A rationale for ARRAYs in the Forth Scientific Library

The Forth Scientific Library has chosen to implement array syntax as in Noble (1992). There are two types of array words, statically and dynamically allocated arrays. Statically allocated arrays are declared as follows,

#elements element_size ARRAY name{}

The element_size is the number of cells occupied by the data type, at the present time the following types are defined (others can be easily added),

	INTEGER       -- for regular integer arrays
	DOUBLE	     -- for double integer arrays
	FLOAT	     -- default precision floating point arrays
This information is internally stored in the array data structure so that the word } can properly dereference the array no matter what type of element is stored in the array.

As a matter of convention, array names end with { characters, one for each dimension.

In an application the notation looks like,

name{ element# }

to get the address of (0 based) element# of array name{. The implementors of the Forth Scientific Library have left the implementation details of the array word ARRAY and the element resolution operator } open -- there are several ways of implementing this structure. But the execution of name{ has to leave an address or execution token that can later be acted upon by } in order to get the address of the required element.

Another common approach and why we decided to not use it

There is no standard way of creating and using arrays in Forth, but the idiom that is probably the most common alternative to the above looks like,

element# {}name

to do the same thing. At first glance it appears that this syntax is trivially different from the first -- when implementing the second form the most obvious thing to do is to put the code in the FSL version of } into the DOES> portion of name{ in order to obtain {}name.

This would be true if the only operations to be done upon arrays is to obtain the address of its elements. But many applications can be written in a more object-oriented style of coding that consists of the names of objects to be operated upon, followed by the operator. Consider, for example, the operation of printing out all the elements of an array. The first syntax would look like,

number# name{ }fprint

whereas the second syntax would require something like,

number# ' {}name fprint

The second syntax requires frequent use of tick-like words to get to the header of the arrays. This has several disadvantages to it:

       1 -- it makes for less readable code to have many such
            "noise" words in it.

       2 -- it is more error prone to code, it is easy to forget
            such words.

       3 -- it is more likely that the operators will have to be
            written with knowledge of the internal implementation
            details of ARRAYs.
Tick-like words are not completely avoided by the first syntax, but their necessity is considerably reduced.

From the perspective of the first syntax, the word } is just another operator to apply to an array object -- namely the one that extracts the address of a specified element.

Dynamically allocated arrays

For dynamically allocated arrays, the delcaration looks like,

element_size DARRAY name{

where element_size is the number of cells that the data type occupies just as for static arrays. This declaration merely defines the existance of the array, it does not set aside any space for the data.

To allocate space for a dynamic array (this can be done at runtime),

& name{ #elements }malloc

is used.

If it succeeds then there will have been contiguous space allocated for the required number of elements.

To release the space (this can also be done at runtime) the application uses,

& name{ }free

The words }malloc and }free will typically use the ANS words ALLOCATE and FREE, but the also contain code that depends upon how DARRAY is implemented.

A dynamic array name can be re-used by calling }free to release the old space and then calling }malloc again to reallocate it.

Dynamic arrays can also be used as pointers into pre-exisiting arrays (either static or dynamic). This can be accomplished by the sequence:

a{ & b{ &!

This makes the DARRAY b{ an alias for the ARRAY (or DARRAY) a{ (i.e. both names refer to the same memory addresses). If DARRAYs are used in this fashion, only to point to arrays, then there is no need to create or initialize any dynamic memory pool (if such a thing is necessary for using dynamic memory).


American National Standards Institute, Inc., 1993; draft proposed American National Standard for Information Systems, Programming Languages, Forth, X3J14, dpANS-6. 214 pages

Barnhart, J., 1984; Forth and the Fast Fourier Transform, Dr. Dobbs Journal, September, p. 34

Noble, J.V., 1992; Scientific Forth, a modern language for scientific computing, Mechum Banks Publishing, Charlottesville VA, 311 pages, ISBN 0-9632775-0-2

FSL auxiliary code (implements arrays)
for F-PC, ThisForth or PFE
dynamic memory package.

<-- Back to Forth Scientific Library page.

Dr. Everett (Skip) F. Carter Jr.
Taygeta Scientific Inc.
1340 Munras Ave., Suite 314
Monterey, CA. 93940-6140
voice: 831.641.0645
FAX: 831.641.0647
Taygeta's home page