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The Almighty Buck

Journal: Businesses Using Lisp: Success Stories (AMD Nasa Microsoft)

Journal by Jon Howard

Here's a categorized list of companies successfully using Allegro Common Lisp, along with a couple examples from each; follow the links for more companies and more information:


Journal: My Experiences with Common Lisp

Journal by Jon Howard

Since the day I joined Franz Inc. as the new Webmaster, I have been writing more code than at any previous point in my career. I have become immersed in Lisp programming, specifically AllegroCL, which I found to be a stimulating challenge to learn. I discovered that writing Lisp is sheer joy to anyone who has ever been frustrated out of programming by the tedium of obligatory declaration of data types, allocation and de-allocation of memory and the like, or simply by the time they take to learn. To finalize my education in AllegroCL, I was tasked with replacing the Franz webserver with AllegroServe. Though I am not a slow student, I made many mistakes and found that the simplified testing of code via the AllegroCL debugger and the ability to modify a program while it is running were indispensable tools both in my education and software troubleshooting. Making use of these features, I have found that adding new code to a program is remarkably easy to do, even when that new code requires making significant structural changes. In the end, I'm always left with a program which runs as quickly as any others I use and exhibits enhanced stability and security features while maintaining a reasonable memory footprint.

Among my first tasks at Franz was familiarizing myself with Allegro Common Lisp. My interest in Lisp's long, rich and diverse history was one of the chief reasons I applied for the job, so I was happy to oblige. I've always found the history of computing to be of great interest, and Lisp has been there throughout most of the last 50 years (of currently-used languages, only Fortran predates its nativity), so I find its endurance of especial interest. Lisp has undergone a process of evolution during its lifetime spawning several dialects, one of which is Common Lisp; AllegroCL is an implementation of Common Lisp.

The aspects which I find most satisfying in AllegroCL include automatic memory management and dynamic typing of data. Both of these features eliminate a tremendous amount of tedium from coding and allow me to get more work done in less time. I was never a serious programmer before I was introduced to Lisp, but now I've found a passion which outweighs my penchant for computer gaming. In the past, I would frequently spend much of my free time mastering the newest reason to own a 3d-accelerated video card, but recently I've found that I have more to show afterwards if I write code for fun, as evidenced by the chatroom software I wrote as an educational exercise which can be seen in production on my server at home, here (running on AllegroServe). It took a little longer to write the chat software than it usually takes me to master a new game, but at a total of 16 hours, it was less than half the time that most games take to complete. I began working more and producing a tremendously increased level of output, all without the slightest increase in my stress level.

After spending a couple of months with Franz, familiarizing myself with my responsibilities as Webmaster while learning Allegro Common Lisp, I was tasked with converting the Franz website from Apache webserver to an AllegroServe-based solution, which entailed writing a webserver which used AllegroServe at its core and provided all of the features which I found in Apache, while adding a few site-specific features. AllegroServe's chief developer, John Foderaro, and I were able to complete this task in time for the recent release of AllegroCL 6.1. The speed of development under AllegroCL was due in no small part to the ACL debugger of which I made prodigious use early-on. The ability to inspect running code and make modifications at the point of failure not only made it a simple matter to identify and fix bugs, but it was also an invaluable educational tool. Initially, I wrote bad code - lots of bad code - but every mistake I made was immediately obviated and resolved through liberal application of this handy tool. The ability to directly interact with data in a running program provided education that extended beyond the scope of any single programming language, my ability to visualize software structure and the flow of data was greatly enhanced.

After a few weeks of use, I began to realize that I wasn't having more than one bug in my code every few days - needless to say, I was elated. Until this point, I was working on relatively simple aspects of the webserver, such as the Franz menu generation, customer survey, and trial download sections. This accelerated rate of learning gave me enough positive feedback that I felt comfortable taking on more ambitious segments of the project. After I progressed through the header, menu, and footer-wrapping code which provides the interface to my earlier menu generator's output on Franz' "lhtml" pages, I came to the logging facility. By far, writing the code to manage the log handling was the most challenging aspect of the webserver's design so far. It was at this point that John and I came to realize that we would need to significantly enhance the virtual-host capabilities of AllegroServe to provide such services as separate access and error log streams for each individual virtual host. Despite the challenge, John managed to implement these changes in less time than it took me to write the code to handle formatting the logfiles in a manner compatible with Apache's output, which Franz especially required to enable the continued use of certain website log analysis tools. The two of us had completely changed the manner in which AllegroServe handled logging in a mere two days. John also eventually added excellent support for running standard CGI programs which would have their own log streams, and I made use of the added functionality to support a "cgiroot" which allows the Apache-like feature of being able to specify a path in which cgi programs will reside while sending any cgi log output to the vhost error log. I would encourage any current Apache users who wish to try-out AllegroServe to make use of this feature when configuring a server, it makes CGI installation and use a snap. After I'd written the bulk of my contribution to our system, I hit upon another necessary feature, the ability to include in-tree access control files akin to ".htaccess" files under Apache. This was a significantly more complex challenge than the logging and virtual host modifications John and I had previously added, due to the depth of the AllegroServe feature-set we would have to make available for modification within these files, and the associated security concerns. This obstacle took a fair amount of time to surmount, John made significant changes throughout AllegroServe, and we went through a great deal of testing to ensure that no security risks had been created. In the end, we were satisfied that we had made a very worthwhile addition to the webserver.

I continued writing interface and configuration code and enlisted John's expert help whenever I would find a feature AllegroServe lacked, and we concluded the conversion with a version of the Franz webserver that has only required minor modifications since. When I had ironed-out any remaining bugs, of which there were fortunately very few, John assisted me in profiling our code to assess its speed bottlenecks. After heavily load-testing the server, we discovered that the slowest part of the code was that used to check the timestamps on files for the purposes of updating our cache. This was greatly satisfying because the speed of this code was so fast that we could not consider this to be a problem. We also discovered that there was an excessive memory waste within a few seemingly clean segments of code, we were using a dynamically-sized string creation function which relies upon the multiple different data types for the sake of convenience. We converted this to make use of a large fixed-size array which would contain the string, even if it grew as long as it possibly could, and halved the server's memory usage. Bandwidth load testing showed that we had an extremely fast server - we were able to utilize around 850-900KB/sec. across a 10 megabit network when running the system on an Intel Celeron 533. Additionally, thanks to our prior memory-usage enhancement which came-up during profiling, we were only using a total of 30MB of RAM for the webserver, cache and all.

I am very satisfied to have had a hand in such a successful project, especially successful considering that I was a rank novice programmer when I began work on it. The speed with which I learned to program in AllegroCL was an entirely new phenomenon to me, one which has enriched my computer usage and allowed me to express my ideas for software in code, something I never had the capability of doing in the past due to my unwillingness to suffer through the tedium programming had historically presented me with. When I found myself attaining a satisfactory level of programming ability, I was struck by the ease of writing clean and modular code on the first attempt. Augmenting that ability, the ease of adding and restructuring AllegroCL code to a running or non-running program, especially with the aid of the ACL debugger, greatly decreased both my development time and my frustration while further enhancing my level of programming skill. I have learned a great deal about Lisp, AllegroCL, and programming in general over the course of this project, and without it I would not have had the chance to make such a satisfying acquaintance with Allegro Common Lisp, which has become my programming language of choice.


Journal: My Lisp Projects

Journal by Jon Howard

I'm working on a few Lisp projects right now - well, Allegro Common Lisp, actually - and I want to point them out to anyone interested. I can provide information on how they're written and where they're going if anyone cares to ask.

  • AllegroServe - not my project, but I have done a ton of work on it with John Foderaro (who obviously did much more than I).
  • Lisp Chat Software - runs on AServe, this is the only currently deployed public room, let me know if you have any interest and/or other feedback.

That's it for the moment, but I'll be doing a ton more in a short while, I'm just a bit bogged by work at the moment. thanks for checking them out.

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