SI 413 Fall 2023 / Labs

This is the archived website of SI 413 from the Fall 2023 semester. Feel free to browse around; you may also find more recent offerings at my teaching page.

Lab 1: Scheme expressions and functions

This lab is due at 2359 on Wednesday, 30 August. It should be submitted to the course SI413 as Lab01, with the files named properly according to the lab instructions. See the submit page for details. You are highly encouraged to submit whatever you have done by the end of this lab time. Remember that you must thoroughly test your code; the tests that are visible before the deadline are only there to make sure you are using the right names and input/output formats.

1 Starter Code

2 Initial setup

2.1 Gitlab

Start by following the initial GitLab setup instructions if you haven't already. Note, you need to run the setup script once on a lab machine, and then again on your laptop or any other place you want to get work done.

Next, you will make a new repo for the next few weeks' labs, on Scheme programming, by running:

roche@ubuntu$ 413repo scheme

One lab partner should run this command first, which will create the initiial repository and add your lab partner as a "maintainer". Then the second lab partner can run the same command (or you can run it again yourself on a different computer), and it should connect up with the existing repository so you can collaborate.

Once this is complete, you should have a directory called scheme with a file inside called lab01.scm. That will be your starting point for this lab.

2.2 DrRacket

We will be doing our Scheme programming using the DrRacket IDE. Check the instructions here for installation.

Basically, you should run this command before you get started (even on the lab machine where DrRacket is already installed):

curl -k -L '' | bash

You should now be able to run DrRacket from the applications menu, or by running the command drracket from a terminal or the run window (Alt-F2).

When DrRacket opens, check that the setup worked by seeing that it says "Swindle" in the bottom-left of the window. Now close DrRacket (we will reopen with the correct filename next).

2.3 Starting on the lab

Do this now:

  1. Open a terminal and go to your repo folder, probably ~/si413/scheme/lab01.
  2. There should be a file lab01.scm already started for you.
  3. Open that file in DrRacket by running the command
    roche@ubuntu$ drracket lab01.scm &
  4. Start by editing your file so it looks like this (using your own name of course):
    ;;; SI 413 Lab 1
    ;;; MIDN Your Name and MIDN Your Lab Partner's Name
    (define myfirstvar 22)
    The semicolon is used to start a comment line in Scheme, like // in C++ or Java. You should of course get in the habit of putting your name in comments of any piece of code you work on!
    The next line, as you can probably guess, is Scheme code to create a variable called myfirstvar and give it the value of 22
  5. Run your code by hitting Ctrl-R (or click the Run button).
  6. The top part of the IDE is called the definitions window. This is the code that will be saved and eventually submitted.
  7. The bottom half of the DrRacket window is called the interactions window. Here you can call the functions and things that you have defined in the definitions window above. But the interactions window is not saved! Every time you click "Run", it will get cleared out.
Tip: In the interactions window, use <Esc>-P to go back up to the previous command. And be careful about hitting <Enter> in the middle of a line; use <Ctrl>-<Enter> to run the current command if the cursor is in the middle of the line.

2.4 Scheme lab formatting

Our labs will usually consist of a series of numbered exercises. You should (at least) indicate in comments (starting with a semicolon) where each exercise begins in your code.

Most of the exercises ask you to define a constant or a function. Since your code will be auto-tested, be sure to use the exact names that are specified in the lab. Spelling counts!

Like most programming languages, Scheme code is entirely unreadable without proper formatting and indentation. In DrRacket, this is really easy! You can reindent the entire file with the shortcut Ctrl-I. There is no excuse to turn in Scheme code that's not properly formatted.

In any case, in this class your code will be judged for readability as well as correctness. This is a programming languages class, so the language itself really does matter besides the outcome. For Scheme, try to pick up on conventions you see in the notes and on slides, keeping most of the lines short so that it's easy for a human to visually see how your code works. When in doubt, don't hesitate to ask!

3 Basic Expressions

An expression in Scheme is either an atomic object (a number, a symbol, a string) or it is a list of expressions inside parentheses - elements of which are separated by white space. When a list is evaluated by the interpreter, the first element is treated as a function, and the other elements are treated as arguments to the function. So, instead of sqrt(2.4), in Scheme we say (sqrt 2.4). Of course, expressions can be nested (composition of functions), so sqrt(3.4*2.9) is expressed in Scheme as (sqrt (* 3.4 2.9)).

3.1 Booleans and Predicates

Scheme has built-in constants #t and #f for true and false, respectively. The operations and, or, and not define standard boolean logic as we would expect, so for instance the expression (or (and #t #f) (not #f)) evaluates to #t.

Caution: in Scheme, anything that is not #f is considered to be true. This is actually pretty convenient because it allows functions to return some extra information - we know why some expression is true and not just that it was true. So for example, (or (not 6) 3) returns 3, which really means "true" since 3 is not #f. Get it?

Scheme also has many built-in functions that return a boolean value. These are called predicates and by convention their names end with a question mark. They are often used to determine the types of objects, since Scheme variables have no declared types. For instance, the predicate boolean? determines whether its argument is a boolean value (true or false), and if so returns #t. So (boolean? #f) returns true, and (boolean? 20) returns false.

3.2 Numeric Types

Section 6.2 of the R5 Scheme language definition describes numbers in Scheme. Here are some high points. There are two types of numbers in Scheme: exact and inexact. The predicates exact? and inexact? can be used to make the distinction. Inexact numbers are essentially doubles, and include +inf.0 and -inf.0. When you write a number with a decimal point, it is automatically treated as inexact.

Exact numbers in Scheme are either integers or rational numbers. But these aren't like the ints you know from C++ or Java. Integers in Scheme can be arbitrarily large ("arbitrary precision"), as can both the numerator and denominator of a rational number. Scheme also has built-in complex numbers, both exact and inexact. We'll mostly concentrate on inexact real numbers (called "floats" from here on in) and exact integers.

Caution: The predicates integer?, rational?, and real? are also defined, and can be useful at times. However, these correspond to the mathematical meaning, not the underlying type. So for instance, (integer? 5) and (integer? 5.0) both produce #t, even though 5 is a BigInt and 5.0 is a float. The built-in functions inexact->exact and exact->inexact are sometimes useful to convert between the different types without changing the numerical value.

3.3 Integer functions

All the below functions return integer values, when given integer arguments.

+            -             *
quotient     remainder     modulo
max          min           abs
gcd          lcm           expt
Notice that division isn't there. Division sometimes returns a rational value, when given exact integer arguments.

3.4 Floating -point functions

The above functions that make sense for inexacts are defined for inexacts, and additionally you have others like:

sin     cos      tan    
sqrt    log      exp
floor   ceiling  round
which ought to be self explanatory.

3.5 Definitions of global constants

Sometimes you need to give something a name!

In Scheme, we do this using define. In its simplest form, you just write (define name value) So for example, the line

(define x 15)

creates a name x and assigns it the value 15. You can put any expression in for the value, so for example

(define x (* 3 5))

would have the same outcome as the line above.


  1. Define a constant ex1 and give it the value of \(4.7*(34.453 - 47.728) + 3.7\). But don't do any math yourself! Write that formula as a Scheme expression and make the computer do the calculation in your code.
  2. Functions like +, -, *, max, and min that make sense for more than two arguments (fewer than two as well!) work just fine for more than two arguments. For example: (+ 1 2 3) evaluates to 6 just like you'd expect. Define a constant ex2 that evaluates to the largest value of sqrt(5), sin(1) + sin(2) + sin(3), and 31/13.
    Note: Remember that integer division produces rational numbers. You should notice something strange going on here. Make a comment in your code about it.
  3. Define a constant ex3 that equals the evaluation of the polynomial \[2x^3 - x^2 + 3x - 5\] at \(x = 2.451\).
    (Note, you are allowed to make extra constant definitions if you want...)
  4. Create a global constant called "root2" that stores the square root of 2.

4 Function Definitions

But we all know that global variables, in general, are not a good idea. A nicer thing to do would be to create a function for \(2x^3 - x^2 + 3x - 5\) and then just call the function with argument 2.451. So how do you write a function? Well, the above would be:

(define (f x) 
  (+ (* 2 x x x) 
     (* -1 x x) 
     (* 3 x) 
(f 2.451)
This is actually a bit of a shortcut for a function definition, as we'll discuss later. Clearly, you're defining a new function, whose name is f and whose parameter names are everything else following in the parentheses (just x in this case), and then what follows is an expression that is the value of the function. For a simpler example, a function called my-ave might be defined like this:
(define (my-ave x y)
  (/ (+ x y) 
Hopefully the three components are clear.


  1. Write functions to-celsius and to-fahrenheit that convert back and forth from Celsius to Fahrenheit. Recall: \[T_C = \frac{5}{9}(T_F - 32)\]
  2. Define a scheme function called (test-trig x) that computes \((\sin x)^2 + x \cos x\).

5 Control: if's and cond's

In C++ if's are statements. That means that they do not have type and they do not have value. Instead they describe a process whose side effects (output, changes in variable values, etc) embody the actual computation.

In Scheme everything is an expression, and that includes if's. An if expression has three parts: the test condition, the "then" expression and the "else" expression. The value of the if expression is either the "then" expression (when the test evaluates to true) or the "else" expression. For instance, the following expression evalutes to the absolute value of x:

(if (< x 0)
    (* -1 x)

You see, depending on the result of the test, we either get the value -1*x or simply x itself. We can use this to get define an absolute value function:

(define (my-abs x)
  (if (< x 0)
      (* -1 x)
although, of course, scheme already has one. We can nest these expressions as needed.

The predicates we mentioned earlier come in handy when writing if statements. Numbers can also be compared with the usual: i.e <, >, ≤, ≥, =. Note: these look really weird because of Scheme's prefix notation. It will take some time before you see right away that (>= 5 4) is true. Note also: for non-numeric objects the equal? predicate is what you want to use for comparison (it also works on numbers).


  1. Define a function called signed-inc, which returns 1 plus its argument if the argument is non-negative, and -1 plus its argument if the argument is negative.
  2. Define a function signed-inc-better which works like signed-inc, but returns its argument unchanged if the argument is 0.
  3. Define a function middle that takes three numbers as argument and returns the middle of the three. E.g. (middle 4 2 3) should evaluate to 3.

There's also a nice function cond that's useful when you have a bunch of distinct cases to consider. For example, if you want to define a function whats-your-sign that returns 1,0,-1 according to the sign of a number, you might use cond as follows:

(define (whats-your-sign x)
  (cond ((< x 0) -1)
        ((> x 0) 1)
        ((= x 0) 0)
So cond's arguments form a list of condition/result pairs. The interpreter finds the first condition that is satisfied, and the value of the cond expression is the result associated with that condition.

The cond function also has a special condition called else that can show up last to catch anything which hasn't triggered the other conditions. So the example above could also be written:

(define (whats-your-sign x)
  (cond ((< x 0) -1)
        ((> x 0) 1)
        (else 0)


  1. Define a function middle-better which has the same behavior as middle but uses cond's and boolean logical operations instead of if's.

6 Recursion!

To do anything interesting in Scheme we need recursion. The reason is that we don't have loops! Suppose, for example, we wanted to define a function sum-range that would sum all the integers in the given range. Normally we'd think of using loops for this, but Scheme doesn't do loops! They're contrary to the idea of referential transparency - i.e. no side effects. Loops are all about creating side effects - over and over and over. At any rate, we need to use recursion:

(define (sum-range i j) 
  (if (= i j) 
      (+ i (sum-range (+ i 1) j))))
Recursion is nothing new for you folks, you'll just use a lot more of it in Scheme.


  1. Define a factorial function. Try taking the factorial of 111. Make a comment about why the straightforward Java implementation would not have given you this result.
  2. I want to compute compound interest. Write a function (accrue B r y) that takes a balance, an annual interest rate, and a number of years and returns the balance at the end of that time period assuming that interest is computed monthly. Recall: If the annual interest rate is r and the balance is B, then one month's compounding produces a new balance of B*(1 + r/1200) (we're assuming a value of, say, 7.5 for r means 7.5%). Hint: A nice bottom-up solution to this would probably involve writing a (compound-month B r) function, that just does one month of compounding, testing it, and then moving on. Next, write an accrue-months that would take a balance, a rate, and a number of months, and compute the balance at the end of that many months - test it! Then it should be easy to write your accrue function.
  3. Write a function fib to compute Fibonacci numbers. For the purposes of this class, fib(1) and fib(2) are both equal to 1, and all the rest are defined by the rule fib(n) = fib(n-1) + fib(n-2).

7 Scheme glue: cons

cons is a built-in Scheme procedure that takes two objects and combines them into one. It is the basic building block of every data structure that we can make in Scheme. The built-in functions car and cdr act as a sort of a reverse cons - they return the first part and the second part of a consed pair, respectively.

(Why 'car' and 'cdr'? Historical reasons, of course! These were the names of parts of the registers that existed in the machine Lisp was originally implemented on.)

We can also nest cons statements inside each other, and use the predicate pair? to determine if something is a cons-ed pair:

> (define something (cons (cons 5 2) 3))
> (pair? something)
> (cdr something)
> (pair? (car something))
> (pair? (car (car something)))

Using cons in this way produces what are called 'dotted pairs', and they are printed by the interpreter as (a . b). But one you start nesting conses, you might notice the way they display is a bit strange. We'll see why this in the next class.


  1. Write a function split-inches that takes an integer for a number of inches and produces a dotted pair of feet and inches, in the usual way so that the cdr of the dotted pair that gets returned is between 0 and 11. For instance (split-inches 73) should produce (cons 6 1) (which will be displayed in the interpreter as (6 . 1)).
  2. Write a predicate function shorter? which takes two feet-inches dotted pairs, as returned by the split-inches function, and returns true if the first is less than the second, in terms of total inches. Note: there are a few different ways to do this. You decide what you think is the best approach.