Re: Why can’t for-of be applied to iterators?

Andreas Rossberg rossberg at google.com
Wed Jun 12 03:55:59 PDT 2013


On 11 June 2013 21:19, Brendan Eich <brendan at mozilla.com> wrote:
> Andreas Rossberg wrote:
>>
>> That makes a terrible API, though. I think Axel has a valid point that
>> the distinction between iterators and iterables is fuzzy enough to be
>> more confusing and error-prone than useful.
>
> Have you actually used Python or JS1.7 much, though?
>
> Have to ask, since throwing "confusing" and "error-prone" charges demands
> evidence or at least anecdotes.

It is confusing me, for one -- I don't really understand the
difference anymore, nor the intended use cases. Granted, I might be
the only one confused. I'm not ready to believe that, though. ;)

You see, initially the iterator proposals tried to suggest a simple
and understandable model: iterators were objects with a 'next' method,
iterables were objects with an @@iterator method that produces an
iterator. But neither is true anymore:

- Iterators are iterables, they are supposed to have a 'next',
optionally a 'throw', and an @@iterator method that returns itself.
That is, the iterator interface has become considerably more
complicated and is mutually intertwined with iterables.

- Iterables are iterators most of the time, except when they aren't.
Their @@iterator method may produce a new iterator or, in most cases,
not. That is, there is no useful contract of what an iterable is, and
it is useless as a concept to implement abstractions against.
Nevertheless, people will probably try, and then build something that
does not reliably work for all iterables. Thus error-prone.

Where things stand now, the only reason we have @@iterator at all is
as a hook to provide implicit user-defined conversions from objects to
iterators, invoked by the for-of loop (and by extension, yield*).

We could simplify spec _and_ programmers' life by explicitly
recognizing it as such. That is, for-of invokes a ToIterator
conversion meta function, which is the identity for any 'nextable',
and tries to invoke @@iterator for others. Thereby drop the misleading
notion of iterable, and drop the weird requirement for iterators to be
iterables themselves.

WDYT?

/Andreas


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