The Price is Right!

5 Higher Order Programming In Moto

In Moto, functions and methods have types and may be assigned to variables of the same types. These 'functional' variables may themselves be treated as functions. Thus functions and methods may be passed as arguments to other functions or methods. Functions may even be returned from other functions or methods. New functions can even be constructed at runtime by 'applying' some or all of the arguments of existing functions.

5.1 Implicitly Valid Types

Arrays are the simplest example of implicitly valid types in Moto. Given a valid type X, X[] is a valid type in Moto. Specifically X[] represents an array of X's . And X[][] is a type representing a two dimensional array of X's. This sort of dynamic type validation is common to many languages including Java.

There is another class of types in Moto that are 'implicitly valid' as long as their base types are valid. These are called functional types which can be described as follows:

  1. If X is a valid type X() is a valid type representing a function which takes no arguments and returns a value of type X
  2. If X and Y are valid types X(Y) is a valid type representing a function which takes an argument of type Y and returns a value of type X
  3. If X is a valid type and Z is comma delimited list of valid types than X(Z) is a valid type representing a function which takes arguments of the types listed in Z and returns a value of type X

Here are some concrete examples of declarations using functional types:

   int() f; // f can be assigned a function which takes no arguments and returns an int
   int(int) g; // g can be assigned a function which takes an int and returns an int
   int(int,String) h; // h can be assigned a function which takes an int and a String and returns an int
   int(int()) i; // i can be assigned a function which takes a function that takes no arguments but returns an int. i must also return an int.
   int(Vector(int),String()) j;
   Enumeration(StringBuffer(int),String())(String(),float) k;
   Object(int[](StringBuffer[][]),String())(String[](),float[]) l;

5.2 Functional Typed Variables

As you might have guessed by the name (and the above examples) functionally typed variables can be assigned real functions or methods who's arguments and return types match. Consider to the function atoi in cstdlib which takes a String and returns an int. We could define a functional variable 'myatoi' and assign it atoi:

int(String) myatoi = atoi;  

Functional variables can be called just like regular functions and methods.

int i = myatoi("3");  

5.3 What is the 'type' of a Function?

The type of a function or method in Moto is

  • The function or method's return type
  • followed by '('
  • followed by the types of each of the arguments it takes separated by commas
  • followed by ')'

Simple ... no ?

5.4 Function Identification

The atoi example is simple in that there is only one function in the system named atoi. Moto however, like C++ and Java, allows for multiple functions to have the same name but take different arguments. A good example of this is the getValue function from the codex.http library. There are two variants of getValue, one that takes one argument, and one that takes two. We can differentiate between the two by using the '?' or 'unknown argument' token.

String(String) myGetValue = getValue(?);
String(String,String) myGetValueWTwoArgs = getValue(?,?);

We can be even more specific by using casts in addition to the '?' token. Suppose we have two functions with the same name that take a single argument (but of two different types) :

void println(int i){ print i+"\n"; }
void println(String s) { print s+"\n"; }

We can specify which one we want to identify by casting the unknown:

void(int) myIntPrintln = println(<int>?);
void(String) myStringPrintln = println(<String>?);

The last thing worth noting here is that you can optionally use the '&' operator to make clear that you want to identify a function. The following are examples of fully qualified function identification:

void(int) myIntPrintln = &println(<int>?);
void(String) myStringPrintln = &println(<String>?);

The real reason for the '&' becomes clear in relation to partial application discussed later. For the sort of regular function identification that has been described using the '&' or 'function identification' operator can improve code readability but is generally optional. The only case where it is necessary is when we have multiple variants of a function with the same name and we need to identify the no-arg variant:

void println(int i){ print i+"\n"; }
void println(String s) { print s+"\n"; }
void println(){ print "\n"; }

void() myPrintln = println; // No good ... this is ambiguous
void() myPrintln = &println(); // Perfect ... this is fully qualified identification

5.5 Functions and Methods that take Functions as Arguments

Since functional types are no different from other types, creating functions that take functions as arguments is done just like you might suspect. The following function takes an array of Strings and a function to perform on each element of the array:

void each(String[] a,void(String) f){ for (int i=0;i<length(a);i++) f(a[i]); }  

We could pass this function a function println

void println(String s) { print s+"\n"; }  

To print out all the elements in an array of Strings :

each({"one","two","three"}, println);  

The Enumeration class has an each() method built in which calls the function passed to it on each element in the enumeration. Thus to print out all the keys in a hash you could now just write


This is as opposed to

Enumeration e = stab.keys();

Which is the 'non-functional' (Java) way of doing things.

Notice the explicit cast to type 'void(Object)' in the functional example . That is needed because that is the type of the function the each method expects to be passed while println has type 'void(String)'. Sometimes functions can be cast 'implicitly' but this is not one of those times.

No example of passing functions to functions would be complete without the classic example of sorting. Vectors have a sort() method. This method takes a function which can be used to compare two Objects in the Vector. Why does it need to take a function you ask ? Because there is no way to compare two arbitrary objects.

The function must take two Objects and return 0 if they are equal, 1 if the first one is 'greater' than the second, -1 if the first one is 'less' than the second. What 'less','greater', and 'equal' really mean in this context is that you want the the first element to appear before, after, or next to the second element in the final sorted list.

Luckily the is a function that does just that for Strings in the cstdlib extension called strcmp.

Thus to sort a Vector of Strings in Moto all you need to do is say


Again we need to explicitly cast strcmp to 'int(Object,Object)' from 'int(String,String)' . The reason is that the Vector doesn't know it's holding Strings. For all it knows it's holding Dates or any other kind of Object and so it expects functions that work on 'Object's and not sub-classes of Object. If it were holding Dates however you could sort them as follows:

int dcompare (Object a,Object b){
   Date l = <Date>a, r=<Date>b;
   return atoi(l.format("%Y%m%d")) - atoi(r.format("%Y%m%d")) ;

5.6 Implicit Casting Rules

You don't need to explicitly cast functions (or functionally typed expressions) when assigning them or passing them to functions when they can be implicitly cast. The implicit casting rules for functional types are as follows:

  1. Like all reference types, (yes, functional types are reference types) values that have functional types can be implicitly cast to 'Object'.
  2. Any type X(...) can be implicitly cast to void(...) since 'void' really means we don't care what if anything the function returned.
  3. Any type X(...) can be implicitly cast to Y(...) as long as X is a descendent of Y. The reason is if we have a function foo, which for the sake of argument takes no arguments and returns a String, and we assign it to a variable of type 'Object()' that assignment should be valid since everything foo could return would also be an Object.
  4. Any type X(... Y ...) can be implicitly cast to X(... Z ...) as long as Y is an ancestor of Z. Suppose we have a variable of type 'void(String)'. This functional variable must be callable with any String. If we assigned to it a function of type 'void(Object)' than the requirement that 'any function assigned to it must handle all values of type String' is not broken. The function we assigned to it can handle all Strings and then some.

5.7 Explicit Casting Rules

The explicit casting rules for functionally typed expressions are like the implicit casting rules and their mirror image.

  1. If X can be implicitly cast to Y then X can be explicitly cast to Y
  2. If X can be implicitly cast to Y then Y can be explicitly cast to X

5.8 Partial Application

In cstdlib there is a function pow

double pow(double x, double y)  

which returns x to the power y (xy). Suppose we wanted to define a function square() which squares (x2) its input. We could say:

double square(double x) { return pow(x,2); }  

Or we could do this:

double(double) square = pow(?,2);  

What we've done is created a new function by partially applying the arguments to a function. We could partially apply the other argument to create a function twoToThePow (2x)

double(double) twoToThePow = pow(2,?);  

We could even apply both arguments to give us a function that returns the same thing all the time:

double() nine = pow(3,2) // No no no ... this won't work  

The above actually generates an error saying 'Expression of type double cannot be assigned to variable of type double()' . That's because moto thinks the expression 'pow(3,2)' is a function call, not a function identifier. To clarify the situation you need to use the '&' operator.

double() nine = &pow(3,2) // Bingo!  

5.9 Callbacks

Suppose we have a Vector v. We can say

void(Object) add = v.add;  

The above defines a new function add() which, every time it is called, adds an Object to v. This is actually a powerful example of partial application. Behind the scenes all methods secretly take the instance of the object they are called on as an argument. By identifying 'v.add' we are saying we want the 'add method on the Vector currently assigned to v'. If v were to be assigned a different vector later on the add function we just defined would still add objects to the original Vector.

So what makes this so powerful ? Lets look at some examples

// Cloning a Vector

// Pruning a Vector of duplicates
Stringset s1 = new Stringset()

// Printing out the elements in a hash (SymbolTable)
void outputNV(Object n,SymbolTable s) { print <String>n +" => "+<String>s.get(<String>n)+"\n"; }

// Inverting a hash
void valueToKey(Object oldkey, SymbolTable src, SymbolTable dest) {
   dest.put(<String>src.get(<String>oldkey),oldkey);  }
SymbolTable namesur = new SymbolTable();