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13.9 Accessing Function Cell Contents

The function definition of a symbol is the object stored in the function cell of the symbol. The functions described here access, test, and set the function cell of symbols.

See also the function indirect-function. See Definition of indirect-function.

function symbol-function symbol

This returns the object in the function cell of symbol. It does not check that the returned object is a legitimate function.

If the function cell is void, the return value is nil. To distinguish between a function cell that is void and one set to nil, use fboundp (see below).

(defun bar (n) (+ n 2))
(symbol-function 'bar)
⇒ (lambda (n) (+ n 2))
(fset 'baz 'bar)
⇒ bar
(symbol-function 'baz)
⇒ bar

If you have never given a symbol any function definition, we say that that symbol’s function cell is void. In other words, the function cell does not have any Lisp object in it. If you try to call the symbol as a function, Emacs signals a void-function error.

Note that void is not the same as nil or the symbol void. The symbols nil and void are Lisp objects, and can be stored into a function cell just as any other object can be (and they can be valid functions if you define them in turn with defun). A void function cell contains no object whatsoever.

You can test the voidness of a symbol’s function definition with fboundp. After you have given a symbol a function definition, you can make it void once more using fmakunbound.

function fboundp symbol

This function returns t if the symbol has an object in its function cell, nil otherwise. It does not check that the object is a legitimate function.

function fmakunbound symbol

This function makes symbol’s function cell void, so that a subsequent attempt to access this cell will cause a void-function error. It returns symbol. (See also makunbound, in Void Variables.)

(defun foo (x) x)
(foo 1)
(fmakunbound 'foo)
⇒ foo
(foo 1)
error→ Symbol's function definition is void: foo

function fset symbol definition

This function stores definition in the function cell of symbol. The result is definition. Normally definition should be a function or the name of a function, but this is not checked. The argument symbol is an ordinary evaluated argument.

The primary use of this function is as a subroutine by constructs that define or alter functions, like defun or advice-add (see Advising Functions). You can also use it to give a symbol a function definition that is not a function, e.g., a keyboard macro (see Keyboard Macros):

;; Define a named keyboard macro.
(fset 'kill-two-lines "\^u2\^k")
⇒ "\^u2\^k"

It you wish to use fset to make an alternate name for a function, consider using defalias instead. See Definition of defalias.