A manual for the mini-language used in Neptune files.

§1. Purpose. Neptune is a simple mini-language for defining the built-in kinds of Inform. Each kit of Inter code can supply one or more Neptune files: for example, WorldModelKit supplies a file called Scenes.neptune which defines the built-in base kind "scene".

The name is nothing to do with the planet and derives from the Place Neptune, Carcassonne, where these files were first implemented in August 2007. The syntax was made more legible in 2020.

§2. Comments and white space. Lines consisting of white space or whose first non-white space character is ! are ignored as comments, but note that a ! later in a line which already has other content will not be treated as a comment.

All white space at the start or end of a line is similarly ignored. Indentation can be used for clarity, but has no significance.

§3. Declarations. Otherwise, a Neptune file is a series of declarations. Each must begin with a header line which ends in an open brace, and must conclude with a line consisting only of a close brace.

§4. A constructor is created with two initial keywords, and then its identifier name. The first keyword must be either new or builtin. The only difference here is that builtin must be used if the constructor being made is one of the Familiar Kinds, whose identifier has to correspond to one of those hardwired into the code of this module. new must be used in all other cases.1

The second keyword must be one of the following:

For example:

builtin protocol SAYABLE_VALUE_TY {
    conforms-to: STORED_VALUE_TY
    singular: sayable value
    plural: sayable values

§5. A "macro" is a set of commands which could be applied to any constructor. It will have no effect unless applied, which happens only by a special command (see below) or, for certain macro names, when the code in this module applies it automatically.

For example:

macro #REAL {

This declares a macro called #REAL. All macros have names beginning with a sharp sign, and continuing with capital letters.

§6. An "invention" is a piece of source text to be added to whatever is being compiled.2 Invention names begin with an asterisk. For example:

    <kind> understood is a <kind> which varies.

Note that the text is not quite literal, because it can contain wildcards like <kind>, which expands to the name of the kind in question: for instance, we might get "number understood is a number which varies". The legal wildcards are:

There are a few limitations on what template text can include. Firstly, nothing with angle brackets in, except where a wildcard appears. Secondly, each sentence must end at the end of a line, and similarly the colon for any rule or other definition. Thus this template would fail:

    <kind> understood is a <kind> which
    varies. To judge <kind>: say "I judge [<kind> understood]."

because the first sentence ends in the middle of the second line, and the colon dividing the phrase header from its definition is also mid-line. The template must be reformatted thus to work:

    <kind> understood is a <kind> which varies.
    To judge <kind>:
        say "I judge [<kind> understood]."

§7. Commands. Inside a macro or a constructor declaration, each line consists of a single command, always written in the form command: value. If the command occurs in a constructor, it applies to that constructor; if in a macro, it is applied to whatever constructor the macro is being applied to (if it ever is).

All commands are a single word, though sometimes hyphenated. White space either side of the value is trimmed away. value is not allowed to be empty, or to contain only white space.

§8. Constructor declarations are conventionally written in four groups of commands, though this is just convention. Let's start with the first block, which names the constructor and locates it in the lattice.

conforms-to: K declares that the new kind conforms to the existing kind K. Multiple conformances can be given, but there is seldom any need to, because if K then conforms to L, our new kind will do so too. In general, new base kinds should declare their conformance to the most specific protocol they can.

compatible-with: K declares that K is compatible with the new kind (note: not the other way round), in a way needing explicit conversion code at run-time: i.e., K does not conform to the new kind, but can be converted to it.

singular and plural specify singular and plural natural language names for the constructor. If these are omitted, it will be impossible to refer to in source text, but that doesn't necessarily make the constructor useless: the compiler can still generate it internally. Multiple legal wordings can be given, divided by vertical strokes. Names of the construction kinds can be written as k and l (note lower case). So, for example, list of k.

terms is used only for proper constructors. For a unary constructor, it will give one term; for binary, two terms, separated by a comma. Each term should be covariant or contravariant, with an optional keyword after it:

invent-source-text: *NAME causes new source text to be invented. *NAME must be an invention which has already been declared. If this command is applied to a protocol, such as arithmetic value, then the invention will be made not for the protocol itself, but for every base kind which conforms to it: this can result in a stream of similar-looking sentences.

apply-macro: #NAME does what it says, really. Here, however, it applies to protocols just the same as to everything else.

§9. The second group concerns behaviours of the kinds in question, or methods for compiling their data. They are in general meaningless for protocols or other kinds which don't refer to data stored at run-time.

default-value is the default value for an uninitialised variable of this kind. If this is not set, problem messages may be generated for such variables.

can-coincide-with-property is either yes or no (default no), and means what it says: the name of this kind is allowed also to be the name of a property which takes values in this kind.

can-exchange is either yes or no (default no), and means that data of this kind can be serialised — printed out as text into an external file — and read into a different program, but with the same meaning.

constant-compilation-method tells Inform how to compile constants of this kind. The possible options are: none, literal, quantitative and special, the default being none:

loop-domain-schema is an Inter schema for iterating through the valid instances of the kind.

comparison-schema is an Inter schema for comparing a value of this kind with a value of a named other kind to which it does not conform. It should take the form NAME>>>SCHEMA, where NAME is the other kind, and SCHEMA the Inter code.

If the kind conforms to POINTER_VALUE_TY then it stores values on the heap, rather than in single words of memory, and in that case three more properies become meaningful: multiple-block is either yes or no (default no), and allows data to expand arbitrarily in size if necessary; heap-size-estimate should be a power of 2, and gives an initial allocation size in words; and small-block-size optionally allows a small block (in words) to point to the data (thus adding further indirection).

is-incompletely-defined is either yes or no (default no), and is a short-term device used to handle kinds which have been created but not yet turned into units or enumerations.

§10. The third group supplies identifier names for Inter routines to perform run-time duties related to the kind. Inform will simply assume such a routine is present; this will usually be defined in the same kit which is supplying the Neptune file.

comparison-routine determines which of two values of the kind is greater. The default is UnsignedCompare. The special value signed can be used to ask for signed comparison of the 2s-complement run-time values, which is a little quicker than calling a routine.

printing-routine prints out a textual representation of a value of the given kind, and printing-routine-for-debugging the same but for purposes of the debugging output called for by the ACTIONS command. These have no effect for kinds which do not conform to sayable value.

parsing-routine is a "general parsing routine", which assists the run-time command parser. distinguishing-routine, similarly, determines whether two things can be distinguished by textual commands. These have no effect in Basic Inform projects, or for kinds which do not conform to understandable value.

recognition-routine is a "recognition-only general parsing routine". Again this has no effect in Basic Inform projects. It is only used for kinds which do not conform to understandable value, but can nevertheless be used when the command parser allows things to be named by their property values, and those values have the kind in question.

§11. The final group is concerned only with documentation and indexing, and thus has no effect on compilation.

documentation-reference is a reference keyword to the Inform documentation, which can make be used to improve problem messages or the index by giving little blue help buttons next to the kind's name.

index-priority is a non-negative integer. It is by default 100 for base kinds and constructors, 0 for protocols and punctuation. 0 in fact means "omit from the index", which is otherwise grouped in ascending order — i.e., lowest priority numbers first.

index-default-value can be used in place of the default-value in the index, to make it look prettier.

index-maximum-value can similarly override the indexer's automated attempt to print the largest representable value, and similarly for index-minimum-value.

indexed-grey-if-empty is either yes or no (default no), and specifies that if the kind has no instances then it should be tinted grey in the index.

specification-text provides the value of the specification pseudo-property (an oddball feature of the Inform language which seemed like a good idea at the time). This should be plain text, not HTML.