Common Lisp on Mavericks

August 4, 2014

Here are some notes I took when setting up Emacs to run SBCL on a fresh Macbook Pro powered by Homebrew.

I was surprised to find no Info page for sbcl, and after looking for what was installed by Homebrew under /usr/local,1 I just found the corresponding man page:

% ls /usr/local/Cellar/sbcl/1.2.1/share/man/man1

So I decided to download SBCL from its homepage, and to compile it myself as I did on my previous Mac. This is rather simple and I just followed the instructions given in the INSTALL file. This took less than 4' on my new laptop:

% git clone git://
% sh --fancy --prefix=/Users/chl/local/sbcl
% push doc/manual && make && popd
% sh

And now I have Info files and the PDF manual:

% tree -L 3 .
├── bin
│   └── sbcl
├── lib
│   └── sbcl
│       ├── contrib
│       ├── sbcl.core
│       └── site-systems
└── share
    ├── doc
    │   └── sbcl
    ├── info
    │   ├──
    │   ├── dir
    │   ├──
    │   ├──
    │   └──
    └── man
        └── man1

11 directories, 7 files

These Info files can easily be moved to /usr/local/share/info and added with a command like install-info /usr/local/share/info/sbcl* /usr/local/share/info/dir.

When I tried to install the gsll library using Quicklisp, all dependencies compiled fine except gsll itself. Indeed, it complains about missing libgsl but this was only because it was looking at the wrong place

debugger invoked on a LOAD-FOREIGN-LIBRARY-ERROR in thread
#<THREAD "main thread" RUNNING {1002C3E7C3}>:
  Unable to load foreign library (LIBGSLCBLAS).
  Error opening shared object "/usr/local/Cellar/gsl/1.16/libgslcblas.dylib":
  dlopen(/usr/local/Cellar/gsl/1.16/libgslcblas.dylib, 10): image not found.

Homebrew installed header files under gsl/1.16/include and dynamic libraries under gsl/1.16/lib, but Quicklisp was looking at the root directory. This is something regrettable because it would be easy to look into /usr/local/lib directly as libgsl* files are symlinked there, although gsl-config --prefix actually returns /usr/local/Cellar/gsl/1.16. Anyway, following some good advice, I was able to quickly fix the broken path by editing the file init.el located in gsll (quicklisp/dists/quicklisp/software/gsll-20140211-git/init/):

(defun gsl-config-pathname (pn)
    ;; small patch to correct incorrect libgsl location with Homebrew
    (flet ((libpath ()
        (let ((s (gsl-config "--libs-without-cblas")))
            (pathname (format nil "~a/" (subseq s 2 (- (length s) 6)))))))
    (merge-pathnames pn (libpath)))))

The basic SBCL prompt is poorly functional, and it does not even include readline support. It is possible to get a more fancy REPL using the following instructions:

 (ql:quickload :linedit)
 (require :sb-aclrepl)
 (require :linedit)
 (funcall (intern "INSTALL-REPL" :linedit) :wrap-current t))

To make these changes permanent, the above series of instructions can be added to the init file, ~/.sbclrc. Note that this won’t play nice if you run SBCL through Slime in Emacs.

Other than what is listed on CL plotting or graphics libraries, in particular cl-plplot, I am still looking for a good plotting library. So far, I have found the following packages: plot-window, and gnuplotcl.

There’s not much to see, apparently. Most of the packages with a Gnuplot backend that I’ve seen so far are composed of few functions allowing to send commands to gnuplot in the background. No real comparison to Clojure quil, Incanter, or LispStats (see below). I briefly tested gnuplotcl and it worked like a charm. This is an ASDF package so we have to customize our SBCL init file a bit by adding something like

(pushnew '(merge-pathnames ".asdf/systems/"
         :test #'equal)
(require 'asdf)

There is also some bindings to the R software, and I found that rcl works pretty well. It is “quickloadable” and it allows to use R graphic system without much pain; see some examples.


It would be interesting to write something on top of vecto since it seems like a promising package, and it is currently maintained by the author of Quicklisp himself.


I am aware of Common Lisp Statistics project. Last time I tried to install it, this was really a mess but I think I get to the point of being able to run most of the examples. Interestingly, it seems that it has been updated recently following StatComp 2014 (see example and talk). Anyway, I happened to install this quite easily by following the instructions found on GitHub:

% cd ~/quicklisp/local-projects
% git clone git://
% git clone git://
% sbcl
* (ql:register-local-projects)
* (ql:quickload :antik)
* (ql:quickload :cls)

Now, I just have to figure out how to run the examples again.


  1. Please note that if the sbt plugin is enabled via the oh-my-zsh shell manager, sbcl is in fact aliased to sbt clean↩︎

See Also

» GNU Emacs on OS X 10.7 » Getting started with Slime » Emacs versus Textmate » OS X Mavericks » Light Table and interactive live coding