Defined function (traditional)

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A user-defined function (or tradfn, for "traditional function", in Dyalog APL) is a function defined using a header that includes the function's name. Introduced in APL\360, function definition was universally supported by APL dialects for much of the language's history, and is still commonly used in mainstream APLs. Since the 1990s other ways to describe functions have appeared, with J and K rejecting function definition in favor of anonymous function description. Beginning in the 2010s Dyalog-based APL dialects including ngn/apl, dzaima/APL, and APL\iv have removed function definition in favor of dfns.

In many dialects the function header syntax of defined functions is adapted to allow user-defined operators as well.


Ambivalent function with optional left argument and one local variable (Dyalog APL):

∇ res←{left} AddMult2 right;local
  :If 0=⎕NC'left'
      left←0      ⍝ define variable "left" with value 0 if it's not defined already

GNU APL allows functions and operators accept an axis argument:[1]

∇ Z←Average[X] B
  Z←(+/[X]B) ÷ (⍴B)[X]
      Average[1] 5 5⍴⍳25
11 12 13 14 15
      Average[2] 5 5⍴⍳25
3 8 13 18 23


The canonical representation form is equivalent to what the user would type into the line editor to define the function. An alternative representation consists of the entire session log transcript after having such a definition has been made. A tradfn operator can also be called a tradop (pronounced "trad op").


Tradfns allow both functional and procedural programming, and are essential for object-oriented programming. They support a full set of keywords for flow control and object declarations.

One of the most noticeable differences from dfns is that tradfns must declare their locals, because assignments are global by default. The declaration is done in a header line which also determines the function's name and calling syntax. Dyalog APL also allows dynamic localisation of names while a tradfn is running.[2]

Tradfns cannot be nested but can contain dfns. A tradfn can dynamically create another tradfn by "fixing" its source, and if the function thus created has a name which has been localised, the inner function will only exist the scope of the outer function. Nested functions are less necessary due to tradfns using dynamic scoping as opposed to the lexical scoping of dfns. In other words, a tradfn can "see" locals of its caller.

A tradfn can be niladic which causes it to behave syntactically like an array. However, every time its name is referenced, it will run to create a result (if any). Such methods are often used to return a cache or as an entry point for the user.


A+ uses a reworked style of function and operator definition than maintains the principle of a header that matches the way the function will be used, but differs in many details:

  • The result name is not included in the header; instead, the result of the last executed statement is returned (and so functions that do not return a result cannot be defined).
  • The header is separated from the body with a colon, and the body of a multi-line function is enclosed in curly braces.
  • Functions have lexical scope. Variables assigned are local by default, and can be made global by enclosing their names in parentheses when assigning.

Comparison to dfns

Wikipedia has a comparison of dfns versus tradfns.

External links




  1. 3.2 Axis argument in defined functions – GNU APL Manual
  2. Dyalog Ltd. Language Reference Guide. Shadow Name.

APL syntax [edit]
General Comparison with traditional mathematicsPrecedenceTacit programming (Train, Hook, Split composition)
Array Numeric literalStringStrand notationObject literalArray notation (design considerations)
Function ArgumentFunction valenceDerived functionDerived operatorNiladic functionMonadic functionDyadic functionAmbivalent functionDefined function (traditional)DfnFunction train
Operator OperandOperator valenceTradopDopDerived operator
Assignment MultipleIndexedSelectiveModified
Other Function axisBracket indexingBranchStatement separatorQuad nameSystem commandUser commandKeywordDot notationFunction-operator overloadingControl structure