coding style - where to declare variables

Steven D'Aprano steve+comp.lang.python at
Mon Jul 23 09:41:15 EDT 2018

On Mon, 23 Jul 2018 14:39:56 +0300, Marko Rauhamaa wrote:

> Steven D'Aprano <steve+comp.lang.python at>:
>> Lambda calculus has the concept of a binding operator, which is
>> effectively an assignment operator: it takes a variable and a value and
>> binds the value to the variable, changing a free variable to a bound
>> variable. In other words, it assigns the value to the variable, just
>> like assignment does.
> In traditional Lambda Calculus semantics, there are no values at all.

It is more common to say "pure lambda calculus" rather than 
"traditional", and it is not correct to say there are no values at all. 
Rather, all values are functions (and all functions are values).


    "As this suggests, functions are just ordinary values, and can
    be the results of functions or passed as arguments to functions
    (even to themselves!).  Thus, in the lambda calculus, functions are
    first-class values.  Lambda terms serve both as functions and data."

And from the same notes:

    "So, what is a value?  In the pure lambda calculus, any abstraction
    is a value.  Remember, an abstraction λx:e is a function; in the
    pure lambda calculus, the only values are functions. In an applied
    lambda calculus with integers and arithmetic operations, values
    also include integers.  Intuitively, a value is an expression
    that can not be reduced/executed/simplified any further."

> The lambda calculus comment is just an aside. The main point is that you
> shouldn't lead people to believe that Python has variables that are any
> different than, say, Pascal's variables (even if you, for whatever
> reason, want to call them "names"). They are memory slots that hold
> values until you assign new values to them.

Nevertheless, they are still different.

My computer has an ethernet slot and a USB slot, and while they are both 
slots that hold a cable and transmit information in and out of the 
computer, they are nevertheless different. The differences are just as 
important as the similarities.

> It *is* true that Python has a more limited data model than Pascal (all
> of Python's values are objects in the heap and only accessible through
> pointers).

Calling it "more limited" is an inaccurate and pejorative way of putting 
it. Rather, I would say it is a more minimalist, *elegant* data model:

* a single kind of variable (objects in the heap where the interpreter
  manages the lifetime of objects for you)

as opposed to Pascal's more complex and more difficult model:

* two kinds of variables:

  - first-class variables that the compiler manages for you 
    (allocating and deallocating them on the stack)

  - second-class variables that the programmer has to manage
    manually (declaring pointers, allocating memory by hand,
    tracking the lifetime of the memory block yourself,
    deallocating it when you are done, and carefully avoiding
    accessing the pointed-to memory block after deallocation).

At least more modern languages with both value-types and reference-types 
(such as Java, C#, Objective C, Swift) manage to elevate their reference-
type variables to first-class citizenship.

> Also, unlike Pascal, variables can hold (pointers to) values
> of any type. IOW, Python has the data model of Lisp.
> Lisp talks about binding and rebinding variables as well:
>    <URL:>
> which might be Lambda Calculus legacy, but at least they are not shy to
> talk about variables and assignment.

Steven D'Aprano
"Ever since I learned about confirmation bias, I've been seeing
it everywhere." -- Jon Ronson

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