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HELP EQUAL                                            A. Sloman Dec 1990
                                            Revised John Gibson Jan 1996

Equality tests in Pop-11:

            item1  =   item2  -> bool
            item1  ==  item2  -> bool
            item1  /=  item2  -> bool
            item1  /== item2  -> bool
            item1  =-> item2

(There is also the operator equals, which is the same as = except for
pattern matching. See below.)

With the exception of =->, all these operators have precedence 7, take
two arguments of any type and produce a boolean result. (=-> has
precedence 10 and does not produce a result.) See also REF * DATA.

         CONTENTS - (Use <ENTER> g to access required sections)

  1   Introduction
      1.1   Different Types of Data
      1.2   Strict Equality (== or /==)
      1.3   Structural Equality (= or /=)
      1.4   Structural Equality 'Assignment' (=->)
  2   Behaviour of = and /=
      2.1   Using = with Two Numbers
      2.2   Don't Test Decimals for Equality
  3   Behaviour of == and /==
      3.1   Use == Rather than = on Words
      3.2   Examples Using ==
  4   More Examples Using =
  5   More on Structural Equality (=)
  6   Pattern Matching With =
      6.1   Matchvar Syntax
      6.2   Matchvars with Additional Restrictions
      6.3   Repeated Variables
      6.4   Using equals Instead
      6.5   Notes
  7   Related Documentation

1  Introduction

There are two forms of equality test in Pop-11, represented by the infix
procedures = and == and their negative forms /= and /==. They all take
two items of arbitrary type as input and return true or false as output.

A full understanding of how they work requires an understanding of the
representation of data in Pop-11. (See first section of REF * DATA.)

In some cases the results of = and == applied to numbers can be
counter-intuitive. The reasons are explained below.

1.1  Different Types of Data
The main things to note are

  # Some objects in Pop-11 are compound and can only be referred to via
    pointers, e.g. lists, procedures, strings, words, arrays,
    "big"integers, double-precision decimals, ratios, complex numbers

  # Some objects are simple and are directly represented in the machine,
    within one word (usually 32 bits). There are only two types of such

        (1) single decimals (i.e. not ddecimals);

        (2) integers that can fit into one word including sign (i.e. not

  # Most compound objects are of a type that can have accessible
    components, e.g. strings and words have characters, vectors, arrays
    and records contain elements that can be of various types. Some
    compound objects are complex but do not have accessible components.
    E.g. a procedure has machine instructions but they cannot be

  # Some compound objects are represented uniquely in a dictionary or
    table, and constructed using a procedure that first checks to see
    if the object already exists and if so produces that one, otherwise
    it creates a new instance and puts it in the table so that it can
    be used in future. This assumes a criterion for identity of objects,
    and that is usually that they are of the same type and have the same

    Words are the ONLY compound data type that have this "unique
    representation" property in Pop-11, though it is possible for users
    to define their own data types that are constructed in this way,
    Moreover it is possible to by-pass the uniqueness of words: by
    keeping a pointer to word, removing it from the dictionary, and
    then creating a new word with the same characters.

The two equality tests differ in the ways in which they cope with these

1.2  Strict Equality (== or /==)
The strict equality procedure == (and /==) do a very fast test to see
whether the two arguments are absolutely identical, i.e. the very same
simple object or the very same pointer to a compound object. So the two
bit patterns representing the two arguments must be identical for == to
produce true (or /== to produce false).

1.3  Structural Equality (= or /=)
The structural equality procedure = (and /=) is far more complicated. It
does different things for different types of data, and users can alter
the procedure used for certain kinds of data.

See also

    HELP * CLASSES  (section on class_=)
    REF  * DATA     (section Comparison Procedures)
    REF  * sys_=

What follows describes the default behaviour of = (which is also
provided by the procedure sys_=).

1.4  Structural Equality 'Assignment' (=->)
The 'equals assign' procedure =-> is the same as =, but instead of
returning a boolean result, mishaps with 'NON-EQUAL ARGUMENTS FOR =->'
if the two arguments are not equal.

The principal use of this (and the reason for the name 'equals assign')
is with a second argument containing matchvars. For example

    list =-> [=?x =?y =?z];

is a way of decomposing a list and assigning its elements to variables.
See Pattern Matching With = below.

2  Behaviour of = and /=

If applied to simple objects the operator = just uses == to do the test.

If applied to a simple and a compound object it returns false, unless
both are numbers in which several possibilities arise, described in the
next section.

If applied to two compound objects it compares their types and if they
are of different types it returns false (unless they are numbers, see
next section).

If the two compount arguments are of the same type (e.g. two lists, two
words, two strings, two ratios) then

  # If they are == it returns true.

  # Otherwise it examines the structures to see whether they have
    components and whether the corresponding components are the same,
    using = recursively.

  # If the two items are both numbers a rather complex set of rules is
    used, described in the next section.

  # If the two arguments are of a type that cannot have components (e.g.
    two procedures) then the result is false.

  # If they can have components but have none (e.g. empty strings or
    empty vectors) it returns true.

  # If they have components then if there are exactly the same
    components as tested in sequence by = then it returns true otherwise

2.1  Using = with Two Numbers
There are several kinds of numbers, as explained in REF * DATA and
REF * ITEMISE (the latter explains the syntax for expressing number
constants). REF * NUMBERS gives more information on numbers. Note that
the rules for comparing different types of numbers with = described
here are also applicable to comparisons with >, >=, < and <=.

The equality test on numbers is as follows (but note the warning in
the next section):

    num1 = num2 -> bool

If num1 and num2 are both rationals (integers, bigintegers or ratios)
then if they are of different types (e.g. an integer and a ratio), then
bool is false: num1 and num2 cannot be the same number.

If they are both integers then = gives the same result as ==.

Otherwise the result depends on whether they are structures with the
same components. E.g. with ratios

    22/7 = 22/7 =>
    ** <true>


    22/7 == 22/7 =>
    ** <false>

Similarly, comparing bigintegers

    12345678901234567890 = 12345678901234567890 =>
    ** <true>

    12345678901234567890 == 12345678901234567890 =>
    ** <false>

If the two numbers are decimals (i.e. simple) then = and == give the
same result:

    3.5s+0 = 3.5s+0 =>
    ** <true>

    3.5s+0 == 3.5s+0 =>
    ** <true>

If one argument is a decimal and the other a ddecimal, then the former
is converted to a ddecimal first.

    3.5s0 = 3.5d0 =>
    ** <true>

Whereas a decimal and a ddecimal are never == :

    3.5s0 == 3.5d0 =>
    ** <false>

Two ddecimals will be = only if they are structures containing exactly
the same items:

    3.333d0 = 3.333d0 =>
    ** <true>

But they may be different objects in the machine

    3.333d0 == 3.333d0 =>
    ** <false>

If one of the numbers is rational (integer, biginteger or ratio) and the
other a floating-point (decimal or ddecimal), then they are both first
converted to double-float (ddecimal) before the comparison. This can
sometimes give counter-intuitive results, e.g.

    3.5**60 =>
    ** 440639000000000000000000000000000.0
    intof(3.5**60) =>
    ** 440638722025939592621503134302208


    3.5**60 = intof(3.5**60) =>
    ** <true>

    3.5**60 = intof(3.5**60) + 3 =>
    ** <true>

The same rules apply to the comparison of the real and imaginary parts
of a complex numbers. Note that a real number compared with a complex
number will be equal only if the complex number is a float-complex with
0.0 imaginary part (since the imaginary part of a rational complex must
always be non-zero).

    sqrt(-1) - sqrt(-1) =>
    ** 0.0_+:0.0

    0.0 = sqrt(-1) - sqrt(-1) =>
    ** <true>

2.2  Don't Test Decimals for Equality
Note that although decimals are simple they should never be used with ==
or = because rounding errors can make equality tests meaningless.
Instead test for similarity within a carefully chosen tolerance:

    vars d1 = sqrt(99), d2 = sqrt(10 * 9.9);    ;;; create two decimals

    abs(d1 - d2) < 0.000001 =>                  ;;; test the difference
    ** <true>

    d1 == d2 =>                                 ;;; if true that's luck
    ** <true>

3  Behaviour of == and /==

Equality testing for simple objects is direct and fast: the result is
true if the two things are the very same bit pattern. If not, and they
are both simple objects or one is simple and the other not, then the
result is false.

3.1  Use == Rather than = on Words
Equality testing for compound objects can be much slower than testing
for simple objects. This means that if compound objects have the unique
representation property (see Different Types of Data above) then it is
wasteful to use = to test them. Instead use == because if that produces
false then = will also (see HELP * EFFICIENCY). Of course, if you don't
know whether your program is comparing strings or words, because it can
cope with either, then use =.

3.2  Examples Using ==

    [a b c] == [a b c] =>
    ** <false>

This is because there are TWO lists (which look identical) but, in
constructing them, we have made two SIMILAR objects at DIFFERENT
locations in the computer's memory etc. However,

    vars n = [a b c];
    n == n =>
    ** <true>

This is because both occurrences of "n" in the test reference exactly
the same item in the computer's memory.

Additional examples:

    99 == 99 =>                 ;;; two identical simple objects
    ** <true>

    99 == 89 =>                 ;;; non-identical simple objects
    ** <false>

    99 == '99' =>               ;;; one simple and one compound
    ** <false>

    'string' == 'string' =>     ;;; both compound
    ** <false>

    "string" == "string" =>     ;;; both compound but uniquely represented
    ** <true>

    [a list] == [a list] =>     ;;; both compound
    ** <false>

    vars list = [a list];       ;;; assign [a list] to -list-
    list == list =>             ;;; both compound but identical
    ** <true>

    3/4 == 3/4 =>               ;;; two ratios, both compound
    ** <false>

In all the above examples replacing == with /== would reverse the
truth value produced.

4  More Examples Using =

In all the cases where == produces the result true, = would also produce
the result true.  In some cases, = produces true where == would produce
false.  But whenever = produces false, so does ==.

    99 = 99 =>                  ;;; acceptable but slow
    ** <true>

    99 = 98 =>                  ;;; acceptable but slow
    ** <false>

    99 = '99' =>                ;;; one simple and one compound
    ** <false>

    'string' = 'string' =>      ;;; both compound
    ** <true>

    "string" = "string" =>      ;;; acceptable but slow
    ** <true>

    "string" = 'string' =>      ;;; different data types

    [a list] = [a list] =>      ;;; false with == but true now
    ** <true>

    vars list = [a list];
    list = list =>              ;;; both compound but identical
    ** <true>

    3/4 = 3/4 =>                ;;; two ratios, both compound
    ** <true>

    ;;; The next example demonstrates the need to look at substructures
    ['string' [list] {vector 2}] = ['string' [list] {vector 2}] =>
    ** <true>

5  More on Structural Equality (=)

Objects may be compared differently -- depending on their class. Pop-11
provides several different classes of objects (integers, words, strings
etc) and users may define their own new classes. Each class, or data
type, has a key associated with it. The key of a data type contains
information about the data type (e.g. what procedures can operate on it

The = operator may use different equality testing procedures, depending
on what data types are being compared. The way objects are compared will
depend on what  data type is on the right of the operator.

There is an equality testing procedure associated with every key. The =
operator finds the key of the second argument and uses this to compare
it with the object on the left. The default equality testing procedure
for all keys is the standard procedure run by sys_=. The default can be
changed for both system and user defined classes.

6  Pattern Matching With =

The second (right-hand) argument to the =, /= and =-> operators may also
be, or contain, pattern elements called matchvars. These are special
records which can match against items in the first argument, and also
bind variables as a side effect.

6.1  Matchvar Syntax
There are four Pop-11 syntax words to construct matchvars, as follows:

    Syntax          Effect With =
    ------          -------------
    =*              Matches one item.

    =?variable      Matches one item and binds it to the variable

    =**             Matches an arbitrary number of items inside a list
                    (possibly none).

    =??variable     Matches an arbitrary number of items inside a list
                    (possibly none), and binds a separate list of them
                    (possibly []) to the variable variable.

The simplest way to use these constructs is by supplying one directly as
the second argument to = (although this is not generally very useful):

    vars x, y;

    99 = =* =>
    ** <true>

    99 = =?x =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** 99

They are much more useful when embedded in other structures:

    vars list = [a b c d e], vector = {1 2 3 4 5};

    list = [a b =* d e] =>
    ** <true>

    list = [a =** e] =>
    ** <true>

    vector = {1 =* 3 =* 5} =>
    ** <true>

    list = [a =* d =* e] =>
    ** <false>

An important point to note is that =** and =??variable only match a
sequence of list elements. They do not match a list as a single item,
nor (for example) a sequence of vector elements:

    list = =??x =>
    ** <false>

    vector = {1 =** 5} =>
    ** <false>

Some more examples with variable binding:

    vector = {=?x 2 3 4 5} =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** 1

    list = [=?x d e] =>
    ** <false>

    list = [=??x d e] =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** [a b c]

    list = [=??x c =??y] =>
    ** <true>
    x, y =>
    ** [a b] [d e]

    list = [=??x =??y] =>
    ** <true>
    x, y =>
    ** [] [a b c d e]

(Note that if a call to = returns false, any variables in the pattern
will have undefined values. That is, matchvar variable values can be
altered by either a successful or an unsuccessful call.)

6.2  Matchvars with Additional Restrictions
Any of the matchvar constructs =*, =**, =?variable and =??variable can
be followed by


to restrict the items it will match (note that with =* and =**, a space
is needed before the colon).

restriction can be one of the following:

  # An integer (or the name of a variable containing one). This means
    that the length of the value matched must equal the specified
    integer. For example:

        list = [=??x:3 =??y] =>
        ** <true>
        x, y =>
        ** [a b c] [d e]

  # A procedure name. In this case, the procedure is applied to the
    matching value, and must return a non-false result for the match to
    succeed. E.g:

        list = [=?x:isinteger =??y] =>
        ** <false>

        list = [=?x:isword =??y] =>
        ** <true>
        x, y =>
        ** a [b c d e]

  # An expression inside % signs, i.e. % expression %, where expression
    compiles to an integer or a procedure, e.g.

        [a 3] = [a =?x: %nonop>(%0%)%] =>
        ** <true>
        x =>
        ** 3

Instead of :restriction you can also use


This only affects =?variable and =??variable, and then only when
restriction is a procedure. The difference from the : form is that when
the procedure accepts the match by returning a non-false result, that
result is substituted for the matching value in the variable (at the
end of the = call):

    list = [=??x#length d e] =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** 3

    define value(item);
        if item == "a" then 10
        elseif item == "b" then 20
        else false

    list = [=?x#value =** ] =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** 10

    list = [=** =?x:value] =>
    ** <false>

    list = [=??x:value d e] =>
    ** <false>

6.3  Repeated Variables
If the same variable is used more than once in a pattern, the match
will succeed only if it is matched against the same thing in all its
occurrences. Thus:

    [a b c a b c] = [=??x =??x] =>
    ** <true>
    x =>
    ** [a b c]

    [a b c c b a] = [=??x =??x] =>
    ** <false>

    {1 2 3 4 5} = {=?x 2 =?x 4 5} =>
    ** <false>

However, there some cases of repeated =?? variables that =, /= and =->
cannot cope with correctly (but equals does, see below). The situation
can be summarised thus:

    Once any list containing an =?? variable has been matched in its
    entirety, = is incapable of changing its mind about what the
    variables in that list should match at some later point in the

For example, the following should match (with x set to [1] and y to
[2]), but doesn't:

    [[1 2][2 1]]  =  [[=??x =??y][=??y =??x]] =>
    ** <false>

The reason is that in matching the first sub-list [1 2], = decides that
x should be set to [], and y to [1 2]; this is the wrong choice, but
having completed the first sub-list, is unable to go back and try
a different choice when matching the second sub-list.

The problem disappears if the sub-lists are removed:

    [1 2 2 1]  =  [=??x =??y =??y =??x] =>
    ** <true>
    x, y =>
    ** [1] [2]

Now, although = initially tries x as [] (then y as [], etc), each wrong
choice becomes apparent before completing the list containing the

6.4  Using equals Instead
The above inadequacy in the behaviour of = can only be rectified by
sacrificing speed on all the other cases for which it works correctly.

For this reason, an alternative operator equals is provided. equals is
significantly slower than =, but guarantees to find a correct match with
repeated =?? variables (if one is possible):

    [[1 2][2 1]]  equals  [[=??x =??y][=??y =??x]] =>
    ** <true>
    x, y =>
    ** [1] [2]

Moreover, because it can backtrack on any choices for =?? variables,
equals is also capable of finding all possible ways of matching a

You can use this facility by supplying equals with an optional procedure
argument. If a procedure is supplied, equals will call it every time it
finds a match; the procedure must then decide whether the match (i.e.
the set of values assigned to the variables) is acceptable. If so, the
procedure should return true (which will cause equals to return true),
or return false (which will cause equals to try another match, or return
false if there are no more).

For example, the following procedure can be used to display all possible
ways of matching a pattern with the variables x and y:

    define tryall();
        [x ^x y ^y] =>      ;;; print the variables
        false;              ;;; return false to get next match

Note that since equals is an operator, the procedure (third argument)
must be separated by a comma from the pattern (second argument), and
the two enclosed in parentheses:

    [1 2 3 4]  equals  ([=??x =??y], tryall) =>
    ** [x [] y [1 2 3 4]]
    ** [x [1] y [2 3 4]]
    ** [x [1 2] y [3 4]]
    ** [x [1 2 3] y [4]]
    ** [x [1 2 3 4] y []]
    ** <false>

6.5  Notes
(1) When using =? and =?? with procedure-local lexical variables, it is
more efficient to declare them as dlvars rather than lvars. Providing
they contain no 'evaluate' keywords (and providing you are using
* compile_mode :pop11 +constr or +strict), lists and vectors containing
matchvars will then compile to constant structures.

(2) The variable part of =? and =?? may also be a quoted word, i.e:


This will cause the valof of word to be assigned when the matchvar is
bound to something (and hence represents a 'floating' variable, rather
than one using the normal Pop-11 identifier scoping).

(3) The procedure * matchvar_instantiate can be used to make an
'instance' of a pattern structure, i.e. a copy (or partial copy) of the
structure in which any matchvars are replaced by  their variable

7  Related Documentation

    Introduction to keys.

    More on keys and the procedure class_=.

    Introduction to data types.

    More on data types and the equality test procedure sys_=.

    Defining new record and vector classes.

    These two files show  the role of  equality in defining  association

    Section on matchvar records.

--- C.all/help/equal
--- Copyright University of Sussex 1996. All rights reserved.