The Common Lisp Cookbook – Packages

Table of Contents

The Common Lisp Cookbook – Packages

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See: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Common Lisp Packages

Creating a package

Here’s an example package definition. It takes a name, and you probably want to :use the Common Lisp symbols and functions.

(defpackage :my-package
  (:use :cl))

To start writing code for this package, go inside it:

(in-package :my-package)

This in-package macro puts you “inside” a package:

Just try!

We can also use in-package to try packages on the REPL. Note that on a new Lisp REPL session, we are “inside” the CL-USER package. It is a regular package.

Let’s show you an example. We open a new .lisp file and we create a new package with a function inside our package:

;; in test-package.lisp
(defpackage :my-package
  (:use :cl))

(in-package :my-package)

(defun hello ()
  (print "Hello from my package."))

This “hello” function lives inside “my-package”. It is not exported yet.

Continue below to see how to call it.

Accessing symbols from a package

As soon as you have defined a package or loaded one (with Quicklisp, or if it was defined as a dependency in your .asd system definition), you can access its symbols with package:a-symbol, using a colon as delimiter.

For example:

(str:concat …)

When the symbol is not exported (it is “private”), use a double colon:


Continuing our example: in the REPL, be sure to be in my-package and not in CL-USER. There you can call “hello” directly:

CL-USER> (in-package :my-package)
;; ^^^ this creates a package object.
MY-PACKAGE> (hello)
;; ^^^^ the REPL shows you the current package.
"Hello from my package."

But now, come back to the CL-USER package and try to call “hello”: we get an error.

MY-PACKAGE> (in-package :cl-user)
CL-USER> (hello)

=> you get the interactive debugger that says:

The function COMMON-LISP-USER::HELLO is undefined.


We have to “namespace” our hello function with its package name:

CL-USER> (my-package::hello)
"Hello from my package."

Let’s export the function.

Exporting symbols

Augment our defpackage declaration to export our “hello” function like so:

(defpackage :my-package
  (:use :cl)

Compile this (C-c C-c in Slime), and now you can call

CL-USER> (my-package:hello)

with a single colon.

You can also use the export function:

(in-package :my-package)
(export #:hello)


Now we might want to import individual symbols in order to access them right away, without the package prefix.

Importing symbols from another package

You can import exactly the symbols you need with :import-from:

(defpackage :my-package
  (:import-from :ppcre #:regex-replace)
  (:use :cl))

Now you can call regex-replace from inside my-package, without the ppcre package prefix. regex-replace is a new symbol inside your package. It is not exported.

Sometimes, we see (:import-from :ppcre), without an explicit import. This helps people using ASDF’s package inferred system.

You can also use the import function from outside a package definition:

CL-USER> (import 'ppcre:regex-replace)
CL-USER> (regex-replace …)

Importing all symbols

It is a better practice to carefully choose what symbols you import from another package (read below), but we can also import all symbols at once with :use:

(defpackage :my-package
  (:use :cl :ppcre))

Now you can access all variables, functions and macros of cl-ppcre from your my-package package.

You can also use the use-package function:

CL-USER> (use-package 'cl-ppcre)

About “use”-ing packages being a bad practice

:use is a well spread idiom. You could do:

(defpackage :my-package
  (:use :cl :ppcre))

and now, all symbols that are exported by cl-ppcre (aka ppcre) are available to use directly in your package. However, this should be considered bad practice, unless you use another package of your project that you control. Indeed, if the external package adds a symbol, it could conflict with one of yours, or you could add one which will hide the external symbol and you might not see a warning.

To quote this thorough explanation (a recommended read):

USE is a bad idea in contemporary code except for internal packages that you fully control, where it is a decent idea until you forget that you mutate the symbol of some other package while making that brand new shiny DEFUN. USE is the reason why Alexandria cannot nowadays even add a new symbol to itself, because it might cause name collisions with other packages that already have a symbol with the same name from some external source.

List all Symbols in a Package (do-external-symbols)

Common Lisp provides some macros to iterate through the symbols of a package. The two most interesting are: DO-SYMBOLS and DO-EXTERNAL-SYMBOLS. DO-SYMBOLS iterates over the symbols accessible in the package and DO-EXTERNAL-SYMBOLS only iterates over the external symbols (you can see them as the real package API).

To print all exported symbols of a package named “PACKAGE”, you can write:

(do-external-symbols (s (find-package "PACKAGE"))
  (print s))

You can also collect all these symbols in a list by writing:

(let (symbols)
  (do-external-symbols (s (find-package "PACKAGE"))
    (push s symbols))

Or you can do it with LOOP.

(loop for s being the external-symbols of (find-package "PACKAGE")
  collect s)

Package nickname

Package Local Nicknames (PLN)

Sometimes it is handy to give a local name to an imported package to save some typing, especially when the imported package does not provide nice global nicknames.

Many implementations (SBCL, CCL, ECL, Clasp, ABCL, ACL, LispWorks >= 7.2…) support Package Local Nicknames (PLN).

To use a PLN you can simply do the following, for example, if you’d like to try out a local nickname in an ad-hoc fashion:

(uiop:add-package-local-nickname :a :alexandria)
(a:iota 12) ; (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11)

You can also set up a PLN in a defpackage form. The effect of PLN is totally within mypackage i.e. the nickname won’t work in other packages unless defined there too. So, you don’t have to worry about unintended package name clash in other libraries.

(defpackage :mypackage
  (:use :cl)
  (:local-nicknames (:nickname :original-package-name)
                    (:alex :alexandria)
                    (:re :cl-ppcre)))

(in-package :mypackage)

;; You can use :nickname instead of :original-package-name
(nickname:some-function "a" "b")

Another facility exists for adding nicknames to packages. The function RENAME-PACKAGE can be used to replace the name and nicknames of a package. But it’s use would mean that other libraries may not be able to access the package using the original name or nicknames. There is rarely any situation to use this. Use Package Local Nicknames instead.

Nickname Provided by Packages

When defining a package, it is trivial to give it a nickname for better user experience. But this mechanism is global, a nickname defined here is visible by all other packages everywhere. If you were thinking in giving a short name to a package you use often, you can get a conflict with another package. That’s why package-local nicknames appeared. You should use them instead.

Here’s an example anyways, from the prove package:

(defpackage prove
  (:nicknames :cl-test-more :test-more)
  (:export #:run

Afterwards, a user may use a nickname instead of the package name to refer to this package. For example:


Please note that although Common Lisp allows defining multiple nicknames for one package, too many nicknames may bring maintenance complexity to the users. Thus the nicknames shall be meaningful and straightforward. For example:

(defpackage #:iterate
  (:nicknames #:iter))

(defpackage :cl-ppcre
  (:nicknames :ppcre)

Package locks

The package common-lisp and SBCL internal implementation packages are locked by default, including sb-ext.

In addition, any user-defined package can be declared to be locked so that it cannot be modified by the user. Attempts to change its symbol table or redefine functions which its symbols name result in an error.

More detailed information can be obtained from documents of SBCL and CLisp.

For example, if you try the following code:

(asdf:load-system :alexandria)
(rename-package :alexandria :alex)

You will get the following error (on SBCL):

Lock on package ALEXANDRIA violated when renaming as ALEX while
in package COMMON-LISP-USER.
   [Condition of type PACKAGE-LOCKED-ERROR]
See also:
  SBCL Manual, Package Locks [:node]

 0: [CONTINUE] Ignore the package lock.
 1: [IGNORE-ALL] Ignore all package locks in the context of this operation.
 2: [UNLOCK-PACKAGE] Unlock the package.
 3: [RETRY] Retry SLIME REPL evaluation request.
 4: [*ABORT] Return to SLIME's top level.
 5: [ABORT] abort thread (#<THREAD "repl-thread" RUNNING {10047A8433}>)


If a modification is required anyway, a package named cl-package-lock can be used to ignore package locks. For example:

  (rename-package :alexandria :alex))

See also

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