[Rd] S4 and Namespaces problems {was "error message from lmer"}

Prof Brian Ripley ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Thu Jul 19 06:30:26 CEST 2007

On Wed, 18 Jul 2007, Robert Gentleman wrote:

> Hi,
> Martin Maechler wrote:
>> Here is a reproducible example for the Bug that both Sebastian
>> and Dale Barr found.
>> As Brian mentioned in an another thread,
>> the problem is in the interaction of Namespaces and S4 generics
>> and which S4 generic should keep which methods.
>> We know there are workarounds, but till now they seem either
>> ugly or very much against the idea that conceptually there
>> should be only one generic which may have methods defined in
>> many different packages / namespaces.
>   There should *not* be one generic. Generics are no different than any
> other function. Package A can have a generic named foo, and so can
> package B.  Other packages that want to add methods to a generic named
> foo need to know which one they would like to add to.  These generics
> can be masked. If Package A is first on the search path then that is the
> foo that is found first (and if Package B is first then that is the foo,
> users that specifically want foo from B should use B::foo).

I do think base is a special case here, given its privileged position in 
the namespace hierarchy.  I'd take Martin's position as rather that there 
should be only one generic derived by take-over from a function, at least 
for those in base.

I believe that if you are allowed to make a function in base S4-generic 
(and it is not obvious that you should be in many cases), then the derived 
generic should conceptually be in base and thus always be found in place 
of that in base.  Since base is not a normal environment or namespace, 
that is not straightforward to implement but it should be possible by 
(e.g.) C-level hacking and a environment to store such derived generics. 
Primitives are rather different, and we now have a fairly efficient way to 
allow designated primitives to have S4 methods.

I believe the registration model for S3 methods is pretty much the right 
one: methods are set on the first 'foo' on the relevant search path, and 
that does not cause another 'foo' to be created elsewhere that may or may 
not precede the original in the relevant search path (since there are 
multiple search paths once namespaces enter the mix).

The new implied generics model helps here: taking over a function in base 
unaltered (the same as the implied generic) could be a derived generic, 
and any alteration would create a new generic in your package.  That 
protects code in other namespaces from your alterations.

>> I would like us (R-core, mostly) to resolve this as quickly as
>> possible.

It seems tricky enough to need debate what we want for a while and aim for 
2.6.0.  But we have been discussing it on and off for at least two years.


>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ### Do this in a fresh  R session:
>> summary # S3 generic
>> find("summary") # base
>> library(stats4)
>> summary # S4 generic
>> find("summary") # stats4 , base
>> library(lme4)
>> ## -> loads Matrix (and lattice)
>> find("summary") # lme4, Matrix, stats4 , base   --- 4 times ! ---
>   Have they all defined generics? If that is the case then there are 4.
>   We did discuss, and I hope to make progress on the following
> proposal. For functions in base that have an S4 method defined for them
> (and hence we need a generic function), that we create a new package
> that lives slightly above base (and potentially other recommended
> packages) where these generics will live.  Developers can then rely on
> finding the generic there, and using it - if their intention is to
> extend the base generic.  Note that they may want to have their own
> generic with the same name as the one from base, and that is fine, it
> will mask the one in base.
>   best wishes
>    Robert
>> fm1 <- lmer(Reaction ~ Days + (Days|Subject), sleepstudy)
>> ## -->
>> ## Error in lmer(Reaction ~ Days + (Days | Subject), sleepstudy) :
>> ## 	cannot get a slot ("Dim") from an object of type "NULL"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Martin Maechler
>>>>>>> "BDR" == Prof Brian Ripley <ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk>
>>>>>>>     on Thu, 28 Jun 2007 06:08:45 +0100 (BST) writes:
>>     BDR> See the thread starting
>>     BDR> https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-devel/2007-June/046157.html
>>     BDR> https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-devel/2007-June/046160.html
>>     BDR> I can't reproduce this without knowing what is in your
>>     BDR> startup files: it should work with --vanilla, so please
>>     BDR> try that and try to eliminate whatever is in your
>>     BDR> .Rprofile etc that is causing the problem.
>>     BDR> Incidentally, using rcompletion is counterproductive in
>>     BDR> R 2.5.1 RC: the base functionality using rcompgen is a
>>     BDR> more sophisticated version.
>>     BDR> On Wed, 27 Jun 2007, Sebastian P. Luque wrote:
>>    >> Hi,
>>    >>
>>    >> I've begun to use the lme4 package, rather than nlme, for more flexibility
>>    >> during modelling, and running the examples in lmer I receive this error
>>    >> message:
>>    >>
>>    >> ---<---------------cut here---------------start-------------->---
>>     R> (fm1 <- lmer(Reaction ~ Days + (Days|Subject), sleepstudy))
>>    >> Error in printMer(object) : no slot of name "status" for this object of class "table"
>>    >>
>>     R> sessionInfo()
>>    >> R version 2.5.1 RC (2007-06-25 r42057)
>>    >> x86_64-pc-linux-gnu
>>    >>
>>    >> locale:
>>    >>
>>    >> attached base packages:
>>    >> [1] "stats4"    "stats"     "graphics"  "grDevices" "utils"     "datasets"
>>    >> [7] "methods"   "base"
>>    >>
>>    >> other attached packages:
>>    >> lme4      Matrix rcompletion    rcompgen     lattice    diveMove
>>    >> "0.99875-2" "0.99875-2"     "0.1-2"    "0.1-13"   "0.15-11"     "0.7-9"
>>    >> reshape
>>    >> "0.7.4"
>>    >> ---<---------------cut here---------------end---------------->---
>>    >>
>>    >> Since this is happening in a fresh session, and with code from examples
>>    >> help file, this looks like a potential bug.  Any thoughts?
>>    >>
>>    >>
>>    >> Cheers,
>> ______________________________________________
>> R-devel at r-project.org mailing list
>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel

Brian D. Ripley,                  ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Professor of Applied Statistics,  http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/~ripley/
University of Oxford,             Tel:  +44 1865 272861 (self)
1 South Parks Road,                     +44 1865 272866 (PA)
Oxford OX1 3TG, UK                Fax:  +44 1865 272595

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