Syntax q's

Craig Dickson <>
Tue Nov 2 16:33:50 CET 1999

A couple of things have been irritating me a little with Erlang's syntax. I
was wondering if anyone else agreed with my views of these (quite limited)
cases, and if so, what the best forum and format would be for proposing
minor syntactical extensions.


First, in a function head, to bind a record argument to a variable, and also
perform pattern-matching on its fields, you have to say:

        when ... R#rtype.field1 ..., ... R#rtype.field2 ... ->

which isn't bad, except that it would be convenient to also bind those
fields to variables at the same time. The first time I wanted to do this, it
seemed intuitively obvious to me that the following should work, but it

    f(R#rtype{field1 = Var1, field2 = Var2})
        when ... Var1 ..., ... Var2 ... ->

I guess, in essence, what I'm saying is that there are three things Erlang
will let you do with a record argument in a function head: (1) bind it, as a
whole, to a variable (R above), (2) pattern-match on its fields (the guards
in the first example), and (3) bind its fields to variables (as in the
second example). I would like to do all of these things simultaneously, but
Erlang won't let me; it will only let me have any two of the three in any
given function head.

Does anyone else think that Erlang should allow all three at once?


My other complaint is that the standard libraries have functions that take
module and function atoms (e.g. apply/3), but which cannot take funs. For
example, I would like to be able to experiment with timer:tc/3 in the Erlang
shell by just declaring a fun interactively and calling tc like this:

    F = fun(...) -> ... end.
    timer:tc(F, [args...]).

But this isn't possible because tc doesn't take a fun. I suppose this is a
historical artifact, since funs are a relatively recent addition to the
language. Still, it would be nice to allow funs to be used more universally.

I would even like apply/3 to be able to take a fun, like this:

    apply(F, Args) when function(F), list(Args) ->

because this would provide for a sort of built-in uncurrying capability that
would make it trivially easy to pass around a fun and its list of arguments
in a tuple, and evaluate them in contexts that might not have any idea how
many arguments the fun took. For example:

    apply_list(L) when list(L) ->
        lists:map(fun({F,A}) when function(F), list(A) -> F(A) end, L).

Here L is a list of {Fun, ArgList} pairs, where the arity of each Fun
corresponds to the length of its ArgList.

Of course, the same effect can be achieved on an ad-hoc basis by wrapping
each fun in another fun that takes a list of known length and breaks it up,

    fun(F, [A,B,C]) -> F(A, B, C) end.

But it seems to me that this shouldn't be necessary. Does anyone else agree?


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