Until now, the examples we've seen have been trivial; we've just been using Forth as a bigger-than-pocket calculator. Also, each calculation we've shown has been a “one-off” – to repeat it we'd need to type it in again1 In this section we'll see how to add new words to Forth's vocabulary.
The easiest way to create a new word is to use a colon definition. We'll define a few and try them out before worrying too much about how they work. Try typing in these examples; be careful to copy the spaces accurately:
: add-two 2 + . ; : greet ." Hello and welcome" ; : demo 5 add-two ;
Now try them out:
greet<RET> Hello and welcome ok greet greet<RET> Hello and welcomeHello and welcome ok 4 add-two<RET> 6 ok demo<RET> 7 ok 9 greet demo add-two<RET> Hello and welcome7 11 ok
The first new thing that we've introduced here is the pair of words
;. These are used to start and terminate a new
definition, respectively. The first word after the
: is the name
for the new definition.
As you can see from the examples, a definition is built up of words that have already been defined; Forth makes no distinction between definitions that existed when you started the system up, and those that you define yourself.
The examples also introduce the words
dup (dewp). Dot takes the value from the top of
the stack and displays it. It's like
.s except that it only
displays the top item of the stack and it is destructive; after it has
executed, the number is no longer on the stack. There is always one
space printed after the number, and no spaces before it. Dot-quote
defines a string (a sequence of characters) that will be printed when
the word is executed. The string can contain any printable characters
" has a special function; it is not a Forth
word but it acts as a delimiter (the way that delimiters work is
described in the next section). Finally,
dup duplicates the value
at the top of the stack. Try typing
5 dup .s to see what it does.
We already know that the text interpreter searches through the
dictionary to locate names. If you've followed the examples earlier, you
will already have a definition called
add-two. Lets try modifying
it by typing in a new definition:
: add-two dup . ." + 2 =" 2 + . ;<RET> redefined add-two ok
Forth recognised that we were defining a word that already exists, and printed a message to warn us of that fact. Let's try out the new definition:
9 add-two<RET> 9 + 2 =11 ok
All that we've actually done here, though, is to create a new
definition, with a particular name. The fact that there was already a
definition with the same name did not make any difference to the way
that the new definition was created (except that Forth printed a warning
message). The old definition of add-two still exists (try
again to see that this is true). Any new definition will use the new
add-two, but old definitions continue to use the
version that already existed at the time that they were
Before you go on to the next section, try defining and redefining some words of your own.
 That's not quite true. If you press the up-arrow key on your keyboard you should be able to scroll back to any earlier command, edit it and re-enter it.