[Rd] string concatenation operator (revisited)

Taras Zakharko t@r@@@z@kh@rko @end|ng |rom uzh@ch
Tue Dec 7 10:09:08 CET 2021

Great summary, Avi. 

String concatenation cold be trivially added to R, but it probably should not be. You will notice that modern languages tend not to use “+” to do string concatenation (they either have 
a custom operator or a special kind of pattern to do it) due to practical issues such an approach brings (implicit type casting, lack of commutativity, performance etc.). These issues will be felt even more so in R with it’s weak typing, idiosyncratic casting behavior and NAs. 

As other’s have pointed out, any kind of behavior one wants from string concatenation can be implemented by custom operators as needed. This is not something that needs to be in the base R. I would rather like the efforts to be directed on improving string formatting (such as glue-style built-in string interpolation).

— Taras

> On 7 Dec 2021, at 02:27, Avi Gross via R-devel <r-devel using r-project.org> wrote:
> After seeing what others are saying, it is clear that you need to carefully
> think things out before designing any implementation of a more native
> concatenation operator whether it is called "+' or anything else. There may
> not be any ONE right solution but unlike a function version like paste()
> there is nowhere to place any options that specify what you mean.
> You can obviously expand paste() to accept arguments like replace.NA="" or
> replace.NA="<NA>" and similar arguments on what to do if you see a NaN, and
> Inf or -Inf, a NULL or even an NA.character_ and so on. Heck, you might tell
> to make other substitutions as in substitute=list(100=99, D=F) or any other
> nonsense you can come up with.
> But you have nowhere to put options when saying:
> c <- a + b
> Sure, you could set various global options before the addition and maybe
> rest them after, but that is not a way I like to go for something this
> basic.
> And enough such tinkering makes me wonder if it is easier to ask a user to
> use a slightly different function like this:
> paste.no.na <- function(...) do.call(paste, Filter(Negate(is.na),
> list(...)))
> The above one-line function removes any NA from the argument list to make a
> potentially shorter list before calling the real paste() using it.
> Variations can, of course, be made that allow functionality as above. 
> If R was a true object-oriented language in the same sense as others like
> Python, operator overloading of "+" might be doable in more complex ways but
> we can only work with what we have. I tend to agree with others that in some
> places R is so lenient that all kinds of errors can happen because it makes
> a guess on how to correct it. Generally, if you really want to mix numeric
> and character, many languages require you to transform any arguments to make
> all of compatible types. The paste() function is clearly stated to coerce
> all arguments to be of type character for you. Whereas a+b makes no such
> promises and also is not properly defined even if a and b are both of type
> character. Sure, we can expand the language but it may still do things some
> find not to be quite what they wanted as in "2"+"3" becoming "23" rather
> than 5. Right now, I can use as.numeric("2")+as.numeric("3") and get the
> intended result after making very clear to anyone reading the code that I
> wanted strings converted to floating point before the addition.
> As has been pointed out, the plus operator if used to concatenate does not
> have a cognate for other operations like -*/ and R has used most other
> special symbols for other purposes. So, sure, we can use something like ....
> (4 periods) if it is not already being used for something but using + here
> is a tad confusing. Having said that, the makers of Python did make that
> choice.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: R-devel <r-devel-bounces using r-project.org> On Behalf Of Gabriel Becker
> Sent: Monday, December 6, 2021 7:21 PM
> To: Bill Dunlap <williamwdunlap using gmail.com>
> Cc: Radford Neal <radford using cs.toronto.edu>; r-devel <r-devel using r-project.org>
> Subject: Re: [Rd] string concatenation operator (revisited)
> As I recall, there was a large discussion related to that which resulted in
> the recycle0 argument being added (but defaulting to FALSE) for
> paste/paste0.
> I think a lot of these things ultimately mean that if there were to be a
> string concatenation operator, it probably shouldn't have behavior identical
> to paste0. Was that what you were getting at as well, Bill?
> ~G
> On Mon, Dec 6, 2021 at 4:11 PM Bill Dunlap <williamwdunlap using gmail.com> wrote:
>> Should paste0(character(0), c("a","b")) give character(0)?
>> There is a fair bit of code that assumes that paste("X",NULL) gives "X"
>> but c(1,2)+NULL gives numeric(0).
>> -Bill
>> On Mon, Dec 6, 2021 at 1:32 PM Duncan Murdoch 
>> <murdoch.duncan using gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> On 06/12/2021 4:21 p.m., Avraham Adler wrote:
>>>> Gabe, I agree that missingness is important to factor in. To 
>>>> somewhat
>>> abuse
>>>> the terminology, NA is often used to represent missingness. Perhaps 
>>>> concatenating character something with character something missing
>>> should
>>>> result in the original character?
>>> I think that's a bad idea.  If you wanted to represent an empty 
>>> string, you should use "" or NULL, not NA.
>>> I'd agree with Gabe, paste0("abc", NA) shouldn't give "abcNA", it 
>>> should give NA.
>>> Duncan Murdoch
>>>> Avi
>>>> On Mon, Dec 6, 2021 at 3:35 PM Gabriel Becker 
>>>> <gabembecker using gmail.com>
>>> wrote:
>>>>> Hi All,
>>>>> Seeing this and the other thread (and admittedly not having 
>>>>> clicked
>>> through
>>>>> to the linked r-help thread), I wonder about NAs.
>>>>> Should NA <concat> "hi there"  not result in NA_character_? This 
>>>>> is not what any of the paste functions do, but in my opinoin, NA +
>>> <non_na_value>
>>>>> seems like it should be NA  (not "NA"), particularly if we are 
>>>>> talking about `+` overloading, but potentially even in the case of 
>>>>> a distinct concatenation operator?
>>>>> I guess what I'm saying is that in my head missingness propagation
>>> rules
>>>>> should take priority in such an operator (ie NA + <anything> 
>>>>> should *always * be NA).
>>>>> Is that something others disagree with, or has it just not come up 
>>>>> yet
>>> in
>>>>> (the parts I have read) of this discussion?
>>>>> Best,
>>>>> ~G
>>>>> On Mon, Dec 6, 2021 at 10:03 AM Radford Neal 
>>>>> <radford using cs.toronto.edu>
>>>>> wrote:
>>>>>>>> In pqR (see pqR-project.org), I have implemented ! and !! as 
>>>>>>>> binary string concatenation operators, equivalent to paste0 and 
>>>>>>>> paste, respectively.
>>>>>>>> For instance,
>>>>>>>>> "hello" ! "world"
>>>>>>>>      [1] "helloworld"
>>>>>>>>> "hello" !! "world"
>>>>>>>>      [1] "hello world"
>>>>>>>>> "hello" !! 1:4
>>>>>>>>      [1] "hello 1" "hello 2" "hello 3" "hello 4"
>>>>>>> I'm curious about the details:
>>>>>>> Would `1 ! 2` convert both to strings?
>>>>>> They're equivalent to paste0 and paste, so 1 ! 2 produces "12", 
>>>>>> just like paste0(1,2) does.  Of course, they wouldn't have to be 
>>>>>> exactly equivalent to paste0 and paste - one could impose 
>>>>>> stricter requirements if that seemed better for error detection.  
>>>>>> Off hand, though, I think automatically converting is more in 
>>>>>> keeping with the rest of R.  Explicitly converting with as.character
> could be tedious.
>>>>>> I suppose disallowing logical arguments might make sense to guard 
>>>>>> against typos where ! was meant to be the unary-not operator, but 
>>>>>> ended up being a binary operator, after some sort of typo.  I 
>>>>>> doubt that this would be a common error, though.
>>>>>> (Note that there's no ambiguity when there are no typos, except 
>>>>>> that when negation is involved a space may be needed - so, for 
>>>>>> example, "x" !  !TRUE is "xFALSE", but "x"!!TRUE is "x TRUE".  
>>>>>> Existing uses of double negation are still fine - eg, a <- !!TRUE
> still sets a to TRUE.
>>>>>> Parsing of operators is greedy, so "x"!!!TRUE is "x FALSE", not
>>> "xTRUE".)
>>>>>>> Where does the binary ! fit in the operator priority?  E.g. how 
>>>>>>> is
>>>>>>>   a ! b > c
>>>>>>> parsed?
>>>>>> As (a ! b) > c.
>>>>>> Their precedence is between that of + and - and that of < and >.
>>>>>> So "x" ! 1+2 evalates to "x3" and "x" ! 1+2 < "x4" is TRUE.
>>>>>> (Actually, pqR also has a .. operator that fixes the problems 
>>>>>> with generating sequences with the : operator, and it has 
>>>>>> precedence lower than + and - and higher than ! and !!, but 
>>>>>> that's not relevant if you don't have the .. operator.)
>>>>>>    Radford Neal
>>>>>> ______________________________________________
>>>>>> R-devel using r-project.org mailing list 
>>>>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
>>>>>         [[alternative HTML version deleted]]
>>>>> ______________________________________________
>>>>> R-devel using r-project.org mailing list 
>>>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
>>> ______________________________________________
>>> R-devel using r-project.org mailing list
>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
> 	[[alternative HTML version deleted]]
> ______________________________________________
> R-devel using r-project.org mailing list
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
> ______________________________________________
> R-devel using r-project.org mailing list
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel

More information about the R-devel mailing list