8 Overview (BC)
The Racket BC runtime system is implemented in C and provides the compiler from source to bytecode format, the JIT compiler from bytecode to machine code, I/O functionality, threads, and memory management.
8.1 “Scheme” versus “Racket”
The old name for Racket was “PLT Scheme,” and the core compiler and run-time system used to be called “MzScheme.” The old names are entrenched in Racket internals, to the point that most C bindings defined in this manual start with scheme_. In principle, they all should be renamed to start racket_.
8.2 CGC versus 3m
Before mixing any C code with Racket BC, first decide whether to use the 3m variant of Racket, the CGC variant of Racket, or both:
3m : the main variant of Racket BC, which uses precise garbage collection and requires explicit registration of pointer roots and allocation shapes. The precise garbage collector may move its objects in memory during a collection.
CGC : the original variant of Racket BC, where memory management depends on a conservative garbage collector. The conservative garbage collector can automatically find references to managed values from C local variables and (on some platforms) static variables, and it does not move allocated objects.
At the C level, working with CGC can be much easier than working with 3m, but overall system performance is typically better with 3m.
8.3 Embedding and Extending Racket
The Racket run-time system can be embedded into a larger program; see Embedding into a Program (BC) for more information. As an alternative to embedding, the racket executable can also be run in a subprocess, and that choice may be better for many purposes. On Windows, MzCom provides another option.
The Racket run-time system can be extended with new C-implemented functions. Historically, writing an extension could provide performance benefits relative to writing pure Racket code, but Racket performance has improved to the point that performance benefits of writing C code (if any) are usually too small to justify the maintenance effort. For calling functions that are provided by a C-implemented library, meanwhile, using with foreign-function interface within Racket is a better choice than writing an extension of Racket to call the library.
8.4 Racket BC and Places
Each Racket place corresponds to a separate OS-implemented thread. Each place has its own memory manager. Pointers to GC-managed memory cannot be communicated from one place to another, because such pointers in one place are invisible to the memory manager of another place.
When place support is enabled, static variables at the C level generally cannot hold pointers to GC-managed memory, since the static variable may be used from multiple places. For some OSes, a static variable can be made thread-local, in which case it has a different address in each OS thread, and each different address can be registered with the GC for a given place.
In an embedding application, the OS thread that originally calls scheme_basic_env is the OS thread of the original place. When scheme_basic_env is called a second time to reset the interpreter, it can be called in an OS thread that is different from the original call to scheme_basic_env. Thereafter, the new thread is the OS thread for the original place.
8.5 Racket BC and Threads
Racket implements threads for Racket programs without aid from the operating system, so that Racket threads are cooperative from the perspective of C code. Stand-alone Racket may uses a few private OS-implemented threads for background tasks, but these OS-implemented threads are never exposed by the Racket API.
Racket can co-exist with additional OS-implemented threads, but the additional OS threads must not call any scheme_ function. Only the OS thread representing a particular place can call scheme_ functions. (This restriction is stronger than saying all calls for a given place must be serialized across threads. Racket relies on properties of specific threads to avoid stack overflow and garbage collection.) In an embedding application, for the original place, only the OS thread used to call scheme_basic_env can call scheme_ functions. For any other place, only the OS thread that is created by Racket for the place can be used to call scheme_ functions.
See Threads (BC) for more information about threads, including the possible effects of Racket’s thread implementation on extension and embedding C code.
8.6 Racket BC, Unicode, Characters, and Strings
A character in Racket is a Unicode code point. In C, a character
value has type mzchar, which is an alias for unsigned —
Only a few Racket functions use mzchar*. Instead, most functions accept char* strings. When such byte strings are to be used as a character strings, they are interpreted as UTF-8 encodings. A plain ASCII string is always acceptable in such cases, since the UTF-8 encoding of an ASCII string is itself.
See also Strings and String Encodings (BC).
8.7 Racket BC Integers
Racket expects to be compiled in a mode where short is a 16-bit integer, int is a 32-bit integer, and intptr_t has the same number of bits as void*. The long type can match either int or intptr_t, depending on the platform. The mzlonglong type has 64 bits for compilers that support a 64-bit integer type, otherwise it is the same as intptr_t; thus, mzlonglong tends to match long long. The umzlonglong type is the unsigned version of mzlonglong.