I have been meaning to learn LISP and for a small task I wanted to find out the sum of all integers on STDIN. So for

> clisp a.lisp

My code is as follows. I have a small helper function, my core function and the invocation of it.

(defun read-int()
  (parse-integer (read-line)))

(defun sum-stdin()
      ; recurse
      (+ (read-int) (sum-stdin))
      ; base case: if eof
        (values 0))))

(write (sum-stdin))

Is this according to "the lisp way"?

One thing I see is that it feels weird to basically have the base case of my recursive function what would otherwise be the catch block in a non-functional language. I don't think there is a rule against it, but it just seems very unusual and hacky.


Dealing with end of file in I/O operations:

There are two basic ways to deal with EOF in functions like read-line:

1) Return a value

           ; stream     ; signal eof error     ; return value if EOF
(read-line stream       nil                    nil)

2) Signal an error

           ; stream     ; signal eof error
(read-line stream       t)

Typical way:

  • use a loop, like SDS said
  • don't signal an error, but deal with an explicit EOF value

Less typical:

  • use a loop, like SDS said
  • signal an error and handle it -> might need slightly more tricky error handling code


  • use a loop, like SDS said
  • hide the error handling code behind a macro...

No, this is not lispy at all.

Lispers use recursion only when necessary, not as a generic substitute for iteration. Moreover, even in scheme they use tail recursion instead of iteration, and your code is not tail recursive.

A typical lisp solution would be

(defun sum-stream(&optional (s *standard-input*))
  (loop for line = (read-line s nil nil) while line
      sum (parse-integer line)))
(print (sum-stream))
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would really liked to have given this the answer checkmark -- because it shows the better solution. But the other answer starts to explain the proper way, so it seems more "complete" \$\endgroup\$ – user45891 Jun 27 at 22:25

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