6. The Metacircular PostScript Interpreter.

A program that interprets the language it is written in is said to be "metacircular". [Abelson, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs] Since PostScript, like Scheme, is a simple yet powerful language, with procedures as first class data structures, implementing "ps.ps", a metacircular PostScript interpreter, turned out to be straightforward (or drawrofthgiarts, with respect to the syntax). A metacircular PostScript interpreter should be compatible with the "exec" operator (modulo bugs and limitations). Some of the key ideas came from Crispin Goswell's PostScript implementation. [Goswell, An Implementation of PostScript]

The metacircular interpreter can be used as a debugging tool, to trace and single step through the execution of PostScript instructions. It calls a trace function before each instruction, that you can redefine to trace the execution in any way. One useful trace function animates the graphical stack on the PSIBER Space Deck step by step.

The meta-execution stack is a PostScript array, into which the metacircular interpreter pushes continuations for control structures. (forall, loop, stopped, etc...) A continuation is represented as a dictionary in which the state needed by the control structure is stored (plus some other information to help with debugging).

It is written in such a way that it can interpret itself: It has its own meta-execution stack to store the program's state, and it stashes its own state on the execution stack of the interpreter that's interpreting it, so the meta-interpreter's state does not get in the way of the program it's interpreting.

It is possible to experiment with modifications and extensions to PostScript, by revectoring functions and operators, and modifying the metacircular interpreter.

The metacircular interpreter can serve as a basis for PostScript algorithm animation. One very simple animation is a two dimensional plot of the operand stack depth (x), against the execution stack depth (y), over time.

Next section, 7. The Pseudo Scientific Visualizer.

Previous section, 5. The User Interface.

Back to contents.