Table of Contents


As a mutually exclusive alternative to arrow function syntax, inspired by the long es-discuss thread Allen's lambda syntax proposal and echoes and followups since, here is a proposal for Tennent Correspondence Principle, AKA “Principle of Abstraction” full-strength blocks as better functions, both syntactically and semantically.

An essential part of this proposal is a paren-free call syntax, but only for calls bearing block arguments. A more general paren_free call syntax could perhaps be separated and considered on its own, but I’m specializing and combining proposals here to work through details holistically, and to emphasize that usability demands this syntax, based on Smalltalk, Ruby, and E expert witness testimony.

Also, general paren-free call syntax poses parsing and compatibility challenges that add (I believe) much more complexity than the paren-free block-argument-bearing call syntax proposed here.

Brendan Eich 2011/05/20 21:52


let empty = {||};                           // empty block-lambda (note || not | |)
assert(empty() === undefined);
assert(typeof empty === "function");        // native and does implement [[Call]]
assert(empty.length === 0);
let identity = {|x| x};                     // reformed completion is return value
assert(identity(42) === 42);
assert(identity.length === 1);
let a = [1, 2, 3, 4];
let b = {|e| e * e}                   // paren-free call with block is
                                            // idiomatic control structure so
                                            // no semicolon at end
print(b);                                   // [1, 4, 9, 16]
b = {|e|                              // newline in block ok
           e * e * e}                       // newline after ends call
function find_first_odd(a) {
  a.forEach { |e, i|
              if (e & 1) return i; }        // return from find_first_odd
  return -1;
function escape_return() {
  return {|e| return e};
b = escape_return();
try { b(42); } catch (e) {}                 // error, return from inactive function
function find_odds_in_arrays(list,          // array of arrays
                             skip)          // if found, skip rest of current array
  let a = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < list.length; i++) {
    list[i].forEach {
      if (e === skip) continue;             // continue the for loop
      if (e & 1) a.push(e);
  return a;
function find_more_odds(list, stop) {
  let a = [];
  for (let i = 0; i < list.length; i++) {
    list[i].forEach {
      if (e === stop) break;                // break from the for loop
      if (e & 1) a.push(e);
  return a;
function arguments_in_block() {
  return {|| arguments};
b = arguments_in_block("hi", "there");
a = b();
print(;        // "hi","there"
function this_in_block() {
  return {|| this};
let o = {m: this_in_block};
let b = o.m();
let t = b();
assert(t === o);
let p = {};
let u =;
assert(u === o);
/* Another block-lambdas example, courtesy Claus Reinke. */
function A() {
  let ret = {|x| return x; };               // Tennent "sequel"
  let inc = {|x| x+1 };
  let j = 0;
  while (true) {
    if (j > 3)
      ret(j);                               // leave function A
    j = inc(j);
/* A Smalltalk ifTrue:ifFalse: homage requested by Peter Michaux. */
    value: function (ifTrue, ifFalse) {
      return this ? ifTrue() : ifFalse();
print(false.ifElse {|| "true"} {|| "false"}); // "false"
print(true.ifElse {|| "true"} {|| "false"});  // "true"


Change all uses of AssignmentExpression outside of the Expression sub-grammar to InitialValue:

ElementList :                               // See 11.1.4
    Elision_opt InitialValue
    ElementList , Elision_opt InitialValue

PropertyAssignment :                        // See 11.1.5
    PropertyName : InitialValue

ArgumentList :                              // See 11.2
    ArgumentList , InitialValue

Initialiser :                               // See 12.2
    = InitialValue

InitialiserNoIn :                           // See 12.2
    = InitialValueNoIn

InitialValue :

Statement :
    LeftHandSideExpression = CallWithBlockArguments
    LeftHandSideExpression AssignmentOperator CallWithBlockArguments

MemberExpression :

PrimaryExpression :
    ( CallWithBlockArguments )

CallWithBlockArguments :
    LeftHandSideExpression [no LineTerminator here] BlockArguments

BlockArguments :
    BlockArguments [no LineTerminator here] BlockLambda

BlockLambda :
    { || StatementList_opt }
    { | BlockParameterList_opt | StatementList_opt }

BlockParameterList :
    BlockParameterList , BlockParameter

BlockParameter :
    Identifier BlockParameterInitialiser_opt
    Pattern BlockParameterInitialiser_opt

BlockParameterInitialiser :
    = BitwiseXorExpression


  • The grammar above confines paren-free calls with block-lambda initial arguments and comma-free horizontal spaces only between arguments to certain contexts:
    • Initial values, in object and array initialisers, argument lists, default parameter values, and variable declaration initialiser.
    • Statements, either as the whole of an expression statement variant, or on the right of a left-hand side expression followed by = or an AssignmentOperator.
  • The grammar changes show Pattern for destructuring, but I left out rest_parameters syntax for simplicity’s sake.
  • With GLR parsing for the spec grammar, we could consider, e.g. (x) {x} instead of {|x| x} with LineTerminator excluded between parameters and body.
    • But this syntax does not look like a block, and it may lead to missing newline errors between calls and blocks being parsed without error.
    • So this is a cautionary tale: we do not want something that looks like a function expression more than a block, given TCP purity.


8.6.2 Object Internal Properties and Methods

Table 9 – Internal Properties Only Defined for Some Objects

Internal PropertyValue Type DomainDescription
[[Call]]SpecOp(any, a List of any) → any or Reference or CompletionExecutes code associated with the object. Invoked via a function call expression. The arguments to the SpecOp are this object and a list containing the arguments passed to the function call expression. Objects that implement this internal method are callable. Only callable objects that are host objects may return Reference values. Only block-lambda objects (11.1.7) may return Completion values (8.9)

11.1.7 Block Lambda

The production BlockLambda : { | BlockParameterListopt | StatementListopt } is evaluated as follows:

  1. Create a new native ECMAScript object and let B be that object.
  2. Set all the internal methods of B as described in 8.12.
  3. Set the [[Class]] internal property of B to “Function”.
  4. Set the [[Prototype]] internal property of B to the standard built-in Function prototype object as specified in
  5. Set the [[Call]] internal property of B as described in
  6. Set the [[Scope]] internal property of B to the LexicalEnvironment of the running execution context.
  7. Set the [[Context]] internal property of B to the running execution context.
  8. Let names be a List containing, in left to right textual order, the Strings corresponding to the identifiers of BlockParameterList. If no parameters are specified, let names be the empty list.
  9. Set the [[FormalParameters]] internal property of B to names.
  10. Set the [[Code]] internal property of B to StatementListopt. If there is no StatementList, set [[Code]] to an EmptyStatement.
  11. Set the [[Extensible]] internal property of B to true.
  12. Let len be the number of formal parameters specified in BlockParameterList. If no parameters are specified, let len be 0.
  13. Call the [[DefineOwnProperty]] internal method of B with arguments “length”, Property Descriptor {[[Value]]: len, [[Writable]]: false, [[Enumerable]]: false, [[Configurable]]: false}, and false.
  14. Return the block-lambda object B.

Block-lambda parameter lists should support everything in Harmony that one can do in function formal parameter lists: parameter default values, rest parameters, and destructuring.

The BlockParameterList, BlockParameter, and BlockParameterInitialiser productions have straightforward semantics, elided here mainly because I don’t want to duplicate all the existing FormalParameterList, etc. semantics. [[Call]]

When the [[Call]] internal method for a block-lambda object B is called with a list of arguments, the following steps are taken:

  1. Let funcCtx be the result of establishing a new execution context for function code using the value of B‘s [[FormalParameters]] internal property, the passed arguments List args, and the this value given by the ThisBinding component of the execution context in B‘s [[Context]] internal property.
  2. Let result be the result of evaluating the StatementList or EmptyStatement that is the value of B‘s [[Code]] internal property.
  3. Exit the execution context funcCtx, restoring the previous execution context.
  4. If result.type is normal and result.value is empty then return (normal, undefined, empty).
  5. Else if result.type is break, continue, or return and the execution context in B‘s [[Context]] internal property has already exited, throw a TypeError exception.
  6. Else if result.type is break or continue and evaluation of the label-set has already completed, throw a TypeError exception.
  7. Else return the Completion value result.

TODO: forbid var in block-lambdas via early error (yeah!)

11.2.3 Function Calls


TODO: Process Completion return type

The production CallWithBlockArguments : LeftHandSideExpression [no LineTerminator here] BlockArguments is evaluated in exactly the same manner, except that BlockArguments is evaluated instead of Arguments in step 3.

(This paragraph goes just before the NOTE at the bottom of 11.2.3.)

11.2.4 Argument Lists


The production BlockArguments : BlockLambda is evaluated as follows:

  1. Let ref be the result of evaluating BlockLambda.
  2. Let arg be GetValue(ref).
  3. Return a List whose sole item is arg.

The production BlockArguments : BlockArguments [no LineTerminator here] BlockLambda is evaluated as follows:

  1. Let precedingArgs be the result of evaluating BlockArguments.
  2. Let ref be the result of evaluating BlockLambda.
  3. Let arg be GetValue(ref).
  4. Return a List whose length is one greater than the length of precedingArgs and whose items are the items of precedingArgs, in order, followed at the end by arg which is the last item of the new list.

12.7 The continue Statement

The verbiage about “(but not crossing function boundaries)” should be clarified to exclude block-lambda boundaries, which are treated like Block boundaries.

12.8 The break Statement

The verbiage about “(but not crossing function boundaries)” should be clarified to exclude block-lambda boundaries, which are treated like Block boundaries.

12.9 The return Statement

The verbiage about “A return statement causes a function to cease execution and return a value to the caller” should be clarified to include return in block-lambda attempting to exit the nearest enclosing FunctionBody.


  • completion reform should be considered since the completion value is the return value for block lambdas.
  • Existing semantic early error checks on label use, break outside of switch and loop, etc. work as before, but cross the block-lambda boundary.
  • The runtime semantics for block-lambda [[Call]] must handle return from an outer function activation that has already returned.

See Also

strawman/block_lambda_revival.txt · Last modified: 2012/01/15 02:39 by brendan
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