[Python-ideas] a new lambda syntax

Jim Jewett jimjjewett at gmail.com
Thu Oct 22 02:28:13 CEST 2009

On Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 7:30 PM, Steven D'Aprano <steve at pearwood.info> wrote:
> On Tue, 20 Oct 2009 09:33:48 am Michael Foord wrote:

>> Having used languages that allow multiline anonymous functions (C#,
>> Javascript) I have to say that they *can* improve the readability of
>> code.

Could you provide some examples?  I've seen plenty of usage in
Javascript, but none that I would personally judge as improving
readability -- and many that hurt badly.  Even if this turns out to be
a personal preference thing (some people think it is better, others
just don't happen to agree), the advantage is likely small enough that
it is outweighed by the advantages of standardization.  (I've seen
many people claim that the advantages are huge, but the people making
such claims often turn out not to be familiar with nested functions.)

> Given the difficulty in testing such anonymous functions, what do they
> do to the correctness of programs?

Anonymity of functions is generally not the biggest source of problems
in Javascript.  With C compilers, there is pressure to conform to the
standard; with Javascript interpreters there is pressure to support
existing broken content without any manual intervention (so no
compiler switches).

The major goal of HTML5 is to at least document and standardize the
idiotic workarounds that are required to do that when parsing a web
page labeled as HTML; there are similar, less advanced, plans for
Javascript and the Browser Object Model, but ... I suspect "untested
environment" will continue to be a much bigger issue for at least half
a decade.

>> Being forced to define functions ahead of where they belong in
>> the logical flow of the program is not a feature of Python but a
>> restriction.


But I have never felt the urge to read (as opposed to write) a full
definition in the middle of call.  (And if you aren't in the middle of
a call, then the previous line isn't really that far ahead.)

I have wished to just pass a name, and define the function later; the
fact that I can't always do that is a quirk of python's execution
model, but adding anonymous functions wouldn't help.  And any syntax
heavier than a single keyword would probably add so much noise that it
would be worse than the out-of-order effect.

In other words, I could understand the value of

    f(a, 5, delay g, "asdf")
    def g(x): return x

But the cost is already high enough to make me unsure that it would be
a worthwhile feature.

> My point is that when it comes to data, we have anonymous data that is
> easy and straightforward to define, and yet we *still* prefer to give
> data names and define it ahead of where we use it. So why is code
> different? Why does defining code ahead of where you use it such a bad
> thing that the lambda restriction generates so much attention?

Data is static -- it just sits there.  A name makes it shrink (in
mental cost) but has no other effect -- it is like putting physical
objects in a suitcase and zipping the thing shut.

A function is part of the instructions; defining it somewhere else is
like setting a bookmark to follow a footnote -- and then having to
come back.

That said, I suspect that much of the actual attention is from


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