[Rd] Reference classes

Jon Clayden jon.clayden at gmail.com
Fri Oct 22 16:21:03 CEST 2010

Dear all,

First, many thanks to John Chambers, and anyone else who was involved,
for the new support for "reference classes" in R 2.12.0. It's nice to
see this kind of functionality appear in a relatively R-like form, and
with the blessing of the core team. In some contexts it is undoubtedly
appealing to associate a set of methods with a class directly, rather
than defining a load of generics which are only ever likely to be
implemented for a single class, or some other such arrangement. (I was
actually in the process of writing a package which did something
similar to the reference class idea, although it is less fully

My initial experiences with this functionality have been very
positive. I've stumbled over one minor issue so far: default values of
method parameters are not displayed by the help() method, viz.

> library(methods)
> Regex <- setRefClass("Regex", fields="string", methods=list(
+     isMatch = function (text, ignoreCase = FALSE)
+     {
+         'Returns a logical vector of the same length as "text",
indicating whether or not each element is a match to the regular
+         grepl(string, text, ignore.case=ignoreCase, perl=TRUE)
+     }
+ ))
> Regex$help("isMatch")
Call: $isMatch(text, ignoreCase = )

Returns a logical vector of the same length as "text", indicating
whether or not each element is a match to the regular expression.

It seems unlikely that this is intentional, but correct me if I'm
wrong. It still seems to happen with the latest R-patched (Mac OS X

As a suggestion, it would be nice if the accessors() method could be
used to create just "getters" or just "setters" for particular fields,
although I realise this can be worked around by removing the unwanted
methods afterwards.

More generally, I was wondering how firm the commitment is to
providing this kind of programming mechanism. I know it's likely to
change in some ways in future releases, but can I use it in packages,
trusting that only a few tweaks will be needed for compatibility with
future versions of R, or is it possible that the whole infrastructure
will be removed in future?

All the best,

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