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What I like about the Scheme community

Date published: 2020-01-13

One thing I really enjoy about the Scheme programming language is the community that comes along with it. In this blog post, I’m going to do more of an unstructured talk about my understanding of Scheme, its standards, implementations, and its various communities. I might be wrong, but, as I said, this is my understanding of it as someone who has spent time learning about it as a hobby, and as someone without a computer background.

If you aren’t familiar with Scheme, it’s an umbrella term for a set of programming language standards and implementations that are built around those standards. Scheme, itself, also falls under an umbrella term for a set of programming language standards and implementations called Lisps.

When I first started getting into programming, one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around, as a person without a computer background, was understanding the difference between a standard and an implementation. I’m going to introduce these concepts to you below.

Scheme standards

In the programming world, as far as I know it, standards are kind of like a set of rules that something should follow. To compare, imagine we made a standard for writing a document:

... and probably many more rules. After, we would formalize these rules into a document that writers could reference.

This is similar to how Scheme standards work. Someone writes a standard, and people build programming languages while following those standards.

A few popular Scheme standards include R5RS, R6RS, and R7RS. There are others, but those are the most common nowadays (2020). You can find these standards here. These documented standards are useful to reference when programming in an implementation Scheme that uses one of these standards. Conveniently, I’m going to provide you with a non-exhaustive list of Scheme implementations and the standard(s) they follow below:

Scheme implementations

Implementations are standard-specific, but many of them support the use of other standards, languages, libraries, modules, and SRFIs (Similar to libraries) within the implementation.

For example, although Chicken Scheme is an R5RS implementation, but you can use the R7RS standard in it because someone added support for that standard.

Syntax modification

Another cool thing about Scheme is that, due to the nature of Scheme, you can modify its syntax to your liking. Scheme’s macros and syntax-changing features allow you to do this. This is something I’m still learning how to do myself.

People use these macros and syntax-changing features to alter the language, and then save it as another language so others can use it. This is how the Chicken Scheme implementation, mentioned above, is able to have different standards to pick from.

Note: Other Lisps, such as such as Common Lisp, Clojure, Fennel, Carp, Hy, and many more, can also use macros and other features to alter the language.

Back to community

Now that you have a background on Scheme, let’s go back to the community aspect of it that I like so much.

I’m often socializing on the Fediverse or Scuttlebutt, and a big enough Scheme and Lisp community exist there.

The Scheme community is broken down into sub communities based on different implementations most of the time. So community-specific hashtags, such as #chicken, #racket, #guile, #chibi, etc. exist, and people from these sub communities will follow these hashtags, as well as a general #scheme hashtag, depending on what they are interested in.

Because of this, when I’m asking for advice, I will post a message with a #scheme hashtag, and more often than not, I will get a reply from one of the members of the sub communities, because we’re all just using Scheme in the end!

I find it very cool to be able to socialize with people from different programming communities. I feel like it’s a great way to make friends and bond over similar hobbies.