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Re: return of copies vs references

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Darren Duncan
March 17, 2005 15:27
Re: return of copies vs references
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It occurs to me that I may have requested something before that would 
cause more problems than it solves if implemented.  So I have a 
different idea that would hopefully be efficient, powerful, and easy 
to learn.  In short, make it work much like Perl 5.

The idea is Perl methods and subs will always return references or 
scalars by default, just as method/sub arguments always take 
references or scalars by default; so we have symmetry between the 
in/out.  And they would do this the same way regardless of the caller 
scalar/list context.

If the writer of a method/sub wants to return a copy of a non-trivial 
structure like a hash or array, they explicitly copy it and return 
the copy.  This is elegant because when they are explicitly copying, 
they can also fully control to what depth in a tree-like structure 
the items have either their values or their references copied.

For example, with the same $:foo, @:bar, %:baz attributes ...

These would return references to the structure root, in all contexts:

     return \$self.:foo;
     return $self.:bar;
     return $self.:baz;
     return \$:foo;
     return @:bar;
     return %:baz;

These would return a new structure with level-1 copies of the 
elements, but if any elements are references then the copies point to 
the same things in all contexts:

     return $self.:foo;
     return [$self.:bar];
     return {$self.:baz};
     return $:foo;
     return [@:bar];
     return {%:baz};

The exact syntax could vary.  The above would scale to, say, explicit 
2-dimensional copy similarly to Perl 5, like this:

     return [${ [$_] }];
     return [{ [$_] }];

Now, I am operating under the assumption here that in Perl 6, the 
line between having a reference to something or having that thing is 
blurred, and so there is no need to do explicit dereferencing; eg, no 
@{} or %{}.

All that the caller context would then determine is whether what the 
method/sub returned is flattened or not; the caller context would not 
determine whether the method/sub returns a copy or a reference.

Question: Is there a trait for a sub/method that specifies whether it 
forces a scalar or list context?

Any opinions on this?

-- Darren Duncan

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