Since gbforth is a cross-compiler, and the host and target system differ a lot from each other, it’s important to understand in which context your code is running.

You can distinguish 4 contexts in which you can write code:

Although the toplevel context is the default, most of your code will be written in target definitions (this is the code that will actually run on the target).

If you are confused about words with the same name appearing in multiple contexts, refer to the Cross-context section.


Executed on host while compiling the program, but referencing the target memory. This is the default context, accessed with [target].

$1 c,

\ Writes byte `1` to target ROM

Note: The default memory space is [ram], but is unavailable for writing at compile-time.

Target Definition

Defined and executed on target. These are the default colon definitions, and can only be executed at run time.

Switching to “interpreter mode” with [ will take you to toplevel, and ] returns to the target definition.

: main
  $2 c, ;

\ Writes byte `2` to RAM

Note: The main word is executed automatically when running the program.

Meta Definition

Defined and executed on host. Basically colon definitions for toplevel.

:m bar
  [rom] $3 c, ;


\ Writes `3` to target ROM

Host Execution

Defined and executed on host, but unlike toplevel is referencing the host memory.

[host] $4 c, [target]

\ Writes byte `4` to host memory
\ not affecting the target in any way

Note: You can switch to the [host] context both at toplevel and in meta definitions.


Some build-in Forth words from the Host Execution context are copied to the Toplevel and Meta Definition context. Examples are stack operations (dup, swap, drop), arithmetic/logic operators (+, >, xor) and words that might be useful for debugging (quit, .s, words).

This is done for convenience, so you don’t have to manually switch context for common words:

: show-a
  [ 90 7 [host] + [target] ]L
  emit ;

: show-a
  [ 90 7 + ]L emit ;

However, some words that seem to be available in multiple contexts, might have a different definition. The word c, is a good example for this:

Another example that could be confusing (but convenient in most cases) is the s" word: