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Non-Standard Evaluation and Function Composition in R

In this article we will discuss composing standard-evaluation interfaces (SE) and composing non-standard-evaluation interfaces (NSE) in R.

In R the package tidyeval/rlang is a tool for building domain specific languages intended to allow easier composition of NSE interfaces.

To use it you must know some of its structure and notation. Here are some details paraphrased from the major tidyeval/rlang client, the package dplyr: vignette('programming', package = 'dplyr')).

  • ":=" is needed to make left-hand-side re-mapping possible (adding yet another "more than one assignment type operator running around" notation issue).
  • "!!" substitution requires parenthesis to safely bind (so the notation is actually "(!! )", not "!!").
  • Left-hand-sides of expressions are names or strings, while right-hand-sides are quosures/expressions.

Continue reading Non-Standard Evaluation and Function Composition in R

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Iteration and closures in R

I recently read an interesting thread on unexpected behavior in R when creating a list of functions in a loop or iteration. The issue is solved, but I am going to take the liberty to try and re-state and slow down the discussion of the problem (and fix) for clarity.

The issue is: are references or values captured during iteration?

Many users expect values to be captured. Most programming language implementations capture variables or references (leading to strange aliasing issues). It is confusing (especially in R, which pushes so far in the direction of value oriented semantics) and best demonstrated with concrete examples.


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Please read on for a some of the history and future of this issue. Continue reading Iteration and closures in R

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You don’t need to understand pointers to program using R

R is a statistical analysis package based on writing short scripts or programs (versus being based on GUIs like spreadsheets or directed workflow editors). I say “writing short scripts” because R’s programming language (itself called S) is a bit of an oddity that you really wouldn’t be using except it gives you access to superior analytics data structures (R’s data.frame and treatment of missing values) and deep ready to go statistical libraries. For longer pure programming tasks you are better off using something else (be it Python, Ruby, Java, C++, Javascript, Go, ML, Julia, or something else). However, the S language has one feature that makes it pleasant to learn (despite any warts): it can be initially used and taught without having the worry about the semantics of references or pointers. Continue reading You don’t need to understand pointers to program using R