Functions and methods

A function are blocks of reusable code that performs a single action, or group of related actions. They are an essential tool for managing the complexity of a program as it grows.
Note: Though Val should not be considered a functional programming language, functions are first-class citizens, and functional programming style is well-supported. In fact, Val's mutable value semantics can be freely mixed with purely functional code without eroding that code's local reasoning properties

Free functions

A function declaration is introduced with the fun keyword, followed by the function's name, its signature, and finally its body:
typealias Vector2 = (x: Double, y: Double)
​
fun norm(_ v: Vector2) -> Double {
Double.sqrt(v.x * v.x + v.y * v.y)
}
​
public fun main() {
let velocity = (x: 3.0, y: 4.0)
print(norm(velocity)) // 5.0
}
The program above declares a function named norm that accepts a 2-dimensional vector (represented as a pair of Double) and returns its norm, or length.
A function's signature describes its parameter and return types. The return type of a function that does not return any value, like main above, may be omitted. Equivalently we can explicitly specify that the return type is Void.
A function is called using its name followed by its arguments and any argument labels, enclosed in parentheses. Here, norm is called to compute the norm of the vector (x: 3.0, y: 4.0) with the expression norm(velocity).
Notice that the name of the parameter to that function is prefixed by an underscore (i.e., _), signaling that the parameter is unlabeled. If this underscore were omitted, a call to norm would require its argument to be labeled by the parameter name v.
You can specify a label different from the parameter name by replacing the underscore with an identifier. This feature can be used to create APIs that are clear and economical at the use site, especially for functions that accept multiple parameters:
typealias Vector2 = (x: Double, y: Double)
​
fun scale(_ v: Vector2, by factor: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
(x: v.x * factor.x, y: v.y * factor.y)
}
​
let extent = (x: 4, y: 7)
let half = (x: 0.5, y: 0.5)
​
let middle = scale(extent, by: half)
Argument labels are also useful to distinguish between different variants of the same operation.
typealias Vector2 = (x: Double, y: Double)
​
fun scale(_ v: Vector2, by factor: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
(x: v.x * factor.x, y: v.y * factor.y)
}
fun scale(_ v: Vector2, uniformly_by factor: Double) -> Vector2 {
(x: v.x * factor, y: v.y * factor)
}
The two scale functions above are similar, but not identical. The first accepts a vector as the scaling factor, the second a scalar, a difference that is captured in the argument labels. Argument labels are part of the full function name, so the first function can be referred to as scale(_,by:) and the second as scale(_,uniformly_by:). In fact, Val does not support type-based overloading, so the only way for two functions to share the same base name is to have different argument labels. Note: many of the use cases for type-based overloading in other languages can best be handled by using method bundles.
A function with multiple statements that does not return Void must execute one return statement each time it is called.
fun round(_ n: Double, digits: Int) -> Double {
let factor = 10.0 ^ Double(digits)
return (n * factor).round() / factor
}
To avoid warnings from the compiler, every non-Void value returned from a function must either be used, or be explicitly discarded by binding it to _.
fun round(_ n: Double, digits: Int) -> Double {
let factor = 10.0 ^ Double(digits)
return (n * factor).round() / factor
}
​
public fun main() {
_ = round(3.14159, 3) // explicitly discards the result of `round(_:digits:)`
}
Function parameters can have default values, which can be omitted at the call site:
fun round(_ n: Double, digits: Int = 3) -> Double {
let factor = 10.0 ^ Double(digits)
return (n * factor).round() / factor
}
​
let pi2 = round(pi, digits: 2) // pi rounded to 2 digits
let pi3 = round(pi) // pi rounded to 3 digits, the default.
Note: A default argument expression is evaluated at each call site.

Parameter passing conventions

A parameter passing convention describes how an argument is passed from caller to callee. In Val, there are four: let, inout, sink and set. In the next series of examples, we will define four corresponding functions to offset this 2-dimensional vector type:
typealias Vector2 = (x: Double, y: Double)
We will also show how Val's parameter passing conventions relate to other programming languages, namely C++ and Rust.

let parameters

Let's start with the let convention. Parameter passing conventions are always written before the parameter type:
fun offset_let(_ v: let Vector2, by delta: let Vector2) -> Vector2 {
(x: v.x + delta.x, y: v.y + delta.y)
}
let is the default convention, so the declaration above is equivalent to
fun offset_let(_ v: Vector2, by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
(x: v.x + delta.x, y: v.y + delta.y)
}
let parameters are (notionally) passed by value, and are truly immutable. The compiler wouldn't allow us to modify v or delta inside the body of offset_let if we tried:
fun offset_let(_ v: Vector2, by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
&v.x += delta.x // Error: v is immutable
&v.y += delta.y
return v
}
[Recall that & is simply a marker required by the languages when a value is mutated]
Though v cannot be modified, Vector2 is copyable, so we can copy v into a mutable variable and modify that.
fun offset_let(_ v: Vector2, by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
var temporary = v.copy()
&temporary.x += delta.x
&temporary.y += delta.y
return temporary
}
In fact, when it issues the error about v being immutable, the compiler will suggest a rewrite equivalent to the one above (and in the right IDE, will offer to perform the rewrite for you).
The compiler also ensures that v and delta can't be modified by any other means during the call: their values are truly independent of everything else in the program, preventing all possibility of data races and allowing us to reason locally about everything that happens in the body of offset_let. It provides this guarantee in part by ensuring that nothing can modify the arguments passed to offset_let while the function executes which allowing arguments to be passed without making any copies.
A C++ developer can understand the let convention as pass by const reference, but with the additional static guarantee that there is no way the referenced parameters can be modified during the call.
Vector2 offset_let(Vector2 const& v, Vector2 const& delta) {
return Vector2 { v.x + delta.x, v.y + delta.y };
}
For example, in the C++ version of our function, v and delta could be modified by another thread while offset_let executes, causing a data race. For a single-threaded example, just imagine adding a std::function parameter that is called in the body; that parameter might have captured a mutable reference to the argument and could (surprisingly!) modify v or delta through it.
A Rust developer can understand a let parameter as a pass by immutable borrow, with exactly the same guarantees:
fn offset_let(v: &Vector2, delta: &Vector2) -> Vector2 {
Vector2 { x: v.x + delta.x, y: v.y + delta.y }
}
The only difference between an immutable borrow in Rust and a let in Val is that the language encourages the programmer to think of a let parameter as being passed by value.
The let convention does not transfer ownership of the argument to the callee, meaning, for example, that without first copying it, a let parameter can't be returned, or stored anywhere that outlives the call.
fun duplicate(_ v: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
v // error: `v` cannot escape; return `v.copy()` instead.
}

inout parameters

The inout convention enables mutation across function boundaries, allowing a parameter's value to be modified in place:
fun offset_inout(_ target: inout Vector2, by delta: Vector2) {
&target.x += delta.x
&target.y += delta.y
}
Again, the compiler imposes some restrictions and offers guarantees in return. First, arguments to inout parameters must be mutable and marked with an ampersand (&) at the call site:
fun main() {
var v = (x: 3, y: 4) // v is mutable.
offset_inout(&v, by: (x: 1, y: 1)) // ampersand indicates mutation.
}
Note: You can probably guess now why the += operator's left operand is always prefixed by an ampersand: the type of Double.infix+= is (inout Double, Double) -> Void.
Second, inout arguments must be unique: they can only be passed to the function in one parameter position.
fun main() {
var v = (x: 3, y: 4)
offset_inout(&v, by: v) // error: overlapping `inout` access to `v`;
} // pass `v.copy()` as the second argument instead.
The compiler guarantees that the behavior of target in the body of offset_inout is as though it had been declared to be a local var, with a value that is truly independent from everything else in the program: only offset_inout can observe or modify target during the call. Just as with the immutability of let parameters, this independence upholds local reasoning and guarantees freedom from data races.
A C++ developer can understand the inout convention as pass by reference, with the additional static guarantee of exclusive access through the reference to the referenced object:
void offset_inout(Vector2& target, Vector2 const& delta) {
target.x += delta.x
target.y += delta.y
}
In the C++ version of offset_inout, as before, the parameters may be accessible to other threads, opening the possibility of a data race. Also, the two parameters can overlap, and again a simple variation on our function is enough to demonstrate why that might be a problem:
// Offsets target by 2*delta.
void double_offset_inout(Vector2& target, Vector2 const& delta) {
offset_inout(target, delta)
offset_inout(target, delta)
}
void main() {
Vector2 v = {3, 4}
double_offset_inout(v, v)
print(v) // Should print {9, 12}, but prints {12, 16} instead.
}
A Rust developer can understand an inout parameter as a pass by mutable borrow, with exactly the same guarantees:
fn offset_inout(target: &mut Vector2, delta: &Vector2) {
target.x += delta.x;
target.y += delta.y;
}
Again, the only difference is one of perspective: Val encourages you to think of inout parameters as though they are passed by “move-in/move-out,” and indeed the semantics are the same except that no data actually moves in memory.
Just as with let parameters, inout parameters are not owned by the callee, and their values cannot escape the callee without first being copied.
The Fine Print: Temporary Destruction
Although inout parameters are required to be valid at function entry and exit, a callee is entitled to do anything with the value of such parameters, including destroying them, as long as it puts a value back before returning:
fun offset_inout(_ v: inout Vector2, by delta: Vector2) {
let temporary = v.copy()
v.deinit()
// `v` is not bound to any value here
v = (x: temporary.x + delta.x, y: temporary.y + delta.y)
}
In the example above, v.deinit() explicitly deinitializes the value of v, leaving it unbound. Thus, trying to access its value would constitute an error caught at compile time. Nonetheless, since v is reinitialized before the function returns, the compiler is satisfied.
Note: A Rust developer can understand explicit deinitialization as a call to drop. However, explicit deinitialization always consumes the value, even if its type is copyable.

sink parameters

The sink convention indicates a transfer of ownership, so unlike previous examples the parameter can escape the lifetime of the callee.
fun offset_sink(_ base: sink Vector2, by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
&base.x += delta.x
&base.y += delta.y
return base // OK; base escapes here!
}
Just as with inout parameters, the compiler enforces that arguments to sink parameters are unique. Because of the transfer of ownership, though, the argument becomes inaccessible in the caller after the callee is invoked.
fun main()
let v = (x: 1, y: 2)
print(offset_sink(v, (x: 3, y: 5))) // prints (x: 4, y: 7)
print(v) // <== error: v was consumed in the previous line
} // to use v here, pass v.copy() to offset_sink.
A C++ developer can understand the sink convention as similar in intent to pass by rvalue reference. In fact it's more like pass-by-value where the caller first invokes std::move on the argument, because ownership of the argument is transferred at the moment of the function call.
Vector2 offset_sink(Vector2 base, Vector2 const& delta) {
base.x += delta.x
base.y += delta.y
return base
}
​
int main() {
Vector2 v = {1, 2};
print(offset_sink(std::move(v), {3, 5})); // prints (x: 4, y: 7)
print(v); // prints garbage
}
In Val, the lifetime of a moved-from value ends, rather than being left accessible in an indeterminate state.
A Rust developer can understand a sink parameter as a pass by move. If the source type is copyable it is as though it first assigned to a unique reference, so the move is forced:
fn offset_sink(base: Vector2, delta: &Vector2) -> Vector2 {
base.x += delta.x
base.y += delta.y
return base
}
fn main() {
let mut v: Vector2 = {1, 2};
let moveV = &mut v;
println("{}", offset_sink(moveV, {3, 5}))
}
The sink and inout conventions are closely related; so much so that offset_sink can be written in terms of offset_inout, and vice versa.
fun offset_sink2(_ v: sink Vector2, by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
offset_inout(&v, by: delta)
return v
}
​
fun offset_inout2(_ v: inout Vector2, by delta: Vector2) {
v = offset_sink(v, by: delta)
}

set parameters

The set convention lets a callee initialize an uninitialized value. The compiler will only accept uninitialized objects as arguments to a set parameter.
fun init_vector(_ target: set Vector2, x: sink Double, y: sink Double) {
target = (x: x, y: y)
}
​
public fun main() {
var v: Vector2
init_vector(&v, x: 1.5, y: 2.5)
print(v) // (x: 1.5, y: 2.5)
init_vector(&v, x: 3, y: 7). // error: 'v' is initialized
}
A C++ developer can understand the set convention in terms of the placement new operator, with the guarantee that the storage in which the new value is being created starts out uninitialized, and ends up initialized.
#include <new>
​
void init_vector(Vector2* v, double x, double y) {
new(v) Vector2(components[0], components[1]);
}
​
int main() {
alignas(Vector2) char _storage[sizeof(Vector2)];
auto v1 = static_cast<Vector2*>(static_cast<void*>(_storage));
init_vector(v1, 1.5, 2.5);
std::cout << *v1 << std::endl;
}

Methods

A method is a function associated with a particular type, called the receiver, on which it primarily operates. Method declaration syntax is the same as that of a free function, except that a method is always declared in the scope of its receiver type, and the receiver parameter is omitted.
type Vector2 {
public var x: Double
public var y: Double
public memberwise init
​
public fun offset_let(by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 { // <== HERE
Vector2(x: self.x + delta.x, y: self.y + delta.y)
}
}
The program above declares Vector2, a structure with a method, offset_let(by:), which is nearly identical to the similarly named free function we declared in the section on parameter passing conventions. The difference is that its first parameter, a Vector2 instance, has become implicit and is now named self.
For concision, self can be omitted from most expressions in a method. Therefore, we can rewrite offset_let this way:
type Vector2 {
// ...
public fun offset_let(by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
Vector2(x: x + delta.x, y: y + delta.y)
}
}
A method is usually accessed as a member of the receiver instance that forms its implicit first parameter, a syntax that binds that instance to the method:
public fun main() {
let unit_x = Vector2(x: 1.0, y: 0.0)
let v1 = Vector2(x: 1.5, y: 2.5)
let v2 = v1.offset_let(by: unit_x) // <== HERE
print(v2)
}
When the method is accessed through its type, instead of through an instance, we get a regular function with an explicit self parameter, so we could have made this equivalent call in the marked line above:
let v2 = Vector2.offset_let(self: v1, by: unit_x)
As usual, the default passing convention of the receiver is let. Other passing conventions must be specified explicitly, just after the closing parenthesis of the method's parameter list. In the following example, self is passed inout, making this a mutating method:
type Vector2 {
// ...
public fun offset_inout(by delta: Vector2) inout -> Vector2 {
&x += delta.x
&y += delta.x
}
}
In a call to an inout method like the one above, the receiver expression is marked with an ampersand, to indicate it is being mutated:
fun main() {
var y = Vector2(x: 3, y: 4)
&y.offset_inout(by: Vector2(x: 7, y: 11)) // <== HERE
print(y)
}

Method bundles

When multiple methods have the same functionality but differ only in the passing convention of their receiver, they can be grouped into a single bundle.
type Vector2 {
public var x: Double
public var y: Double
public memberwise init
​
public fun offset(by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
let {
Vector2(x: x + delta.x, y: y + delta.y)
}
inout {
&x += delta.x
&y += delta.y
}
sink {
&x += delta.x
&y += delta.y
return self
}
}
}
​
public fun main() {
let unit_x = Vector2(x: 1.0, y: 0.0)
var v1 = Vector2(x: 1.5, y: 2.5)
&v1.offset(by: unit_x) // 1
​
print(v1.offset(by: unit_x)) // 2
let v2 = v1.offset(by: unit_x) // 3
print(v2)
}
In the program above, the method Vector2.offset(by:) defines three variants, each corresponding to an implementation of the same behavior, for a different receiver convention.
Note: A method bundle can not declare a set variant as it does not make sense to operate on a receiver that has not been initialized yet.
At the call site, the compiler determines the variant to apply depending on the context of the call. In this example, the first call applies the inout variant as the receiver has been marked for mutation. The second call applies the sink variant as the receiver is no longer used aftertward.
Thanks to the link between the sink and inout conventions, the compiler is able to synthesize one implementation from the other. Further, the compiler can also synthesize a sink variant from a let one.
This feature can be used to avoid code duplication in cases where custom implementations of the different variants do not offer any performance benefit, or where performance is not a concern. For example, in the case of Vector2.offset(by:), it is sufficient to write the following declaration and let the compiler synthesize the missing variants.
type Vector2 {
// ...
public fun offset(by delta: Vector2) -> Vector2 {
let { Vector2(x: x + delta.x, y: y + delta.y) }
}
}

Static methods

A type can be used as a namespace for global functions that relate to that type. For example, the function Double.random(in:using:) is a global function declared in the namespace of Double.
A global function declared in the namespace of a type is called a static method. Static methods do not have an implicit receiver parameter. Instead, they behave just like regular global functions.
A static method is declared with static:
type Vector2 {
// ...
public static fun random(in range: Range<Double>) -> Vector2 {
Vector2(x: Double.random(in: range), y: Double.random(in: range))
}
}
When the return type of a static method matches the type declared by its namespace, the latter can be omitted if the compiler can infer it from the context of the expression:
public fun main() {
let v1 = Vector2(x: 0.0, y: 0.0)
let v2 = v1.offset(by: .random(in: 0.0 ..< 10.0))
print(v2)
}

Closures

Functions are first-class citizen in Val, meaning that they be assigned to bindings, passed as arguments or returned from functions, like any other value. When a function is used as a value, it is called a closure.
fun round(_ n: Double, digits: Int) -> Double {
let factor = 10.0 ^ Double(digits)
return (n * factor).round() / factor
}
​
public fun main() {
let f = round(_:digits:)
print(type(of: f)) // (_: Double, digits: Int) -> Double
}
Some methods of the standard library use closures to implement certain algorithms. For example, the type T[n] has a method reduce(into:_:) that accepts a closure as second argument to describe how its elements should be combined.
fun combine(_ partial_result: inout Int, _ element: Int) {
&partial_result += element
}
​
public fun main() {
let sum = [1, 2, 3].reduce(into: 0, combine)
print(sum)
}
Note: The method Int.infix+= has the same type as combine(_:_:) in this example. Therefore, we could have written numbers.reduce(into: 0, Int.infix+=).
When the sole purpose of a function is to be used as a closure, it may be more convenient to write it inline, as a closure expression. Such an expression resembles a function declaration, but has no name. Further, the types of the parameters and/or the return type can be omitted if the compiler can infer those from the context.
public fun main() {
let sum = [1, 2, 3].reduce(into: 0, fun(_ partial_result, _ element) {
&partial_result += element
})
print(sum)
}

Closure captures

A function can refer to bindings that are declared outside of its own scope. When it does so, it is said to create captures. There exists three kind of captures: let, inout and sink.
A let capture occurs when a function accesses a binding immutably. For example, in the program below, the closure passed to map(_:) creates a let capture on offset.
public fun main() {
let offset = 2
let result = [1, 2, 3].map(fun(_ n) { n + offset })
print(result) // [3, 4, 5]
}
An inout capture occurs when a function accesses a binding mutably. For example, in the program below, the closure passed to for_each(_:) creates an inout capture on sum.
public fun main() {
var sum = 0
let result = [1, 2, 3].for_each(fun(_ n) { &sum += n })
print(sum) // 6
}
A sink capture occurs when a function acts as a sink for a value at its declaration. Such a capture must be defined explicitly in a capture list. For example, in the program below, counter is assigned to a closure that returns integers in incrementing order every time it is called. The closure keeps track of its own state with a sink capture.
public fun main() {
var counter = fun[var i = 0]() inout -> Int {
defer { &i += 1 }
return i.copy()
}
print(&counter()) // 0
print(&counter()) // 1
}
Note: The signature of the closure must be annotated with inout because calling it modifies its own state (i.e., the values that it had captured). Further, a call to counter must be prefixed by an ampersand to signal mutation.