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FORMAT-OP-C (Version 4)

I'm not sure it wouldn't be simpler to make the use of ~C on characters
with non-zero BITS (and FONT?!) an error, rather than attempting to
leave it unspecified. I suppose if we can get up a vote to remove BITS
and FONT from the standard, it is moot.

The discussion of the stream-dependent behavior confused bytes with
characters in an unfortunate way. I rewrote that part of it to be what I
believe the truth is; I'm not sure if you agree, however. My notion was
that write-char always writes a single character; writing a
single-character causes multiple bytes to be written. However, a
subsequent read-char of the same stream should produce EQL characters as
were given to write-char. The only thing which is
stream/operating-system dependent is the mapping of characters to bytes.

When I thought about *that* some more, I decided it was really a
clarification about WRITE-CHAR and not about FORMAT ~C, so I moved the
whole paragraph about clarifying WRITE-CHAR to the discussion section.
This proposal is now very short.

Issue:        FORMAT-OP-C
References:   WRITE-CHAR (p384), ~C (p389)
Edit History: 23-Feb-87, Version 1 by Pitman
              29-Apr-87, Versions 2,3 by Pitman (merge in suggestions)
               5-Jun-87, Version 4 by Masinter, minor copy-editing

Problem Description:

The manual is not adequately specific about the function of the format
operation ~C. The description on p389 says that "~C prints the character
in an implementation-dependent abbreviated format. This format should be
culturally compatible with the host environment." This description is
not very useful in practice.

Presumably the authors intended the `cultural compatibility' part to
gloss issues like how the SAIL character set printed, but unfortunately
another completely reasonable (albeit unplanned) interpretation arose:
some implementations have (FORMAT NIL "~C" #\Space) => "Space" rather
than " ".

Since the behavior of ~A is also vague on characters (a separate
proposal addresses this), the only way to safely output a literal
character is to WRITE-CHAR; currently, FORMAT does not suffice.


Change the behavior of ~C to say that, when given a character with zero
bits, it will perform the same action as WRITE-CHAR. (This proposal
leaves the behavior of ~C with non-zero bits incompletely specified.)
For example, the description of the ~C format directive on p389 of CLTL
might read:

       ~C prints the character using WRITE-CHAR if it has zero bits.
     Characters with bits are not necessarily printed as WRITE-CHAR
     would do, but are displayed in an implementation-dependent
     abbreviated format that is culturally compatible with the host

Test Case:

(EQUAL (FORMAT NIL "~C" #\Space) " ")


This was probably the intent of the Common Lisp designers. 

It makes things clear enough that programmers can know what to expect in
the normal case (standard characters with zero bits).

Users can use (FORMAT NIL "~:C" #\Space) to get "Space" if they want it.
It seems as if the implementations which return "Space" treat ~C and ~:C
equivalently or very similarly.

Current Practice:

Implementations are divided. Some implementations have
     (FORMAT NIL "~C" #\Space) => "Space".
Others have the same form return " ".

Adoption Cost:

Those implementations which did not already implement ~C as WRITE-CHAR
would require an incompatible change.


User code that uses ~C would have a chance of being portable. As things
stand, users who use ~C can't reliably port their code.

~C and ~:C would perform usefully distinct operations.

Conversion Cost:

Standard ``Query Replace'' technology for finding occurrences of "~C"
and changing them to "~:C" semi-automatically should suffice.


Making ~C do something well-defined will probably be perceived as a


The cleanup committee supports this clarification.

The original version of this proposal (which tried to make WRITE-CHAR
and ~C identical in all cases) prompted the following comment:

 I believe the error in CLtL is that it was not stated explicitly
 that the "implementation-dependent abbreviated format" applies only
 to characters with non-zero char-bits. Thus instead of removing the
 mumbling about cultural compatibility, I suggest simply adding a
 sentence saying that ~C is the same as write-char for characters
 with zero char-bits.  I don't think we want to require ~C and
 write-char to do the same thing for characters with bits.

It may be necessary to clarify that WRITE-CHAR puts only one character
on its argument stream, such that a subsequent READ-CHAR of the same
file would read only one character. (Of course, in some operating
systems or for some devices, WRITE-CHAR of a single character might
cause multiple bytes to be written, substituted, escaped, quoted or the