[Rd] Conventions: Use of globals and main functions

Cyclic Group Z_1 cyc||cgroup-z1 @end|ng |rom y@hoo@com
Wed Aug 28 17:58:15 CEST 2019

I appreciate the well-thought-out comments.

To your first point, I am not sure what "glattering" means precisely (a Google search revealed nothing useful), but I assume it means something to the effect of overfilling the main namespace with too many names. Per Norm Matloff's counterpoint in The Art of R Programming regarding this issue, this is mostly avoided by well-defined, (sufficiently) long names. Also, when a program is properly modularized, one generally wouldn't have this many objects at the same time unless the complexity of a program demands it. You can, for example, use named function scope outside main or anonymous functions to limit variable scope to operations that need a given variable. Using main() with any named functions closely tied to a script defined outside it actually addresses this "glattering namespace" issue, since, if we treat the global scope as a main function instead of using a main() idiom, any functions that are defined in global scope will contain all global variables within its search path. Alternatively, one can put all named functions in a package; in some cases, however, it will make more sense to keep a function defined within the script. Unless you never modularize your code into functions and flatten everything out into a common namespace, using main would be helpful to avoid namespace-glattering. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure how namespace-glattering favors not using a main() idiom, since avoiding globals doesn't mean not structuring your code properly; it actually seems to favor using main(). Given any properly structured program (organizing functions as needed), the implementation that puts all variables into the global workspace (same as the top-level functions) will be less safe since all functions will contain all globals within its search path. (Unless, of course, every single function is put into a package).

To your second point, I agree that many of the issues associated with global state/environment are generally less problematic when using pure (or as pure as possible) functions. On a related note, lexically scoped functional languages (especially pure functional ones) generally encourage modularizing everything into functions, rather than having a lot of objects exposed to the top level (not to say that globals are not used, only that they are not the default choice). So the typical R way of doing this tends to disagree with how things are normally done in functional programming. Chopping our code into well-abstracted functions (and therefore namespaces) is the functional way to do things and helps to minimize the state to which any particular function has access. Organizing the functions we want to be pure so that they are not defined in the same environment in which they are called actually helps to ensure function purity in the input direction, since those functions will not have lexical-scope access to called variables. (That is, you may have written an impure function without realizing it; organizing functions so they are not defined in the same environment as when they are called helps to ensure purity.)

Perhaps I am mistaken, but in either case, your points actually favor a main() idiom, unless you take using main() to mean using main() with extra bits (e.g., flattening your code structure).

Admittedly, putting every single function into a package and not having any named functions in your script generally addresses all of these issues. 


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