[ RfDs/CfVs | Other proposals ]

Poll standings

See below for voting instructions.
[ ] conforms to ANS Forth.
 WF32 (Alex McDonald)
 Gforth (Anton Ertl)
 SwiftForth (Leon Wagner)
[ ] already implements the proposal in full since release [ ].
 WF32 0.3
[ ] implements the proposal in full in a development version.
[ ] will implement the proposal in full in release [ ].
[ ] will implement the proposal in full in some future release.
[ ] There are no plans to implement the proposal in full in [ ].
[ ] will never implement the proposal in full.
 Mark Wills' system (Mark Wills)
[ ] I have used (parts of) this proposal in my programs.
 Alex McDonald
 Anton Ertl
[ ] I would use (parts of) this proposal in my programs if the systems
     I am interested in implemented it.
 Timothy Knox
[ ] I would use (parts of) this proposal in my programs if this
     proposal was in the Forth standard.
 Timothy Knox
[ ] I would not use (parts of) this proposal in my programs.
 Brad Eckert
 Roelf Toxopeus
 Mark Wills
Informal results
Brad Eckert writes:
This proposal is oriented more toward tool writers than application
writers. For applications, it's too weak to be useful. My last application
that needed to traverse a wordlist simply compiled its own links to the
dictionary and traversed forward instead of backward.

Tool writers can port their pet tools to the different Forths.
David Harralson writes:
The sentence "Although names of definitions are required to be at least 31 characters in length"

should read

 "Although the maximum length of names of definitions are required to be at least 31 characters in length"
Anton Ertl writes:
The glossary entry for NAME>INTERPRET should probably refer to
interpretation semantics, not execution semantics, i.e.:

NAME>INTERPRET returns an xt (execution token) as discussed in
DPANS 3.4.3 Semantics. This xt represents the interpretation semantics
of the definition. It may be zero if there are no interpretation

Change History

20120120        First version
20120124        Minor typos, added section "Order of node visits"
                Added to section "Remarks"
20120125        Minor typos, cleanup and added remarks
20120203        Changed order of stack for TRAVERSE-WORDLIST
                to place the xt rightmost.
                Removed return value from TRAVERSE-WORDLIST.
                Changed xt-node halt flag to a continue flag.
                Note that if xt-node modifies the wordlist, the
                results are undefined.
                Specify NAME>... supporting words in section 2.2.
                Tidy up & correction of 4. Remarks
20120228        Section 2.1 and 2.2 moved and renumbered.
                Rename NAME>... to NAME>... to more clearly
                indicate a name token rather than a name.
                Tidy up table in section 3. Experience, and
                add note re NAME>... names.
                Corrected Bruce McFarling's moniker
20120904        Updates based on comments by Anton Ertl, Peter Knaggs,
                Bruce McFarling
20130725        Corrected stack signatures & reduce verbage
20130812        Updates based on commentary on CLF; NT>.. changed to
                NAME>...; justification for name token


There are no standard words in Forth for traversing a WORDLIST and obtaining basic information about each node. While standard Forth provides a great many features for extensibility of the language (with CREATE ... DOES> being the classic example), standard Forth lacks the basic capability of traversing the wordlist as a part of the specification.

Such a capability is needed to provide some kinds of advanced programming tools. For example, the programmer may want to determine all instances of word name overlaps in all of the wordlists in the current search order; or count, display or modify words contained in a specific wordlist.

Many systems provide the TOOLS word WORDS that provides human- readable output from the current wordlists in CONTEXT. TRAVERSE- WORDLIST is a usable factor for the implementation of WORDS.


The proposal is the introduction of a new type and four new words, primarily in section "15.6.2 Programming-Tools extension words" of document "Forth 2012 RC1" dated 7th November, 2012.

The new type is a "name token" or nt. This is an opaque type returned by TRAVERSE-WORDLIST, which enables the programmer to enumerate the contents of a wordlist (which are organised by name). Auxilliary words allow the name token to be inspected, and to retrieve the name string, and any associated intererpret and comiplation execution tokens (xt).

Since this proposal introduces the concept of an opaque nt (name token), the following words allow system independent reference to specific parts of the node: NAME>STRING NAME>INTERPRET and NAME>COMPILE .

Typical use

  : WORDS-COUNT ( x nt -- x' f ) DROP 1+ TRUE ;
  0 ' WORDS-COUNT WID TRAVERSE-WORDLIST . ( count of nodes visited)
prints x', where x' is a count of the total number of nodes in the wordlist WID.
prints the names of words in the current compilation wordlist.
prints the name of a word containing the string "COM", if it exists, and then terminates.


There has been a heated debate on CLF as to whether the xt that TRAVERSE-WORDLIST executes should be passed an nt (name token) or the xt of the defined word. A name token has been chosen for the following reasons:
  1. The intention of TRAVERSE-WORDLIST is to return the names defined in the wordlist, regardless of the xts with which they are associated.
  2. A wordlist is organised by name, not by execution token.
  3. It is possible to have multiple names for a single xt, and >NAME (a common but non-standard mechanism for getting the name of an xt) is not able to return any more than a single name.
  4. Many systems employ multiple xts for each name. This is explictly mentioned in the standard; FIND is permitted to return one xt while in interpret state, and another while in compile state.


TRAVERSE-WORDLIST ( i*x xt wid -- i*x' ) "traverse-wordlist" TOOLS-EXT
Remove wid and xt from the stack. Traverse the wordlist wid, executing xt (a user-specified word) once for every word in the wordlist.

The invoked xt has the stack diagram ( i*x nt -- i*x' f ).

A non-zero value for f will invoke the xt again with a new nt until all the nodes in the wordlist have been exhausted. Setting f to zero (FALSE) terminates this traversal, and xt will not be invoked again.

xt will not be invoked if the wordlist wid is empty.

nt is a system-specific name token for the node. The xt can use this token to display, count, modify or perform any other action on the node that the system providing nt permits. The format of nt is opaque, but it is guaranteed to be unique for each word in the wordlist.

Note: Use of the stack by TRAVERSE-WORDLIST
Removal of the xt and wid by TRAVERSE-WORDLIST before invoking the xt ensures that the data stack is not blocked; it is not permitted to maintain control information for the traversal on the data stack. This is to allow parameters beyond the nt to be passed to xt. For instance, the caller may wish to maintain a count of nodes visited on the stack.
Note: Order of node visits
There are a number of orders in which nodes may be visited in a wordlist, each of which depends on the specific implementation of wordlists. Although they are often based on hash tables, no assumptions are made in the specification about internal implementations.

TRAVERSE-WORDLIST therefore gives no guarantee as to any specific order of node visits to each word through the invoked xt with one exception.

If a wordlist contains duplicate entries, SEARCH-WORDLIST and FIND for a duplicated name will return the execution token of the last temporally defined name. For instance

    : SAMPLE ... ( 1 ) ;
    : TEST ... ;
    : RETURNS ... ;
    : SAMPLE ... ( 2 ) ;
    : SAMPLE ... ( 3 ) ;
defines five words, one of which, SAMPLE, is defined three times. SEARCH-WORDLIST and FIND will only return the last definition (3). Whether duplicated nodes are visited or not by TRAVERSE-WORDLIST is undefined. TRAVERSE-WORDLIST is only obliged to visit the nodes TEST, RETURNS and SAMPLE (3) from the wordlist, and can do so in any order.

Some systems may permit visiting the node for the second and subsequent definitions of SAMPLE. Exceptionally in this case, TRAVERSE-WORDLIST must visit multiply defined nodes in the order newest to oldest (but not necessarily consecutively); that is, SAMPLE (3) must be returned before (2), and (2) before (1).

The remaining unique nodes can appear in any order, and may be interspersed between the duplicately named and ordered words. If this ordering is not possible, then TRAVERSE-WORDLIST must call xt with only the FINDable definition of SAMPLE.

TRAVERSE-WORDLIST is affected by the operation of FORGET or MARKER, and the results of a traversal must not return words that are unFINDable after execution of FORGET or MARKER. Additionally, any operation during the execution of xt-node that modifies the structure of the wordlist (that is, defining words such as : (colon) or CREATE, or execution of FORGET or MARKER) results in undefined behaviour.

:NONAME definitions have, by definition, no name. TRAVERSE-WORDLIST will not return any nt for :NONAME definitions.

Because TRAVERSE-WORDLIST is returning name tokens, it is perfectly possible that the nt shares an xt with some other word. Consider:


If NEW and OLD are both defined in wordlist wid, then nts for NEW and OLD will be returned by TRAVERSE-WORLDLIST, and NAME>INTERPRET and NAME>COMPILE may, depending on the implementation, return the same corresponding xt for both NEW and OLD.

NAME>STRING    ( nt -- addr count ) "name-to-string"    TOOLS-EXT

NAME>STRING returns the string addr count, the definition name of the word represented by nt. Case is dependent on the case-sensitivity of the Forth system (see DPANS Definition names). For restrictions see /3.1 NAME>STRING Restrictions/

Note: NAME>STRING Restrictions
Implementations may choose to point to the string in the word's header built when the word is defined: point to a static buffer that is reused on each call; point to a dynamic buffer that is replaced on each call: or some other method. Whatever technique is used, the following are required of the string returned by NAME>STRING; If the string is needed outside of this lifetime, it must be copied to another buffer. The alternative - providing a buffer for NAME>STRING's used - has been rejected on the grounds that the buffer would have to be of an unknown length. Although names of definitions are required to be at least 31 characters in length (see /DPANS Definition names/) there is no specified upper limit.
NAME>INTERPRET ( nt -- xt )         "name-to-interpret" TOOLS-EXT
NAME>INTERPRET returns an xt (execution token) as discussed in DPANS 3.4.3 Semantics. This xt represents the execution semantics of the definition. It may be zero if there are no execution semantics.
NAME>COMPILE   ( nt -- w xt )       "name-to-compile"   TOOLS-EXT
xt has the following stack effect: ( i*x w -- j*x ). EXECUTEing it consumes w and performs the compilation semantics of the word represented by xt.

Extend DPANS Table 3.1 Data Types

Symbol    Data type          Size on stack
nt        name token                1 cell
Add section DPANS Name tokens

Different definitions have different name tokens, although information obtainable from the token may be identical for different name tokens; for instance, NAME>STRING for different values of nt may return the same string.

Reference implementation

Implementation of TRAVERSE-WORDLIST requires carnal knowledge of the structure of the wordlist. The following example assumes that the wordlist is a singly linked list, anchored at wid, with the name token at a cell offset.
    : traverse-wordlist ( i*x xt wid -- i*x' )
        begin @ dup
          2dup 2>r
          cell + swap execute ( i*x nt -- i*x' f )
          2r> rot
        while repeat then 2drop ;


Not completed.


The wordlist traversal functionality is available through very similar words in
  Win32Forth    VOC-ITERATE
  VFX           WalkWordList
  iForth        doWORDS
  ciForth       FOR-WORDS
  lxf/ntf       WALK-WORDLIST
Commonly used to implement WORDS, these functions and others are individual solutions with conflicting stack requirements and names. However, all provided similar functionality to the proposed TRAVERSE-WORDLIST, namely, the ability to inspect the individual entries in a wordlist.

Voting instructions

Fill out the appropriate ballot(s) below and mail it/them to me <>. Your vote will be published (including your name (without email address) and/or the name of your system) here. You can vote (or change your vote) at any time by mailing to me, and the results will be published here.

Note that you can be both a system implementor and a programmer, so you can submit both kinds of ballots.


Alex McDonald
Ballot for systems
If you maintain several systems, please mention the systems separately in the ballot. Insert the system name or version between the brackets or in the line below the statement. Multiple hits for the same system are possible (if they do not conflict).
[ ] conforms to ANS Forth.
[ ] already implements the proposal in full since release [ ].
[ ] implements the proposal in full in a development version.
[ ] will implement the proposal in full in release [ ].
[ ] will implement the proposal in full in some future release.
[ ] There are no plans to implement the proposal in full in [ ].
[ ] will never implement the proposal in full.
If you want to provide information on partial implementation, please do so informally, and I will aggregate this information in some way.
Ballot for programmers
Just mark the statements that are correct for you (e.g., by putting your name on the line below the statement you agree with). If some statements are true for some of your programs, but not others, please mark the statements for the dominating class of programs you write.
[ ] I have used (parts of) this proposal in my programs.
[ ] I would use (parts of) this proposal in my programs if the systems
     I am interested in implemented it.
[ ] I would use (parts of) this proposal in my programs if this
     proposal was in the Forth standard.
[ ] I would not use (parts of) this proposal in my programs.
If you feel that there is closely related functionality missing from the proposal (especially if you have used that in your programs), make an informal comment, and I will collect these, too. Note that the best time to voice such issues is the RfD stage.