Книга: Practical Common Lisp

"Destructive" Operations

"Destructive" Operations

If Common Lisp were a purely functional language, that would be the end of the story. However, because it's possible to modify a cons cell after it has been created by SETFing its CAR or CDR, you need to think a bit about how side effects and structure sharing mix.

Because of Lisp's functional heritage, operations that modify existing objects are called destructive—in functional programming, changing an object's state "destroys" it since it no longer represents the same value. However, using the same term to describe all state-modifying operations leads to a certain amount of confusion since there are two very different kinds of destructive operations, for-side-effect operations and recycling operations.[135]

For-side-effect operations are those used specifically for their side effects. All uses of SETF are destructive in this sense, as are functions that use SETF under the covers to change the state of an existing object such as VECTOR-PUSH or VECTOR-POP. But it's a bit unfair to describe these operations as destructive—they're not intended to be used in code written in a functional style, so they shouldn't be described using functional terminology. However, if you mix nonfunctional, for-side-effect operations with functions that return structure-sharing results, then you need to be careful not to inadvertently modify the shared structure. For instance, consider these three definitions:

(defparameter *list-1* (list 1 2))
(defparameter *list-2* (list 3 4))
(defparameter *list-3* (append *list-1* *list-2*))

After evaluating these forms, you have three lists, but *list-3* and *list-2* share structure just like the lists in the previous diagram.

*list-1* ==> (1 2)
*list-2* ==> (3 4)
*list-3* ==> (1 2 3 4)

Now consider what happens when you modify *list-2*.

(setf (first *list-2*) 0) ==> 0
*list-2* ==> (0 4) ; as expected
*list-3* ==> (1 2 0 4) ; maybe not what you wanted

The change to *list-2* also changes *list-3* because of the shared structure: the first cons cell in *list-2* is also the third cons cell in *list-3*. SETFing the FIRST of *list-2* changes the value in the CAR of that cons cell, affecting both lists.

On the other hand, the other kind of destructive operations, recycling operations, are intended to be used in functional code. They use side effects only as an optimization. In particular, they reuse certain cons cells from their arguments when building their result. However, unlike functions such as APPEND that reuse cons cells by including them, unmodified, in the list they return, recycling functions reuse cons cells as raw material, modifying the CAR and CDR as necessary to build the desired result. Thus, recycling functions can be used safely only when the original lists aren't going to be needed after the call to the recycling function.

To see how a recycling function works, let's compare REVERSE, the nondestructive function that returns a reversed version of a sequence, to NREVERSE, a recycling version of the same function. Because REVERSE doesn't modify its argument, it must allocate a new cons cell for each element in the list being reversed. But suppose you write something like this:

(setf *list* (reverse *list*))

By assigning the result of REVERSE back to *list*, you've removed the reference to the original value of *list*. Assuming the cons cells in the original list aren't referenced anywhere else, they're now eligible to be garbage collected. However, in many Lisp implementations it'd be more efficient to immediately reuse the existing cons cells rather than allocating new ones and letting the old ones become garbage.

NREVERSE allows you to do exactly that. The N stands for non-consing, meaning it doesn't need to allocate any new cons cells. The exact side effects of NREVERSE are intentionally not specified—it's allowed to modify any CAR or CDR of any cons cell in the list—but a typical implementation might walk down the list changing the CDR of each cons cell to point to the previous cons cell, eventually returning the cons cell that was previously the last cons cell in the old list and is now the head of the reversed list. No new cons cells need to be allocated, and no garbage is created.

Most recycling functions, like NREVERSE, have nondestructive counterparts that compute the same result. In general, the recycling functions have names that are the same as their non-destructive counterparts except with a leading N. However, not all do, including several of the more commonly used recycling functions such as NCONC, the recycling version of APPEND, and DELETE, DELETE-IF, DELETE-IF-NOT, and DELETE-DUPLICATES, the recycling versions of the REMOVE family of sequence functions.

In general, you use recycling functions in the same way you use their nondestructive counterparts except it's safe to use them only when you know the arguments aren't going to be used after the function returns. The side effects of most recycling functions aren't specified tightly enough to be relied upon.

However, the waters are further muddied by a handful of recycling functions with specified side effects that can be relied upon. They are NCONC, the recycling version of APPEND, and NSUBSTITUTE and its -IF and -IF-NOT variants, the recycling versions of the sequence functions SUBSTITUTE and friends.

Like APPEND, NCONC returns a concatenation of its list arguments, but it builds its result in the following way: for each nonempty list it's passed, NCONC sets the CDR of the list's last cons cell to point to the first cons cell of the next nonempty list. It then returns the first list, which is now the head of the spliced-together result. Thus:

(defparameter *x* (list 1 2 3))
(nconc *x* (list 4 5 6)) ==> (1 2 3 4 5 6)
*x* ==> (1 2 3 4 5 6)
and variants can be relied on to walk down the list structure of the list argument and to SETF the CARs of any cons cells holding the old value to the new value and to otherwise leave the list intact. It then returns the original list, which now has the same value as would've been computed by SUBSTITUTE.[136]

The key thing to remember about NCONC and NSUBSTITUTE is that they're the exceptions to the rule that you can't rely on the side effects of recycling functions. It's perfectly acceptable—and arguably good style—to ignore the reliability of their side effects and use them, like any other recycling function, only for the value they return.

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