The traditional way to write portable code is to define custom predicates for all potentially non-portable code and define these separately for all Prolog dialects one wishes to support. Here are some considerations.
- Probably the best reason for this is that it allows to define
minimal semantics required by the application for the portability
predicates. Such functionality can often be mapped efficiently to the
target dialect. Contrary, if code was written for dialect X,
the defined semantics are those of dialect X. Emulating all
extreme cases and full error handling compatibility may be tedious and
result in a much slower implementation that needed. Take for example
The SICStus definition is fundamentally different from the SWI
definition, but 99% of the applications just want to make calls like
below to guarantee StreamIn is closed, even if process/1
- As a drawback, the code becomes full of my_call_cleanup, etc. and
every potential portability conflict needs to be abstracted. It is hard
for people who have to maintain such code later to grasp the exact
semantics of the my_* predicates and applications that combine
multiple libraries using this compatibility approach are likely to
encounter conflicts between the portability layers. A good start is not
to use my_*, but a prefix derived from the library or application
name or names that explain the intended semantics more precisely.
- Another problem is that most code is initially not written with portability in mind. Instead, ports are requested by users or arise from the desire to switch Prolog dialect. Typically, we want to achieve compatibility with the new Prolog dialect with minimal changes, often keeping compatibility with the original dialect(s). This problem is well known from the C/Unix world and we advise anyone to study the philosophy of GNU autoconf, from which we will illustrate some highlights below.
The GNU autoconf suite, known to most people as configure, was
an answer to the frustrating life of Unix/C programmers when Unix
dialects were about as abundant and poorly standardised as Prolog
dialects today. Writing a portable C program can only be achieved using
cpp, the C preprocessor. The C preprocessor performs two tasks: macro
expansion and conditional compilation. Prolog realises macro expansion
Conditional compilation is achieved using
as explained in
The situation appears similar.
The important lesson learned from GNU autoconf is that the last resort for conditional compilation to achieve portability is to switch on the platform or dialect. Instead, GNU autoconf allows you to write tests for specific properties of the platform. Most of these are whether or not some function or file is available. Then there are some standard tests for difficult-to-write-portable situations and finally there is a framework that allows you to write arbitrary C programs and check whether they can be compiled and/or whether they show the intended behaviour. Using a separate configure program is needed in C, as you cannot perform C compilation step or run C programs from the C preprocessor. In most Prolog environments we do not need this distinction as the compiler is integrated into the runtime environment and Prolog has excellent reflexion capabilities.
We must learn from the distinction to test for features instead of platform (dialect), as this makes the platform-specific code robust for future changes of the dialect. Suppose we need compare/3 as defined in this manual. The compare/3 predicate is not part of the ISO standard, but many systems support it and it is not unlikely it will become ISO standard or the intended dialect will start supporting it. GNU autoconf strongly advises to test for the availability:
:- if(\+current_predicate(_, compare(_,_,_))). compare(<, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 @< Term2, !. compare(>, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 @> Term2, !. compare(=, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 == Term2. :- endif.
This code is much more robust against changes to the intended dialect and, possibly at least as important, will provide compatibility with dialects you didn't even consider porting to right now.
In a more challenging case, the target Prolog has compare/3, but the semantics are different. What to do? One option is to write a my_compare/3 and change all occurrences in the code. Alternatively you can rename calls using goal_expansion/2 like below. This construct will not only deal with Prolog dialects lacking compare/3 as well as those that only implement it for numeric comparison or have changed the argument order. Of course, writing rock-solid code would require a complete test-suite, but this example will probably cover all Prolog dialects that allow for conditional compilation, have core ISO facilities and provide goal_expansion/2, the things we claim a Prolog dialect should have to start writing portable code for it.
:- if(\+catch(compare(<,a,b), _, fail)). compare_standard_order(<, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 @< Term2, !. compare_standard_order(>, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 @> Term2, !. compare_standard_order(=, Term1, Term2) :- Term1 == Term2. goal_expansion(compare(Order, Term1, Term2), compare_standard_order(Order, Term1, Term2)). :- endif.