[Python-Dev] anonymous blocks

Steven Bethard steven.bethard at gmail.com
Thu Apr 21 07:13:02 CEST 2005

Greg Ewing wrote:
> Steven Bethard wrote:
> > Of course, even with the unpack list, you still have to know what kind
> > of arguments the function calls your block with.  And because these
> > only appear within the code, e.g.
> >     block(openfile)
> > you can't rely on easily accessible things like the function's
> > signature.
> You can't rely on a function's signature alone to tell
> you much in any case. A distressingly large number of
> functions found in third-party extension modules have
> a help() string that just says something like
>    fooble(arg,...)
> There's really no substitute for a good docstring!

True enough.

But the point still stands.  Currently, if we describe a function's
input (parameters) and output (return value), we can basically fully
document the function (given a thorough enough description of
course).[1]  Functions that accept thunks/blocks require documentation
for an additional piece of information that is not part of the input
or output of the function: the parameters with which the thunk/block
is called.

So while:
is pretty nasty, documentation that tells me that 'arg' is a string is
probably enough to set me on the right track.  But if the
documentation tells me that arg is a thunk/block, that's almost
certainly not enough to get me going.  I also need to know how that
thunk/block will be called.

True, if arg is not a thunk/block, but another type of callable, I may
still need to know how it will be called.  But I think with non
thunks/blocks, there are a lot of cases where this is not necessary.
Consider the variety of decorator recipes.[2] Most don't document what
parameters the wrapped function will be called with because they
simply pass all arguments on through with *args and **kwargs.  Thus
the wrapped function will take the same parameters as the original
function did.  Or if they're different, they're often a relatively
simple modification of the original function's parameters, ala
classmethod or staticmethod.

But thunks/blocks don't work this way.  They're not wrapping a
function that already takes arguments.  They're wrapping a code block
that doesn't.  So they certainly can't omit the parameter description
entirely, and they can't even describe it in terms of a modification
to an already existing set of parameters.  Because the parameters
passed from a thunk/block-accepting function to a thunk are generated
by the function itself, all the parameter documentation must be
contained within the thunk/block-accepting function.

It's not like it's the end of the world of course. ;-)  I can
certainly learn to document my thunks/blocks thoroughly.  I just think
it's worth noting that there *would* be a learning process because
there are additional pieces of information I'm not used to having to


[1] I'm ignoring the issue of functions that modify parameters or
globals, but this would also be required for thunks/blocks, so I don't
think it detracts from the argument.

[2] Probably worth noting that a very large portion of the functions
I've written that accepted other functions as parameters were
decorators.  I lean towards a fairly OO style of programming, so I
don't pass around a lot of callbacks.  Presumably someone who relies
heavily on callbacks would be much more used to documenting the
parameters with which a function is called.  Still, I think there is
probably a large enough group that has similar style to mine that my
argument is still valid.
You can wordify anything if you just verb it.
        --- Bucky Katt, Get Fuzzy

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