General Style

Idio has a very simple syntax but enforces a couple of deliberate styles.


Whitespace is important in Idio. This is mostly a side-effect of allowing more complex symbols which allow a richer expression.

  • a+1 is a symbol – and therefore a potential variable name

  • a +1 is a list of the symbol a and the number 1

  • a+ 1 is a list of the symbol a+ and the number 1

  • a + 1 is a list of the symbol a, the symbol + and the number 1


Idio is line-oriented in a similar way to a shell. Expressions are consumed up to an end-of-line whereon something might be run.

Expressions can be multi-line, however. Here, think of consuming everything between matching braces ({ through to the corresponding }) but also other kinds of brackets and strings.

This gives rise to a normal form for declaring functions:

 1define (foo a b) "
 3documentation for foo
 5" {
 7  if (do this) {
 8    do that
 9  }
11  return computation

Here, the documentation string starts on the line 1 but isn’t complete until line 5. Before we reach the end of line 5 we start a code block with { which isn’t complete until the matching } in line 12.

There is nothing else on line 12 so we have successfully consumed a “line” of expressions.

If we didn’t use a documentation string we still require the body of the function to begin on the same line as the declaration:

define (foo a b) {

  if (do this) {
    do that

  return computation

otherwise Idio will report an evaluation error as the definition of foo has no body value.

One Expression per Line

Idio only accepts one expression per “line” (noting the potential multi-line consumption from the previous section).

You cannot put two expressions on one line as Idio infers that the first expression will be a function and the remaining expressions are arguments to that function:

(1 + 2) (3 * 4)

Here, Idio will consume it all and, eventually, think that you’ve asked it to run the expression 3 12, ie. the function 3 called with the argument 12.

3 is not a function.

Line Continuation

You can use regular shell-like line continuation characters (a \ followed by a newline) to extend a series of expressions over multiple lines.

How readable it is is a matter for debate:

printf \
  "This is %s\n" \
  "easy on the eye"

No Expression Delimiters

There are no expression delimiters in Idio to get around this one expression per line mode. In the shell you might use a control operator such as ; to delimit two expressions on one line, such as:

do this ; do that

There is no such thing in Idio.

Technically, the above is syntactically valid Idio but only because ; starts a line comment and the expression is reduced to just do this.


Idio is nominally a Lisp in that everything is treated as a list (of expressions). There are no expression delimiters other than whitespace.

The first expression is expected to resolve to a function and the remaining expressions are evaluated and passed as arguments to that function.

As a nod to convenience and more shell-like parsing, all expressions on a line are converted to a list:

printf "Hello, %s\n" "Dave"

is identical to:

(printf "Hello, %s\n" "Dave")

Beyond this implicit wrapping of the expressions on a line you must wrap any sub-expressions in parentheses in the same manner you would for many other languages.

printf "7 * 3 is %d\n" (7 * 3)


Idio allows the use of reader operators which can transform the source code before it is passed to the evaluator.

Here, had we forgotten to use parentheses:

printf "7 * 3 is %d\n" 7 * 3

then the * infix operator would have re-written the line as:

printf "7 * 3 is %d\n" (7 * 3)


No-Argument Functions

There is a corner-case where convenience and functionality collide. If you have a function that can take zero arguments then Idio is unable to distinguish between you wanting to get the function value (to return it, say) and you wanting to invoke the function value (with no arguments).

Here, if you want to invoke such a function, you must wrap it in parentheses.

This also affects running external commands without arguments.

Last built at 2024-05-19T06:11:39Z+0000 from 77077af (dev) for Idio 0.3