Home Blog GitHub Twitter

Wipple’s Module System

February 28, 2021

I’ve been working on Wipple quite a lot recently, and I’m proud to say that it’s now available for download! Currently it only supports running single files though, so it’s time to come up with a module system.

What are modules?

In Wipple, a module is simply a captured environment (a collection of values that are passed down throughout the program). Any variables, conformances, etc. that are declared within a macro are captured and made available to others in one of two ways:

  • Modules conform to Call, so accessing variables can be done by calling the module with the variable name, eg. my-module foo
  • The use function merges the module’s environment with the current one, eg. use my-module

Declaring modules

Blocks are now declared using square brackets ([ and ]), and modules are declared using curly braces ({ and }). The last statement is the result of a block, and a module (ie. an environment) is the result of a module block. For example, the module person can be declared and used like this:

-- Declare the module 'person'
person : {
name : "Wilson"
favorite-color : "orange"

-- Access variables within 'person'
person name -- "Wilson"
person favorite-color -- "orange"

-- Bring all variables from 'person' into the current environment
use person
name -- "Wilson"
favorite-color -- "orange"

As you can see, modules in Wipple work like objects in other languages without the need for additional syntax! Of course, use-ing a module also merges in any other values part of the module’s environment, including conformances.


Before modules, Wipple didn’t really have a concept of scoping like other languages — the environment was simply copied into closures, do constructs and anything else that captured it. With modules, though, we need a way of tracking which values were created inside the immediate environment and which were created in a parent environment (you can access values from parent environments in a module block, but they are not exported). As such, the environment is now defined like so:

type EnvironmentValues = HashMap<EnvironmentKey, Box<dyn Any>>;

struct Environment {
values: EnvironmentValues,
parent: Option<Rc<RefCell<Environment>>>,

Resolving a variable, for example, would search the immediate environment first, and then any parents. Setting a variable is always done in the immediate environment and parents remain unchanged. You can use a reference (discussed later on in this article) to modify values in parent environments.

Modules would thus be defined like this, since they only capture their immediate environment:

struct Module {
values: EnvironmentValues,

Environment keys also need to be able to describe how their value should be merged into other environments via use. We can do that like so:

struct UseFn(Rc<dyn Fn(&T, &T) -> T>);

impl UseFn {
fn new(...) -> Self { ... }

fn take_parent() -> Self {
UseFn::new(|parent, _| parent.clone())

fn take_new() -> Self {
UseFn::new(|_, new| new.clone())

// First parameter is parent value, second parameter is new value
struct EnvironmentKey<T> {
id: Uuid,
r#use: UseFn<T>,
// What to do when the key is not in the parent environment
insert: bool,

From there, we can define use like this:

impl Environment {
fn use(&mut self, new: &Environment) {
for (key, new_value) in new.values {
match self.values.get_mut(key) {
Some(parent_value) => {
let used_value = key.r#use(parent_value, new_value);
*parent_value = used_value;
None => {
if key.insert {
self.values.insert(key, new_value);

These examples aren’t fully complete and accurate, but you get the idea.

NOTE: Because merging together operator precedences from different environments is very complex and may result in a different ordering than intended, all operator precedences must be declared globally (see below). In other words, the environment key for operator precedences has a use function of take_parent.

Why are modules useful?

Modules allow you to split up your project into multiple files and make a distinction between private and public values, allowing your code to be more organized. Modules are also the primary way of passing “objects” (collections of variables) around and can be used for configurations with named, potentially optional values.

Usage in Wipple code

In Wipple code, you can declare modules in two ways:

  • With module blocks, as shown above
  • With the module function, which loads another Wipple file as a module

The module function resolves paths as follows:

  • If the path is relative, search relative to the current file; otherwise, search relative to the project root
  • If the path points to a file, append the .wpl extension and load the file as a module
  • If the path points to a folder, load the module.wpl file inside the folder. If this file does not exist, create an implicit module that uses all files/folders in the folder in alphabetical order
    • This should help prevent the boilerplate in languages where you need to explicitly export all files from the folder!

Modules are cached based on absolute path. In the future, support will be added for force-reloading modules. Currently modules cannot be mutually recursive (causes a stack overflow), but in the future this will be handled more gracefully.

You can use other files like this:

-- Loads and uses "foo.wpl" relative to the project root
use (module "foo")

For convenience, the use function also accepts a text value:

use "foo" -- equivalent to the above

Loading interpreter plugins

Interpreter plugins can be loaded using the load-plugin! function. Paths are interpreted in the same way as module, but you pass a path to the folder containing the plugin, and the correct .wplplugin file is selected for the current platform. For example, on macOS, writing load-plugin! "my-plugin" would search for a my-plugin/x86_64-apple-darwin.wplplugin file relative to the project root.

The global environment

Files are loaded inside a blank environment whose parent is the global environment. The global environment can be modified by passing a module to global!:

global! {
-- foo will be accessible to all files
foo : 42

Modules passed to global! are used in the global environment. Remember, though, that files (like all modules) won’t be able to modify foo without also using global! — trying to set it with : will just create a new foo in the file’s environment.


If you need to modify something in a parent environment, you can do this:

x : 1

use {
x : 2

x -- 2

But with this approach, it’s not possible to modify values in an environment that isn’t a parent. In order to modify values part of any arbitrary environment (including values passed into functions), you can use a reference:

x : reference 1

x <- 2

x -- 2

The <- operator updates the reference with a new value. References conform to Computed, so referring to a reference by name evaluates to the stored value. You can use the @ function to suppress the evaluation of Computed values, thus returning the reference itself:

increment! : x -> [
x <- x + 1

x : reference 1
increment! (@ x)
x -- 2

By convention, names referring to closures that mutate references or modify anything outside their own captured environment should have a ! at the end.

References are stored as Rc<RefCell<Value>> values in Rust. In the future, support for weak references will be added to prevent reference cycles.

Thanks for reading! If you want to check out Wipple’s implementation, you can visit https://github.com/wipplelang and browse the repositories. To download Wipple, visit https://wipple.gramer.dev.

© 2023 Wilson Gramer