git clone ''

(ql:quickload :method-combination-utilities)

Method combinations are one of the more obscure bits of Common Lisp. I think they're pretty fantastic and should be understood and used by more developers. This library is an attempt to provide some tools to aid in defining new method combinations as well as a few simple combinations that may be generally useful.


This macro is to method combinations what MACROEXPAND is to macros. Given a function call form, it'll expand to the form used to call the methods.

For example, given:

(defgeneric print-slots (object)
  (:method-combination basic progn t)
  (:method progn ((object superclass)) ...)
  (:method progn ((object subclass)) ...))

(pprint (method-combination-expand (print-slots subclass-instance)))

the result should look something like:


This can be extremely helpful both for users of method combinations and developers of them.

Definition Helpers

(CALL-METHODS methods)

This is FLETed (or expanded in-line) in almost all method combinations, including every DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION example in the spec. The name isn't the best, but it has a strong tradition.

This function just returns a list of CALL-METHOD forms, one for each method passed in. EG:

(call-methods '(1 2 3))

(COMBINE-STANDARD-METHODS primary-methods &optional around-methods before-methods after-methods)

In a lot of custom method combinations there is some attempt to keep the behavior of the STANDARD method combination. This function manages that portion of the method combination so other components can be layered on top.

This example converts the 55-line WRAPPING-STANDARD method combination from arnesi into a much cleaner 17-line version.

(define-method-combination wrapping-standard
    (&key (wrap-around-order :most-specific-last)
          (around-order :most-specific-first)
          (before-order :most-specific-first)
          (wrapping-order :most-specific-last)
          (primary-order :most-specific-first)
          (after-order :most-specific-last))
  ((wrap-around (:wrap-around) :order wrap-around-order)
   (around (:around) :order around-order)
   (before (:before) :order before-order)
   (wrapping (:wrapping) :order wrapping-order)
   (primary () :order primary-order :required t)
   (after (:after) :order after-order))
  "Same semantics as standard method combination but allows \"wrapping\"
   methods. Ordering of methods:


  :wrap-around and :wrapping methods can use call-next-method."
  ;; :WRAP-AROUND is similar to :AROUND and :WRAPPING is similar to primary, so
  ;; each pair can be concatenated and then we can just apply the standard
  ;; combination.
  (combine-standard-methods (append wrapping primary)
                            (append wrap-around around)

(WRAP-PRIMARY-FORM primary-form &optional around-methods before-methods after-methods)

This is similar to COMBINE-STANDARD-METHODS, but it takes an already-computed primary form, rather than a list of primary methods. This is because it's fairly common to have some custom behavior for the primary methods and then combine it with the usual :AROUND/:BEFORE/:AFTER methods.

This example is simplified from pretty much the entire nisp-standard-combination.lisp file from the nisp project. Note that (based on the pathname), this combination (or at least the version I linked to) is probably obsolete.

(define-method-combination nisp-standard (&key hook)
  ((defaulting (:defaulting) :order :most-specific-last)
   (meta-around (:meta-around))
   (around (:around))
   (before (:before))
   (primary () :required t)
   (after (:after) :order :most-specific-last))
  "This behaves similarly to `STANDARD`, but wraps the whole thing with
  :DEFAULTING (most-recent-last) and :META-AROUND methods. Also, if a HOOK is
   passed, the primary methods are treated as in the BASIC combination, with
   HOOK as the operator.

  (wrap-primary-form (if hook
                         `(,hook ,@(call-methods primary))
                         `(call-method ,(first primary) ,(rest primary)))
                     (append defaulting meta-around around)

Method Combinations


The PRIMARY method combination is a stripped-down version of the STANDARD method combination that only allows primary methods. Taken from ISLISP’s NIL method combination (but renamed because CLs with package locks don't like it) after it was suggested by Pascal Costanza.


The LAX method combination is intended for use in cases where you are handling your qualifiers in a custom method class and don't really need a custom method combination, but you need the STANDARD method combination to quietly ignore your special qualifiers. (a la Closer’s Filtered Functions)

(BASIC operator &optional identity-with-one-argument-p order)

The intent of the BASIC method combination is to obviate the need for the short form of DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION. With this method combination, you have the same functionality but without having to define the method combination separately from where it's used.

Of course, I've never actually seen any code that uses the short form of DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION (and I've looked). However, since all the (non-STANDARD) built-in method combinations behave as if they were created using the short form, this also acts as a proposal for any updates to Common Lisp – rather than having ten built-in combinations (four of which I have never seen used), have only two: STANDARD and BASIC, and eliminate the short form of DEFINE-METHOD-COMBINATION.

For example, the built-in + combination can be replicated with (basic + t).

(APPEND/NCONC &optional order)

Using either the built-in APPEND or NCONC combinations (or those functions as the operator for the BASIC combination) misses something important. NCONC is largely a non-consing optimization of APPEND (if you are somehow using the method combination to make circular structures or something, then the built-in NCONC is probably a better bet). If you use the built-in combinations, then every method on your function needs to share the same qualifier, say, APPEND. If you later decide that it is safe to use NCONC, then you need to change the combination on the generic function and change all of your methods – and hope that no users of your library have added additional APPEND methods to the function.

The APPEND/NCONC combination, however, allows the use of either qualifier. Methods that return a list safe to be RPLACDed can use the NCONC qualifier, while those that don't can use APPEND. If all but the last applicable primary method (most- or least-specific, depending on the ORDER parameter) use the NCONC qualifier, than the results will be concatenated with NCONC, otherwise it will use APPEND.

This allows the optimization to be added on a case-by-case basis and the gains to be had where possible, without tying users to your specific implementation decision.