Serval – Simple Scheme interpreter in Python

by Ruslan Spivak on December 12, 2010

I’ve been always fascinated by and interested in interpreters, compilers, and language design. But there is a huge gap between being interested and actually knowing how to implement one whether it’s a simple interpreter, compiler or a programming language.

So couple weeks ago I decided to reduce the gap I had and start with a simple high-level interpreter for a subset of Scheme. Thus after several weekend evenings of code tweaking Serval was born.

Serval is a high-level Scheme interpreter written in Python. It implements a subset of R5RS. The code closely follows Scheme meta-circular evaluator implementation from Ch.4 of the SICP book.

The goals of the project are pretty simple:

  1. Self-education (For me there is no better way of gaining and retaining information than by (re)implementing something on my own)
  2. To serve as a potential example for other people interested in interpreter implementation, particularly Scheme interpreter.
  3. Not a goal per se, but I wanted  Serval to be able to run all examples from “The Little Schemer” book (that was my test target). The project has a test module which runs simple meta-circular evaluator from Ch.10 of the book. Yeah, now I can evaluate Scheme code using Scheme evaluator that is interpreted by Scheme interpreter written in Python :)

To whet your appetite here are some examples of Serval REPL:

  1. Defining simple function

    serval> (define add1 (lambda (x) (+ x 1)))
    serval> (add1 9)
  2. Loading representation from a file

    serval> (load "/home/alienoid/scheme/the_little_schemer/")
    serval> (value '((lambda (x) (cons x x)) 5))
    (5 . 5)

To install the interpreter use either pip install

$ sudo pip install serval
$ serval

or clone Git repo and run buildout:

$ git clone git://
$ cd serval/
$ python 
$ bin/buildout 
$ bin/serval

Resources that I found useful when working on Serval:

  1. SICP
  2. The Little Schemer
  3. The Scheme Programming Language
  4. Language Implementation Patterns
  5. Scheme from Scratch
  6. Bob Scheme
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nachik February 12, 2011 at 8:04 PM

Does it do call/cc ?


Ruslan Spivak February 12, 2011 at 8:36 PM

Hi Nachik,

Not at this moment. I plan to have call/cc in Serval compiler(if I ever get to that point :)



Nachik February 12, 2011 at 8:05 PM


Sorry, forgot to tick on the notification boxes.


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