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4.1.9 Spreading List Elements Among Variables

It is often the case in MOO programming that you will want to access the elements of a list individually, with each element stored in a separate variables. This desire arises, for example, at the beginning of almost every MOO verb, since the arguments to all verbs are delivered all bunched together in a single list. In such circumstances, you could write statements like these:

first = args[1];
second = args[2];
if (length(args) > 2)
  third = args[3];
  third = 0;

This approach gets pretty tedious, both to read and to write, and it's prone to errors if you mistype one of the indices. Also, you often want to check whether or not any extra list elements were present, adding to the tedium.

MOO provides a special kind of assignment expression, called scattering assignment made just for cases such as these. A scattering assignment expression looks like this:

{target, ...} = expr

where each target describes a place to store elements of the list that results from evaluating expr. A target has one of the following forms:

This is the simplest target, just a simple variable; the list element in the corresponding position is assigned to the variable. This is called a required target, since the assignment is required to put one of the list elements into the variable.

This is called an optional target, since it doesn't always get assigned an element. If there are any list elements left over after all of the required targets have been accounted for (along with all of the other optionals to the left of this one), then this variable is treated like a required one and the list element in the corresponding position is assigned to the variable. If there aren't enough elements to assign one to this target, then no assignment is made to this variable, leaving it with whatever its previous value was.

?variable = default-expr
This is also an optional target, but if there aren't enough list elements available to assign one to this target, the result of evaluating default-expr is assigned to it instead. Thus, default-expr provides a default value for the variable. The default value expressions are evaluated and assigned working from left to right after all of the other assignments have been performed.

By analogy with the @ syntax in list construction, this variable is assigned a list of all of the `leftover' list elements in this part of the list after all of the other targets have been filled in. It is assigned the empty list if there aren't any elements left over. This is called a rest target, since it gets the rest of the elements. There may be at most one rest target in each scattering assignment expression.

If there aren't enough list elements to fill all of the required targets, or if there are more than enough to fill all of the required and optional targets but there isn't a rest target to take the leftover ones, then E_ARGS is raised.

Here are some examples of how this works. Assume first that the verb me:foo() contains the following code:

b = c = e = 17;
{a, ?b, ?c = 8, @d, ?e = 9, f} = args;
return {a, b, c, d, e, f};

Then the following calls return the given values:

me:foo(1)                        error-->   E_ARGS
me:foo(1, 2)                     =>   {1, 17, 8, {}, 9, 2}
me:foo(1, 2, 3)                  =>   {1, 2, 8, {}, 9, 3}
me:foo(1, 2, 3, 4)               =>   {1, 2, 3, {}, 9, 4}
me:foo(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)            =>   {1, 2, 3, {}, 4, 5}
me:foo(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)         =>   {1, 2, 3, {4}, 5, 6}
me:foo(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)      =>   {1, 2, 3, {4, 5}, 6, 7}
me:foo(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)   =>   {1, 2, 3, {4, 5, 6}, 7, 8}

Using scattering assignment, the example at the begining of this section could be rewritten more simply, reliably, and readably:

{first, second, ?third = 0} = args;

It is good MOO programming style to use a scattering assignment at the top of nearly every verb, since it shows so clearly just what kinds of arguments the verb expects.

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This document was generated by Roger Crew on June, 2 2004 using texi2html