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SHARP APL vs. APL2 coding style
by Dan Baronet (danb@dsuper.net)
Introduction
Following Soliton’s announcement to unleash their APL into the Linux community I decided to review the differences between SHARP APL and APL2 style APLs (IBM’s APL2, Dyalog, APL+Win). I have divided the report into several articles, each with a different topic.
This article is the first of the series. It should be read before any of the others.
Not having a current version of IBM’s APL2 on hand I have
been making my observations based on Dyalog’s APL using
Œml=2
,
which, like APL+Win, follows APL2 closely.
When reading this text keep in mind the date it was written (September 1999) as languages change and may render this information incorrect in the future.
Conventions
In the text italicized words have a special meaning and often precede their definition.
SAPL refers to SHARP APL, including SAM which is SAPL under MVS and SAX which is SAPL under Unix. SAX is the one also running under Linux and compared to APL2 here.
Variables and workspace names are enclosed in ‘quotes’. Functions and files are enclosed in <angle brackets>.
The term atom refers to a numeric or character scalar only. The term item refers to any scalar.
Whenever possible I will show examples in SAPL and APL2 side by side.
A bit of history
SHARP APL (SAPL) used to be a mainframe product only until a PC version appeared in 1984 (release V17 of SAM and rel V20 later on). It remained pretty much so as the PC version never took off. The PC version ran under DOS and lacked many features. Because it was emulating the S/370 it was also very slow.
SAPL really is a product as opposed to a language. There are various components including a batch scheduler, a file system, many shared variable processors, sorting utilities, etc. More importantly, SAPL tasks may spawn and control other APL tasks with system functions, something no other APL has ever achieved. Very large secure systems can be (and have been) written in SAPL.
By contrast, in IBM’s APL2^{1}, everything but the language is external and only available through auxiliary processors (APs). There are no quad functions, for example, to perform file operations.
There are pros and cons for using each APL and the purpose of this article is not to take sides but rather to show the differences between them as objectively as possible.
SAX came to life in the early 90’s and is a more flexible version of SAM. It is based on “the Dictionary of APL” by Ken Iverson. It extends SAM V21. It more closely resembles J. (Think of J on APL char set.) The Linux version is the same as the Unix version.
At some point there was a shift in philosophy using the first
versus the last axis in function operations (ex: /
vs. š
) and some newer functions were defined in
terms of the latter. APL2 has remained pretty much a “last
axis favoured” language.
Enclosed Arrays
In SAPL the term “enclosed array” is used. In APL2 the term used is “nested array”. They are, practically, the same thing. The term “boxed array” (SAX) is also sometimes seen but won’t be used here.
Let’s assume we have the following variables on hand:
a„'text'ª b„1 2 3 ª c„2 3½a ª d„2 4 3½¼33
The simplest way to create an enclosed item is to use the expression
SAX APL2  APL2 

x„<anyvalue  x„›anyvalue

In SAPL there is no maximum level
(depth) of enclosure. Thus <<<a
is ‘a’ enclosed 3 times. In IBM’s
APL2 there is a limit.
Items must be opened before applying a function to them.
If x„<2 3 4
then
+/>x +/œx
will result in the sum of the values in ‘x’.
To create a list (vector) of enclosed items we can use the
usual catenate function (,
):
x„(<a),(<b),<c x„(›a),(›b),›c
This will ALWAYS work in all interpreters I know. But there is an easier (incompatible) way to do this:
x„aœbœc x„ a b c
Which brings us to the way things are presented to the interpreter.
Notation
APL2 uses what is known as strand
notation. Using this notation, arrays are created by putting items
together side by side, without using catenate (‘,
’)
as in the example above. Sometimes it is handier than using ‘,
’.
SAX does not support that notation and requires the use of functions
‘,
’ to catenate items together or ‘œ
’ to link them if they are to be enclosed.
Link
Link is a specific SAPL function to ‘enclose and catenate’ with a twist. To understand its use let’s look at the monadic case first:
Monadic ‘link’
This is another function specific to SAPL. The formal definition is: ‘enclose the argument IF it does NOT contain already enclosed item(s)’. Sort of a conditional enclose. In fact conditional enclose is its real name. See its usage^{2}:
x„œvar –(1<¦x„var)/'x„›var'
Determining if an array is enclosed
An application of this is to determine whether we are dealing with an enclosed array or not:
x¦œx 1<¦x
will return 1 if ‘x’ is enclosed. There is no depth function in SAPL.
Dyadic ‘link’
aœb
will enclose ‘a’ and catenate it to the enclosure of
‘b’ if ‘b’ does NOT contain enclosed elements.
Formally,
aœb
is the same as
(<a),œb
Why not use (<a),<b
? The reason is to avoid enclosing
a list repeatedly. Imagine what would happen if it were to always
enclose the right argument in the expression
aœbœc
.
This would result in (<a)
,<(<b)
,<c
, a twoelement list. This is not what we
want. A consequence of this is that one must explicitly code the
enclosure of the last item if the last value MUST be enclosed,
as in x„aœbœ<m
(with m„2
3½<a
), to get
a threeelement list.
On the other hand, if we want to, say, catenate
<a
before each row of ‘m’ then aœm
will
do whereas (›a),m
is
required in APL2.
Heterogeneous arrays
Both APLs support arrays containing a mixture of items of different data types, namely characters, numbers and enclosures although they must be explicitly catenated in SAX:
x„1,'s' x„1 's' x„1,'s',<'sa' x„1 's' 'sa' x„1,'s','sa'œ2 3 x„1 's' 'sa'(2 3)
Disclosing multiple items at a time
Entire arrays can be disclosed in one fell swoop with only space and maximum rank (127) restrictions:
2 3 ¦ ½>1œ'dsa' 2 3 ¦ ½œ1'dsa'
In Dyalog there is a “same rank” restriction^{3}. Not in SAX:
4 2 4 4 ¦½>aœbœcœd 
(RANK ERROR in Dyalog and APL+PLUS II) 
Disclosing an array results in another array of the shape of the array disclosed, followed by the largest of the shapes of ALL items disclosed with proper fill elements to fill where necessary.
Atom enclosure/disclosure
A major difference between SAPL and APL2 is in the handling of atoms (simple scalars) upon enclosing them. In SAPL enclosing ANYTHING adds a level of enclosure. Not so in APL2 where an atom can NEVER be enclosed. Thus:
~2¦<2 2¦›2
This has several implications as we shall see in a later article.
The disclosure of an atom is permissible in both APLs. Thus
2¦>2 2¦œ2
Operations on arrays
SAPL offers a few operators to work with (enclosed) arrays. I will discuss only the basics in this article. The next article will cover the subject in more depth (no pun intended).
With, Under, Each (¨
)
Although Under is the official name under SAX, people often refer to it as With. APL2 uses the term Each.
With ‘/
’ this is the most used operator in
ALL APLs. It is probably best explained starting with an example:
½¨>x ½¨x
Here we wish to return the shape of each item by first disclosing (each) cell of ‘x’, getting its shape and reenclosing it, ending with a result of the same shape as the original argument.
In SAPL
¨
is dyadic, allowing for a different right function. The people
at APL2 probably felt that since disclose/enclose is used
most of the time it was better to make ¨
monadic and include these functions implicitly
whereas at I.P.Sharp (where SAPL came from) people tried to be
more general.
Some interesting combinations can
be made with 2 functions and ¨
although
99% of the time
disclose (>
) is used.
An example is multiplication:
A×B
is *(µA)+(µB)
or A+¨µB
The real APL2 definition is: “for each cell:
 disclose the cell
 apply the (ambivalent) function of ¨
 enclose the cell ”
The real SAPL definition is: “for each cell:
 apply the right function of ¨ (usually >)
 apply the left (ambivalent) function of
¨
 apply the inverse of the right function of
¨
(usually<
)”
Or, given f
¨
g
y, for each cell: “g^{1} f g y[j]”.
This, of course, implies that someone
in the interpreter department goes over all the suitable right
hand argument functions and determines an inverse for each one
of them. And it was done. For example, <
and >
are inverses of each other.
³
is its own inverse.
Dyadic With reviewed
This is the same operator except that f (the left function) is used dyadically^{4}. In more complicated terms, x f¨
g y
is, for each corresponding cell:
“g^{1} (g x[j]) f (g y[j])”.
Where ‘x’ is the left argument.
Examples:
p ½¨> q p ½¨
q
(reshape
each)
t1,¨>t2 t1,¨ t2
(catenate each)
Scalar functions
In APL2, the use of the each operator is assumed for scalar functions (like + ) and derived functions, enclosed or not. There is no need to specify it. Ex:
x+¨>y x+y
Moreover, the function is applied recursively so long as the lengths are respected at each (nested) level. This is not possible in SAX.
The reason is that since disclose is implied and that an atom can NEVER be enclosed in APL2 then the each specification can be omitted. Structural functions like take must use each to remove ambiguities.
This is also why
+/x
and
+/¨x
mean two different things
in APL2. In SAX those would be coded as +¨>/x
and +/¨>x
respectively.
On (ð
)
This operator is similar to with except that the result of each cell is not modified by the inverse of g.
¨
and ð
are called composition
operators. The only difference between them is in the absence
of inverse for the right argument function of
ð
.
For example,
using f
ð
> y
is the same as doing
>f¨> y œf¨ y
This may seem trivial but I will show in a subsequent article, along with another operator, the implications of using this operator.
Other differences
SAPL supports the use of alpha (¸
)
and omega (¾
) as APL identifiers for variables, functions and labels.
These were introduced when the ¸/¾
“direct definition” notation was popular (late seventies).
The wisdom of their usage in code is debatable but they are available.
Also SAPL literature often refers to the left argument as alpha
and the right argument as omega. Something to keep in mind.
Complex numbers
These are not available in SAX yet.
Control structures
These are not APL2 but are worth a mention anyway. They do not exist in SAX. In a subsequent article I will show how to emulate them in a control version system that Soliton provides.
Defined operators
SAPL does not allow you to define your own operators.
Error trapping
Similar to Dyalog APL. Even the event numbers are almost the same. A notable difference: the ability to trap value errors “in line” and resume after solving the error. This allows you to easily do “demand paging” of objects.
File operations
In SAPL those are more like APL+Win.
System functions don’t start with an ‘F’ (
Œread
, not Œ
fread
). All file operations
return a result, that is val
Œreplace tc
returns
0 0½0
. This allows someone to use them with operators.
Format by example
SAX allows the usage of a character
left argument to the format primitive •
. This is the same as IBM’s APL2 (not
found in Dyalog or APL+Win).
Multiple assignments
It is possible, in both APLs, to “assign with disclose” several values to several variables by using quotes around the variables^{5}:
'a b'„2 5œ'cxz' (a b)„(2 5)'czx'
There is a peculiarity using this technique where the number of variables is 1:
'a b c'„1œ1 2œ1 2 3 ('c' is 1 2 3) 'b c'„1 2œ1 2 3 (again, 'c' is 1 2 3) 'c'„œ1 2 3 (now 'c' is <1 2 3, NOT 1 2 3)
This behaviour is found on ALL APLs (also in J!).
Personally, I think this is inconsistent. If there are no quotes (or parentheses) it should be a direct assignment. If there are some it should ALWAYS remove one level of nesting before assigning the value(s).
From
From is an alternative to bracket indexing. The beauty with from is that since it IS a function it does not suffer bracket syntax problems and can be used with operators.
From selects elements along the first dimension. Used with list arguments it selects individual items:
n{list nœ¨›list
Pick
(dyadic œ
in APL2) and First
(monadic †
) are not available under SAX. You can still
use >
with brackets [x] or use from ({
):
x„>atom{list x„atomœlist
Note that from is
Œio
independent. It uses an offset instead of an origin dependent
position (index). from also allows you to select items
from the end of the array by supplying negative offsets. Ex:
't'=3{a 't'=(3+Œio)œa 't'^.=0 3{a 't'^.=a[1 4] (in Œio 1) 'x'=¯2{a 'x'=a[Œio+(½a)+¯2]
Prototyping
In APL2 prototypes are used to fill
holes created by \
or †
. Ex: 2
2¦½†0½›2 2½5
. SAPL has no prototype. If ‘x’
is an item, the expression ‘0\x
’ always returns either 0 for a number,
blank for a character or <¼0
for an enclosed object.
Reduce Nwise
IBM’s APL2 allows you to reduce along an axis in sections of length N (N f/ x). Not in SAPL.
Stop, Trace
Those are set using
Œstop
and Œtrace
system functions as in Dyalog APL. IBM’s
APL2 uses ‘t‘
’ and ‘s‘
’ special name prefixes to do the same.
Take and drop
In SAX these functions work on the
leading axis of an array without having to specify them all. Ex
(?=
½½
m
):
2†m (2,1‡½m)†m 2‡m ((1—½½m)†2)‡m
IBM’s APL2 allows you to use take with one axis as in
3‡m 3‡[1]m
Scattered indexing
When the argument has a rank higher than 1 then indices should be enclosed:
(<1 2){d (›1 2)œ d (1 2œ0 1){d (1 2)(0 1)œd (Œio 0)
But you can pick an entire row (or first dimension elements) by supplying the offset only:
2 3 ¦ ½ 1 3 { 4 3 ½ ¼12
Swap
This operator merely swaps the arguments
to a function. Dyalog uses þ
for that. For ex:
2=7›9
Unique features in SAX
Here is a list of features not found in any other APL.
Index (iota underbar)
This function returns the index of
the first occurrence using epsilon underbar (
º
)as
primary function:
2 3¦(4 5½¼20)¥2 2 ½ 8 9 13 14 (Œio 1)
Jot
°
is a constant whose value is <¼0
. This is the constant used for overtake
and \
with enclosed or heterogeneous arrays.
Nub (monadic take)
This one is not unique to SAX (Dyalog’s
equivalent is ž
) but it handles higher rank arrays:
5 2 ¦ † 9 ½ 5 2 (†m[7½¼3;] ) ¦ m„3 4 ½ 'johnmarypaul'
Nubin (monadic =
)
, nubsieve (monadic ¬
)
=x
is the equivalent of (†x)°.=x
for vectors
¬
returns a boolean indicating where each element is first encountered.
This is the equivalent of ((v¼v)=¼½v)
for vectors. Works on matrices too such
that
1 0 1 0 1 0 ¦ ¬ 2š m
Output redirection
It is possible to send all input/output
to a file using Œout 0,tie
.
Packages
Packages are unique to SAPL and are
very useful. A series of system functions can be used with them,
all of which start with Œp
as in Œpack
, Œpdef
, etc. For example, to define variable ‘x’
with objects (variables, functions) ‘a’ and <f>
(for example to be stored on file) you would do
x„Œpack 'a f'
Think of them as static namespaces (found only in Dyalog). You cannot “enter“ a package and run something from within it. For example, if you wish to use its contents in a local environment you must first localize the names. For example, this function <execin> will execute an expression using a package’s contents:
’r„exp execin pack;f [1]–Œfx>('f',,';',Œpnames pack)œ'Œpdef pack ª r„',exp ’
Pass, Stop
These two functions are probably the simplest ever conceived yet very useful.
Stop:
�Œdl 5 0 0½Œdl 5 x„2�y„5 y„5 ª x„2
Pass:
¤x„1 2 3 Œ„x„1 2 3
This last function is more useful than it looks. For example, if space is important and you do not want the interpreter to keep a copy of the argument to a function you could do
myfn (Œex 'x')¤x
This effectively erases the variable AFTER passing it as an argument to <myfn>. The interpreter is then able to free up the memory space, should the need arise later on (for example after you reassign the argument within <myfn>). I don’t know of any other general way to do this with any other interpreter.
Ibeam functions
These are a leftover from the 60’s. If you think you know what they are you probably weren’t there. They are kept for compatibility reasons with SAM (many are noops) and will not be explained here.
Less
This one is not unique to SAPL (most APLs handle the vector case) but it accepts higher rank arrays:
12 7 ¦1 7 12 5 ~ ¼6 'john' ¦ ,m~m[2 3;]
Raze
This is an interesting monadic function (in terms of raison d’être). Its formal definition is
®¨>š
In other words, “working from the first dimension: catenate on the first dimension all items.”
My guess is that this came from a
requirement to create in SAPL a function reminiscent of APL2’s
monadic ¹
which puts everything in ravel order regardless of structural
depth^{6}. Before raze programmers would often need to get
text (or numbers) from enclosed lists together, sort of
>,¨>/
but SAM wouldn’t allow it resulting in expressions like “,
•x
”
(plus Œfi
if numeric) being used resulting in high
CPU costs. Hence raze was created. Plus it can be useful.
Shared variables
Œsvs
returns the status of a variable
Œsc
is used to wait on ANY shared variable event. It can also be assigned
a “maximum wait time”.
Œsvn
is used to uniquely identify your task when multitasking.
System commands
SAX commands are similar to other APLs.
)copy
allows the copying of system variables.
)load
and )clear
allow you to specify initial
Œwa
.
Ex:
)clear 200000000
will give you a workspace of 200M if you
have the room!
System functions
Workspace reporting
Various workspace elements (name,
stack) can be found using Œws
.
Function definition
Œfd
can be used to manipulate function representations (similar to
Œdef
, Œvr
in APL+Win).
Of course ISO standard functions
like Œcr
and Œfx
also exist.
System variables
Œps
controls the formatting of enclosed arrays. It is a fourelements
integer list of
 where to position each item in
its own box (
¯ 1
=left,0
=centre,1
=right)  where to position each item in
its own box (
¯ 1
=up,0
=centre,1
=down)  horizontal spacing between items
 vertical spacing between items
The default ¯1
¯1 0 1
fits most
cases.
Œsp
is used to store values. It stays the same between
)loads
. Probably one of the most valuable system
variables ever created.
10{Œav
is the character used as line delimiter. Not
13{Œav
.
One should exercise caution with this.
Table (monadic comma bar,
®
)
This function restructures any structure into a matrix, something like
(2†(½t),1 1)½t
Table turns a scalar into a 1 by 1, a vector into a 1 column table, anything else into a table.
Task spawning
This is possible in SAX and will be the subject of another article.
Conclusion
SAPL and APL2 are quite different in many respects but each (!) has its own merits. For anyone wishing to delve into the APL/Linux world there is, right now, little choice but to examine SAPL. Personally I am comfortable with both. I found SAPL to be fast, reliable and, with the tools Soliton is providing, a serious product.
The next article will deal with special SAPL operators (hoof, rank, cut, numeric with, }). Another one will deal with multitask operations. If time permits, another one will talk about intrinsic functions and one of Soliton’s products, logos.
Footnotes
 Dyalog and APL+Win do include system functions for APL files operations
 The  is necessary only in Dyalog where ¦ can be negative if the structure doesn’t have a constant depth.
 I do not know what IBM’s APL2 and APL+Win do here.
 This adverb can’t be found in the English dictionary. Yet.
 In Dyalog the parentheses are not necessary around the variables leading to potential conflicts.
 The design of raze had nothing to do with monadic epsilon in APL2. It is much superior, as it preserves lowerlevel structure. Some consider the design of monadic epsilon to be largely useless in real applications.
References
 Bernecky, R: An Introduction to Function Rank in APL88 Conference Proceedings, ACM SIGAPL Quote Quad 18:2, 1987, pp. 39–43
 Bernecky, R and Iverson, K E: Operators and Enclosed Arrays, (APL) Users Meeting 1980, I.P. Sharp Associates Limited
Please direct questions/remarks to danb@dsuper.net.
Dan BaronetMontreal
Canada