Re: [R] "recursive default argument" error

From: <>
Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2008 11:23:09 +0000

Many thanks Wacek, that is very helpful. Appreciate it.


Wacek Kusnierczyk <> 25/11/2008 10:51

R help <>
Re: [R] "recursive default argument" error wrote:
> Dear R Users,
> I have a function foo in a script with default values for some of the
> parameters as follows:
> testparams=list(a=1,b=2,c=3)
> foo<-function(x,y,testparams=testparams)
> x+y+testparams$a+testparams$b+testparams$c
> When I try to run foo(1,2), I get the following error:
>> testparams=list(a=1,b=2,c=3)
>> foo<-function(x,y,testparams=testparams)
> + x+y+testparams$a+testparams$b+testparams$c
>> foo(1,2)
> Error in foo(1, 2) :
> promise already under evaluation: recursive default argument reference

> or earlier problems?

sure. from the r language manual, sec. 4.3.3:

"One of the most important things to know about the evaluation of arguments to a function is
that supplied arguments and default arguments are treated differently. The supplied arguments
to a function are evaluated in the evaluation frame of the calling function. The default arguments
to a function are evaluated in the evaluation frame of the function."

the parameter testparams, when no matching argument is passed, is given the default value which is the value of the variable testparams looked-up *not* in the environment where foo is defined, and *not* in the environment where foo is called, but rather in the local environment created when the function is called and where parameters are mapped to values -- and in this environment, testparams is a parameter, which is already being under evaluation, hence the recursive lookup error.

in some programming languages, testparams (the default value) would come from the definition-time environment, so you'd not have problems; in others, it's more like in r:

python> x = 1; def foo(x, y=x): return y; foo(2) # 1 ruby> x = 1; def foo(x, y=x); y; end; foo(2) # 2

you just have to get used to it.

> I can obviously rename testparams but I would still like to understand
> this breaks. I would have thought the right hand side of
> "testparams=testparams" would have been evaluated in the namespace
> the script and not the function. How can I force it to be evaluated in
> namespace outside the function ?

something like this ugly hack seems to solve the problem:

foo = function(testparams = get("testparams", envir=environment(foo))


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