The source for this post is online at 2012-07-30-cont-marks3.rkt.
The last two weeks we’ve seen the basic ideas behind continuation marks, but we’ve never actually used them. This week we show the actual feature.
As usual, we’ll return to the example from last time:
which prints as:
where we relied on the parameter feature of Racket to implement the indentation tracking:
We can read parameterize as annotating the context of the t evaluation with information that says "the indentation level is now 3" (or whatever.) But parameters wrap that annotation in a convenient interface.
The annotation could be expressed directly by "marking" (annotating) the "continuation" (context):
(define (indent-level) (continuation-mark-set-first (current-continuation-marks) 'indent-level 0)) (define (with-indentation t) (define originally (indent-level)) (with-continuation-mark 'indent-level (add1 originally) (t))) (define (displayln/indent x) (for ([i (in-range (indent-level))]) (display " ")) (displayln x))
The only apparent differences are that we use with-continuation-mark rather than parameterize, use the symbol 'indent-level, and have to write the accessor function ourselves. Indeed, you can almost imagine that parameters are little more than these differences macro-ized. (As mentioned before, there are other differences with parameters and concurrency that this leaves out.)
One crucial difference between parameters and continuation marks, however, is that with parameters you can only observe the *last* value, whereas with marks you can observe *all* values. Our example only looks at the last one, so we’ll have to change something else to see them all.
Here’s a factorial function, with continuation marks annotating its arguments:
(define (fac n) (cond [(zero? n) (displayln (continuation-mark-set->list* (current-continuation-marks) '(fac))) 1] [else (with-continuation-mark 'fac n (* n (fac (sub1 n))))])) (fac 3)
If you run this code, it prints out a list containing 1, 2, and
Continuation marks like this (noting the name of the function and its arguments) are the majority of stack traces. Other kinds of marks could be used for other runtime inspection purposes.
Continuation marks behave specially when the annotation is in tail position. (Recall that this is why parameterize is more efficient than dynamic-wind.) Since in tail position there is not a new continuation, there is only space for one mark, so any new marks destroy old marks. A tail-recursive version of factorial demonstrates the difference:
(define (fac-tr n acc) (cond [(zero? n) (displayln (continuation-mark-set->list* (current-continuation-marks) '(fac))) acc] [else (with-continuation-mark 'fac n (fac-tr (sub1 n) (* n acc)))])) (fac-tr 3 1)
This program only prints out 1, because the single continuation only has space for one mark and each recursion annihilates it.
This property preserve the Safe-for-Space guarantees of Racket in the presence of continuation marks.
I find continuation marks very useful when a program must observe the path that led to it. For example, it can be a convenient way to detect cycles in a search space. Sometimes I will write a "custom" stack trace like this just for experimenting purposes to track the evaluation of the program better.
Continuation marks are also the basis of the stateless continuation-based Web server that comes with Racket, but that’s another story.
By the way, if you use this code at home, make sure you put the code in this order: