Thursday, March 04, 2010

A few weeks ago, some of my colleagues and I were discussing the idiosyncrasies of various programming languages (as we often find ourselves doing—we’re kind of geeky that way), when one of us pointed out that the following code is completely valid C++0x syntax:


The “operator soup”1 above defines a C++ lambda expression (denoted by the square brackets) which declares no parameters (the first empty parentheses) or body (the empty curly braces) and is immediately invoked (the final parentheses). Conceptually, this is a nop—an empty lambda that is immediately invoked.

We found ourselves fascinated by this idea of a do-nothing lambda, and went ahead to define the same thing in our respective languages. Our first attempt was C#.

() => { }();

While the code above looks quite pretty, it’s not exactly legal. In C#, lambdas must always have an explicit delegate type, so an ugly type-cast is required in order to compile:

((Action)(() => { }))();

Sigh, so close, yet so dissatisfying!

The stronger notion of type inference in F# allows for much more succinctness.2

(fun () -> ())()

However, my favorite version is written in Visual Basic 10.

Call (Sub() Exit Sub)()

What it lacks in succinctness,3 it makes up for with human-readable clarity.


How do you write a do-nothing lambda in your language?


1One could also declare the square brackets with either an = or & operator inside to define how variables that are declared in the same scope as the lambda are captured within the lambda function’s closure. It’s amazing how much one can do without typing a single identifier character!


2Note that the F# example contains a subtle difference from the others in that it returns a value of type Unit. This implies that the entire F# expression could be passed as an argument to another function, but that is not true of the other examples.

3Though it’s the same size as the C# version when unnecessary whitespace characters are removed.

posted on Thursday, March 04, 2010 7:42:19 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [14]

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