Structs (was RE: Record selectors)

Ulf Wiger <>
Wed Jan 15 10:21:00 CET 2003

On Tue, 14 Jan 2003, Joe Armstrong wrote:

>Let me call the thing I like structs (to distinguish them
>from records).
>  With structs you can write things like:
>	A = ~{name="joe", footSize=42},   %% define a struct
>	A.footSize,                       %% access a field
>	B = ~A{likes="motorbikes"},       %% add a new field

I'm wary about the ease of which one can add a new field. It
has a feel of BASIC over it (mistyping a variable name
creates a new variable.) Erlang's dynamic typing of
variables is still reasonably safe from typos due to single
assignment (if you mis-type a variable name and then refer
to that variable without the typo, the compiler will

Personally, I would prefer it if fields could only be added
using an add_field/2 function. I think it's an uncommon
operation. Most of the time, assigning a value to a
non-existing field is probably an error.

The issue of default values could be addressed for named
structs using the pre-processor:

-struct(guru, {name = "joe",
               footSize = 42,
               likes = "motorbikes"}).

Then, one could create a named struct just like a new

C = ~guru{name = "robert", likes="water rockets"}.

But this would of course not solve the compile-time
dependencies that now plague records.

On the other hand, if one writes a module that is the "home"
of a struct, and makes sure to instantiate a struct using a
dedicated function, the issue of defaults is not a big one:


new(guru) ->
  ~guru{name, footSize, likes}.

...introducing some syntactic sugar that allows us to avoid
having to type "= undefined" for all fields that should have
a default value.

D = (mystructs:new(guru))~{name="klacke",
                           likes="whitewater rafting"}

This would also perhaps make it possible to introduce real
handling of undefined fields:

erlang:is_nil(D.footSize) -> true | false.

(where accessing a non-initialized field is an error.
I'm not totally convinced that this is a good idea, but
then again, we could stick to the heretic practice of
using the legal value 'undefined')

Anonymous structs could perhaps be kept super-dynamic. I
don't know if this would complicate the implementation or
compromise efficiency.

Ulf Wiger, Senior Specialist,
   / / /   Architecture & Design of Carrier-Class Software
  / / /    Strategic Product & System Management
 / / /     Ericsson Telecom AB, ATM Multiservice Networks

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