[erlang-questions] Overriding built-in functions in a module

Raimo Niskanen <>
Wed Jun 9 15:40:23 CEST 2010

On Wed, Jun 09, 2010 at 01:53:29PM +1200, Richard O'Keefe wrote:
> On Jun 4, 2010, at 6:25 PM, Raimo Niskanen wrote:
> >>>This was a little bit unrelated to the topic. Given that you can't
> >>>call a non-exported function with that syntax, that code is  
> >>>certainly
> >>>not calling the local fun spawn/1, since it's not exported.
> >>
> >>Note that I wasn't suggesting that the call should be *allowed*,
> >>only that it is *there*.  There's a big difference between
> >>"there are NO calls to this function" and
> >
> >But there *are* no calls to the local function spawn/1.
> Yes there is, it's just not a *local* call.

I might argue that since it is a call to an exported function it must be to
some *other* function, not the local with the same name.  For example (as I
said) when code upgrading the call to the exported function could be to the new
module version.

> >
> >The local function spawn/1 will never be used and
> >that is what that warning says.
> No it isn't, really.  If the error message said
> 	There is a remote call to local function spawn/1
> 	but it is not exported so it can never be used
> 	that way.
> I might agree with you.
> Now let's change the example one more time.
>      1  -module(foo).
>      2  -export([zoo/0]).
>      3  bar(X) when X < 0 -> ugh(-X);
>      4  bar(X) -> X+1.
>      5  ugh(X) when X < 0 -> bar(-X);
>      6  ugh(X) -> X-1.
>      7  zoo() -> is_function(fun bar/1), is_function(fun ugh/1).
>      ./foo.erl:7: Warning: the call to is_function/1 has no effect
> The functions bar/1 and ugh/1 are no more reachable than before.
> There is no possible call from the outside that will ever result in
> either function being invoked.  But suddenly they are "used".
> Judging from the outside, what we have is
>   a function is reachable iff
>   (1) it is exported or
>   (2) there is a local call to it from a reachable function or
>   (3) a 'fun f/n' term referring to it occurs in a reachable function.
> A function can be *USED* fifty million times without being
> reachable, and as a test case like the one above proved, a
> function can be reachable without being used.
> This means that the wording of the error message is misleading.
> >>In short, I am not quarreling with the decision to report an
> >>error here, only commenting that the error message is extremely
> >>misleading.
> >
> >#1 is. #2 not really.
> No, really.  Whether the error message in question occurs or not
> has nothing to do with whether the function is used, only with
> whether it is reachable.  If you get the error message, no amount
> of adding *uses* will remove it, unless they happen to be reachable
> ones.
> The message "no exported function directly or indirectly mentions
> f/n" would not be misleading.  Even better, it would draw the
> programmer's attention to the probable cause: a missing -export.

You are right, of course.

I am just used to the "not used" in this context meaning that if the function
is removed the only thing that will happen is that the module gets smaller,
or more correctly as you said: "no exported function directly or indirectly
mentions f/n".

"not used" is sloppier but shorter.


/ Raimo Niskanen, Erlang/OTP, Ericsson AB

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