localized' and stable bundle, or the latest and greatest.

    Right now, GNU Emacs on MacOSX is somewhat in flux over some Cocoa/Carbon/AppKit/GNUStep issues, so using a packaged older Emacs like Aquamacs is a fine choice for people more focused on other things.

    If you're more interested in the environment, using a more recent Emacs (24.3 is going into feature-freeze this weekend) is pretty easy. I myself have been using GNU Emacs directly out of the development tree for years, and rarely have serious trouble. In the end, there are lots of workable choices.

    • jcs

      To be sure. As I say, Aquamacs is a fine tool. It's just that I prefer using GNU Emacs for the reasons that I wrote about. My outlook is probably a little skewed by my belief that one should use and master a single editor. If you want to program in Lisp, some version of Emacs is pretty much your best bet. Given my belief---which not everyone, of course, shares---I think you should choose the best editor possible rather than worrying about which editor is most appropriate for learning Lisp. That means, by the way, that if Aquamacs works best for you as an editor, then that's what you should use.