Naming packages...

In the years I developed a style of package naming conventions.  It is heavily influenced by the Java hierarchical packages (and, let's remember, there are CL implementations that support hierarchical packages out there).  The style leverages CL nicknames to achieve another interesting effect, which people may find useful: namely, it can alert the developer of different library implementations being loaded in the CL runtime.

Suppose I started working on a new library/system/application which I want to call CLAMP (it has been in the works for ages). The name is simple enough, so I may start writing something like

(defpackage "CLAMP" (:use "CL") ...
 (:export "MAKE-CLAMP" ...))

(Note that I prefer to use strings for names in packages; you may use keywords, which have some drawbacks or uninterned symbols like #:clamp, but I'll comment on them in another post.)

Now, the name CLAMP isn't particularly distinctive, so you may (it's a big "may") end up with clobbering your package space if you load in your running CL another CLAMP package coming from elsewhere.

Since I learnt the Java lesson, I decide to rename my package in a more unique way as:

(defpackage "IT.UNIMIB.DISCO.MA.CL.CLAMP" (:use "CL") ...
 (:nicknames "CLAMP")
 (:export "MAKE-CLAMP" ...))

The new package name IT.UNIMIB.DISCO.MA.CL.CLAMP is rather unwieldy, so I added a nice nickname, CLAMP, which is what I wanted to use as the advertised name of my library. These choices have a few - at first seemingly fortuitous, but subsequently intended - consequences.

First of all, suppose that I have a different (older) version of my library floating around. Suppose also that in this version I have a terribly inefficient implementation of MAKE-CLAMP. My different version lives in a package named EDU.NYU.CS.MARCO.COMMON-LISP.CLAMP which also has the CLAMP nickname. When I try, willingly or inadvertently, to load both packages in the CL runtime, an error is signalled (*), thus alerting me of a naming conflict, which, in this case would also lead to more inefficient code.

So my recipe for naming packages is the following.

  • Choose a unique enough package name, maybe following the Java hierarchical scheme.
  • Add the advertised name of your package (or library) as a nickname.


(*) Most implementations I know of do signal a package-error. However, the ANSI spec is silent on the subject.