Day 24 — Subs are Always Better in multi-ples

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Hey look, it’s Christmas Eve! (Also, the palindrome of 42!) And today, we’re going to learn about multi subs, which are essentially synonyms (like any natural language would have). Let’s get started!

An Informative Introduction

multi subs are simply subroutines (or anything related to it, such as methods, macros, etc.) that start with the multi keyword and are then allowed to have the same name as another sub before, provided that sub starts with a multi (or proto — that’s later) keyword. What has to be different between these subs is their signature, or list of formal parameters.

Sound complicated? It isn’t, just take a look at the example below:

multi sub steve(Str $name) {
    return "Hello, $name";
}

multi sub steve(Int $number) {
    return "You are person number $number to use this sub!";
}

Every sub was started with the multi keyword, and has the same name of “steve”, but its parameters are different. That’s how Perl 6 knows which steve to use. If I were to later type steve("John"), then the first steve gets called. If, however, I were to type steve(35), then I’d get the second steve sub.

Equal Footing with built-ins

When you write a multi sub, and it happens to have the same name as some other built-in, your sub is on equal footing with the compiler’s. There’s no preferring Perl 6′s multi sub over yours, so if you write a multi sub with the same name as a built-in and with the same signature, say

multi sub slurp($filename) {
    say "Yum! $filename was tasty. Got another one?";
}

And then try calling it with something like slurp("/etc/passwd"), I get this:

Ambiguous dispatch to multi 'slurp'. Ambiguous candidates had signatures:
:(Any $filename)
:(Any $filename)

Why? Because Perl 6 found two equally valid choices for slurp("/etc/passwd"), my sub and its own, and was unable to decide. That’s the easiest way I know to demonstrate equal footing.

A Fun Conclusion

Now, since it’s Christmas, let’s try writing another open sub, but unlike the built-in open sub, which opens files, this one open presents! Here’s our Present class for this example:

class Present {
    has $.item;
    has $.iswrapped = True;

    method look() {
        if $.iswrapped {
            say "It's wrapped.";
        }
        else {
            say $.item;
        }
    }

    method unwrap() {
        $!iswrapped = False;
    }
}

Now, our open multi sub looks like this:

multi sub open(Present $present) {
    $present.unwrap;
    say "You unwrap the present and find...!";
}

The signature is vastly different from Perl 6′s own open sub, which is a good thing. And here’s the rest of the code, which makes a Present and uses our new multi sub:

my $gift = Present.new(:item("sock"));
$gift.look;
open($gift);
$gift.look;

But wait!

Running this gets us an error in the latest pull of Rakudo:

$ ./perl6 present.p6
It's wrapped.
This type cannot unbox to a native string
⋮

This means that Perl 6′s original open sub is being used, so perhaps it’s being interpreted as an only sub (only subs are the default — only sub unique() {...} and sub unique() {...} mean the same thing). No matter, let’s try adding a proto sub line before our multi sub:

proto sub open(|$) {*}

A proto sub allows you to specify the commonalities between multi subs of the same name. In this case, |$ means “every possible argument”, and {*} means “any kind of code”. It also turns any sub with that name into a multi sub (unless explicitly defined as something other than multi). This is useful if you’re, say, importing a &color sub from a module that isn’t defined as multi (or explicitly as only) and you want to have your own &color sub as well.

After adding this before our multi sub open, we get this result:

$ ./perl6 present.p6
It's wrapped.
You unwrap the present and find...!
sock

It works! Well, that’s it for multi subs. For all the nitty-gritty details, see the most current S06. Enjoy your multi subs and your Christmas Eve!

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One Response to “Day 24 — Subs are Always Better in multi-ples”

  1. Ragnar Says:

    Dear Blogger,
    24 is not a palindrome of 42, whatever that means… You see, 24 is not a palindrome at all. A word, number or sentence either is a palindrome or it isn’t. Your claim makes as much sense as “apple is the orange of 42″.
    As a Perl programmer, you really should know this.

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