[Rd] surprising behaviour of names<-

Berwin A Turlach berwin at maths.uwa.edu.au
Mon Mar 16 03:26:25 CET 2009

G'day Wacek,

On Sun, 15 Mar 2009 21:01:33 +0100
Wacek Kusnierczyk <Waclaw.Marcin.Kusnierczyk at idi.ntnu.no> wrote:

> Berwin A Turlach wrote:
> >
> > Obviously, assuming that R really executes 
> > 	*tmp* <- x
> > 	x <- "names<-"('*tmp*', value=c("a","b"))
> > under the hood, in the C code, then *tmp* does not end up in the
> > symbol table and does not persist beyond the execution of 
> > 	names(x) <- c("a","b")
> >
> >   
> to prove that i take you seriously, i have peeked into the code, and
> found that indeed there is a temporary binding for *tmp* made behind
> the scenes -- sort of. unfortunately, it is not done carefully enough
> to avoid possible interference with the user's code:
> '*tmp*' = 0
> `*tmp*`
> # 0
> x = 1
> names(x) = 'foo'
> `*tmp*`
> # error: object "*tmp*" not found
> `*ugly*`

I agree, and I am a bit flabbergasted.  I had not expected that
something like this would happen and I am indeed not aware of anything
in the documentation that warns about this; but others may prove me
wrong on this.

> given that `*tmp*`is a perfectly legal (though some would say
> 'non-standard') name, it would be good if somewhere here a warning
> were issued -- perhaps where i assign to `*tmp*`, because `*tmp*` is
> not just any non-standard name, but one that is 'obviously' used
> under the hood to perform black magic.

Now I wonder whether there are any other objects (with non-standard)
names) that can be nuked by operations performed under the hood.  

I guess the best thing is to stay away from non-standard names, if only
to save the typing of back-ticks. :)

Thanks for letting me know, I have learned something new today.



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