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On Sat 16 Dec, Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo wrote:
> We'd like to add to Lua's web site a page listing all papers, thesis, articles
> about Lua or that use Lua.
> If you have written such a thing, or know of one, please send me the complete
> reference, including URLs to HTML, PS, and PDF versions.

Article in Archive Magazine (The Subscription Magazine for
RISC OS Users) October 2000, Vol 14 No. 1. page 27.

As far as I know it is not on the web. The original text file
is only 11K so I append it below. I hope it does not contain too many
factual errors. I know of at least one piece of software written for
RISC OS since, a genealogy program, that uses Lua to control different
styles of layout of family trees <>.

Gavin Wraith ( or (
Home page:

            *        LUA        *

"Lua" is Portuguese for "moon". I had come across the word
when browsing web pages about programming languages
 Free Compilers
 Review of existing languages
 Dictionary of programming languages
 The Language list

I had paid it no attention till I read an announcement that
Reuben Thomas <URL:>
had ported Lua 3.2 to Risc OS.
The purpose of this article is to give a brief non-technical
sketch of the ideas behind the Lua package.

The official description says:

  Lua is a powerful, light-weight programming language designed
  for extending applications. Lua is also frequently used as a
  general-purpose, stand-alone language.

  Lua combines simple procedural syntax (similar to Pascal)
  with powerful data description constructs based on associative
  arrays and extensible semantics. Lua is dynamically typed,
  interpreted from bytecodes, and has automatic memory management,
  making it ideal for configuration, scripting, and rapid prototyping.

  Lua is a language engine that you can embed into your application.
  This means that, besides syntax and semantics, Lua has an API that
  allows the application to exchange data with Lua programs and also
  to extend Lua with C functions. In this sense, Lua can be regarded
  as a language framework for building domain-specific languages.

  Lua is implemented as a small library of C functions, written in
  ANSI C, and compiles unmodified on all known platforms. The
  implementation goals are simplicity, efficiency, portability, and
  low embedding cost. The result is a fast language engine with small
  footprint, making it ideal in embedded systems too.

  Lua was awarded the first prize (technological category) in the
  Second Compaq Award for Research and Development in Computer Science
  in 1997. This award was a joint venture of Compaq Computer in Brazil,
  the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Brazilian
  Academy of Sciences.

  Lua has been used in many different projects around the world.
  For a short list, see

These uses are varied and interesting: games, distributed business
software, CGI scripting, snowmobile bench-testing, ...
The winner of RoboCup 2000, "Crazy Ivan", ran on Lua software.

Lua was designed and implemented by Waldemar Celes, Roberto
Ierusalimschy and Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo, at the Pontifical
Catholic University of Rio, Brazil. In contrast to most
software developments, which sprout more bells and whistles with
each new version, the Lua team actually try to cut features out if
feedback from users suggests that they are not needed. This
dedication to simplicity can make hardened programmers,
grown men, slack-jawed with amazement - even to bubble gently
at the lips. There is a lua mailing list where "How do I
.... in Lua" questions get answered or hammered out,
sometimes with spectacularly elegant solutions.

Perhaps the best way to describe Lua for Archive readers is to
compare it with BBC Basic. As in Basic, in Lua all variables
are taken to be global unless specifically declared to be local
(but ..., see below, where the plot thickens).
However, unlike Basic, Lua can have functions returning
lots of values simultaneously. So

  x,y,z = position(t)

would be quite legal. Another fundamental difference is
that functions are first class citizens; that is, can be
stored in variables, passed as arguments or returned as results
just like numbers or strings. To make a variable "double" have
the value of the doubling function, you could write

 double = function (x) return 2*x end

which could also be written in the more traditional style

 function double(x) return 2*x end

There is a special value, nil, in Lua. It is the value returned
by any function that has no return statement - like procedures
in Basic. nil plays the role of logical FALSE, whereas any non-nil
value plays the role of logical TRUE (including 0, which may trip
up those used to Basic or C).

Arrays in Lua are called "tables". You can create an empty table
called x with
                x = {}
A statement
                x[i] = y
will either create an index i for the table x and assign the value
of y as the i-th component of x, or, if x[i] already exists, it will
overwrite x[i] with the value y. The value y can be any sort of
value: number, string, nil, table or function, for instance.
Even the index i does not have to be a number; any non-nil value will
do. If i is a string, say i = "tom", then x["tom"] can also
be written as x.tom. You can write the statements

                x = {}
                x[i] = p
                x[j] = q
                x[k] = r
more directly as

                x = { [i] = p, [j] = q, [k] = r }
If i = "tom" then this could also be written as

                x = { tom = p, [j] = q, [k] = r }

You have to be careful here. "tom = p" looks like an assignment to a
variable called tom, but it is not. If indices are omitted, then the
numbers 1,2, .. are used in default. For example

         y = { u,v,w }

is equivalent to y = { [1] = u, [2] = v, [3] = w }.
There is a special notation for table values which are
functions, when they are indexed by strings. If we had

               x.tom = function (a,b,c) ........ end
then x:tom(b,c) denotes (x.tom)(x,b,c). This notation turns out
to be really convenient, and it can be used to give an
object-oriented style to Lua. We say that x:tom is a
"method" of x. Tables of functions are particularly
useful things for wimp programming because you can index a table
of actions by the reason codes that Wimp_Poll returns
(see the file Examples.!BasicApp.!RunImage in the RiscLua package).

Values in Lua have "tags", which play the part of types. Tables can
be given user-defined tags, to distinguish the roles they are
to play. Suppose we wanted to define complex numbers, say.
We could write

complex_tag = newtag()   -- define a new tag

make_complex = function (x,y)
   local z = { real = x, imaginary = y }
   return z

i = make_complex(0,1)

Lua has a very powerful feature, called "tag methods", that allow
you to extend the syntax. If we want to be able to write
z+w and z*w for the sum and product of two complex numbers z,w
then we can arrange for this by first using the commands

settagmethod(complex_tag,"add", function (z,w)
    return make_complex(
       z.real + w.real, z.imaginary + w.imaginary)
settagmethod(complex_tag,"mul",function (z,w)
      return make_complex(
           z.real*w.real - z.imaginary*w.imaginary,
           z.real*w.imaginary + z.imaginary*w.real)

Note how the third argument to "settagmethod" is a a function,
and how we do not need to name it explicitly.
Other tag methods allow you to extend virtually every aspect of
the syntax to accommodate your data structures. In particular
you can use tag methods to implement various styles of
object inheritance. For example, if a table x does not have
an index i, you could use a tagmethod so that x[i], instead
of returning nil, returns (x.parent)[i].
If you do not like the fact that all variables are automatically
assumed global, and would prefer to have some explicit
declaration, such as
                       global x
instead, then you can use a tag method to implement this
behaviour. In other words, tag methods give you the ability to
to alter the language itself. For this reason, calling Lua a
language is a bit misleading. It is a language kit.

Lua comes with small libraries of predefined functions
for input/output, for mathematical functions, and
for text-handling. If you are creating a Lua interpreter
it is easy to add your own libraries.

The Lua interpreter compiles a Lua source program into
instructions for a virtual machine and then runs it.
In Lua 4.0 each virtual machine instruction is four bytes
long, which is convenient for modern chips, like the ARM,
which do 32-bit fetches anyway.

The rather trivial Lua code

   x = { show = function (self) write("Hello\n") end }

compiles to the thirteen virtual machine instruction codes shown
disassembled here:

     0  00000051  CREATETABLE  1
     1  00000047  PUSHSTRING   1        ; show
     2  0000002E  CLOSURE      0 0
     3  00000016  SETMAP       0
     4  00000013  SETGLOBAL    0        ; x
     5  0000000C  GETGLOBAL    0        ; x
     6  00000050  PUSHSELF     1        ; show
     7  00000002  CALL         0 0
     8  00000000  END
     0  0000004C  GETGLOBAL    1        ; write
     1  00000087  PUSHSTRING   2        ; Hello\n
     2  00008002  CALL         1 0
     3  00000000  END

The Lua interpreter is smart enough to distinguish when
a file passed to it is a lua program or compiled code.
The function "dofile" can be used to execute code in a file -
the file can be either a lua program or compiled code.
This plays much the same role as the LIBRARY command in Basic.
There is also a function "dostring" analogous to Basic's EVAL.        
RiscLua is an extension of Lua 4.0 to incorporate Risc OS
software interrupts (corresponding to SYS in Basic). It is on
this month's disc. Alternatively you can get it from

Once the application !lua has been booted, running lua
programs is simply a matter of writing the program with
your favourite text editor, saving the file with type "lua"
(or "tasklua" for running in a taskwindow) and doubleclicking
on the file's icon.
Also included are a compiler and a disassembler, provided
as "stickies" (see Hints and Tips, page 88, Archive July 1999),
and a trivial example to show how to write wimp applications.
To write a Lua program, of course you need access to the manual,
which is available online as web pages on the Lua website.
But, as I hope I have got across, Lua is not so much a
language as a language kit for building specialized languages,
and it is up to the builder to provide corresponding specialized
manuals. In fact there is some nice software for creating
web page manuals automatically, out of the comments you put
in your code.

I have said nothing about the Lua API - how to write C programs
that use Lua or how to use C functions to extend Lua, or about
the "userdata" type in Lua. Those who want more detail about this
and other aspects of Lua can find it at Lua's home website
also mirrored at

Gavin Wraith 7/6/00