If you like parentheses, Scheme may be the utility language you are looking for. Robert explains why.
Parting Words

Every language has its place in the programmer's toolkit. I don't use Scheme for every task—most of the time I use Perl, and sometimes I even use C. However, Scheme lets me write error-free programs in less time, with less effort and less pain, than almost any other language would. It provides me with many facilities that I would have to write for myself if using some other language, and unlike some other very high level languages, can be compiled to blindingly fast native code.

Obtaining Scheme for your Linux Box

I maintain an archive of Scheme interpreters and compilers pre-compiled for Linux. To retrieve one of these, ftp to and look in the directory named /users/rsanders/lang. You will find these files:

  • bigloo-bin.tar.gz The Bigloo compiler version

  • bigloo-elf-bin.tar.gz Bigloo with ELF shared libraries

  • scheme2c-bin.tar.gz The Scheme->C compiler from DEC

  • scheme2c-elf-bin.tar.gz Scheme->C with ELF shared libraries

  • scm-bin.tar.gz Aubrey Jaffer's SCM interpeter

  • slib.tar.gz Jaffer's SLIB library

  • stk-bin.tar.gz The Tk-compatible Scheme interpreter

If your system is capable of compiling and running ELF binaries, then I suggest you use the packages that contain ELF shared libraries. The use of these shared libraries can reduce application startup time and size by up to 180 KB.


Revised Revised Revised Revised Report on the Algorithmic Language Scheme (R4RS) - William Clinger, Jonathan Rees et al. Postscript and DVI versions available via anonymous FTP from in /archive/scheme-reports. Also available in HTML form from as /archive/scm/HTML/r4rs*. The Usenet newsgroups comp.lang.scheme and comp.lang.lisp. Introductory books (from the comp.lang.scheme FAQ):

  1. Daniel P. Friedman and M. Felleisen.The Little LISPerMIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 3rd printing, 1989.ISBN 0-262-56038-0. Science Research Associates (Chicago),3rd ed, 1989. 206 pages.

    Good for a quick introduction. Uses Scheme instead of Common Lisp. (The book uses a dialect of Scheme with footnotes about translating to Scheme or Common Lisp. The footnotes won't allow a non-expert to use Common Lisp for the advanced chapters because of the complexity.)

  2. Brian Harvey and Matthew WrightSimply Scheme: Introducing Computer ScienceMIT Press, Cambridge,MA, 1994. 583 pages.ISBN 0-262-08226-8. $49.95.

    This book is ideal for students with little or no previous exposure to programming. The book is designed to be used before SICP (the authors call it a SICP “prequel”), and makes Scheme fun by sheltering the students from potentially confusing technical details. Unlike Pascal or C, the emphasis is on ideas, not obscure matters of syntax and arbitrary rules of style. High schools who have shied away from using Scheme because they found SICP to be too challenging should consider using this book instead.

    The text gradually and gently introduces students to some of the key concepts of programming in Scheme. It starts off with functions and function composition and continues with the notion of functions as data (first-class functions) and programs that write programs (higher-order functions). Since the complexity of the language is hidden, students can get involved in some of the more interesting and fun aspects of the language earlier than in other texts. Then the book progresses through the more complicated concepts of lambda, recursion, data abstraction and procedural abstraction, and concludes with sequential techniques, but with careful attention to topics students often find difficult. There are five chapters on recursion alone! There's also a pitfalls section at the end of most chapters to help students recognize and avoid common errors. The book uses several programs as examples, including a tic-tac-toe program, a pattern matcher, a miniature spreadsheet, and a simple database program. Source code for the programs is available by anonymous ftp from, or for $10 on IBM or Macintosh diskettes from the publisher.

  3. Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, with Julie Sussman.Structure and Interpretation of Computer ProgramsMIT Press (Cambridge, MA) and McGraw-Hill (New York), 1985.542 pages. ISBN 0-262-01077-1 $55.

    The teacher's manual, which is also available from MIT Press (ISBN 0-262-51046-4 $20), does NOT contain solutions to the exercises, but does contain hints on teaching with the book.

    Starts off introductory, but rapidly gets into powerful Lisp-particular constructs, such as using closures and engines, building interpreters, compilers and object-oriented systems. Often referred to by its acronym, SICP, which is pronounced “Sick-Pee”. This is the classical text for teaching program design using Scheme, and everybody should read it at least once. MIT problem sets are available from the repositories, and materials from Gustavus Adolphus College are available from

  4. George Springer and Daniel P. FriedmanScheme and the Art of ProgrammingMIT Press and McGraw Hill,1990, 596 pages. ISBN 0-262-19288-8, $50.

    Introduces basic concepts of programming in Scheme. Also deals with object oriented programming, co-routining, and continuations. Gives numerous examples. Has more of an emphasis on teaching Scheme than SICP, and can be seen as an alternative to SICP. Source code from the chapters is available from

Robert Sanders ( works as the senior engineer at MindSpring Enterprises, an Atlanta-based Internet Service Provider. Ever since he escaped his role as dosemu's author, he's been hard at work studying computer languages and their implementations. He likes Linux.


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