I started composing a set of APL exercises in response to a query from a new APL enthusiast who attended Morten’s presentation at Functional Conf, Bangalore, October 2014. The first set of exercise are at a low level of difficulty, followed by another set at an intermediate level. One of the intermediate exercises is:


a. Compute all the permutations of ⍳⍵ in lexicographic order. For example:

   perm 3
0 1 2
0 2 1
1 0 2
1 2 0
2 0 1
2 1 0

b. Write a function that checks whether is a solution to perm ⍺, without computing perm ⍺. You can use the function assert. For example:

assert←{⍺←'assertion failure' ⋄ 0∊⍵:⍺ ⎕SIGNAL 8 ⋄ shy←0}

  assert 2=⍴⍴⍵:
  assert (⍴⍵)≡(!⍺),⍺:

   6 pcheck perm 6

   4 pcheck 2 4⍴0 1 2 3, 0 1 3 2
assertion failure
pcheck[2] assert(⍴⍵)≡(!⍺),⍺:

c. What is the index of permutation in perm ⍺? Do this without computing all the permutations. For example:

   7 ip 1 6 5 2 0 3 4    ⍝ index from permutation

(The left argument in this case is redundant, being the same as ≢⍵.)

d. What is the -th permutation of ⍳⍺? Do this without computing all the permutations. For example:

   7 pi 1442             ⍝ permutation from index
1 6 5 2 0 3 4

   (perm 7) ≡ 7 pi⍤0 ⍳!7

The Anagram Kata

Coincidentally, Gianfranco Alongi was attempting in APL the anagrams kata from Cyber Dojo:

Write a program to generate all potential anagrams of an input string.

For example, the potential anagrams of “biro” are
biro bior brio broi boir bori
ibro ibor irbo irob iobr iorb
rbio rboi ribo riob roib robi
obir obri oibr oirb orbi orib

This is essentially the same program/exercise/kata, because the potential anagrams are 'biro'[perm 4]. You can compare solutions in other languages to what’s here (google “anagrams kata”).

Spoiler Alert

Deriving a Solution

I am now going to present solutions to part a of the exercise, generating all permutations of ⍳⍵.

Commonly, in TDD (test-driven development) you start with a very simple case and try to extend it successively to more general cases. It’s all too easy to be led into a dead-end because the simple case may have characteristics absent in a more general case. For myself, for this problem, I would start “in the middle”: Suppose I have perm 3, obtained by whatever means:

0 1 2
0 2 1
1 0 2
1 2 0
2 0 1
2 1 0

How do I get perm 4 from that? One way is as follows:

   (0 1 2 3[p1]) (1 0 2 3[p1]) (2 0 1 3[p1]) (3 0 1 2[p1])
│0 1 2 3│1 0 2 3│2 0 1 3│3 0 1 2│
│0 1 3 2│1 0 3 2│2 0 3 1│3 0 2 1│
│0 2 1 3│1 2 0 3│2 1 0 3│3 1 0 2│
│0 2 3 1│1 2 3 0│2 1 3 0│3 1 2 0│
│0 3 1 2│1 3 0 2│2 3 0 1│3 2 0 1│
│0 3 2 1│1 3 2 0│2 3 1 0│3 2 1 0│

So it’s indexing each row of a matrix m by 0,1+p. There are various ways of forming the matrix m, one way is:

   ⍒⍤1∘.=⍨0 1 2 3
0 1 2 3
1 0 2 3
2 0 1 3
3 0 1 2

(Some authors waxed enthusiastic about this “magical matrix”.) In any case, a solution obtains readily from the above description: Form a matrix from the above individual planes; replace the 0 1 2 3 by ⍳⍵; and make an appropriate computation for the base case (when 0=⍵). See the 2015-07-12 entry below.

The Best perm Function

What is the “best” perm function I can write in APL? This “best” is a benchmark not only on my own understanding but also on advancements in APL over the years.

“Best” is a subjective and personal measure. Brevity comes into it but is not the only criteria. For example, {(∧/(⍳⍵)∊⍤1⊢t)⌿t←⍉(⍵⍴⍵)⊤⍳⍵*⍵} is the shortest known solution, but requires space and time exponential in the size of the result, and that disqualifies it from being “best”. The similarly inefficient {(∧/(⍳⍵)∊⍤1⊢t)⌿t←↑,⍳⍵⍴⍵} is shorter still, but does not work for 1=⍵.

1981, The N Queens Problem

    p←perm n;i;ind;t
   ⍝ all permutations of ⍳n
    t←perm n-1

It was the fashion at the time that functions be written to work in either index-origin and therefore have ⎕io sprinkled hither, thither, and yon.

1987, Some Uses of { and }

   perm:  ⍪⌿k,⍤¯1 (⍙⍵-1){⍤¯ 1 k~⍤1 0 k←⍳⍵
       :  1≥⍵
       :  (1,⍵)⍴0

Written in Dictionary APL, wherein: ⍪⌿⍵ ←→ ⊃⍪⌿⊂⍤¯1⊢⍵ and differs from its definition in Dyalog APL; is equivalent to in dfns; ⍺{⍵ ←→ (⊂⍺)⌷⍵; and ¯ by itself is infinity.


I worked on perm from time to time in this period, but in J rather than in APL. The results are described in a J essay and in a Vector article. The lessons translate directly into Dyalog APL.



In retrospect, the power operator is not the best device to use, because the left operand function needs both the previous result (equivalent to perm ⍵-1) and . It is awkward to supply two arguments to that operand function, and the matter is finessed by computing the latter as 1+1↓⍴⍵.

In this formulation, ⍉⍪⍬ is rather circuitous compared to the equivalent 1 0⍴0. But the latter would have required a or similar device to separate it from the right operand of the power operator.


   perm←{0=⍵:1 0⍴0 ⋄ ,[⍳2](⊂0,1+∇ ¯1+⍵)⌷⍤1⍒⍤1∘.=⍨⍳⍵}

For a time I thought the base case can be ⍳1 0 instead of 1 0⍴0, and indeed the function works with that as the base case. Unfortunately (⍳1 0)≢1 0⍴0, having a different prototype and datatype.


Where might the improvements come from?

  • We are contemplating an under operator whose monadic case is f⍢g ⍵ ←→ g⍣¯1 f g ⍵. Therefore 1+∇ ¯1+⍵ ←→ ∇⍢(¯1∘+)⍵
  • Moreover, it is possible to define ≤⍵ as ⍵-1 (decrement) and ≥⍵ as ⍵+1 (increment), as in J; whence 1+∇ ¯1+⍵ ←→ ∇⍢≤⍵
  • Monadic = can be defined as in J, =⍵ ←→ (∪⍳⍨⍵)∘.=⍳≢⍵ (self-classify); whence ∘.=⍨⍳⍵ ←→ =⍳⍵

Putting it all together:

   perm←{0=⍵:1 0⍴0 ⋄ ,[⍳2](⊂0,∇⍢≤⍵)⌷⍤1⍒⍤1=⍳⍵}

We should do something about the ,[⍳2] :-)​​

Type Comments

I’ve taken to commenting the closing brace of my inner dfns with a home-grown type notation pinched from the Functional Programming community:

    dref←{                  ⍝ Value for name ⍵ in dictionary ⍺ 
        names values←⍺      ⍝ dictionary pair
        (names⍳⊂⍵)⊃values   ⍝ value corresponding to name ⍵
    }                       ⍝ :: Value ← Dict ∇ Name

I keep changing my mind about whether the result type should be to the left (Value ← ...) or to the right (... → Value). The FP crowd favours → Value but I’m coming around to Value ← because:

* In contrast to (say) Haskell, APL’s function/argument sequences associate right.
* Value ← mirrors the result pattern in a tradfn header and so looks familiar.
* The type of function composition f∘g is simpler this way round.

Such comments serve as an aide-mémoire when I later come to read the code though, with some ingenuity, the notation might possibly be extended to a more formal system, which could have value to a compiler or code-checker. We would need:

Glyphs for Dyalog’s three primitive atomic data types. For no particularly good reason, I’ve been using:

# number
' character
. ref

Glyphs for a few generic (polymorphic) types. These could be just regular lower-case letters a b c … though I currently prefer greek letters:

⍺ ∊ ⍳ ⍴ ⍵ ...

Some constructors for type expressions. This is the most contentious part. For what it’s worth, I’ve been using:

::  is of type ...
∇  function
∇∇  operator
←  returns
[⍺] vector of ⍺s
{⍺} optional left argument ⍺

For example:

foo :: ⍵ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵

- foo is an ambi-valent function whose
- result is of the same type () as its right argument and whose
- optional left argument may be of a different type ().

I can abstract/name type expressions with (capitalised) identifiers using :=. For example:

Dict   := [Name][Value]        ⍝ dictionary name and value vectors
Eval   := Expr ← Dict ∇ Expr   ⍝ expression reduction
List ⍵ := '∘' | ⍵ (List ⍵)     ⍝ recursive pairs. See
Name   := ⍞                    ⍝ primitive type: character vector

The type: character vector ['] is used so frequently that the three glyphs fuse into: . This means that a vector-of-character-vectors, also a common type, is [⍞].

Primitive and derived function types.
If we’re not too nit-picky and ignore issues such as single extension and rank conformability, we can give at least hints for the types of some primitive functions and operators.

 ⍳ :: # ← ⍺ ∇ ⍺              ⍝ dyadic index-of
 ⍴ :: ⍺ ← [#] ∇ ⍺            ⍝ reshape (also take, transpose, ...)

The three forms of primitive composition have interesting types:

∘ :: ⍴ ← {⍺} (⍴ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍳) ∇∇ (⍳ ← ∇ ⍵ ) ⍵     ⍝ {⍺}f∘g ⍵
:: ⍴ ←                 ⍺ ∇∇ (⍴ ← ⍺ ∇ ⍵ ) ⍵   ⍝ A∘g ⍵
:: ⍴ ←      ((⍴ ← ⍺ ∇ ⍵) ∇∇ ⍵ )⍺             ⍝ (f∘B)⍵

It follows that:

f :: ⍴ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍳
g :: ⍳ ←     ∇ ⍵
=> f∘g :: ⍴ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵          ⍝ intermediate type ⍳ cancels out

and for trains:

A :: ⍳                  ⍝ A is an array of type ⍳
f :: ⍳ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵
g :: ⍴ ← {⍳} ∇ ∊
h :: ∊ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵
=> f g h :: ⍴ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵        ⍝ fgh fork
=> A g h :: ⍴ ←     ∇ ⍵        ⍝ Agh fork
=>   g h :: ⍴ ← {⍺} ∇ ⍵        ⍝ gh atop

For a more substantial example, search function joy for :: and := in a recent download of dfns.dws.

This notation is not yet complete or rigorous enough to be of much use to a compiler but there may already be enough to allow the writing of a dfn, which checks its own and others internal consistency. In the long term, if a notation similar to this evolved into something useful, it might be attractive to allow optional type specification as part of the function definition: without the comment symbol:

    dref←{                  ⍝ Value for name ⍵ in dictionary ⍺ 
        names values←⍺      ⍝ dictionary pair
        (names⍳⊂⍵)⊃values   ⍝ value corresponding to name ⍵
    } :: Value ← Dict ∇ Name

In Praise of Magic Functions: Part II

Part I of this post was concerned with the development speed and execution speed of magic functions and should be read before this post.

Benefitting from Future and Past Improvements

Looking at the magic function for key in Part I, we see that its performance depends on the following APL primitives, listed with information on when they were last improved (or when they will be improved):

expression factor version
⍋i 2-18 12.1
⎕DR 1-3.8 14.1
⍳⍨x 2-4 14.1
⍳⍨i 3-6 14.1
↑x 5-12 15.0
⊂[a]x 1-1.75 15.0
b⊂[⎕IO]x 1.3-42 14.1

Key was introduced in version 14.0 and x{⍺,f⌿⍵}⌸y is currently computed by the general case. Comparing the speed in version 14.0 to 15.0 as of June 2015:


   1 1 cmpx 'x{⍺,+/⍵}⌸y'    ⍝ 14.0

   1 1 cmpx 'x{⍺,+/⍵}⌸y'    ⍝ 15.0

   0.1735 ÷ 0.12855

a factor of 1.3 improvement without touching the key code. Special code had been planned for {⍺,f/⍵}⌸, and we can get an idea of the amount of speed up:

   cmpx 'x{⍺,+/⍵}⌸y' '(∪x),⍤0⊢x{+/⍵}⌸y'    ⍝ 15.0
 x{⍺,+/⍵}⌸y       → 1.25E¯1 |   0% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕
 (∪x),⍤0⊢x{+/⍵}⌸y → 1.16E¯2 | -91% ⎕⎕⎕

Perhaps the special code for {⍺,f/⍵}⌸ can be a magic function?

Magic functions also benefit from past improvements. The primitive ⍕b (in the Suggestivity subsection below) has a magic function implementation: MAGIC("(¯1+2×≢⍵)⍴(2 2⍴'0 1 ')[⍵;]⊣⎕io←0"). Then I thought, why not get an extra level of performance by doing it in native C? Benchmarks done after that work showed that the native C implementation was faster by a factor of 25 but the magic function was faster by a factor of 40. What happened? On reflection, the speed of the code depends crucially on the speed of x[b;…;] and it turned out that x[b;…;] was previously sped up (version 13.2). Apparently the x[b;…;] code is faster than a casually-written C program.

Finally, I expect magic functions are prime candidates for being fed to the APL compiler when it becomes possible to do so.

APL as a Tool of Implementation

Being APL code, magic functions have the characteristic terseness of APL and all that that entails. K.E. Iverson’s 1979 Turing Lecture Notation as a Tool of Thought lists five important characteristics of notation. We examine how they play out in this context.

Ease of Expression
Notation as a Tool of Thought entitles this characteristic as “ease of expressing constructs arising in problems”, explicated as follows (§1.1):

If it is to be effective as a tool of thought, a notation must allow convenient expression not only of notions arising directly from a problem, but also of those arising in subsequent analysis, generalization, and specialization.

For magic functions, the analogous concept would be facility in program development, debugging, tracing, profiling, benchmarking, and other activities required in implementation. Dyalog APL has these in spades.

It was first identified that ⍕b can be sped up by doing (¯1+2×≢⍵)⍴(2 2⍴'0 1 ')[⍵;]⊣⎕io←0, the idea being that if f is an expensive function and x is from a small domain D, then f x can be computed by (f D)[⍵;]. (A similar idea is described in §4.3 of Notation as a Tool of Thought.) For the idea to be effective, f does not have to be very expensive, just more expensive than indexing, and x is sufficiently large. A few speed-ups in the pattern have been identified:

float ⍳ b
float ⍳ int8
scalar×b and b×scalar

All of these can be implemented by magic functions. As well, the utility of the pattern (f D)[i;] motivates extra attention on x[i;…;]. Fortuitously, x[b;…;] has previously been made fast.

Subordination of Detail
Writing in APL means not having to deal with many details involved in writing in C in the interpreter, including:

  • workspace compaction
  • arrays changing their internal datatype
  • call by name
  • allocating and releasing memory
  • index errors AKA memory read and write exceptions
  • different numeric types
  • different character types
  • loops and nested loops
  • declarations
  • etc.

Economy refers to the size of the vocabulary and the complexity of the grammar. Here, the comparison is not just between APL and C (in which comparison APL wins), but between APL and the collection of programs, utilities, macros, data structures, typedefs, calling conventions, …, accumulated by the C source code over the years. These have not been as rigorously defined and executed as APL.

Amenability to Formal Manipulation
The opening paragraph of the present text had a different magic function for ∧.= in a previous version. In repeated readings of the MSS and in meditation on the ideas I realized that the line of code can be made simpler:

MAGIC("((≢⍺)↑i)∘.=(≢⍺)↓i←⍺⍳⍺⍪⍉⍵");    ⍝ old version
MAGIC("(≢⍺)(↑∘.=↓)⍺⍳⍺⍪⍉⍵");           ⍝ current version

I daresay that such simplification would be harder to conceive with a more verbose statement of the algorithm.

In Praise of Magic Functions: Part I

A magic function is an APL-coded (dfn) computation in the C source of the interpreter. For example, some cases of ∧.= are coded as MAGIC("(≢⍺)(↑∘.=↓)⍺⍳⍺⍪⍉⍵"). The rubric “magic function” includes magic functions and magic operators.

Acknowledgments. Magic functions in Dyalog are made possible due to work done by John Scholes and Richard Smith.

Development Speed

A magic function implementation takes an order of magnitude less time to write than a C-coded implementation. A case in point is ∘.≡ (and ∘.≢) on enclosed character vectors, as recounted in the blog post A Speed-Up Story. The chronology is recovered from the G-mail, Mantis and SVN systems.

2014-10-27 04:24 Nicolas initial e-mail describing the problem
2014-10-27 07:33 Roger proposes i∘.=i←a⍳a as a solution
2014-10-27 07:36 Jay objects that solution should check ⎕CT
2014-10-27 07:40 Roger responds to objection
2014-10-27 10:29 Roger creates Mantis issue
2014-10-27 13:57 Roger SVN commit
2014-10-27 18:12 Roger reports factor 6-64 speed-up and submits blog post
2014-10-28 16:33 Roger SVN commit to fix a bug

After checking that ⎕CT is not required, the main processing in the C source is as follows:

  • 1 iff a “selfie”, i.e. the left and right arguments are equal as C pointers
  • eq 1 if ∘.≡ ; 0 if ∘.≢
  • 1 iff the right argument has rank 1
#define CASE(x,y,z)  ((x<<2)+(y<<1)+(z))

  case CASE(0,0,0): MAGIC("((,⍺)⍳⍺)∘.≠((,⍺)⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(0,0,1): MAGIC("(  ⍺ ⍳⍺)∘.≠(  ⍺ ⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(0,1,0): MAGIC("((,⍺)⍳⍺)∘.=((,⍺)⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(0,1,1): MAGIC("(  ⍺ ⍳⍺)∘.=(  ⍺ ⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(1,0,0): MAGIC("∘.≠⍨(,⍵)⍳⍵");          break;
  case CASE(1,0,1): MAGIC("∘.≠⍨  ⍵ ⍳⍵");          break;
  case CASE(1,1,0): MAGIC("∘.=⍨(,⍵)⍳⍵");          break;
  case CASE(1,1,1): MAGIC("∘.=⍨  ⍵ ⍳⍵");          break;

Execution Speed

Development speed for a magic function need not be at the expense of execution speed. As indicated above, ∘.≡ is 6 to 64 times faster than the previous (C coded) implementation. Factors for a few other magic function implementations:

expression factor version
x∘.≡y and x∘.≢y 6-64 14.1
x∧.=y and x∨.≠y 1.5-4 14.1
,/y 1-∞ 15.0
x⊥y 1-26 15.0
x⊤y 1-3.3 15.0

One can always make a magic function faster by hand-translating it from APL into C, and in so doing save on the tokenizing (scanning) and parsing costs. However, the effort increases the development time and the code size (see Special Cases below) for (I argue) not much reduction in execution time. I also expect that such translation can be done automatically by the APL compiler in the future.

Accurate estimates for the amount of speed up obtain readily from APL benchmarks. For example, x⍕b where x is a scalar or 2-element vector and b is a Boolean array, is a candidate for a magic function implementation, and:

   f←{((¯1↓s),(⊃⌽⍴t)×⊃⌽s←⍴⍵)⍴(t←⍺⍕⍪0 1)[⍵;]}

   b←1=?10⍴2     ⍝ small argument
   cmpx '2 f b' '2⍕b'
 2 f b → 5.83E¯6 |    0% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕
 2⍕b   → 1.23E¯5 | +110% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕

   b←1=?1e6⍴2    ⍝ large argument
   cmpx '8 2 f b' '8 2⍕b'
 8 2 f b → 9.75E¯3 |     0% ⎕
 8 2⍕b   → 3.35E¯1 | +3339% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕

We can say with confidence that x⍕b can be made 2 to 34 times faster before actually proceeding with the implementation.

Magic functions can be used when execution speed is not paramount. For example a problem was reported with !∘y⍣¯1:

   !∘25⍣¯1 ⊢ 1e4

The problem can be solved readily with an APL function using Newton iteration, with a relatively complicated computation for the initial estimate:

   f←{-∘⍵∘⍺⍺{⍵-(⊃t)ׯ0.01÷-/t←⍺⍺ ⍵×1 1.01}⍣≡⊃⍋|⍵-(⍳!⊢)⌊0.5+⍺⍺ 1}
   ⎕←x←!∘25 f 1e4

General Case vs. Special Cases

Magic functions are well-suited for implementing operators. An operator has potentially tens or hundreds of cases, and it would be onerous, not cost-effective and unnecessary to write code for each case. Instead, the general case can be implemented quickly and succinctly by a magic function, and the saved effort can be devoted to cases deemed worthy of attention. The rank and key operators are done this way. The magic function for the general case of key:

  "0=⎕nc'⍺':⍵ ∇ ⍳≢⍵    ⋄"  // monadic case: f⌸ x ←→ x f⌸ ⍳≢x
  "⍺ ⍺⍺{⍺ ⍺⍺ ⍵}{        "
  "  ⎕ml←1             ⋄"  // needed by ↑⍵ and ⍺⊂⍵ 
  "  j←⍋i⊣⎕dr i←⍳⍨⍺    ⋄"
  "  ↑ (⊂[1↓⍳⍴⍴⍺]((⍳≢i)=⍳⍨i)⌿⍺) ⍺⍺¨ (2≠/¯1,i[j])⊂[⎕io]⍵⌷⍨⊂j"
  "}⍵                   "

Before execution reaches the general case, special cases are detected and are implemented by special code, usually in C. These special cases are:

operand version comment
{f⌿⍵} and ⊢∘(f⌿) 14.0 for f one of + ⌈ ⌊ or (for Boolean right arguments) one of ∧ ∨ = ≠; also / instead of for vector right arguments
{⍺(f⌿⍵)} 15.0 for f as above
{⍺,f⌿⍵} 15.0 for f as above and numeric left arguments
{≢⍵} and ⊢∘≢ 14.0
{⍺(≢⍵)} 14.1
{⍺,≢⍵} 14.1 for numeric left arguments
{≢∪⍵} 14.1
{⍺(≢∪⍵)} 14.1
{⍺,≢∪⍵} 14.1 for numeric left arguments
{⊂⍵} and ⊢∘⊂ 14.0
{⍺⍵} 14.1
{⍺} and 14.1 ⊣⌸x ←→ ∪x if were extended like

Additional special cases can be implemented as required.

Special Cases

Since magic functions are so terse, sometimes it is worthwhile to make special cases which would not be made special cases if the implementation were more verbose and/or require more effort. The implementation of ∘.≡ (in the Development Speed section above) illustrates the point. In general, x∘.≡y ←→ ((,⍺)⍳⍺)∘.=((,⍺)⍳⍵). However, if x is a vector, the two ravels can be elided; moreover, if x and y are equal as C pointers, the two uses of can be reduced to one use (not only that, but to a “selfie” ⍵⍳⍵ if a vector). So instead of the one case:


we have

  case CASE(0,1,0): MAGIC("((,⍺)⍳⍺)∘.=((,⍺)⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(0,1,1): MAGIC("(  ⍺ ⍳⍺)∘.=(  ⍺ ⍳⍵)"); break;
  case CASE(1,1,0): MAGIC("∘.=⍨(,⍵)⍳⍵");          break;
  case CASE(1,1,1): MAGIC("∘.=⍨  ⍵ ⍳⍵");          break;

The extra cases are not too burdensome, and their detection is done in scalar code at which C is better than APL. The following benchmarks illustrate the difference that the special cases make:

   t ←' zero one two three four five six seven eight nine'
   t,←' zéro un deux trois quatre cinq six sept huit neuf'
   t,←' zero eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht neun'
   u←1↓¨(' '=t)⊂t

   x←u[?300⍴≢u]    ⍝ vector selfie vs. non-selfie
   cmpx 'x∘.≡x' 'x∘.≡y'
 x∘.≡x → 1.48E¯4 |   0% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕
 x∘.≡y → 1.93E¯4 | +30% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕

   x1←(1,⍴x)⍴x     ⍝ matrix selfie vs. non-selfie
   cmpx 'x1∘.≡x1' 'x1∘.≡y1'
 x1∘.≡x1 → 1.50E¯4 |   0% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕
 x1∘.≡y1 → 1.97E¯4 | +31% ⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕⎕

To be continued…Part II will describe the benefits from future improvements and APL as a tool of implementation.

Response to Name Colouring for Dfns

This post contains comments to John Scholes’ post on name colouring; please continue to post any further comments with the original post.

This is a very interesting topic – as the discussion has already showed, there are many different needs. It seems to me that some of the suggestions that have been made are forms of highlighting that you would want to turn on briefly in order to search for something specific or highlight structures while editing code. For example:

  • to verify the structure (highlight the matching parenthesis or bracket, or rainbow colouring of parentheses/brackets)
  • highlight all uses of a particular name or small group of names.

I don’t think I would really want any of these enabled for any length of time; some of them can probably work very well if they are turned on and off as the cursor moves through the text (when on a parenthesis, highlight the other half of the pair, when on a name, highlight all uses of that name, etc).

Making it easier to read statements through highlighting of “kinds” feels more like something that I might well want to have enabled all the time. However, I find colouring to be quite distracting – it breaks the flow for me. I would certainly want the colours to be as calm as possible for the most common kinds, getting more exciting for the “exotic ones”. So I would suggest:


For example:

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec

I find that syntax colouring is much more effective in a bold font:

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec 

But…looking at the above, I personally find the colours to be quite distracting; they make it hard for me to read the expression as a “sentence”. How about if we experiment with emphasis instead, for example we could make functions italic, monadic operators bold, and dyadic operators both.

   r←(foo dop 1 2 3) mat hoo mop vec

This is very subjective of course, but this is much more readable to me than the coloured version.

Further comments with the original post please.

Name Colouring for Dfns

APL is sometimes criticised because expressions that include names cannot, in general, be parsed without knowing whether the names represent functions or variables. For example, the name thing in the expression thing⍳3 could reference an array (in which case the is dyadic) or it could reference a function (making the monadic).

An APL expression becomes completely parsable if we distinguish each name with one of four colours, depending on the “kind” of its referent: array, function, monadic operator, dyadic operator. Now, with a bit of practice, we can at least parse thing⍳3 vs thing⍳3 without recourse to the definition of thing. Notice how kind differs slightly from APL’s name-class, which does not distinguish monadic from dyadic operators.

Names whose definitions are external to the code under consideration and so cannot be classified would be given a distinct colour, say red, which would at least draw attention to them. Colouring a number of interdependent functions at the same time should help with such issues.

Name-colouring can co-exist with the more superficial token-colouring ( green for comments and so forth) though we would probably want to configure the two schemes separately.

There’s a related argument for colouring parentheses to show the kind of value they contain: (~∘(⊂'')). This would mean that we could always determine the valency of a function call, or the kind of a hybrid token, such as /, by looking at the colour of the single token immediately to its left. Finally, we should probably kind-colour curly braces: {}, {⍺⍺ ⍵}, {⍵⍵ ⍵}.

Yeah but how?

In the following, where appropriate, “function” is a shorthand for “function or operator”.

Most generally, we want to process a number of definitions at the same time, so that inter-function references can be coloured. Such a set of functions may be considered as internal definitions in an anonymous outer function so, without loss of generality, we need consider only the case of a single multi-line nested function.

A function can be viewed as a tree, with nested subfunctions as subtrees. The definitions at each lexical level in the function comprise the information stored at each node of the tree.

The colouring process traverses the tree, accumulating a dictionary of (name kind) pairs at each level. At a particular level, definitions are processed in the same order as they would be executed, so that the (name kind) entries from earlier definitions are available to inform later expressions. Visiting each node before traversing its subtrees ensures that outer dictionary entries are available to lexically inner functions. Prefixing dictionary entries for inner functions ensures that a left-to-right search (à la dyadic iota) finds those names first, thus modelling lexical name-shadowing.

Each assignment expression adds one or more names to the dictionary. The kind of the assignment is inferred by looking at the defining expression to the right of the assignment arrow. This sounds heavy, but if we examine the expression from right-to-left then we can often stop after examining very few tokens. For example, an arbitrarily long expression ending in (… function array) must, if it is syntactically correct, reduce to an array value, while (… function function) must be a function (train). A sequence in braces {…} resolves to a function, monadic operator or dyadic operator, depending only on whether there are occurrences of ⍺⍺ or ⍵⍵ at its outermost level.

This approach, while relatively simple, is not perfect. It takes no account of the order in which names are defined relative to their being referenced. The assumption is that all definitions at an outer level are available to its inner levels. The following small function illustrates the problem:

        M{A}      ⍝ this A correctly coloured function
        N{A}⍵     ⍝ this A should be coloured unclassified
        A←÷          ⍝ A defined as a function
        M N          ⍝ application of function to array

It remains to be seen whether this would be a problem in practice or whether, if name-colouring proved popular, people might adjust their code to avoid such anomalies. The problem does not occur if we avoid re-using the same name for items of different kinds at the same lexical level – which IMHO is not a bad rule, anyway.

Implementation Status

I would like to experiment with name-kind colouring for the dfns code samples on the Dyalog website.

This project is under way, but has rather a low priority and so keeps stalling. In addition, I keep wavering between processing the tokens as a list with tail calling and the dictionary as an accumulating left argument, or in more classic APL style as a vector, developing parallel vectors for lexical depth and masks for assignment arrow positions and expression boundaries, etc.

In the meantime, here is an artist’s impression of what name- and bracket- coloured code might look like, with colours: array, function, dyadic-operator.

        stk I(op ops)←⍵
        op in⊃⍺:⍺ prt stk I((dref op)cat ops)
        f(fr rr)f rstk
        c{op≡⍵~' '}
        c'dip ':⍺('*⌷'rgs{prt rr I(f cat fr ops)})

Notice how functions stand out from their arguments. For example, at the start of the third line: op in⊃⍺:, it is clear that in is a function taking ⊃⍺ (first of alpha) as right argument and op as left argument, rather than a monadic function op taking in⊃⍺ (in pick of alpha) as right argument. Other interpretations of the uncoloured expression op in⊃⍺: include:

    op in⊃⍺:    op in is a vector (array), so is pick.
    op in⊃⍺:    both op and in are monadic function calls, so is first.
    op in⊃⍺:    in is a monadic operator with array operand op.
    op in⊃⍺:    in is a dyadic operator with function operands op and .

I’m keen to hear any feedback and suggestions about name-colouring for dfns. What d’ya think?