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Re: special/readonly variables in sh emulation

Oliver Kiddle wrote:
> So to start this off, if we start by getting together a list of:
> 1. what we think is wrong with the current implementation
> 2. what it has got right and should be preserved,
> 3. what new features we might want to support
> 4. any ideas for the implementation, in particular on the data
> structure and the interface.
> 5. anything else

What's wrong is that it's all very messy; there is a dense hierarchy of
functions in params.c, plus code to handle typeset in builtin.c which
interacts in a non-trivial way with the core code, plus extra code to
handle function scoping, plus quite a lot of duplication of parameter
functionality elsewhere when we need to do something special with
functions, in particular in the special parameter modules.

What we need is a small number of uniformly defined entry points to the
parameter system which hide the workings of the structure.  That way we
can implement particular special parameters any way we like, and can
easily trap all entry points for special handling of discipline

Ideally --- I don't know if this is feasible --- the parameter type as
well as the representation should be irrelevant to code outside the
parameter system.  It should be possible to change an existing
parameter's type by an assignment, or create a new one at a new scoping
level, by supplying flags to indicate that is allowed or wanted, but the
actual decision about whether to do that should be inside the parameter
system.  This puts the horrible logic in typeset_single() where it
should be.

Unfortunately there are dozens of different things you can do with
  When assigning
   - create a new parameter
     - overriding an existing one
       - maybe taking account of whether or not it's special
     - hiding an existing one in a higher function scope
     - converting an old one
       - maybe inheriting some of its properties (for example,
         keeping the value but changing the floating point output format)
  - pass down an input which may be scalar, array, numeric
    (it depends on the type of parameter what it will do with each)
  - handle array slices
  - handle operations on array slices as given by subscript flags
  - handle quoting, e.g. what a scalar does with an array slice may
    depend on whether it is in quotes
  When retrieving
   ... same sort of thing ...

Much of this is currently done by ad hoc code in places like
typeset_single() and paramsubst() which looks at the parameter type and
alters the value accodingly before passing it down for assignment.  It
may be we can't get around all this, and as the type is likely to remain
exposed maybe we can continue to handle it but still keep a neater
interface to the core parameter code.

Maybe we can help things along by introducing contexts.  The arguments
of an array assignment or substitution with explicit word-splitting
would retrieve a parameter in an array context, although the parameter
could be a scalar, or an integer.  (We would need extra flags for types
of associative array substitution, subscripts --- also required in
scalar contexts --- etc.)  This would always return an array, but that
might be a single word.  Similarly, a numeric context would always
return an mnumber, and the parameter code itself would be responsible
for converting the parameter to an mnumber.

This is already roughly what happens, but the interface isn't by any
stretch of the imagination simple or uniform --- sometimes we call the
parameters `gets.?fn' directly, sometimes we use get?param(), sometimes
we have calls to getvalue() to generate intermediate values for
tinkering with.  As far as the `value' struct goes, I would suggest
either we get rid of it, or we use it only inside the parameter system,
or we always use it as part of the parameter interface --- anyway, the
current hybrid is rather a mess.

Also, I don't know what to do about word-splitting.  It might be neater
to make that internal to the parameter system, passing information down
into it.  However, this may be unnecessary.

Very likely any consistent system would mean revisiting the rules on
parameter susbstitution, unfortunately.  I suspect however hard we try
to keep it the same there will be occasions where it doesn't fit.

One other point:  I became aware when writing the map that calls to the
system are inefficient.  Even if you're assigning a parameter, there are
cases when you currently read the value.  So maybe too naive a system of
encapsulation (assuming there's always a real parameter value sitting
there which you can access at any point) isn't the best way of doing
it.  Or maybe (I haven't looked in any detail) it's good enough to be
more careful about separating the retrieval of information about the
parameter from retrieval of its value.

Here's one other idea: suppose we extend the heap system so that anyone
using a heap can test whether the memory is still valid.  Then we can
have a transparent way of caching information for a short time inside
the parameter code --- next time it looks for a value, it can tell if
the cache is valid, and if it is, we are still in the same operation
(because otherwise the heap would have been popped) and it can use
whatever it cached.  I'm not sure how efficiently we can implement the
validity test, however: the first thing that comes to mind is having
heaps `marked' with a single integer which is always incremented and
which eventually simply wraps.  But that's not good enough, since a heap
is still valid when another one is pushed, so it would probably have to
be a linked list of heap ids.  Maybe this idea doesn't gain very much,
but the hope is that you can do repeated operations on parameters in a
simple fashion and rely on them being efficiently implemented

I expect you're now as confused as I am.

Peter Stephenson <pws@xxxxxxx>                  Software Engineer
CSR Ltd., Science Park, Milton Road,
Cambridge, CB4 0WH, UK                          Tel: +44 (0)1223 392070

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