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Feature #1697

Object#<=>

Added by marcandre (Marc-Andre Lafortune) over 10 years ago. Updated over 8 years ago.

Status:
Closed
Priority:
Normal
Target version:
[ruby-core:24063]

Description

=begin
The definition of the <=> operator states:
"... And if the two operands are not comparable, it returns nil" (The Ruby Programming Language, O'Reilly)

Attempting to compare objects, when one or both do not define the <=> operator, causes a NoMethodError to be raised. For example, "false <=> 0" raises in this way. This behavior is unexpected and runs counter to the principle defined above.

Further, "0 <=> false" returns nil. This is fundamentally inconsistent. The two comparisons are the other's converse, yet the raising of an exception in the first case implies that the programmer was in error; that the mere act of making this comparison was erroneous.

The solution is for Object to define a <=> operator. This will solve the case described above, along with the general case of comparing an object to another when one or both do not define <=>. Similarly to Time#<=>, it would return the converse of arg <=> self (i.e. nil => nil, num => -num). It needs to detect recursion, in which case it should return nil or 0 depending on the result of self == arg.

This change would make it always safe to call <=> without having to check first if it respond_to? :<=> (or rescuing NoMethodError).

The existence of Object#<=> would make it much easier for all programmers to define a good <=> operator for their classes. They can simply call super if they don't know how to handle some argument type. For example:

class MyClass
include Comparable
def <=> (arg)
return super unless arg.is_a? MyClass
# go on with comparison
end
end

With this simple line, the developper has enabled other classes to be comparable with MyClass. No need to monkeypatch MyClass to ensure that comparing its objects with objects of class ComparableToMyClass will work. Without a 'super', implementing this becomes quite difficult and requires the use of recursion guards (which are not defined in the standard library).

Note that neither String#<=> nor Time#<=> currently use recursion guards, which is not robust and can lead to problems. For instance:

class MyClass
include Comparable
def <=> (arg)
return -1 if arg.is_a? MyClass
cmp = arg <=> self
cmp ? -cmp : nil
end
end

MyClass.new <=> Time.now
# ==> raises a SystemStackError

class Time
alias_method :to_str, :to_s
end
"now" <=> Time.now
# ==> endless loop that can't be interrupted with ctrl-C.

In summary, defining Object#<=> would:
1) bring consistency between a <=> b and b <=> a
2) provide a sensible default (nil) for objects that can't be compared
3) make it easier for generic methods to call <=> (no rescue or :respond_to? needed)
4) make it much easier for developpers to write extensible <=> methods for their classes.

Side notes:

The proposition stands only for Object. BasicObject would still be available for developers preferring a class with a strict minimum of methods.

The only code that could break would have to be both checking respond_to? :<=> (or rescuing a NoMethodError) and behaving differently than if the <=> method had returned nil. Such code would be quite nonsensical, given the definition of <=>

Other comparison operators like <, <=, >=, > would also gain in consistency if they were defined in terms of <=>. This way, 0 < nil and nil > 0 would raise the same errors instead of errors of different types. This is secondary to the main question: is it better to define Object#<=> or not?
My vote is on 'yes'.

(Thanks to the readers of my first draft)
=end


Related issues

Related to Ruby master - Bug #2047: Time#<=> Raises NoMethodError on Incomparable ArgumentClosed09/05/2009Actions
Related to Ruby master - Bug #2276: Array#<=> should not raise when comparison failsClosed10/26/2009Actions

History

#1

Updated by RickDeNatale (Rick DeNatale) over 10 years ago

=begin
Well, a lot of users of <=> don't expect a nil result!

class Object
def <=> other
nil
end
end

1 <=> nil # => nil
nil <=> 1 # => nil
1 <=> false # => nil
false <=> nil # => nil
nil <=> false # => nil
false <=> nil # => nil
[1, nil, false].sort # =>
# ~> -:15:in `sort': comparison of Fixnum with nil failed (ArgumentError)
# ~> from -:15
=end

#2

Updated by rue (Eero Saynatkari) over 10 years ago

=begin
Excerpts from Luiz Angelo Daros de Luca's message of Sun Jun 28 16:22:45 +0300 2009:

Issue #1697 has been updated by Rick DeNatale.

Well, a lot of users of <=> don't expect a nil result!

For what it is worth, when Marc-Andre brought the topic up
on #rubinius, I argued for it to always either return one
of -1, 0, 1 or then raise an error; and to never return nil
or any other value. The user may simply rescue (or not) and
differentiate between errors as needed.

Additionally, there is no need to check for nil separately
before working on the value.

One of the counterarguments was that errors are used for
"control flow" here, but I do not see it that way. I would,
in my code, probably never expect for #<=> to fail when I
use it (and never guard it with rescue): to me it indicates
a very likely design- or logic problem that should be fixed
anyway. Exceptions, pun intended, of course may exist.

Eero
--
Magic is insufficiently advanced technology.

=end

#3

Updated by rue (Eero Saynatkari) over 10 years ago

=begin
Excerpts from Marc-Andre's message of Mon Jun 29 15:35:52 +0300 2009:

This really is a different and separate discussion though; one could
also argue that "nil =~ Date.new" should raise an error! Changing the
semantics for <=> at this point would require a really compelling
argument, since all existing Ruby code calling <=> or defining <=> has
been written with the assumption that <=> should return nil when
arguments can't be compared.

I disagree. Because there are currently no unified semantics
for #<=>, you are equally likely to find someone who relies
on a TypeError (or NoMethodError) being raised on an invalid
conversion. I think either change will require some people
to change their code, making the argument moot in terms of
which solution is "better."

(And indirectly, I think e.g. Array checks for a nil return
value and raises if it gets one.)

Is there a compelling case where not being able to compare
two objects is a valid expectation, and could not be better
addressed by actually implementing the comparison or some
other change in logic? On the flipside of that, there seems
to be potential for masking problems by evaluating to nil,
mostly in cases where #<=> is being used implicitly.

My proposition doesn't change the semantics of <=>, rather it makes it
is more respectful of it.

See above.

Eero
--
Magic is insufficiently advanced technology.

=end

#4

Updated by nobu (Nobuyoshi Nakada) about 10 years ago

=begin
Hi,

At Sun, 28 Jun 2009 10:48:45 +0900,
Marc-Andre Lafortune wrote in [ruby-core:24063]:

Other comparison operators like <, <=, >=, > would also gain
in consistency if they were defined in terms of <=>. This
way, 0 < nil and nil > 0 would raise the same errors instead
of errors of different types. This is secondary to the main
question: is it better to define Object#<=> or not?
My vote is on 'yes'.

A patch for it.

Index: object.c
===================================================================
--- object.c (revision 24752)
+++ object.c (working copy)
@@ -32,5 +32,5 @@ VALUE rb_cTrueClass;
VALUE rb_cFalseClass;

-static ID id_eq, id_eql, id_match, id_inspect, id_init_copy;
+static ID id_eq, id_eql, id_match, id_inspect, id_init_copy, id_cmp;

/*
@@ -1116,4 +1116,14 @@ rb_obj_not_match(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
}

+/* :nodoc: */
+static VALUE
+rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj, VALUE arg)
+{

  • if (!rb_respond_to(arg, id_cmp)) {
  • rb_notimplement();
  • }
  • return Qnil; +} +

/***********************************************************************
@@ -2518,4 +2528,5 @@ Init_Object(void)
rb_define_method(rb_mKernel, "=~", rb_obj_match, 1);
rb_define_method(rb_mKernel, "!~", rb_obj_not_match, 1);

  • rb_define_method(rb_mKernel, "<=>", rb_obj_cmp, 1); rb_define_method(rb_mKernel, "eql?", rb_obj_equal, 1); rb_define_method(rb_mKernel, "hash", rb_obj_hash, 0); @@ -2659,4 +2670,5 @@ Init_Object(void) id_inspect = rb_intern("inspect"); id_init_copy = rb_intern("initialize_copy");
  • id_cmp = rb_intern("<=>");

    for (i=0; conv_method_names[i].method; i++) {

--
Nobu Nakada

=end

#5

Updated by marcandre (Marc-Andre Lafortune) about 10 years ago

=begin
I would modify slightly Nobu's patch to return 0 if the two compared objects are one and the same. I also think it is probably a better choice to return nil instead of raising an error.

With this patch in, running 'make test' doesn't generate any error. 'make test-all' generates two, on for rake because Rake::FileList has a weak way to find which methods are proper to Array, and another error because of Delegator, which doesn't inherit from BasicObject (see issue 1333) and doesn't list :<=> in its list of methods to undefine. So both of these are trivially fixed.

Although I really would like an implementation of a good double dispatch scheme, I'll leave that discussion for another time.

diff --git a/object.c b/object.c
index e81007b..fdf1ee6 100644
--- a/object.c
+++ b/object.c
@@ -1115,13 +1115,23 @@ rb_obj_not_match(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
return RTEST(result) ? Qfalse : Qtrue;
}

-/* :nodoc: /
+/

  • * call-seq:
  • * obj <=> other => -1, 0, 1 or nil
  • *
  • * Comparison---Returns -1 if obj is smaller than other,
  • * 0 if obj is the same as other, and +1 if obj is
  • * greater than other. Returns nil if obj
  • * can not be compared with other.
  • * Typically, this method is overridden in descendent
  • * classes to provide class-specific meaning.
  • */ + static VALUE rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj, VALUE arg) {
  • if (!rb_respond_to(arg, id_cmp)) {
  • rb_notimplement();
  • }
  • if (obj == arg)
  • return INT2FIX(0); return Qnil; }

=end

#6

Updated by matz (Yukihiro Matsumoto) almost 10 years ago

  • Status changed from Open to Closed
  • % Done changed from 0 to 100

=begin
This issue was solved with changeset r25453.
Marc-Andre, thank you for reporting this issue.
Your contribution to Ruby is greatly appreciated.
May Ruby be with you.

=end

#7

Updated by marcandre (Marc-Andre Lafortune) almost 10 years ago

  • Status changed from Closed to Open

=begin
Hi Matz,

In rb_obj_cmp, the rb_obj_equal is redundant. Did you mean the following?

diff --git a/object.c b/object.c
index 9f7537f..8f20621 100644
--- a/object.c
+++ b/object.c
@@ -1123,7 +1123,7 @@ rb_obj_not_match(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
static VALUE
rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
{

  • if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_obj_equal(obj1, obj2))
  • if (rb_equal(obj1, obj2)) return INT2FIX(0); return Qnil; }

=end

#8

Updated by matz (Yukihiro Matsumoto) almost 10 years ago

=begin
Hi,

In message "Re: [ruby-core:26318] Feature #1697 Object#<=>"
on Mon, 26 Oct 2009 21:14:08 +0900, Marc-Andre Lafortune redmine@ruby-lang.org writes:

|In rb_obj_cmp, the rb_obj_equal is redundant. Did you mean the following?

It's a grain of optimization to reduce function call.

                        matz.

=end

#9

Updated by rue (Eero Saynatkari) almost 10 years ago

=begin
Excerpts from Yukihiro Matsumoto's message of Mon Oct 26 15:24:12 +0200 2009:

Hi,

In message "Re: [ruby-core:26318] Feature #1697 Object#<=>"
on Mon, 26 Oct 2009 21:14:08 +0900, Marc-Andre Lafortune redmine@ruby-lang.org writes:

|In rb_obj_cmp, the rb_obj_equal is redundant. Did you mean the following?

It's a grain of optimization to reduce function call.

rb_obj_equal() is implemented just as ==, though, so it is
redundant unless I am missing something? I would assume that
the intended function was rb_eql() instead?

Marc-Andre's rb_equal() suggestion combines the two, although
it uses id_eq, not id_eql, so I can see where avoiding that
would be slightly better in performance.

Wishing there were fewer equality functions
or at least more variance in their names,
Eero

--
Magic is insufficiently advanced technology.

=end

#10

Updated by marcandre (Marc-Andre Lafortune) almost 10 years ago

=begin
Given your comment, and Eero rightly pointing out that it's better to use eql? than == for this case,

diff --git a/object.c b/object.c
index 9f7537f..8f20621 100644
--- a/object.c
+++ b/object.c
@@ -1123,7 +1123,7 @@ rb_obj_not_match(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
static VALUE
rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
{

  • if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_obj_equal(obj1, obj2))
  • if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_eql(obj1, obj2)) return INT2FIX(0); return Qnil; }

Note: I'm not saying that obj1 == obj2 is redundant. I'm saying rb_obj_equal is.

=end

#11

Updated by ujihisa (Tatsuhiro Ujihisa) almost 10 years ago

  • Status changed from Open to Assigned

=begin
As Marc-Andre says, the current following code is redundant.

 static VALUE
 rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
 {
     if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_obj_equal(obj1, obj2))
         return INT2FIX(0);
     return Qnil;
 }

where

 VALUE
 rb_obj_equal(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
 {
     if (obj1 == obj2) return Qtrue;
     return Qfalse;
 }

in short, the original code means

 static VALUE
 rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
 {
     if (obj1 == obj2 || ((obj1 == obj2) ? Qtrue : Qfalse))
         return INT2FIX(0);
     return Qnil;
 }

As Marc-Andre says, there are two alternatives which are better than current code. If you prefer to allow Ruby to change the behavior of Object#<=> by overwriting Object#==, apply the patch he showed. (Current RubySpec is based on it)

Otherwise, how about applying this patch:

 diff --git a/object.c b/object.c
 index 503a7c5..3dd3290 100644
 --- a/object.c
 +++ b/object.c
 @@ -1131,7 +1131,7 @@ rb_obj_not_match(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
  static VALUE
  rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
  {
 -    if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_obj_equal(obj1, obj2))
 +    if (obj1 == obj2)
           return INT2FIX(0);
      return Qnil;
  }

I'll fix the corresponding RubySpec after you decided which behavior is preferable.

=end

#12

Updated by matz (Yukihiro Matsumoto) almost 10 years ago

=begin
Hi,

In message "Re: [ruby-core:27300] Feature #1697 Object#<=>"
on Thu, 24 Dec 2009 07:15:13 +0900, "ujihisa ." redmine@ruby-lang.org writes:
|
|Issue #1697 has been updated by ujihisa ..
|
|Status changed from Open to Assigned
|
|As Marc-Andre says, the current following code is redundant.
|
| static VALUE
| rb_obj_cmp(VALUE obj1, VALUE obj2)
| {
| if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_obj_equal(obj1, obj2))
| return INT2FIX(0);
| return Qnil;
| }

It should be:

| if (obj1 == obj2 || rb_equal(obj1, obj2))

                        matz.

=end

#13

Updated by marcandre (Marc-Andre Lafortune) almost 10 years ago

  • Status changed from Assigned to Closed

=begin
This issue was solved with changeset r26161.
Marc-Andre, thank you for reporting this issue.
Your contribution to Ruby is greatly appreciated.
May Ruby be with you.

=end

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