Recursion

Remarks

Lisp is often used in educational contexts, where students learn to understand and implement recursive algorithms.

Production code written in Common Lisp or portable code has several issues with recursion: They do not make use of implementation-specific features like tail call optimization, often making it necessary to avoid recursion altogether. In these cases, implementations:

  • Usually have a recursion depth limit due to limits in stack sizes. Thus recursive algorithms will only work for data of limited size.
  • Do not always provide optimization of tail calls, especially in combination with dynamically scoped operations.
  • Only provide optimization of tail calls at certain optimization levels.
  • Do not usually provide tail call optimization.
  • Usually do not provide tail call optimization on certain platforms. For example, implementations on JVM may not do so, since the JVM itself does not support tail call optimization.

Replacing tail calls with jumps usually makes debugging more difficult; Adding jumps will cause stack frames to become unavailable in a debugger. As alternatives Common Lisp provides:

  • Iteration constructs, like DO, DOTIMES, LOOP, and others
  • Higher-order functions, like MAP, REDUCE, and others
  • Various control structures, including low-level go to

Compute nth Fibonacci number

;;Find the nth Fibonacci number for any n > 0.
;; Precondition: n > 0, n is an integer. Behavior undefined otherwise.
(defun fibonacci (n)
    (cond
        (                                     ;; Base case.
             ;; The first two Fibonacci numbers (indices 1 and 2) are 1 by definition.
            (<= n 2)                          ;; If n <= 2
            1                                 ;; then return 1.
        )
        (t                                    ;; else
            (+                                ;; return the sum of
                                              ;; the results of calling 
                (fibonacci (- n 1))           ;; fibonacci(n-1) and
                (fibonacci (- n 2))           ;; fibonacci(n-2).
                                              ;; This is the recursive case.
            )
        )
    )
)

Compute the factorial of a whole number

One easy algorithm to implement as a recursive function is factorial.

;;Compute the factorial for any n >= 0. Precondition: n >= 0, n is an integer.
(defun factorial (n)
    (cond
        ((= n 0) 1) ;; Special case, 0! = 1
        ((= n 1) 1) ;; Base case, 1! = 1
        (t
            ;; Recursive case
            ;; Multiply n by the factorial of n - 1.
            (* n (factorial (- n 1)))
        )
    )
)

Recursion template 1 single condition single tail recursion

(defun fn (x)
  (cond (test-condition the-value)
        (t (fn reduced-argument-x))))

Recursion template 2 multi-condition

 (defun fn (x)
      (cond (test-condition1 the-value1)
            (test-condition2 the-value2)
            ...
            ...
            ...
            (t (fn reduced-argument-x))))


 CL-USER 2788 > (defun my-fib (n)
                 (cond ((= n 1) 1)
                       ((= n 2) 1)
                       (t (+
                           (my-fib (- n 1))
                           (my-fib (- n 2))))))
MY-FIB

CL-USER 2789 > (my-fib 1)
1

CL-USER 2790 > (my-fib 2)
1

CL-USER 2791 > (my-fib 3)
2

CL-USER 2792 > (my-fib 4)
3

CL-USER 2793 > (my-fib 5)
5

CL-USER 2794 > (my-fib 6)
8

CL-USER 2795 > (my-fib 7)
13

Recursively print the elements of a list

;;Recursively print the elements of a list
(defun print-list (elements)
    (cond
        ((null elements) '()) ;; Base case: There are no elements that have yet to be printed. Don't do anything and return a null list.
        (t
            ;; Recursive case
            ;; Print the next element.
            (write-line (write-to-string (car elements)))
            ;; Recurse on the rest of the list.
            (print-list (cdr elements))
        )
    )
)

To test this, run:

(setq test-list '(1 2 3 4))
(print-list test-list)

The result will be:

1
2
3
4


2016-07-24
2017-02-03
common-lisp Pedia
Icon