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20. Loading

Loading a file of Lisp code means bringing its contents into the Lisp environment in the form of Lisp objects. XEmacs finds and opens the file, reads the text, evaluates each form, and then closes the file.

The load functions evaluate all the expressions in a file just as the eval-current-buffer function evaluates all the expressions in a buffer. The difference is that the load functions read and evaluate the text in the file as found on disk, not the text in an Emacs buffer.

The loaded file must contain Lisp expressions, either as source code or as byte-compiled code. Each form in the file is called a top-level form. There is no special format for the forms in a loadable file; any form in a file may equally well be typed directly into a buffer and evaluated there. (Indeed, most code is tested this way.) Most often, the forms are function definitions and variable definitions.

A file containing Lisp code is often called a library. Thus, the “Rmail library” is a file containing code for Rmail mode. Similarly, a “Lisp library directory” is a directory of files containing Lisp code.

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20.1 How Programs Do Loading

XEmacs Lisp has several interfaces for loading. For example, autoload creates a placeholder object for a function in a file; trying to call the autoloading function loads the file to get the function’s real definition (see section Autoload). require loads a file if it isn’t already loaded (see section Features). Ultimately, all these facilities call the load function to do the work.

Function: load filename &optional missing-ok nomessage nosuffix

This function finds and opens a file of Lisp code, evaluates all the forms in it, and closes the file.

To find the file, load first looks for a file named ‘filename.elc’, that is, for a file whose name is filename with ‘.elc’ appended. If such a file exists, it is loaded. If there is no file by that name, then load looks for a file named ‘filename.el’. If that file exists, it is loaded. Finally, if neither of those names is found, load looks for a file named filename with nothing appended, and loads it if it exists. (The load function is not clever about looking at filename. In the perverse case of a file named ‘foo.el.el’, evaluation of (load "foo.el") will indeed find it.)

If the optional argument nosuffix is non-nil, then the suffixes ‘.elc’ and ‘.el’ are not tried. In this case, you must specify the precise file name you want.

If filename is a relative file name, such as ‘foo’ or ‘baz/foo.bar’, load searches for the file using the variable load-path. It appends filename to each of the directories listed in load-path, and loads the first file it finds whose name matches. The current default directory is tried only if it is specified in load-path, where nil stands for the default directory. load tries all three possible suffixes in the first directory in load-path, then all three suffixes in the second directory, and so on.

If you get a warning that ‘foo.elc’ is older than ‘foo.el’, it means you should consider recompiling ‘foo.el’. See section Byte Compilation.

Messages like ‘Loading foo...’ and ‘Loading foo...done’ appear in the echo area during loading unless nomessage is non-nil.

Any unhandled errors while loading a file terminate loading. If the load was done for the sake of autoload, any function definitions made during the loading are undone.

If load can’t find the file to load, then normally it signals the error file-error (with ‘Cannot open load file filename’). But if missing-ok is non-nil, then load just returns nil.

You can use the variable load-read-function to specify a function for load to use instead of read for reading expressions. See below.

load returns t if the file loads successfully.

User Option: load-path

The value of this variable is a list of directories to search when loading files with load. Each element is a string (which must be a directory name) or nil (which stands for the current working directory). The value of load-path is initialized from the environment variable EMACSLOADPATH, if that exists; otherwise its default value is specified in ‘emacs/src/paths.h’ when XEmacs is built.

The syntax of EMACSLOADPATH is the same as used for PATH; ‘:’ (or ‘;’, according to the operating system) separates directory names, and ‘.’ is used for the current default directory. Here is an example of how to set your EMACSLOADPATH variable from a csh.login’ file:

setenv EMACSLOADPATH .:/user/bil/emacs:/usr/lib/emacs/lisp

Here is how to set it using sh:


Here is an example of code you can place in a ‘.emacs’ file to add several directories to the front of your default load-path:

(setq load-path
      (append (list nil "/user/bil/emacs"

In this example, the path searches the current working directory first, followed then by the ‘/user/bil/emacs’ directory, the ‘/usr/local/lisplib’ directory, and the ‘~/emacs’ directory, which are then followed by the standard directories for Lisp code.

The command line options ‘-l’ or ‘-load’ specify a Lisp library to load as part of Emacs startup. Since this file might be in the current directory, Emacs 18 temporarily adds the current directory to the front of load-path so the file can be found there. Newer Emacs versions also find such files in the current directory, but without altering load-path.

Dumping Emacs uses a special value of load-path. If the value of load-path at the end of dumping is unchanged (that is, still the same special value), the dumped Emacs switches to the ordinary load-path value when it starts up, as described above. But if load-path has any other value at the end of dumping, that value is used for execution of the dumped Emacs also.

Therefore, if you want to change load-path temporarily for loading a few libraries in ‘site-init.el’ or ‘site-load.el’, you should bind load-path locally with let around the calls to load.

Function: locate-file filename path-list &optional suffixes mode

This function searches for a file in the same way that load does, and returns the file found (if any). (In fact, load uses this function to search through load-path.) It searches for filename through path-list, expanded by one of the optional suffixes (string of suffixes separated by ‘:’s), checking for access mode (0|1|2|4 = exists|executable|writable|readable), default readable.

locate-file keeps hash tables of the directories it searches through, in order to speed things up. It tries valiantly to not get confused in the face of a changing and unpredictable environment, but can occasionally get tripped up. In this case, you will have to call locate-file-clear-hashing to get it back on track. See that function for details.

Function: locate-file-clear-hashing path

This function clears the hash records for the specified list of directories. locate-file uses a hashing scheme to speed lookup, and will correctly track the following environmental changes:

locate-file will primarily get confused if you add a file that shadows (i.e. has the same name as) another file further down in the directory list. In this case, you must call locate-file-clear-hashing.

Variable: load-in-progress

This variable is non-nil if Emacs is in the process of loading a file, and it is nil otherwise.

Variable: load-read-function

This variable specifies an alternate expression-reading function for load and eval-region to use instead of read. The function should accept one argument, just as read does.

Normally, the variable’s value is nil, which means those functions should use read.

User Option: load-warn-when-source-newer

This variable specifies whether load should check whether the source is newer than the binary. If this variable is true, then when a ‘.elc’ file is being loaded and the corresponding ‘.el’ is newer, a warning message will be printed. The default is nil, but it is bound to t during the initial loadup.

User Option: load-warn-when-source-only

This variable specifies whether load should warn when loading a ‘.el’ file instead of an ‘.elc’. If this variable is true, then when load is called with a filename without an extension, and the ‘.elc’ version doesn’t exist but the ‘.el’ version does, then a message will be printed. If an explicit extension is passed to load, no warning will be printed. The default is nil, but it is bound to t during the initial loadup.

User Option: load-ignore-elc-files

This variable specifies whether load should ignore ‘.elc’ files when a suffix is not given. This is normally used only to bootstrap the ‘.elc’ files when building XEmacs, when you use the command ‘make all-elc’. (This forces the ‘.el’ versions to be loaded in the process of compiling those same files, so that existing out-of-date ‘.elc’ files do not make it mess things up.)

To learn how load is used to build XEmacs, see Building XEmacs.

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20.2 Autoload

The autoload facility allows you to make a function or macro known in Lisp, but put off loading the file that defines it. The first call to the function automatically reads the proper file to install the real definition and other associated code, then runs the real definition as if it had been loaded all along.

There are two ways to set up an autoloaded function: by calling autoload, and by writing a special “magic” comment in the source before the real definition. autoload is the low-level primitive for autoloading; any Lisp program can call autoload at any time. Magic comments do nothing on their own; they serve as a guide for the command update-file-autoloads, which constructs calls to autoload and arranges to execute them when Emacs is built. Magic comments are the most convenient way to make a function autoload, but only for packages installed along with Emacs.

Function: autoload function filename &optional docstring interactive type

This function defines the function (or macro) named function so as to load automatically from filename. The string filename specifies the file to load to get the real definition of function.

The argument docstring is the documentation string for the function. Normally, this is identical to the documentation string in the function definition itself. Specifying the documentation string in the call to autoload makes it possible to look at the documentation without loading the function’s real definition.

If interactive is non-nil, then the function can be called interactively. This lets completion in M-x work without loading the function’s real definition. The complete interactive specification need not be given here; it’s not needed unless the user actually calls function, and when that happens, it’s time to load the real definition.

You can autoload macros and keymaps as well as ordinary functions. Specify type as macro if function is really a macro. Specify type as keymap if function is really a keymap. Various parts of Emacs need to know this information without loading the real definition.

An autoloaded keymap loads automatically during key lookup when a prefix key’s binding is the symbol function. Autoloading does not occur for other kinds of access to the keymap. In particular, it does not happen when a Lisp program gets the keymap from the value of a variable and calls define-key; not even if the variable name is the same symbol function.

If function already has a non-void function definition that is not an autoload object, autoload does nothing and returns nil. If the function cell of function is void, or is already an autoload object, then it is defined as an autoload object like this:

(autoload filename docstring interactive type)

For example,

(symbol-function 'run-prolog)
     ⇒ (autoload "prolog" 169681 t nil)

In this case, "prolog" is the name of the file to load, 169681 refers to the documentation string in the ‘DOC’ file (see section Documentation Basics), t means the function is interactive, and nil that it is not a macro or a keymap.

The autoloaded file usually contains other definitions and may require or provide one or more features. If the file is not completely loaded (due to an error in the evaluation of its contents), any function definitions or provide calls that occurred during the load are undone. This is to ensure that the next attempt to call any function autoloading from this file will try again to load the file. If not for this, then some of the functions in the file might appear defined, but they might fail to work properly for the lack of certain subroutines defined later in the file and not loaded successfully.

XEmacs as distributed comes with many autoloaded functions. The calls to autoload are in the file ‘loaddefs.el’. There is a convenient way of updating them automatically.

If the autoloaded file fails to define the desired Lisp function or macro, then an error is signaled with data "Autoloading failed to define function function-name".

A magic autoload comment looks like ‘;;;###autoload’, on a line by itself, just before the real definition of the function in its autoloadable source file. The command M-x update-file-autoloads writes a corresponding autoload call into ‘loaddefs.el’. Building Emacs loads ‘loaddefs.el’ and thus calls autoload. M-x update-directory-autoloads is even more powerful; it updates autoloads for all files in the current directory.

The same magic comment can copy any kind of form into ‘loaddefs.el’. If the form following the magic comment is not a function definition, it is copied verbatim. You can also use a magic comment to execute a form at build time without executing it when the file itself is loaded. To do this, write the form on the same line as the magic comment. Since it is in a comment, it does nothing when you load the source file; but update-file-autoloads copies it to ‘loaddefs.el’, where it is executed while building Emacs.

The following example shows how doctor is prepared for autoloading with a magic comment:

(defun doctor ()
  "Switch to *doctor* buffer and start giving psychotherapy."
  (switch-to-buffer "*doctor*")

Here’s what that produces in ‘loaddefs.el’:

(autoload 'doctor "doctor"
Switch to *doctor* buffer and start giving psychotherapy."

The backslash and newline immediately following the double-quote are a convention used only in the preloaded Lisp files such as ‘loaddefs.el’; they tell make-docfile to put the documentation string in the ‘DOC’ file. See section Building XEmacs.

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20.3 Repeated Loading

You may load one file more than once in an Emacs session. For example, after you have rewritten and reinstalled a function definition by editing it in a buffer, you may wish to return to the original version; you can do this by reloading the file it came from.

When you load or reload files, bear in mind that the load and load-library functions automatically load a byte-compiled file rather than a non-compiled file of similar name. If you rewrite a file that you intend to save and reinstall, remember to byte-compile it if necessary; otherwise you may find yourself inadvertently reloading the older, byte-compiled file instead of your newer, non-compiled file!

When writing the forms in a Lisp library file, keep in mind that the file might be loaded more than once. For example, the choice of defvar vs. defconst for defining a variable depends on whether it is desirable to reinitialize the variable if the library is reloaded: defconst does so, and defvar does not. (See section Defining Global Variables.)

The simplest way to add an element to an alist is like this:

(setq minor-mode-alist
      (cons '(leif-mode " Leif") minor-mode-alist))

But this would add multiple elements if the library is reloaded. To avoid the problem, write this:

(or (assq 'leif-mode minor-mode-alist)
    (setq minor-mode-alist
          (cons '(leif-mode " Leif") minor-mode-alist)))

To add an element to a list just once, use add-to-list (see section How to Alter a Variable Value).

Occasionally you will want to test explicitly whether a library has already been loaded. Here’s one way to test, in a library, whether it has been loaded before:

(defvar foo-was-loaded)

(if (not (boundp 'foo-was-loaded))

(setq foo-was-loaded t)

If the library uses provide to provide a named feature, you can use featurep to test whether the library has been loaded.

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20.4 Features

provide and require are an alternative to autoload for loading files automatically. They work in terms of named features. Autoloading is triggered by calling a specific function, but a feature is loaded the first time another program asks for it by name.

A feature name is a symbol that stands for a collection of functions, variables, etc. The file that defines them should provide the feature. Another program that uses them may ensure they are defined by requiring the feature. This loads the file of definitions if it hasn’t been loaded already.

To require the presence of a feature, call require with the feature name as argument. require looks in the global variable features to see whether the desired feature has been provided already. If not, it loads the feature from the appropriate file. This file should call provide at the top level to add the feature to features; if it fails to do so, require signals an error.

Features are normally named after the files that provide them, so that require need not be given the file name.

For example, in ‘emacs/lisp/prolog.el’, the definition for run-prolog includes the following code:

(defun run-prolog ()
  "Run an inferior Prolog process, input and output via buffer *prolog*."
  (require 'comint)
  (switch-to-buffer (make-comint "prolog" prolog-program-name))

The expression (require 'comint) loads the file ‘comint.el’ if it has not yet been loaded. This ensures that make-comint is defined.

The ‘comint.el’ file contains the following top-level expression:

(provide 'comint)

This adds comint to the global features list, so that (require 'comint) will henceforth know that nothing needs to be done.

When require is used at top level in a file, it takes effect when you byte-compile that file (see section Byte Compilation) as well as when you load it. This is in case the required package contains macros that the byte compiler must know about.

Although top-level calls to require are evaluated during byte compilation, provide calls are not. Therefore, you can ensure that a file of definitions is loaded before it is byte-compiled by including a provide followed by a require for the same feature, as in the following example.

(provide 'my-feature)  ; Ignored by byte compiler,
                       ;   evaluated by load.
(require 'my-feature)  ; Evaluated by byte compiler.

The compiler ignores the provide, then processes the require by loading the file in question. Loading the file does execute the provide call, so the subsequent require call does nothing while loading.

Function: provide feature

This function announces that feature is now loaded, or being loaded, into the current XEmacs session. This means that the facilities associated with feature are or will be available for other Lisp programs.

The direct effect of calling provide is to add feature to the front of the list features if it is not already in the list. The argument feature must be a symbol. provide returns feature.

     ⇒ (bar bish)

(provide 'foo)
     ⇒ foo
     ⇒ (foo bar bish)

When a file is loaded to satisfy an autoload, and it stops due to an error in the evaluating its contents, any function definitions or provide calls that occurred during the load are undone. See section Autoload.

Function: require feature &optional filename

This function checks whether feature is present in the current XEmacs session (using (featurep feature); see below). If it is not, then require loads filename with load. If filename is not supplied, then the name of the symbol feature is used as the file name to load.

If loading the file fails to provide feature, require signals an error, ‘Required feature feature was not provided’.

Function: featurep fexp

This function returns t if feature fexp is present in this Emacs. Use this to conditionalize execution of lisp code based on the presence or absence of emacs or environment extensions.

fexp can be a symbol, a number, or a list.

If fexp is a symbol, it is looked up in the features variable, and t is returned if it is found, nil otherwise.

If fexp is a number, the function returns t if this Emacs has an equal or greater number than fexp, nil otherwise. Note that minor Emacs version is expected to be 2 decimal places wide, so (featurep 20.4) will return nil on XEmacs 20.4—you must write (featurep 20.04), unless you wish to match for XEmacs 20.40.

If fexp is a list whose car is the symbol and, the function returns t if all the features in its cdr are present, nil otherwise.

If fexp is a list whose car is the symbol or, the function returns t if any the features in its cdr are present, nil otherwise.

If fexp is a list whose car is the symbol not, the function returns t if the feature is not present, nil otherwise.


(featurep 'xemacs)
     ⇒ ; t on XEmacs.

(featurep '(and xemacs gnus))
     ⇒ ; t on XEmacs with Gnus loaded.

(featurep '(or tty-frames (and emacs 19.30)))
     ⇒ ; t if this Emacs supports TTY frames.

(featurep '(or (and xemacs 19.15) (and emacs 19.34)))
     ⇒ ; t on XEmacs 19.15 and later, or on
               ; FSF Emacs 19.34 and later.

Please note: The advanced arguments of this function (anything other than a symbol) are not yet supported by FSF Emacs. If you feel they are useful for supporting multiple Emacs variants, lobby Richard Stallman at ‘<bug-gnu-emacs@prep.ai.mit.edu>’.

Variable: features

The value of this variable is a list of symbols that are the features loaded in the current XEmacs session. Each symbol was put in this list with a call to provide. The order of the elements in the features list is not significant.

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20.5 Unloading

You can discard the functions and variables loaded by a library to reclaim memory for other Lisp objects. To do this, use the function unload-feature:

Command: unload-feature feature &optional force

This command unloads the library that provided feature feature. It undefines all functions, macros, and variables defined in that library with defconst, defvar, defun, defmacro, defsubst, define-function and defalias. It then restores any autoloads formerly associated with those symbols. (Loading saves these in the autoload property of the symbol.)

Ordinarily, unload-feature refuses to unload a library on which other loaded libraries depend. (A library a depends on library b if a contains a require for b.) If the optional argument force is non-nil, dependencies are ignored and you can unload any library.

The unload-feature function is written in Lisp; its actions are based on the variable load-history.

Variable: load-history

This variable’s value is an alist connecting library names with the names of functions and variables they define, the features they provide, and the features they require.

Each element is a list and describes one library. The CAR of the list is the name of the library, as a string. The rest of the list is composed of these kinds of objects:

The value of load-history may have one element whose CAR is nil. This element describes definitions made with eval-buffer on a buffer that is not visiting a file.

The command eval-region updates load-history, but does so by adding the symbols defined to the element for the file being visited, rather than replacing that element.

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