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Conventionalizing stride semantics

Swift offers two stride functions, stride(to:, by:) and stride(through:, by:). This proposal introduces a third style and renames the existing to and through styles.

This proposal was discussed on-list in the "[Discussion] stride behavior and a little bit of a call-back to digital numbers" thread.

Motivation

Strideable's function names do not semantically match the progressions they generate. Values produced by through do not pass through an end point; they stop at or before that fence. For example, 1.stride(through: 10, by: 8) returns the progress (1, 9), not (1, 9, 17). Similarly, its to function values reaches its end point. 1.stride(to:4, by:1) returns 1, 2, and 3. It never makes it to 4:

  • The current Swift definition of to returns values in [start, end) and will never reach end. In other words, you will never get to end.
  • The current Swift definition of through returns values in [start, end]. It may never reach end and certainly never goes through that value.

Some definitions with the help of the New Oxford American Dictionary

  • Moving to a value expresses "a point reached at the end of a range".
  • To pass through a value, you should move beyond "the position or location of something beyond or at the far end of (an opening or an obstacle)".
  • To move towards a value is to get "close or closer" or "getting closer to achieving (a goal)".

Current Art

A Strideable to sequence returns the sequence of values (self, self + stride, self + stride + stride, ... last) where last is the last value in the progression that is less than end.

A Strideable through sequence currently returns the sequence of values (self, self + stride, self + tride + stride, ... last) where last is the last value in the progression less than or equal to end. There is no guarantee that end is an element of the sequence.

The name of the calling function through suggests the progression will pass through the end point before stopping. It does not. The name to suggests a progression will attempt to arrive at an end point. It does not.

Detail Design

When striding to or through a number, the behavior does not match the meaning of the word. Swift should provide three stride styles not two.

  • Style 1: [start, end) by interval
    This style is currently called to. I propose to rename it towards as each value works towards end. The final value in the progression is less than end. Other suggested names include approaching, movingTowards, advancedTowards.

  • Style 2: [start, end] by interval
    This style is currently called through. I propose to rename it to. The progression concludes with a value that is less than or equal to end. Swift provides no guarantee that end is an element of the sequence. Other suggested names include movingTo, advancingTo.

  • Style 3: [start, >=end] by interval
    I propose to introduce a new style called through. The final value is guaranteed to pass through end, either by finishing on end or past end. The final value is strictly less than end + interval. Other suggested names include beyond, past.

Canonical Use Cases

Canonical use-cases for all three styles:

Style 1: towards This style mimics a..<b but allows non-unit and negative progressions

1 towards 5 by 1: [1, 2, 3, 4]

Style 1 ensures that the range of the from and to values fully includes the range of the progression: [from...through] subsumes [first..<last]. Example, standard index references, either progressing in iterative units or by leaps, without introducing array bounds errors.

Style 2: to This style mimics a...b but allows non-unit and negative progressions

1 to 5 by 1: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
1 to 10 by 8: [1, 9]

Style 2 ensures that the range of the from and to values fully includes the range of the progression: [from...through] subsumes [first...last]. Example: a simple inclusive count, or a range-limited sequence.

Style 3: through This style introduces a..>=b, a..=>b, or a...>b and allows non-unit and negative progressions

1 through 10 by 8: [1, 9, 17]

Style 3 ensures that the range of the progression fully includes the range of the from and to values: [first...last] subsumes [from...through]. Example: mapping out a graph axis, where the extent must be greater to or correspond to the underlying sequence.

Implementing Style 3

A Style 3 implementation works as follows:

/// A `Strideable through` sequence currently returns the sequence of values 
/// (`self`, `self + stride`, `self + stride + stride`, ... *last*) where *last* 
/// is the first value in the progression **greater than or equal to** `end`. 
/// There is no guarantee that `end` is an element of the sequence.

    /// Advance to the next element and return it, or `nil` if no next
    /// element exists.
    public mutating func next() -> Element? {
        if done {
            return nil
        }
        if stride > 0 ? current >= end : current <= end {
            done = true
            return current
        }
        let result = current
        current = current.advancedBy(stride)
        return result
    }
}

This solution is minimally disruptive to developers, respectful to existing code bases, and introduces a more complete semantic set of progressions that better matches progression names to developer expectations. (For example, "this argument says it goes through a value but it never even reaches that value".)

Upon adopting this change, out-of-sync strides now pass through end values:

// Unit stride
print(Array(1.stride(through: 10, by: 1))) 
// prints [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10], no change

// Old out-of-sync stride
print(Array(1.stride(through: 10, by: 8)))
// prints [1, 9]

// New out-of-sync stride
print(Array(1.stride(through: 10, by: 8)))
// prints[1, 9, 17]

There are no functional changes existing stride implementations. Only their names change.

print(Array(1.stride(towards: 10, by: 8))) // was `to`
// prints [1, 9]

print(Array(1.stride(to: 10, by: 8))) // was `through`
// prints [1, 9]

Although floating point arithmetic presents a separate and orthogonal challenge, its behavior changes if this proposal is implemented under the current generic system. For example, through now includes a value at (or at least close to) 2.0 instead of stopping at 1.9 due to accumulated floating point errors.

// Old
print(Array(1.0.stride(through: 2.0, by: 0.1)))
// prints [1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9]

// New
print(Array(1.0.stride(through: 2.0, by: 0.1)))
// prints [1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0]

// Old, does not pass through 1.9
print(Array(1.0.stride(through: 1.9, by: 0.25)))
// prints [1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 1.75]

// New, passes through 1.9
print(Array(1.0.stride(through: 1.9, by: 0.25)))
// prints [1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 1.75, 2.0]

Impact on Existing Code

Renaming two stride functions and adding a third does not change or break existing code. The Swift 3 migrator can easily update the names for the two existing styles. That said, the migrator will not find in-place workarounds like a through: 2.01 epsilon adjustment to correct for floating-point fences. By adding FIXME: notes wherever through: is found and renamed to to:, the migrator could warn against continued use without a full inspection and could offer links to information about the semantic changes.

Alternatives Considered

The only alternative at this time is "no change" to existing semantics.

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