Chapter 1.  PFE Documentation 0.33.x

Table of Contents

How To Write A PFE Module
The Current State
The Name Of The Module
Create the File And Add It To
What Must Be In The Source File
Semant - advanced words of PFE
Runtime - preparing PFE for call-threading
WordSets in External Modules
External Modules
WordSet Activation
Available Modules
Tuning The Portable Forth Environment
Loop unrolling in the inner interpreter
Using global register variables
Choosing registers to use
How To Make A Dist
'make doc', 'make dist-doc' and 'make install-doc'
'make rpm' and friends
How Uppercased Words Are Found
Historic Approaches
Supporting Import Of Third-Party Symbols
The Problems Of A Per-Wordlist Flag
The Double-Buffer Search
Advantages And Recommended Use
Differences And Pitfalls
Header Fields and Terms
Traditional Word Entry Layout
Searching A Word
Mechanics Of VARIABLE and VALUE
PFE Threading types
CFA Threaded
CALL Threaded
SBR Threading
SBR-ARG Threading
extra RP or not
Porting SBR-Threading
Choosing an ARG-register
Traditional CPU
RISC w/ LR type CPU
Internal Decisions
The Head.aux Field
The Flag.byte Field
The Head Layout
Non-Const >BODY
StateSmart Words and POSTPONE
Locals in PFE
ANS Locals
Explicit Locals
Special Implementation Strategies
Environment Vocabulary
[defined] / [undefined]
state-smart over exec-only
Quoted-Parse Idea
Dirk Zoller's README
What is it?
Why did I do it?
Design objectives
Known Problems
The Underline on ABORT
loading an INCLUDE-file at boot or on the command line
Problems in 0.32.x
Interfacing directly with POSIX File I/O
Other Systems
The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
Make A New Dist
how to create a new tarball or series of RPM packages, or to recreate the autoref documentation.
Tuning The Forth VM
explains steps to enhance the speed of the Forth VM
How To Write A PFE Module
explains the steps to create a dynamically loadable pfe extension module
WordSets in External Modules
explains the steps to activate external modules including those pre-linked to PFE.
Some Internal Decisions
explains the structure of the headers of forth words and the reasons for its differences over FIG-forth
StateSmart words
PFE has made many compile-only words statesmart to make life of a regular forth user easier. However, it can mean trouble if used with postpone . Here are the details.
Locals in PFE
PFE uses the return-stack to store local values and enables you to get even alloca()-like buffer areas there, furthering creation of reentrant words even for the case of words handling strings.
Special Implementation Strategies
explains the solutions that were take to common problems in the implementation of an ansiforth'94 compatible system and the means to extend such a system.
a side note on quote-parse
a side note on sbr-threading
Dirk Zoller's README
the README from PFE version 0.9.10
Known Problems
there are some features that people sometimes wonder about.
Posix Calls
the Pros and Cons of interfacing directly to the System-I/O
the License
is the LGPL - the Lesser GNU Public License
references to (online) literature

How To Write A PFE Module

Part of the LGPL:ed PFE

The Current State

currently, building of a module has only been done within the pfe source tree. You have to add a few lines to the so it is build and installed. This howto will guide you through the process of creating a new module for the pfe source tree, i.e. a pfe extension module.

The Name Of The Module

the first thing you have to do of course: be creative and invent a name. This name will be used in many many occasions as a reference symbol and signon identifier. In this example the module is named 'example' which is creative enough here.

this name is called a 'wordset-name' since it will be used as that. It can even be queried with ENVIRONMENT, and it is listed in the LOADED wordlist of pfe.

Create the File And Add It To

the filename shall *not* be example.c, since I am compiling the pfe for some embedded/kernel targets which only need a '.o'-file, just think of a linux kernel module. Since the intermediate objects are '.o'-files and the 'ld -r' target of several intermediate objectfiles is also an '.o'-file, well, it must be assured that the intermediate objectfiles have a different name than the product '.o'-file.

If you did not understand what I want, well, don't think about it too long and add a "-ext" to the filestem, so that in here, the extension module 'example' is build from the source file 'example-ext.c'.

Have a look at the '' and its 'toolbelt-ext.c'. You will instantly see what is to be done: first, add the module name to the 'pkglib_LTLIBLIBRARIES, ie.

 -pkglib_LTLIBRARIES =
 +pkglib_LTLIBRARIES =

and then add a new _la_ section that `automake` can see, since you will probably build from just one sourcefile, it will just look like the others, ie.

 +example_la_SOURCES = example-ext.c
 +example_la_LDFLAGS = -export-dynamic -module -avoid-version
 +example-ext.lo : example-ext.c

where the third line should go away in the next PFE generation, and in fact since generation 32.x there is no need for a MODULE-define anymore - the .o file is the same for being either external or internal to the pfe binary. Instead we link a loader-part into the The 32.x module automake snippet looks now like:

 +example_la_SOURCES = example-ext.c example-dll.c
 +example_la_LDFLAGS = -export-dynamic -module -avoid-version
 +example-dll.c : $(srcdir)/module-dll.c
	sed s/module/example/ $< > $@

and it allows us to modify the module glue code independently of the module source code later on.

this is it for, now go ahead and create the file, i.e. 'example-ext.c'

What Must Be In The Source File

I do strongly suggest that you include a header comment that goes right at the start of the file. The autodoc system of pfe will see it as a special section that should be treated specially and included in the documentation file. Just explain everything that you want to point out to anyone who would want to use your wordset. Do also include your name and a copyright information. Remember, it is the most easiest for you to send me the file, so it can be distributed along with PFE, so it can get compiled on many many platforms, and so it can get maintained over some internal changes in PFE. And actually, this very source file is stored also in the Tek/MPT Source Repository, where you don't want that some Tekkie simply adds a Tektronix Copyright in there - the files are writable by other Tek developers too, not just me.

  *  Artistic License (C) 2000 Julius Caesar
  *  @description
  *      An example module for my personal experimentation.

next you need to include some headers from the pfe base system. These headers are made namespace clean, ie. they all have a prefix like 'FX_' or mostly 'p4_'. For a real programmer, this is inconvenient, and it makes the code not very readable. If you look closer, you will see that in most headers there are '#ifdef _P4_SOURCE' sections (expecially in def-types.h) which do include things like

 #define DP    p4_DP
 #define BASE  p4_BASE
 #define SP    p4_SP
 #define STATE p4_STATE

In general, most sources handwritten by users will want to have these. This is however not a good recommendation if the extension module is derived from some other source, e.g. Tek/MPT has a SWIG extension to convert C headers to pfe modules. Anyway, your file will most start with:

 #define P4_SOURCE 1
 #include <pfe/pfe-base.h>

make sure to include one of the pfe headers first, so that the gcc register allocation may work (--with-regs is greater 0). For a single wordset, you need also to include pfe/def-words.h, but I recommend to do that last, after all other includes, since there are a lot of two-char #defines (if you specified P4_SOURCE).

Now, let's have a look at a simple word, e.g. the 2NIP as implemented in 'toolbelt-ext.c'. Please add a javadoc like comment before, and make the first line of that comment show the Forth Stack Notation.

 /** 2NIP ( w x y z -- y z )
  * Drop the third and fourth elements from the stack.

Now everyone knows what that word should do. All wordset words in PFE should then be declared with a prototype macro as FCode. On most systems, a 'FCode(example)' will expand to 'void example_ (void)' - note the underscore at the end that distinguishes the pfe symbol from other C symbols.

Write the body of the function. Inside of an 'FCode' word, you are assured to access the forth stacks and dictionary directly - via its pointer macros. The most common pointers are:

 SP - Parameter stack pointer (downwards)
 RP - Return stack pointer (downwards)
 FP - Floating stack pointer (downwards, not always compiled in).
 IP - Colon Instruction pointer (upwards) 
      points to the next token to be executed by the innner
      interpreter (known as NEXT in other forth systems).
 DP - dictionary pointer, the values is otherwise known as HERE.
 LAST - pointer to NFA of the last CREATE word, null after FORGET

most of the important ones are declared in def-types.h, and most of the important macros to access them are declared in def-macro.h, e.g.

 and FX_COMMA to compile to HERE 
 (and comma is defined as '*DP = x, DP += sizeof(p4cell)' )

the 2NIP implementation is of course a short one. We just want to nip the third and fourth item in the parameter stack, and just as you would expect from 'PICK', the values in the SP-stack are called SP[0] SP[1] SP[2] SP[3], where SP[0] is of course the top of stack. Here we copy [0]->[2] and [1]->[3] and decrease then the stack depth by increasing the stack pointer by 2 - remember that the parameter stack is a "(p4cell*)" and it increments downward.

  SP[2] = SP[0];
  SP[3] = SP[1];
  SP += 2;

you can then declare other such words, and finally you need to make them known to forth. This is done by assembling all the words in a Wordset-table. A Wordset table is really two C strutures, where the first lists the entries and the second gives some more information. They are always written shoulder on shoulder, so it looks like

  P4_LISTWORDS(example) =
	CO ("2NIP",   p4_two_nip),
  P4_COUNTWORDS(example, "EXAMPLE - my own example words");

but the two-letter entries will be removed from PFE shortly, so use the new style with longer names. Since 31.x generation, you should use this style:

  P4_LISTWORDS(example) =
	P4_FXco ("2NIP",   p4_two_nip),
  P4_COUNTWORDS(example, "EXAMPLE - my own example words");

and in the following sections, only the longer names are referenced. Have a look into the header file to get the old-style words.

note that P4_FXco is a macro from 'pfe-words.h' that does all the relevant things. So just give it a name with a C-string and the name you used in FCode. The P4_COUNTWORDS macro has a string - and the first part (upto the first space) is used to identify the wordset in ENVIRONMENT queries. It will also show up in the LOADED WORDS.

the macro (e.g. P4_FXco) will define what the symbol should be look like in forth - P4_FXco is a subroutine code reference, i.e. a primitive. P4_IXco is the same, but immediate. There are lots of other macros, just have a look at 'def-words.h'

note: the following paragraph is outdated since the 31.x generation which has this LOADLIST table in the referenced module-dll.c. No need to declare it by hand anymore, just link it to your original source code. Anyway, you still have the option to declare an explicit loadlist, but you can not be assured that this will stay in the next generation of PFE, where the loadlist code might be removed completly. The single-level load-scheme does not need it anymore, as all kinds of loader-commands are available in wordsets too. Avoid this one.

Anyway, here's what it looked like:

 P4_LOADLIST (example) =
 P4_MODULE_LIST (example);

And now you are basically through with it. Just compile, and when `pfe` is started, type 'LOADM example' to get access to the words in the 'EXTENSIONS' vocabulary.

Semant - advanced words of PFE

The Semant words are one of the nicest features of PFE. Without much horrors, you get compiling words and state-smart words ... and it will also be nicely decompiled by `SEE` without any further problem.

Let's have a look now at p4_literal, i.e. LITERAL

 /** LITERAL ( value -- )
  * compiling takes the value from CS-STACK and puts
  * it into the dictionary. Upon execution, it will 
  * visible the parameter stack. In exec mode, the
  * value is just left on the CS-STACK - which simply
  * is the parameter stack itself.
 FCode (p4_literal)
	if (STATE)
		FX_COMPILE (p4_literal);
 FCode (p4_literal_execution)
 P4COMPILES (p4_literal, p4_literal_execution,

The last COMPILES-declaration is the binding link between everything and all about Semant-words. The first parameter references the original compiling FCode. The FX_COMPILE in the compiling FCode will in turn reference this semant declaration.

The second parameter of COMPILES is of course the execution that should be COMMA into the dictionary. Since pfe is indirect threaded, you cannot just use FX_COMMA(p4_literal_execution), instead you compile the address of the pointer to p4_literal_execution that is given by the static Semant-structure. The advantage is, that the decompiler knows the address of this COMPILES-structure, and so there are some hints for the decompiler. SKIPS_CELL should be very obvious - the decompiler shall not interpret the next token in the colon-definition. And the default-style is, well, just nothing. All kinds of indentations for IF and LOOP style words could be given. See 'def-const.h' for some of them.

The compiling word should now be understandable: if in compiling mode, compile a execution-token (the address to a pointer to a C-function), and the value on the stack into the dictionary at HERE. The POP will also consume the value off the paramter stack.

The execution is supposed to do the reverse of it, so PUSH will insert the value on top of the parameter stack, and the value is retrieved by looking at IP. Remember, IP points to the next token that the colon-inner-interpreter will execute if the current C-function returns. Therefore, the value is fetched from there (i.e. *IP) and afterwards increased to the next token (i.e. IP++) which can be expressed with a single statement as in *IP++. You could however use the macro P4_POP(IP) to make for a bit of literal programming here.

Now that the implementation is done, export the semant-word in the wordset-table - and be sure to use 'CS'. All 'CS' words are of course immediate, and it does not reference the compiling word, but the semant-structure. Here you would write...

  P4_LISTWORDS(example) =
	P4_SXco ("LITERAL",   p4_literal),
  P4_COUNTWORDS(example, "EXAMPLE - my own example words");

The real benefit will be obvious when you make a colon-definition with a semant-word, and when done, use SEE to see what is in there. It will produce some very fine output. Well, the SEE words are of course in debug-ext.c, since decompiling is used usually during debugging or even single-stepping.

Runtime - preparing PFE for call-threading

The previous section dealt with the execution semantics of compiling words which add their execution vector to the current colon definition under creation. Here we present the style of creating new HEADER entries in the dictionary and setting up its runtime code for the new words.

Up to the 31.x generation, this was very simple - one would simply call a word that creates a header entry (or just skip that part of noname entries), and the CFA runtime vector had been simply COMMAd into its place, followed by more COMMAs to set up the parameter field. Here's a typical snippet of that style:

    p4_header (PFX(p4_constant_RT), 0);

With the current generation of 32.x this is not quite recommended, even that you can still use this scheme. However, use a new style for it which is much more obvious about what you want to do, so let it look like this:

   FX_HEADER;   // create header up to but not including CFA
   FX_COMMA(PFX(p4_constant_RT));     // setup the CFA value

The disadvantage is that it makes a specific assumption about the setting of a runtime vector of a codefield, and it even declared the codefield to be just the address of the runtime C-routine. This is true for the default indirect-threaded model.

In order to widen the range of possible threading-models, we go the same way as for the semant-words - we create an runtime info-block and the CFA-setup is done by referencing this info-block - in the default indirect-threaded model it will simply fetch the value that points to the C-routine, and COMMA it where the definition is so far. Here is the style that is recommended in the 32.x generation:

 P4RUNTIME1(p4_constant, p4_constant_RT);

and unlike the traditional code, this one is not anymore just an FXco or IXco (that would get at the FCode address) in the LISTWORDS table, instead we use now the RTco designation in the LISTWORDS table that will reference the name of the P4RUNTIME info-block (just like SXco references the name of the P4COMPILES info-block).

Actually, this new style with an FX_RUNTIME macro, makes the C source much more obvious as the macro name FX_RUNTIME does point out what shall be done at this point, to setup a runtime-vector for the header just created before. But there is also another need around here which circulates around the decompiling of words. Up to here, the debug-ext will contain a large table of all known runtime-vector values and associate it with the C code to decompile its parameter area, including the colonwords. Using this new scheme, the moduleloader has the chance to see new runtime vectors, and register them dynamically. This is not done up to now, but it will be used in the 33.x generation.

In the 32.x generation, the style of the runtime implementation has also changed, although the old style is still supported. The traditional scheme for the forth systems is the use of a word-pointer, short WP, that is either an explicit variable in the inner interpreter, or it can be fetched indirectly by looking for IP[-1][] (the inner interpreter will fetch the current value from IP and increment it. Then the execution-token is executed by jumping indirectly. The value IP[-1] points to the CFA of the current word, adding one cell lets us see the PFA of the current word executed in the inner interpreter).

To access the parameter values, one can simply use the WP macros and address it with a normal C-style array index. A typical runtime would therefore look like:

   FX_PUSH( P4_WP_PFA[0] );

To make it easier to support native-cpu sbr-threading and portable call-thereading, there is a change about here, since for either of thse we can not just fetch the IP[-1] to get at the wordpointer, nor is the latest value be fetchable from the cpu register in sbr-threading mode (atleast not without some assembler snippets). Instead of the assumption of a global wordpointer (either explicit or implicit through IP), we create a local wordpointer in the runtime-definition and a new macro can be used to capsule the needed setup-code. The new style looks like:

 FCode (p4_constant_RT)
    FX_PUSH( pfa[0] );

but for a single fetch, the same source code can be written a bit shorter - which will actually resolve the same code as with P4_WP_PFA, see here:

 FCode (p4_constant_RT)

The base to call this macro something like _POP_ has a simple reason that lies in the call-threading model. Since a colonword will be made up of pointer to C-code (instead of pointers to pointers of C-code as is in the indirect-threaded model), there is no easy way to get at the address of the parameter field - unless one would use direct threading that would jump directly into a copy of native-code in the codefield of each word, and that native-code snippet would be required to set up the wordpointer then. For call-threading however we jump directly into the C-compiler generated routine, so that DATA and CODE are fully seperated in different segments, with the possibly of an unwriteable CODE segment.

To get the parameterfield address, we have to add that one explicitly into the colonword - each word that needs to access parameters will be compiled with two cells in a call-threaded colondef, the first one is the runtime-vector and the second the parameter-vector. The inner interpreter will fetch the runtime-vector, increment the IP (instruction pointer of the current colondef), and jump directly in the C code. The runtime C code will then have to fetch the parameter-vector and thereby adjust the IP to point to the next runtime-vector following the current tuple. This would not needed to be done for primitives, and well, that's what the name comes from - primitives don't have a parameter field.

Unlike the traditional indirect-threaded forth, the codefield of words in call-threaded mode do not contain a code address, instead they point to a code info-block which could actually be just the same as the info-record that is also available in the WORDSET table to export definitions. The executions done in the indirect-threaded listloader will simply be postponed to compile time.

Well, the call-threading mode of this style is not very consise w.r.t. to the memory consumption - each call-threaded colondef would get compiled as two cells, one for the colondef-runtime and one parameter-vector point to the list of exec-vectors that make upt that definition. Only the primitives being compiled from C source would be one cell entries. However this restriction can be lifted when going from call-threaded colondefs to sbr-threaded colondefs for the cpu architectures that we know about. Each runtime-vector would simply be preceded with the cpu-native code for call-subroutine, and the complete colondef would then be a native-code primitive in the end that does not need a parameter vector when compiled. Unlike direct-threading forth systems, just two native-code bitpatterns must be discovered to make it work - sbr-call and sbr-return. The rest would be just native-code optimizations.