[R] string syntactic sugar in R? - long post

From: charles loboz <charles_loboz_at_yahoo.com>
Date: Sat 07 May 2005 - 18:36:48 EST

Currently in R, constructing a string containing values of variables is done using 'paste' and can be an error-prone and traumatic experience. For example, when constructing a db query we have to write,

          paste("SELECT " value " FROM table where date ='",cdate,"'")
we are getting null result from it, because without (forgotten...) sep="" we get

         SELECT value FROM table where date=' 2005-05-05 '
instead of

        SELECT value FROM table where date='2005-05-05' Adding sep="" as a habit results in other errors, like column names joined with keywords - because of forgotten spaces. Not to mention mixing up or unbalancing quote marks etc. The approach used by paste is similar to that of many other languages (like early Java, VB etc) and is inherently error-prone because of poor visualization. There is a way to improve it.

In the Java world gstrings were introduced specifically for this purpose. A gstring is a string with variable names embedded and replaced by values (converted to strings, lazy eval) before use. An example in R-syntax would be:

>alpha <- 8; beta="xyz"
>gstr <- "the result is ${alpha} with the comment

      the result is 8 with the comment xyz

This syntactic sugar reduces significantly the number of mistakes made with normal string concatenations. Gstrings are used in ant and groovy - (for details see http://groovy.codehaus.org/Strings, jump to GStrings). They are particularly useful for creating readable and error-free SQL statements, but obviously the simplify 'normal' string+value handling in all situations. [ps: gstrings are not nestable]

I was wondering how difficult it would be to add such syntactic sugar to R and would that create some language problems? May be it is possible that it could be done as some gpaste function, parsing the argument for ${var}, extracting variables from the environment, evaluating them and producing the final string?

I admit my bias - using ant for years and groovy for months and having to do a lot of SQL queries does not put me in the mainstream of R users - so it may be that this idea is not usable to a wider group of users.

R-help@stat.math.ethz.ch mailing list
https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help PLEASE do read the posting guide! http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html Received on Sat May 07 18:44:43 2005

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