These are a few of my Favourite Things (that are coming with Julia 1.0)

If I were more musically talented I would be writing a songArguments that are destructured, and operator characters combine-ed; Loop binding changes and convert redefine-ed… ♫ no none of that, please stop.

Technically speaking these are a few of my Favourite Things that are in julia 0.7-alpha. But since since 1.0 is going to be 0.7 with deprecations removed, We can look at it as a 1.0 list.

Many people are getting excited about big changes like Pkg3, named tuples, field access overloading, lazy broadcasting, or the parallel task runtime (which isn’t in 0.7 alpha, but I am hopeful for 1.0) I am excited about them too, but I think they’re going to get all the attention they need. (If not then they deserve a post of their own each, not going to try and squeeze them into this one.) Here are some of the smaller changes I am excited about.

These are excepts from 0.7-alpha NEWS.md

Function argument De-structuring

Destructuring in function arguments: when an expression such as (x, y) is used as a function argument name, the argument is unpacked into local variables x and y as in the assignment (x, y) = arg ([#6614]).

This will mean the way I attempt to write do blocks with multiple arguments will work foo do (a,b)

Also it makes the following work:

julia> foo((a,b), c) = (a+b)c
foo (generic function with 1 method)

julia> foo((1,2),3)
9

This is one of the more obscure python features that I missed when switching to julia.

Combining Characters in Operators

Custom infix operators can now be defined by appending Unicode combining marks, primes, and sub/superscripts to other operators. For example, +̂ₐ″ is parsed as an infix operator with the same precedence as + ([#22089]).

This means unlimited infix operations can be defined, without allowing some of the unread-ability that just letting words be used as infix would do. Obviously should still be used with caution, and I think the need to use unicode will cause surficent caution and strike a good balance. It should be understood that julia supporting editors (including vim and emacs) transform e.g. \_2 into ₂ on a tab. But still, that extra combination of key-presses I think will make people use them with caution. Which should stop us seeing an unreadable mess.

Overall I’m not sure how often it will be used, but I think adding a subscript/superscript letter/number or two will show up. Silly example:

julia> +(a,b) = sqrt(a^2 + b^2)
+ (generic function with 1 method)

julia> 1 + 2
2.23606797749979

The missing value

The missing singleton object (of type Missing) has been added to represent missing values ([#24653]). It propagates through standard operators and mathematical functions, and implements three-valued logic, similar to SQLs NULL and R’s NA.

It is kind of like nan for floating point numbers – it propagates contaminating everything it touches. But unlike nan it doesn’t (semantically) represent a particular notion of mathematical/IEEE error, but represents the notion of the data being in some sense missing. It will hopefully make a lot of code clearer.

It becomes possible because of the small unions optimization. One can contrast Array(Union{Missing,T}) with DataArray{T} from DataArrays.jl, especially if you go back and look at the older tags. One can also contrast Array(Union{Nothing,T}) with Array{Nullable{T}} and NullableArray{T} from the deprecated NullableArrays.jl.

It will be interesting to see exactly how nothing and missing play out in-practice. I feel like if all things go well, then in most circumstances operating with a missing should return a missing (i.e. propagation), and operating with a nothing should throw an error (Much like a NullReferenceError).

Use begin blocks when defining enum values

Values for Enums can now be specified inside of a begin block when using the @enum macro ([#25424]).

Nice little QOL improvement: Consider:

@enum Fruit apple=1 orange=2 kiwi=4

vs

@enum Fruit begin
	apple=1 
	orange=2
	kiwi=4
end

Constructors no longer falls back to convert

The fallback constructor that calls convert is deprecated. Instead, new types should prefer to define constructors, and add convert methods that call those constructors only as necessary ([#15120]).

Conversion and construction are not really the same thing at all. And this will get rid of the long error message in:

julia> type Foo end

julia> Foo(2)
ERROR: MethodError: Cannot `convert` an object of type Int64 to an object of type Foo
This may have arisen from a call to the constructor Foo(...),
since type constructors fall back to convert methods.
Stacktrace:
 [1] Foo(::Int64) at ./sysimg.jl:77

Parse braces expressions like circumfix operators

{ } expressions now use braces and bracescat as expression heads instead of cell1d and cell2d, and parse similarly to vect and vcat ([#8470]).

Everyone is familiar with infix operator overloading, and prefix operator overloading. Julia actually has what I would call circumfix operator overloading. [a b] can be overloaded by overloading the hcat function. [a; b] can be overloaded by overloading the vcat, function. Normally these are used for arrays concatenation/construction. But overloading them is cool, I do it in TensorFlow.jl. In TensorFlow.jl, this constructs nodes in the symbolic graph that perform the concatenations, once the graph is executed. I am using it right now in a project and it is fairly nice, espcially when combining with slicing syntax.

This is how I output colors in HSV. It is better to train to target the sin/cos of hue, so I need that in my graph.

Y_sat = nn.sigmoid(Y_logit[:,3])
Y_val = nn.sigmoid(Y_logit[:,4])
					
Y_hue_sin = tanh(Y_logit[:,1])
Y_hue_cos = tanh(Y_logit[:,2])
Y_hue_o1 = Ops.atan2(Y_hue_sin, Y_hue_cos)
Y_hue = reshape(Y_hue_o2, [-1]) # force shape, this I should fix
Y = [Y_hue Y_sat Y_val]

Anyway, to get back on point: This language change means that braces ({}) can be overloaded in the same away. They’ve basically been sitting there wasting since julia 0.4 when there use as Matlab-style cell arrays was replace by just having an array typed as Any.

Not sure I have any uses for it right now, but it open’s up options. There are a few other backet-type unicode characters, so maybe in the 1.x timeframe we might also be able to overload those as circumfix. (and maybe use them for call/getindex type overload too).

For loop variable binding changes

These are just nice. Messing with your iteration variables of the for-loop leads to hard to read/comprehend code. This makes it harder get any advantage out of doing so, so discourages people from doing it.

Also, #330 is the oldest issue closed by this release it is from 2012 – about 6 years ago. To this day there remains only 8 open issues older than it. Contrast the newest issue/PR number in this is #27212, an improvement to interface for matrix factorizations, written under 2 weeks ago.

ccall is now less magic in how it uses ampersand

Prefix & for by-reference arguments to ccall has been deprecated in favor of Ref argument types ([#6080]).

ccall used to be really magic. While #18754 made it less so – it is still pretty magic. It looks like a function, but it is not a function at all, but an actual part of the language. Notice from example that in both 0.6 and 0.7 it’s first parameter needs to be resolve-able at compile time: so


julia> ccall((Symbol("clock"), "libc"), Int32, ())
ERROR: TypeError: anonymous: in ccall: first argument not a pointer or valid constant expression, expected Ptr, got Tuple{Symbol,String}

julia> ccall((:clock, "libc"), Int32, ())
6978742

But at least with this change it doesn’t use the & operator entirely differently to the rest of the language.

Begin keyword in indexing expression

begin is disallowed inside indexing expressions, in order to enable the syntax a[begin] (for selecting the first element) in the future ([#23354]).

This isn’t a 0.7 feature so much as a promise of a 1.x feature (hopefully 1.0). Like we can say x[end] we’ll be able to say x[begin], not a huge advantage most of the time, for single use we have first, and for standard arrays we can say x[1] but for arrays with unusual indexing, like in OffsetArrays.jl, this will make code a lot clearer.

Consider being able to write x[begin:2:end] for every second element.

@__DIR__ inside REPL now is same as pwd()

@__DIR__ returns the current working directory rather than nothing when not run from a file ([#21759]).

This is just nice, it is what you expect to happen. DataDeps.jl has some specialized code to deal with exactly this case. (and said code had bugs, which I am not proud of considering it should be a simple work-around; but I was over using default arguments at the time.)

When promoting types, it is now an error if the types don’t change

The promote function now raises an error if its arguments are of different types and if attempting to convert them to a common type fails to change any of their types. This avoids stack overflows in the common case of definitions like f(x, y) = f(promote(x, y)...) ([#22801]).

This is good. I encountered similar issues when writing this line, though it doesn’t use promote. The fact that you are hitting a promote at all, means that nothing accepting these argument types exists, so if you’re promoting them and not getting a new type, then there is no hope for you to find something better to do with them anyway.

Logging changes

The logging system has been redesigned - info and warn are deprecated and replaced with the logging macros @info, @warn, @debug and @error. The logging function is also deprecated and replaced with AbstractLogger and the functions from the new standard Logging library. ([#24490])

New logging system, it is going to be just that little bit nicer.

Getting the name of things is now easier

module_name has been deprecated in favor of a new, general nameof function. Similarly, the unexported Base.function_name and Base.datatype_name have been deprecated in favor of nameof methods ([#25622]).

It was annoying not having Base.function_name and Base.datatype_name exported. I kept forgetting how to do it, and having around inside fields of the type.

Explicit imports via using now has just one syntax

The syntax using A.B can now only be used when A.B is a module, and the syntax using A: B can only be used for adding single bindings ([#8000]).

I’ve never been a fan of TMTOWTDI. While julia is a TMTOWTDI language, there is no need to be excessive. As they say TIMTOWTDIBSCINABTE.

Also importall is gone

This is good, it was generally a bad-idea, and I don’t know anyone who was using it seriously. It is easy enough to recreate with some metaprogramming and names(::Module, true).

Non-recursive transpose is now done with permutedims

permutedims(m::AbstractMatrix) is now short for permutedims(m, (2,1)), and is now a more convenient way of making a “shallow transpose” of a 2D array. This is the recommended approach for manipulating arrays of data, rather than the recursively defined, linear-algebra function transpose. Similarly, permutedims(v::AbstractVector) will create a row matrix ([#24839]).

Good, being unable to transpose arrays of strings in 0.6 (without giving dims) was annoying. No more:

julia> ["alpha" "omega"]'
1×2 RowVector{Any,ConjArray{String,1,Array{String,1}}}:
Error showing value of type RowVector{Any,ConjArray{String,1,Array{String,1}}}:
ERROR: MethodError: no method matching transpose(::String)

julia> #err no mistakes have been made, that hasn't worked since 0.5
	   
julia> reshape(["alpha", "omega"], (:,1) )
2×1 Array{String,2}:
 "alpha"
 "omega"
 
julia> ["alpha" "omega"; "beta" "gamma"]'
ERROR: MethodError: no method matching transpose(::String)

julia> # Oh No. mistakes have been made, AGAIN, that hasn't worked since 0.5

julia> permutedims(["alpha" "omega"; "beta" "gamma"], (2,1))
2×2 Array{String,2}:
 "alpha"  "beta"
 "omega"  "gamma"

0.6 used reshape to transpose vectors of strings, and permutedims to transpose matrices of strings.

Now we can just do permutedims without specifying the dims for both.

julia> permutedims(["alpha", "omega"])
1×2 Array{String,2}:
 "alpha"  "omega"
 
julia> permutedims(["alpha" "omega"; "beta" "gamma"])
2×2 Array{String,2}:
 "alpha"  "beta"
 "omega"  "gamma"

Not quiet as brief as a apostrophe, but still permutedims for both is a lot clearer. And this means we are taking transpose seriously still (read these 417 comments, over 3 years to know what that means).

Most functions that create or modify a file/folder return the path

This is my only real contribution to Base in the 0.7 timeframe. It is just one of those tiny “I assumed it always worked that way” things that are technically breaking changes, that are good to get in before they become blocked until Julia 2.0.

Iterator Changes

These seem to be missing from the change log, but they are going to make a whole lot of iterators easier to define.

In 0.6 one had to define 3 functions:

This often mean one would have to read-ahead and store future element in the state so that one could check if a source was going to be empty when done was called. It was an annoying pattern. The changes proposed in Julep #18823 are now in.

Now there is just one function iterate

See the docs.

More pure julia math

It’s not in the changelog, because it is basically invisible to users, but thanks to the work of @pkofod and several others, julia is now really close to not shipping with a C based math library. A pure julia math library at the lowest level. I suggested that here, though I am sure I wasn’t the first to suggest it. It will be much nicer to maintain, and I think, given the people working with julia, will in time exceed(/become) the state of the art, in performance and accuracy. (To my knowledge there are no speed regressions with this change, so it can only get better.)

Julia 0.7-alpha is still shipping openlibm. There is a solid chance that 1.0 won’t, and if not 1.0 then definitely gone in the 1.x timeframe.

Compiler/Runtime improvements

I love me some optimizations. My code, becoming just faster, without me doing anything about it? What is not to like about that?

From what I hear there will be a lot of optimization work being done in the 1.x timeframe. Since the language itself will not be changing so much anymore.

Conclusion

So yes, these are a few of my favourite things in julia 0.7-alpha, and thus what I anticipate for Julia 1.0. It is a big release, there are a whole lot more things that I’ve not included in this list. But they might be a few of your favourite things. Here is the link to the NEWS.md again