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Issue: KEYWORD-ARGUMENT-NAME-PACKAGE (Version 7)
- To: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Subject: Issue: KEYWORD-ARGUMENT-NAME-PACKAGE (Version 7)
- From: Masinter.pa@Xerox.COM
- Date: 23 Oct 87 17:29 PDT
- Cc: Masinter.pa@Xerox.COM
I attempted to make the change from "keyword" to Named-argument in this
This issue was conditionally passed at the last X3J13 pending only the
References: Lambda Expressions (CLtL pp60-64)
Edit history: 20-Apr-87, Version 1 by Moon
29-Apr-87, Version 2 by Pitman
11-May-87, Version 3 by Moon
29-May-87, Version 4 by Masinter
5-Jun-87, Version 5 by Masinter
11-Jun-87, Version 6 by Masinter
CLtL says that only keyword symbols can be used as argument names in
&key parameter specifiers.
As Common Lisp is currently defined, if someone wants to define a
function that accepts named (rather than positional) arguments whose
names are symbols in packages other than the KEYWORD package, they
cannot use &KEY. Instead, they have to duplicate the &KEY mechanism
using &REST, GETF, and (if they want error checking of argument names)
Some applications (including the draft proposal for the Common Lisp
Object System (CLOS)) require this capability. [See Rationale below.]
Remove restrictions on the package of the names of named argument; allow
any symbol. That is:
If, following an &KEY, a variable appears alone or in a (variable
default-value) pair, the behavior specified in CLtL is unchanged: a
keyword-symbol with the same print name as the variable is created and
is used as the keyword-indicator in function calls. The only way to get
a named argument that is not a keyword symbol is to use the (indicator
variable) syntax in the function's lambda list. The keyword-indicator
can be any symbol, not just a keyword.
(DEFUN RESULT (&KEY ((SECRET-KEYWORD SECRET) NIL) AMOUNT)
(FORMAT NIL "You ~A $~D" (if SECRET "win" "lose") AMOUNT))
(RESULT :AMOUNT 100) => "You lose $100"
(RESULT :AMOUNT 100 'SECRET-KEYWORD T) => "You win $100"
The "rationale" box on p.62 of CLtL is an argument in favor of requiring
named arguments to be symbols, and disallowing numbers, but does not
speak to the issue of whether or not those symbols should be further
restricted to be keywords.
The desire for non-keyword named arguments arises when the set of named
arguments accepted by a function is the union of the sets of named
arguments accepted by several other functions, rather than being
enumerated in a single place. In this case, it becomes desirable to use
packages to prevent accidental name clashes among named argument of
One example of a Common Lisp application that requires this capability
is the draft proposal for an object-oriented programming standard
(CLOS). It will have generic functions that accept named arguments and
pass them on to one or more applicable methods, with each method
defining its own set of arguments that it is interested in. If this
proposal is not adopted, either the named arguments will be required to
be keywords, which will require the methods to have non-modular
knowledge of each other in order to avoid name clashes, or the methods
will have to be defined with an ad hoc mechanism that duplicates the
essential functionality of &key but removes the restriction.
A second example of a Common Lisp application that requires this
capability is private communication channels between functions. Suppose
a public routine MAKE-FOO needs to accept arbitrary named arguments from
the caller and passes those arguments along to an internal routine using
named arguments of its own.
(DEFUN MAKE-FOO (&REST NAME-VALUE-PAIRS &KEY &ALLOW-OTHER-KEYS)
(APPLY #'MAKE-FOO-INTERNAL 'EXPLICIT T NAME-VALUE-PAIRS))
This could be done without fear that the use of EXPLICIT T would
override some named argument in NAME-VALUE-PAIRS, since the only way
that could happen is if someone had done (MAKE-FOO 'FOOLAND::EXPLICIT
NIL), or if the user was programming explicitly in the FOOLAND package,
either of which is an implicit admission of willingness to violate
Some careful rewording of the existing language in CLtL is necessary in
the standard to avoid confusion between keyword, indicating a symbol in
the KEYWORD package, and named arguments. It is likely that this is best
served by changing those instances of "keyword" to "named argument" when
the specification is discussing the indicator which introduces an actual
parameter in a call to a function defined with &KEY.
The wording which refers to named arguments as being introduced by
keyword symbols would change to simply refer to those arguments being
introduced by symbols. For example, in the middle of p.60, the sentence:
... each -keyword- must be a keyword symbol, such as :start.
... each named argument must be a symbol.
The word "keyword" in the first complete sentence on p.62 would be
changed to "symbol" for similar reasons.
Extra wording would have to be added on p.60 to explain that by
convention keyword symbols are normally used the names for named
arguments, and that all functions built into the Common Lisp language
follow that convention.
Examples would be useful. On p.64 the following examples might be added:
((lambda (a b &key ((:sea c)) d) (list a b c d)) 1 2 :sea 6)
=> (1 2 6 NIL)
((lambda (a b &key ((c c)) d) (list a b c d)) 1 2 'c 6)
=> (1 2 6 NIL)
We do not currently know of an implementation that enforces the
restriction that this proposal seeks to remove.
Some implementations have bugs that prevent NIL from working as a
keyword argument name, but allow all non-NIL symbols. (One Symbolics
version that was checked had this bug.)
Some implementors might have to rearrange their error checking slightly,
but it should be very easy.
This will help with the object-oriented programming standard, among
None--no existing programs will stop working.
The restriction of &key to only keyword symbols is arbitrary and
There will probably be an argument about whether the restriction is more
esthetic or less esthetic than the freedom, but in either case the
aesthetic effect is slight.
In any case, users who do not want to use the extended functionality can
generally avoid it.
The cleanup committee generally supports this extension.
Moon was under the impression that this proposal was actually adopted
around December 1985 (although no formal mechanism for adopting
proposals existed at that time), but isn't 100% sure.
If Common Lisp truly has a restriction that only keyword symbols can be
used as keyword names in calls to functions that take keyword arguments,
it will be more difficult to come up with an object-oriented programming
standard that fits within Common Lisp.
The cleanup committee considered, but did not adopt, a proposal to
exclude NIL as a legal indicator. It might catch some errors, but is
otherwise an odd restriction.