A functional, relational database in about 250 lines of Common Lisp.

SQL. NoSQL. ORMs. Key-value stores. There are a variety of approaches available for dealing with data. LambdaLite might be called functional and relational, for lack of better terms. The "relational" part is straightfoward: data is organized into tables. The "functional" part comes from a break with traditional SQL-style query languages: Lisp function closures are used to express queries over in-memory, in-process Lisp data.

Lisp Plug

People often ask "why Lisp?" It's hard to sum up all the benefits of Lisp in a few words. However, what LambdaLite does would be impossible in most languages. LambdaLite's where clauses are macros that seek out '/'-prefixed keywords and replace them with row attribute references. The resulting expression becomes a function closure that is compiled by most Lisp implementations into native code. Is that cool or what?


Consider the following SQL query:


A few problems are apparent: * The UPPER function is part of a separate language with its own syntax and semantics * The whole query is represented as a string in our application language, so it misses out on highlighting, completion, validation, etc. * Parameterization of 'BOB' into a variable lacks elegance in most SQL client libraries

Under LambdaLite, we could instead write:

(select :users (where (equal (string-upcase :/name) "BOB")))

Why is this useful? * It's actual Lisp syntax: everything is a Lisp function (e.g. string-upcase) or macro * "BOB" can be parameterized natively by any Lisp variable * The where clause forms a compiled function closure with the full expressiveness of Lisp

Notice that :/name begins with a slash; this is to distinguish it as a row attribute instead of an ordinary Lisp keyword.

Getting Started

LambdaLite is schemaless for flexibility. Rather than defining tables themselves, you define attributes that can be used on any table, using defattributes like so:

(defmacro str-member (&rest strings)
  `(lambda (x) (member x '(,@strings) :test #'string=)))

  :/ticket-id #'integerp
  :/title (lambda (x) (<= 1 (length x) 200))
  :/ticket-type (str-member "defect" "enhancement" "question")
  :/mocl-version (str-member "14.08" "14.05" "14.02" "13.08" "13.06" "n/a")
  :/target-os (str-member "iOS" "Android" "OS X" "n/a")
  :/dev-os (str-member "Mac OS X" "Linux 32-bit" "Linux 64-bit" "n/a")
  :/description (lambda (x) (<= 1 (length x) 64000))
  :/display-name (lambda (x) (and x (<= 3 (length x) 20) (ppcre:scan "^[a-zA-Z0-9][a-zA-Z0-9][a-zA-Z0-9]+$" x))))

This will define getter functions that can be used like (:/ticket-id row) as well as validation functions like (valid-title-p title).

Example Session

(require :lambdalite)
(use-package :lambdalite)
(load-db :path "~/db/")
(insert :cars '(:/car-id 1 :/make "Honda" :/color "blue")
              '(:/car-id 2 :/make "Ford" :/color "red"))
  => 2
(select :cars (where (equal :/color "red")))
  => ((:/CAR-ID 2 :/MAKE "Ford" :/COLOR "red"))
(defmacro str-member (&rest strings)
  `(lambda (x) (member x '(,@strings) :test #'string=)))
  :/car-id #'integerp 
  :/make #'stringp 
  :/color (str-member "red" "green" "blue"))
(valid-color-p "asdf")
  => nil
(dolist (row (select :cars)) 
  (format t "Make: ~A, Color: ~A~%" (:/make row) (:/color row)))
  >> Make: Honda, Color: blue
     Make: Ford, Color: red
(mapcar #':/color (select :cars))
  => ("blue" "red")
(insert :cars '(:/car-id 3 :/make "Toyota" :/color "green") 
              '(:/car-id 4 :/make "Audi" :/color "red"))
  => 2
(sort (select :cars) #'string< :key #':/make)
  => ((:/CAR-ID 4 :/MAKE "Audi" :/COLOR "red")
      (:/CAR-ID 2 :/MAKE "Ford" :/COLOR "red")
      (:/CAR-ID 1 :/MAKE "Honda" :/COLOR "blue")
      (:/CAR-ID 3 :/MAKE "Toyota" :/COLOR "green"))


LambdaLite provides the with-tx macro to wrap transactions, which are executed serially across threads. For example, the following code is safe under a multi-threaded web server like Hunchentoot:

;; ... create a new ticket
  (let ((user-id (logged-in-user-id))
        (ticket-id (1+ (length (select :tickets)))))
    (unless user-id 
      (error "Not logged in"))
    (insert :tickets (list :/ticket-id ticket-id :/created-by user-id :/ticket-status "open"))))

Any data commands that are used outside of a with-tx transaction will automatically be treated each individually as separate transactions.


"Do things that don't scale" — Paul Graham

LambdaLite is completely unscalable — by design. Don't use it for heavy loads or large data sets. Even medium-sized jobs are a stretch. That's why 'Lite' is in the name.


  • LambdaLite works under SBCL and probably other Lisps
  • LambdaLite runs on mocl for mobile data storage

Who is using LambdaLite?

LambdaLite powers the mocl support site at with delightfully low query latency on a single Amazon EC2 micro instance.

Wukix Inc <>