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Issue: FUNCTION-TYPE-REST-LIST-ELEMENT (Version 3)
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Issue: FUNCTION-TYPE-REST-LIST-ELEMENT (Version 3)
- From: Masinter.pa@Xerox.COM
- Date: 13 Feb 88 14:28 PST
- Cc: Masinter.pa@Xerox.COM
References: CLtL p. 27, 47-48, 61
"Artifical Intelligence Programming", Charniak et. al.
Category: CLARIFICATION, ADDITION
Edit history: Version 1, 23-Nov-1987 Sandra Loosemore
Version 2, 15-Jan-1988 Sandra Loosemore
(incorporate comments from Scott Fahlman & others)
Version 3, 13-Feb-88 Masinter
Related issues: FUNCTION-TYPE-KEY-NAME,
The FUNCTION type specifier list is provided to allow declaration of
function argument types and return value types. This type specifier uses a
syntax similar to the usual lambda list syntax to specify which types go
with which lambda list variables. However, this is actually of limited
usefulness in the context of a declaration, where one normally wants type
information about the actual arguments which can be passed to the function
rather than the lambda variables to which they are bound.
There is a particular problem with &REST lambda variables, which are always
bound to a value of type LIST. For the sake of consistency, it would seem
that the corresponding type given in the FUNCTION declaration must also be
LIST, but since this provides no information about the actual arguments,
some users/implementors have instead adopted the convention of supplying
the type of the actual arguments which are gathered into the list.
CLtL is vague on the issue, mentioning only that &REST may appear in the
type specifier without touching upon its interpretation.
Clarify that, in the FUNCTION type specifier, the type specifier provided with
&REST is the type of each actual argument, not the type of the corresponding
The type of the function + would be specified as:
(FUNCTION (&REST NUMBER) NUMBER)
This is more useful than specifying that the type of a &REST parameter must be
LIST, since it provides information about the actual arguments.
There does not appear to be any concensus on this issue. Most Common Lisp
implementations currently ignore FUNCTION type declarations. The only examples
found so far are in a text book on Common Lisp, which follows the proposed
Cost to Implementors:
Implementations that ignore the FUNCTION type specifier may continue to do so.
Probably only a small amount of code would have to be written/changed in
implementations that currently think that the &REST argument should be LIST.
Cost to Users:
Users who have been using the convention that the &REST type parameter must be
LIST will have to change their code. However, because this issue is so unclear,
the FUNCTION type specifier is probably not used very much.
Cost of non-adoption:
If nothing is done, the FUNCTION type specifier will continue to be of limited
use for its intended purpose.
Adopting the proposal will clear up an area of confusion in the language design.
Debatable. One the one hand, since the argument type syntax used by the
FUNCTION type specifier mirrors
normal lambda-list syntax, it would be cleaner and less confusing to provide the
type of the lambda variable rather than the type of the actual arguments.
However, considering the types specified in the FUNCTION specifier to be the
types of the actual arguments rather than the types of the parameters as seen on
the receiving end makes the proposed semantics more palatable.
This issue provoked considerable debate in the cleanup committee. There was some
support for an alternative proposal to require that the &REST argument
declaration, if any, always be LIST or a subtype of LIST, and to extend the LIST
type to allow declarations of the form, e.g., (LIST NUMBER).
Those who favor USE-ACTUAL-ARGUMENT-TYPE (including David Moon and Larry
Masinter) argue that the simplicity of the declarations and the ugliness of the
alternative, as well as the weight of current practie, argue for it.
Kent Pitman has argued against this proposal on the following grounds:
* It is bothersome that the same argument declarations which are
used internally in the function would not be be usable externally.
* It is unfair to provide only this special-purpose way of
declaring a sequence type when in fact there are numerous other places
in the language where it might be useful to declare a sequence type.
If we did go with USE-ACTUAL-ARGUMENT-TYPE, it should be stated explicitly
(if it is not already in CLtL somewhere) that the following is illegal:
(DEFUN FOO (&REST X) X)
(APPLY #'FOO T)
since there will be no way to type-declare this. Even though this is an
obscure case (that doesn't even work in some implementations), it's the
sort of thing that makes me queasy about USE-ACTUAL-ARGUMENT-TYPE.