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LISP (LISt Processor) is a list processing language, one of the earliest programming language to feature a garbage collector.


It was first described in 1959 with working implementations arriving in the 1960's. Popular in early AI research but is also used as a scripting language in packages such as Emacs, later variants have gained functional programming features and most modern variants have also gotten some object-oriented features, but referring to any LISP variant as an object-oriented or a functional programming language is taking religious fervour a step too far.

The main problem LISP originally had in gaining any mainstream acceptance as a programming language was simply performance related, while LISP was perfectly acceptable for writing small programs in, large programs could only be done cost effectively after the advent of virtual memory, but that only happened in the late 60's on mainframes, in the 80's for minicomputers and workstations and in the 90's for microcomputers and by that time the LISP world had become so fragmented that it had difficulty maintaining any traction. This also lead a number of companies to release computer systems in the 1970's and 80's that were specifically designed to run LISP.

Standard LISP

As LISP implementations were already starting to diverge enough to make porting between systems difficult by the mid 60's, so a new informal standard was proposed in 1969 that mostly mimicked a minimalistic but fast LISP implementation done as Stanford University in the USA, this never became a popular standard on minicomputers or micros but a number of mainframe implementations followed it to take advantage of mathematical packages that had been developed on the Stanford IBM system. An implementation in BCPL called Cambridge Lisp became fairly common on some home computer systems in Europe in the latter half of the 80's as it was cheap, a variant of Cambridge Lisp re-written in C is available as an open source package. Portable Standard Lisp was a follow on to Standard Lisp that also failed to set the world on fire.

OS/2 Implementations

  • CLISP - Open Source - Discontinued
  • Lily - Embeddable LISP - Open Source - Discontinued
  • newLISP - Open Source - Current
  • RefLisp - Open source - Discontinued
  • SCM - Open source - Current
  • Valutron - Open source - Current
  • xLISP - Open Source


  • Closer to MOP - CLOS/MOP compatibility layer - Open Source - Current
  • Closette - Meta-object protocol - Open source - Discontinued
  • CL-XML - XML parser - Open source - Discontinued
  • ContextL - Context programming extensions for CLOS - Open Source - Current
  • Portable Common Loops - Object oriented abstractions - Open source - Discontinued
  • Screamer - Nondeterministic programming - Open source - Some current development
  • Snappy - Compression library - Open Source - Current

Foreign libraries with LISP or Scheme bindings

  • Cairo - 2D graphics library (CL + Scheme) - Open source - Current
  • LibcURL - Internet URL (WWW, FTP) access (LISP + Scheme) - Open Source - Current
  • Snappy - Compression lib. - Open Source - Current

LISP related programmer's utilities

  • DTRACE - Debug tool - Open source - Discontinued
  • Exuberant ctags - Creates index files out of Scheme and LISP source files - Open source - Current
Editor support
  • Boxer - LISP syntax highlighting support built in - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Lugaru Epsilon - LISP syntax highlighting and auto-indent available as a separate download. - Commercial
Source code snippets, archives and collections

Small programs or routines that you can integrate into your own programs or study to learn from, but are not delivered in library form.

DOS Implementations

  • BYSO LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • ECoLisp - Open Source - Sort of current
  • Expert LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Intellect-UL LISP
  • IQLISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Le-Lisp - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Microsoft LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • muLISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Norell LISP/88 - Commercial - Discontinued
  • PC-LISP 3.0 - Shareware
  • RefLisp - Open source - Discontinued
  • SCM - Open source - Current
  • TLC LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Waltz LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • UO-LISP - Commercial - Discontinued
  • XLISP - Open source - Discontinued


  • Closette - Meta-object protocol - Open source - Discontinued
  • Dblisp - dBase II/II database access for GCL - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Portable Common Loops - Object oriented abstractions - Open source - Discontinued
  • Screamer - Nondeterministic programming - Open source - Some current development
  • SLIB Portable Scheme Library - Portable version of Scheme in a library form - Open Source - Current

Closely related languages

  • Fjölnir - Open source - Discontinued
Editor support
  • Boxer - LISP syntax highlighting support built in - Commercial - Discontinued

Win-OS/2 implementations

  • Apteryx Lisp 1.04 - shareware
  • Golden Common-LISP - Commercial - Current
  • Goldworks - Commercial - Current
  • IBM Common Lisp - As front-end only - Commercial - Discontinued
  • Le-Lisp (ILOG)
  • RefLisp - Open source - Discontinued
  • SCM - Open source - Discontinued


Java Implementations

Related languages
  • Clojure - Functional language that uses LISP syntax.
Editor support
  • jEdit - Java based - LISP and Scheme syntax highlighting built in

JavaScript Implementations

  • Biwa Scheme - Conforms to Revised(6) - Open source - Current
Related languages



  • John R. Anderson; Albert Corbett; Brian J. Reiser: Essential Lisp - Addison-Wesley 1986, ISBN 0-201-11148-9
  • Patrick Henry Winston; Berthold K.P. Horn: Lisp (Third edition) - Addison-Wesley 1989, ISBN 0-201-08319-1
An older edition of the book is available: PDF
  • Gregor Kiczales, Jim des Rivieres, Daniel G. Bobrow: The Art of the Metaobject Protocol - MIT Press 1991, ISBN 026261074
  • Robert R. Kessler, Amy R. Petajan: LISP, Objects, and Symbolic Programming - Scott Foresman 1988, ISBN 0-673-39773-4

Articles, talks, presentations and papers

Slightly misleading title, the talk is more about the package manager ASDF than scripting per se.
  • Pascal Costanza: How to Make Lisp More Special - Originally published in the Proceedings of the International Lisp Conference 2005, Stanford, California, USA, June 19-22, 2005.
  • Richard Barber & George Imlah: Delivering the Goods with Lisp. Communications of the ACM 34(9); pages 61-63 - 1991
  • BYTE Magazine August 1979 - The LISP issue - Totally outdated by now, but a very interesting read, note that the DJVU version is only 1/20th the size of the PDF version before you download.
Parallel processing
Introductory articles and mini-tutorials




Standard Lisp
  • Jed Marti, A. C. Hearn, M. L. Griss and C. Griss: The Standard Lisp Report - ACM SIGPLAN Notices 14, No 10 (1979), pages 48~68. - This is what became Portable (Utah) Standard Lisp.