Functions defined using
defun have a hard-coded set of assumptions about the types and expected values of their arguments. For example, a function that was designed to handle values of its argument that are either numbers or lists of numbers will fail or signal an error if called with a value of any other type, such as a vector or a string. This happens because the implementation of the function is not prepared to deal with types other than those assumed during the design.
By contrast, object-oriented programs use polymorphic functions: a set of specialized functions having the same name, each one of which was written for a certain specific set of argument types. Which of the functions is actually called is decided at run time based on the types of the actual arguments.
Emacs provides support for polymorphism. Like other Lisp environments, notably Common Lisp and its Common Lisp Object System (CLOS), this support is based on generic functions. The Emacs generic functions closely follow CLOS, including use of similar names, so if you have experience with CLOS, the rest of this section will sound very familiar.
A generic function specifies an abstract operation, by defining its name and list of arguments, but (usually) no implementation. The actual implementation for several specific classes of arguments is provided by methods, which should be defined separately. Each method that implements a generic function has the same name as the generic function, but the method’s definition indicates what kinds of arguments it can handle by specializing the arguments defined by the generic function. These argument specializers can be more or less specific; for example, a
string type is more specific than a more general type, such as
Note that, unlike in message-based OO languages, such as C
++ and Simula, methods that implement generic functions don’t belong to a class, they belong to the generic function they implement.
When a generic function is invoked, it selects the applicable methods by comparing the actual arguments passed by the caller with the argument specializers of each method. A method is applicable if the actual arguments of the call are compatible with the method’s specializers. If more than one method is applicable, they are combined using certain rules, described below, and the combination then handles the call.
macro cl-defgeneric name arguments [documentation] [options-and-methods…] \&rest body
This macro defines a generic function with the specified
body is present, it provides the default implementation. If
documentation is present (it should always be), it specifies the documentation string for the generic function, in the form
(:documentation docstring). The optional
options-and-methods can be one of the following forms:
A declare form, as described in Declare Form.
(:argument-precedence-order &rest args)
This form affects the sorting order for combining applicable methods. Normally, when two methods are compared during combination, method arguments are examined left to right, and the first method whose argument specializer is more specific will come before the other one. The order defined by this form overrides that, and the arguments are examined according to their order in this form, and not left to right.
(:method [qualifiers…] args &rest body)
This form defines a method like
macro cl-defmethod name [qualifier] arguments [\&context (expr spec)…] \&rest [docstring] body
This macro defines a particular implementation for the generic function called
name. The implementation code is given by
body. If present,
docstring is the documentation string for the method. The
arguments list, which must be identical in all the methods that implement a generic function, and must match the argument list of that function, provides argument specializers of the form
(arg spec), where
arg is the argument name as specified in the
cl-defgeneric call, and
spec is one of the following specializer forms:
This specializer requires the argument to be of the given
type, one of the types from the type hierarchy described below.
This specializer requires the argument be
eql to the given
The argument must be a cons cell whose
The argument must be an instance of a class named
struct-type defined with
cl-defstruct (see Structures in Common Lisp Extensions for GNU Emacs Lisp), or of one of its child classes.
Method definitions can make use of a new argument-list keyword,
&context, which introduces extra specializers that test the environment at the time the method is run. This keyword should appear after the list of required arguments, but before any
&optional keywords. The
&context specializers look much like regular argument specializers—(
expr is an expression to be evaluated in the current context, and the
spec is a value to compare against. For example,
&context (overwrite-mode (eql t)) will make the method applicable only when
overwrite-mode is turned on. The
&context keyword can be followed by any number of context specializers. Because the context specializers are not part of the generic function’s argument signature, they may be omitted in methods that don’t require them.
The type specializer,
(arg type), can specify one of the system types in the following list. When a parent type is specified, an argument whose type is any of its more specific child types, as well as grand-children, grand-grand-children, etc. will also be compatible.
qualifier allows combining several applicable methods. If it is not present, the defined method is a primary method, responsible for providing the primary implementation of the generic function for the specialized arguments. You can also define auxiliary methods, by using one of the following values as
This auxiliary method will run before the primary method. More accurately, all the
:before methods will run before the primary, in the most-specific-first order.
This auxiliary method will run after the primary method. More accurately, all such methods will run after the primary, in the most-specific-last order.
This auxiliary method will run instead of the primary method. The most specific of such methods will be run before any other method. Such methods normally use
cl-call-next-method, described below, to invoke the other auxiliary or primary methods.
This allows you to add more methods, distinguished by
string, for the same specializers and qualifiers.
Functions defined using
cl-defmethod cannot be made interactive, i.e. commands (see Defining Commands), by adding the
interactive form to them. If you need a polymorphic command, we recommend defining a normal command that calls a polymorphic function defined via
Each time a generic function is called, it builds the effective method which will handle this invocation by combining the applicable methods defined for the function. The process of finding the applicable methods and producing the effective method is called dispatch. The applicable methods are those all of whose specializers are compatible with the actual arguments of the call. Since all of the arguments must be compatible with the specializers, they all determine whether a method is applicable. Methods that explicitly specialize more than one argument are called multiple-dispatch methods.
The applicable methods are sorted into the order in which they will be combined. The method whose left-most argument specializer is the most specific one will come first in the order. (Specifying
:argument-precedence-order as part of
cl-defmethod overrides that, as described above.) If the method body calls
cl-call-next-method, the next most-specific method will run. If there are applicable
:around methods, the most-specific of them will run first; it should call
cl-call-next-method to run any of the less specific
:around methods. Next, the
:before methods run in the order of their specificity, followed by the primary method, and lastly the
:after methods in the reverse order of their specificity.
function cl-call-next-method \&rest args
When invoked from within the lexical body of a primary or an
:around auxiliary method, call the next applicable method for the same generic function. Normally, it is called with no arguments, which means to call the next applicable method with the same arguments that the calling method was invoked. Otherwise, the specified arguments are used instead.
This function, when called from within the lexical body of a primary or an
:around auxiliary method, returns non-
nil if there is a next method to call.