[Rd] attributes of environments

Duncan Murdoch murdoch at stats.uwo.ca
Wed Jul 5 22:52:20 CEST 2006

On 7/5/2006 4:33 PM, Gabor Grothendieck wrote:
> On 7/5/06, Duncan Murdoch <murdoch at stats.uwo.ca> wrote:
>> On 7/5/2006 3:47 PM, Gabor Grothendieck wrote:
>> > On 7/5/06, Duncan Murdoch <murdoch at stats.uwo.ca> wrote:
>> >> On 7/5/2006 2:23 PM, Gabor Grothendieck wrote:
>> >>  I think by this time I have shown that subclassing of
>> >> > environments does not work yet it could if it were designed differently
>> >> > and furthermore there are significant problems with the workarounds.
>> >>
>> >> I don't think you've shown that subclassing of environments doesn't
>> >> work.  You have an example that shows that shows that R implements
>> >> Henrik's "Case 2" rather than his "Case 1", but as Thomas and I said,
>> >> that really has nothing to do with subclassing.
>> >>
>> >> Subclassing is about defining a new class, not about copying objects.
>> >> You can (and did!) define a new class which inherits from the
>> >> environment class.
>> >
>> > But by subclassing in the way allowed one comes up with something that
>> > is not useful.
>> You haven't shown that.  Show an example where you define a new class
>> that should inherit from environment but doesn't.
>> All you've shown so far is that when you try to change the class of an
>> object to a new class, it appears that the class of another object also
>> changes.  (The explanation being that they are really just different
>> names for the same object.)
> But that is not how oo works.  When one defines a child its a
> delta to the parent.  It does not change the parent.

There are dozens of different definitions of "object oriented", but 
generally in the ones I know about, subclassing is something you do to a 
class, not to an object.  (In some languages classes are objects, but 
not all objects are classes.)

It is possible to have an object with class c('myenv', 'environment'). 
As far as I know, methods applied to that object will dispatch to the 
myenv method if one is defined, or to the environment method or default 
method if not.  That's exactly how things should work, and that's how 
they worked in the example you showed.

Because environments have unusual semantics, it wouldn't surprise me 
very much if there were some errors in the implementation of UseMethod 
or NextMethod.  If there are, then you'd have a valid complaint.  But so 
far you've just made an unsupported claim.

> Your parenthesized statement discussed why it works that way
> under the current design but that is not inevitable.  The current
> design is not the only possibility.
>> > That is why tcltk and Henrik's package wrap environments in lists and define
>> > a completely different class but by doing that they are not able to take
>> > advantage of inheritance.
>> I think they did that because they wanted explicit references to
>> objects, rather than the built-in implicit ones.  I've wanted explicit
>> references to things on a number of occasions too, but that's really
>> unrelated to inheritance as far as I can see.
> They are defining environments with special features yet they can't make
> use of inheritance as they injected the environment object into their object
> rather than subclassing it -- understandable given the current limitations.

I think their worry was that attaching the special features to the 
environment would leave those features at risk of being thrown away by 
some other code that attached its own features to that environment.  But 
this has nothing to do with subclassing, it has everything to do with 
the semantics of references.

If you want to complain about the semantics of references in R, do that, 
but don't bring up the red herring of subclassing (unless you really 
have code that demonstrates that CallMethod or NextMethod don't work as 

Duncan Murdoch

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