To program is to write arithmatic expressions

Friday, Jun 4, 2021
Design BSL

One perspective to program is simply to write arithmatic expressions. Some key observations:

An example using numbers

> (+ 1 2 3)
> (modulo 10 3)
> (floor 3.6)

In the above example, the first arithmatic expression has + as the operator and 1 2 3 as the number arguments to the operator. In the second example, we have modulo as the operator and 10 3 as arguments and finally we have floor as the operator and 3.6 as the single argument.

An example using strings

> (string-append "hello" " " "world!")
"hello world!"
> (string-length "hello world!")

Now we have string-append as the operator, which is like addition of strings (instead of numbers) and "hello" " " "world!" as three arguments. Then, there is string-length as the operator with a single argument, hello world!. Note as illustrated in this last example, that the value of the expresssion can be of different type than the arguments. In this particular case, the arguments are strings while the result is a number.

An example using booleans

> (or #true #false)
> (and (> 1 1) (string=? "hello" "hi"))

In the first example here, we have two boolean arguments - #true and #false and or as the operator. In the second example, there are two sub-expressions - one comparing numbers and other comparing strings, the values of which becomes arguments to the and operator.

Checking for kind of data before doing arithmatic

In a dynamically typed language, mismatch between the data and the operator will result in an error:

> (+ "hello" "world")
+: expects a number, given "hello"

It is thus important to check the data type before doing arithmatic on the data. This is done by using predicates:

> (define x 2)
> (define y "hello")
> (define z #false)
> (if (number? x) (sqr x) 0)
> (if (number? y) (sqr y) 0) 
> (if (string? y) (string-length y) 0)
> (if (string? x) (string-length x) 0) 
> (if (boolean? z) (not z) 0)
> (if (boolean? y) (not y) 0)

In the above examples, instead of failing on getting incorrect kind of data, we are producing 0 as a result. Of course, this may not be ideal design either, but it shows a way of guarding an expression against incorrect data type.