Official definition of call-by-value (Re: Finding the instance reference...)

Antoon Pardon apardon at
Tue Nov 18 09:21:03 CET 2008

On 2008-11-12, greg <greg at> wrote:
> Here is the definition of call-by-value from the
> "Revised Report on the Algorithmic Language Algol 60"
> Value assignment (call by value). All formal parameters quoted in the 
> value part of the procedure declaration heading are assigned the values (cf. 
> section 2.8. Values and types) of the corresponding actual parameters, these 
> assignments being considers as being performed explicitly before entering the 
> procedure body. The effect is as though an additional block embracing the 
> procedure body were created in which these assignments were made to variables 
> local to this fictitious block with types as given in the corresponding 
> specifications (cf. section 5.4.5).
> There you have it -- call by value is offially defined in
> terms of assignment. There is no mention in there of copying.

Call by value is officially defined in terms of assignment in
a context where assignments means copying and in a definition
of a specifix language.

You can't lift this part out of the definition of algol 60
and say it applies equally well in languages with different
assignment semantics.

If call by value is defined in terms of assignment regardless
of what the semantics of the assignment is then IMO call by
value is rather useless term and it would be better to talk
about call by copy in the case of C, to make sure one understands
the difference between what happens in C and what happens in
other languages that also have "call by assignment" but behave
very differently.

Antoon Pardon

More information about the Python-list mailing list