why cannot assign to function call

Ethan Furman ethan at stoneleaf.us
Sat Feb 28 00:55:43 CET 2009

Mark Wooding wrote:
> Steven D'Aprano <steven at REMOVE.THIS.cybersource.com.au> wrote:
>>On the one hand, some people (me and possibly rurpy) consider "this is 
>>pass-by-foo" to be a statement about behaviour directly visible to the 
>>programmer. We have a set of behavioral traits in mind, and if a language 
>>exhibits those behaviours, then it is clearly and obviously pass-by-foo 
>>no matter how that behaviour is implemented. I'll call these the 
> Here's the problem.  I think I'm in that camp too!
> I'm going to move away from the formal semantics stuff and try a
> different tack.  Here's what I think is the defining property of
> pass-by-value (distilled from the formal approach I described earlier,
> but shorn of the symbolism):
>   The callee's parameters are /new variables/, initialized /as if by
>   assignment/ from the values of caller's argument expressions.
> My soundbite definition for pass-by-reference is this:
>   The callee's parameters are merely /new names/ for the caller's
>   argument variables -- as far as that makes sense.
> There's a caveat there for argument expressions which don't correspond
> directly to variables -- and I've glossed over the issue of lvalue
> expressions which designate locations and all of that. 

Greetings, Mark!

A little background on myself, hopefully making my soon-to-follow 
question less idiotic.

I've been in the PC world for 20+ years now, and dabbled with 
programming through much of that time.  I've written small utilities in 
Assembly (x86) and CL (AS/400), I just recently wrote a dbf module for 
python, and I've studied (in and out of the classroom) C, Fortran, 
Pascal, Java, Perl, Php, and Basic.

While I have had some formal training, my degree is in Business (long 
story -- I would rather have done CS), and much of your explanation in 
previous posts was waaaaay over my head.

I am in complete agreement with Steven's description of the behaviorist 
point of view for pass-by-value and pass-by-reference, and if asked I 
would say Python is pass-by-object.  I offer this so you know where I'm 
coming from, not from any hostile motive.

I was hoping you might be able to clarify those last two sound bites for 
me -- I think I understand what you are saying, but I'm confused about 
how they relate to Python...

Specifically, how is a new name (pbr) different, in Python, from a new 
name initialized as if by assignment (pbv)?  It seems to me than you end 
up with the same thing in either case (in Python, at least), making the 
distinction non-existent.

def func(bar):

   foo = ['Ethan','Furman']
   func(foo)			# bar = foo

   foo = ['Python','Rocks!']
   func(foo)			# bar is new name for foo
				# is this any different from above?

If I have this right, in both cases foo will be reduced to a single-item 
list after func.  Any further explanation you care to provide will be 
greatly appreciated!


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