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k crash course

a gentle introduction to k9 language is elsewhere.

genesis

exodus

numbers

proverbs


genesis

"you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger." — Inception

Computer languages have been around for a long time, but in the beginning was the Word. We will be writing code in a language called 𝒌, but it helps to talk about it first. If you don't feel like it, feel free to get and run.

𝒌 is a different computer language. At first, you will have questions about its design, and it will respond by questioning things that you consider common sense. Very soon, this conversation will become constructive, and here is why.

The first thing newcomers frown upon is why the assignment operator in 𝒌 is : instead of =. But before you close the tab, try a simple thought experiment:

x = x + 1

Most programmers agree that this expression makes perfect sense. But if you show it to a mathematician, be ready to hear:

— "No, it isn't."

And once you see what makes him say that, you will also see why we assign values with : in k. The above expression looks nonsensical to a 𝒌 programmer for the same reason it does to a math guy, and 𝒌 will most always evaluate it to false. Once you can produce a 𝒌 expression where x=x+1 evaluates to true, don't be a stranger, a single "hello" can lead to a million things.

𝒌 offers some other unusual perspectives compared to other programming languages, and they are not necessarily wrong. They are simply different - the same way C is different from Java, and Python is unlike JavaScript.

This short introduction invites you to look at those things that other way, and we hope they'll strike you as obvious and natural as x≠x+1 did a few seconds ago.


This crash course is not looking to make you an expert 𝒌 programmer, because that takes a lot of time and effort in any language, constructed or natural. Instead, we hope to give enough motivation and confidence for you to continue on your own.

We value your time, so it will be fast and violent:

  • The text cuts a lot of corners on general programming and CS at some expense of readability.
  • The course is driven entirely by densely annotated code, comments contain essential material.
  • New syntax is often introduced inline, some is self-explanatory, some relies on your intuition.
  • The narrative is linear, all chapters build on previous. Skipping exercises will halt your progress.

This might feel a bit intense, but we hope the course is still lightweight enough to be completed in one session.

This document is not a 𝒌 reference. The majority of subjects are discussed to give a good general overview.

who

The man behind 𝒌 is a computer scientist by the name Arthur Whitney. He is the principal designer of the language, and he is a central figure in a community of some of the most sophisticated programmers and data scientists employed by some of the most influential institutions on the planet.

Since early 90s, he is working on a concept he has been refining throughout his career, a practical system to build very efficient software that transforms large amounts of data into large amounts of money.

That is, 𝒌 enjoys much success in the world of finance, where this kind of problems existed long before the term "big data" was even coined. Many people embraced the 𝒌 way, and made successful careers by building solutions using it. They appreciate their tool as much as the man behind it, and we believe they have their reasons for that.

why

There is a good chance that you've heard or read about 𝒌 language — a lot of people know the story. What is much less likely is that you've met a professional 𝒌 programmer. Communities like Hacker News are very much aware of 𝒌, and appreciate the fact that 𝒌 programmers are very busy and highly motivated people. This is how we've all heard about a language called 𝒌, but what we mostly get to hear about is how much it sucks to be a JavaScript developer.

But jokes aside. Implementations of performant, reliable and flexible solutions in certain highly competitve niches is very difficult in languages like C++ or Java. They involve tens of thousands of SLoC written by large teams and are built on top of complex dependency trees and even more complex infrastructure. Such projects often go over budget and miss deadlines.

In comparison, 𝒌 solutions are typically a few factors of magnitude less code, implemented by small and agile teams, rarely require external dependencies, and ship on time.

To see why this is, it helps to compare the effort of keeping 100 lines of code in sync with rapidly changing environment and free of bugs with to 10,000 lines that do the same thing.

Against all intuition, it is not 100 times easier, it is 10,000 times easier. We will soon see why.

wha *

𝒌 is a simple, expressive and powerful computer language.

The power stems from the fact that 𝒌 is designed as a tool of thought. The vocabulary, syntax and the choice of abstractions drive you to think about problems in a focused and clear way that quickly takes you to efficient and elegant solutions. And the reason why thinking in terms of 𝒌 is so effective is very simple: brevity is the soul of wit.

The primary influences of 𝒌 design are Lisp and APL. The latter draws inspiration from the most powerful instrument of human reasoning, the mathematical notation. Owning to its heritage, so does 𝒌.

𝒌 programs are concise, the syntax of the language is very terse, there is no boilerplate code to write. In 𝒌, most of the time is spent on thinking about the problem rather than writing or refactoring code, or browsing source files.

* no, this is not a typo

how

Runtime environment of 𝒌 language is a very compact and efficient piece of software.

The entire system is:

  • a single binary executable
  • without any external dependencies
  • that fits in the cache of your CPU.

The runtime implements a selection of fundamental algorithms, data structures, abstractions and practices that withstood the test of decades of production use in some of the world's most demanding data processing environments. Inner components of the system fit together and deliver performance. It is not uncommon for 𝒌 newcomers to experience shock when they first discovers how much can be done with a few keystrokes, and how fast.

All of 𝒌 programming takes place in REPL, a popular idea that is actually much older than many of us think. It has been around for at least half a century, and is also known as dialogue approach, where the process of writing or using a program is a live conversation between a human and machine, a flow of questions and answers. And in 𝒌, this conversation is much more fluent than in many other modern REPL-driven systems you may be familiar with, because the questions are short and the answers are fast.

This is the essence of the way of 𝒌, an experience that all 𝒌 programmers consider rewarding. People who write 𝒌 for living love their jobs.


exodus

The only known way to learn programming is to write programs, so you will need a live environment. As all things 𝒌, it takes very little effort.

get

For the purpose of this course, we will use a community version of 𝒌, which comes with a few limitations for non-commercial use.

Native builds of 𝒌 are available for Linux and macOS on x86_64. Apple M1, AWS Graviton2 and RISC-V builds are available upon request, please reach out.

In case your system is not yet supported, or you do not wish to install any software at this time, you are welcome to use WASM build of k instead, which is performant, feature-complete and available for all major browsers, both desktop and mobiles:

kparc.io/k

Although the web-based runtime is sufficient for the purpose of this course and is just one click away, installing the native binary isn't much harder:

$ npm i @kparc/k -g

New builds are published up to several times a week, so make sure you always use the latest version:

$ alias kup="npm i @kparc/k -g"
$ kup

This course can be completed using both native builds and the web version. It is up to you which one to use.

run

Start your very first 𝒌 session like so:

helo moto

(https://kparc.io/cathode.gif)


Startup banner encodes important information about your build and environment. For example, the banner on a recent Apple laptop would look like this:

lm 2021.03.29 64 16 (c)shakti 2.0
it says it means
lmw l linux m macos w wasm (*)
iav i intel a aarch v riscv
2021.03.29 build date of your 𝒌 binary (**)
7 usable workspace size, in gb
4 usable cpu core / hart count
shakti shakti is the system vendor
2.0[t] major 𝒌 release, t is test (***)

* capitalized platform identifier means you are running an enterprise build, enjoy responsibly. lowercase is a community build.

** by convention introduced at the dawn of time, k build date plays the role similar to PATCH in semantic versioning scheme. in the unlikely case you are running a community build which is older than 30 days, 𝒌 will gently suggest it is time to upgrade by returning to shell with error code 12.

*** banners are handy for diagnostics. please include them in case of difficulties, or if you think you've encountered a bug. Always make sure you're running the latest build. Test builds offer latest features at a price of some stability.


At any time during a 𝒌 session, you can:

\ view k reference card

\\ quit k session

At this point we strongly advise against issuing these commands, especially the latter.

Practice:

Make sure you have rlwrap utility installed, and put an alias alias k="rlwrap k" into your rc file. This makes your spartan 𝒌 development environment a lot more pleasant to use.

Type in your first 𝒌 expressions, and enjoy your first answers:

 2+2      /simplest face of k is a calculator
4

 x:42     /: is assign so x is now the answer
 x=x+1    /= is equal, and of course it isn't

Wherever you see ∎ in this document, you are invited to try something on your own.

Indeed, x=x+1 seems to make little sense to the 𝒌 interpreter and evaluates to exactly that, and very soon you will see why this actually happens. It has to do with one of the fundamental principles of the 𝒌 language, which is quite profound.


remarks on style

As any other language, 𝒌 expects a programmer to observe certain conventions on coding style and terminology in order to understand the code written by the others and let their own code be understood. While some rules of the house of 𝒌 are universal, some are not.

annotations

Commenting your 𝒌 code is the best way not to end up coding JavaScript for food, unless you are Arthur Whitney. We dare to assume you are not, so comments start with /. When used inline, prepend at least one space. Here is an annotated declaration of two variables:

/annotations are your friends
x:42

y:42 /now, always and forever

separators

Character ; in 𝒌 is used for one thing and one thing only, to separate 𝒌 expressions. As you have seen above, 𝒌 doesn't force you to terminate the line explicitly with ; because newline is also an expression separator. Separator is used the same way and means the same thing everywhere in any context (except comments), e.g. to separate expressions inside a function body, vector declaration, function arguments, etc. Later we will see that separator is also a part of certain language constructs, but it has the same meaning there as well. But by far the most frequent explicit use of the separator you will encounter in the wild is to separate expressions within one line:

x:1; y:2; z:3   /one line, three expressions
x:1;y:2;z:3     /denser version of the above

indentation

What you generally want is no indentation. This means that if your 𝒌 expression is getting so wide that you are tempted to split it into several lines, you likely need to refactor or sometimes rethink your approach completely. At other times, indentation can be beneficial, and it is always one space. Not two, not four, one. Tabs will be frowned upon because they eat up a lot of space, see below.

While using multiline expressions, keep in mind that newline is an expression separator, same as ;. In languages of C family the newline semantics are different.

identifiers

Variable names in 𝒌 follow a somewhat unusual convention. Capitals are used by 𝒌 programmers very sparingly, which applies both to code and comments. While identifiers in camelCase can sometimes be tolerated, c_style identifiers are not permitted at all, since _ is an operator. Identifiers of functions and variables are very often boiled down to an absolute minimum, names 1-3 characters long are commonplace, which does not impact readability given that their definitions are annotated.

Short identifiers might sound like a bad idea to Java programmers who are used to see identifiers longer than 2⁸ bytes, but, unlike Java, 𝒌 source requires very little or no scrolling. When the entire program fits in your visual buffer, "cryptic" identifiers are no longer a problem because their annotated declarations are always right in front of you:

kei:84   /kenneth eugene iverson, 1920-2004

If you have to ask, the maximal length of an identifier in 𝒌 is 160 bytes. Everything in excess of that is simply ignored, but if you ever encounter this limit in practice, this will probably mean that something went very wrong back at the design stage.

Leading digits and Unicode identifiers are not permitted. Dots are reserved for future use.

space

The subject of code organization is an eternal controversy in software development. Computer languages have different philosophies on coding style, especially when it comes to three keystrokes: \n, \t and, surprise, 0x20. If we define two extremes as "tall, lean, sparse and readable" and "robust, wide, dense and cryptic", then C is a classic example of tlsr, and 𝒌 is all the way down rwdc road.

  • The 𝒌 language actively encourages the programmer to produce very dense and succinct code. On the other hand, it does not prevent verbose style, and can be written tall.

  • In 𝒌, it is possible to minimize code scrolling or even avoid it completely. When the entire program or component physically fits in your view, you lose no time on navigating source and switching contexts.

  • Syntax highlighting is essential, and poor highlighting is often worse than none — so choose carefully from 𝒌 syntax packages available for your editor. The best is often the one you wrote yourself, and 𝒌 syntax is extremely regular and simple.

  • Comments are integral part of the code and also consume space, so boil them down to some reasonable size as well, but don't get too cryptic.

  • The quest for brevity often leads to a common pitfall among beginners who are tempted to sacrifice too much readability too soon. As any good program, a good 𝒌 program must remain readable and adequately annotated. Computer software does not document itself.

  • While all code blocks in this document are annotated, without exceptions, all of them fit on an average laptop screen, and remain very readable on mobiles.

  • Medium is the message, so we refer to one of the many possible styles of 𝒌 style presented in this document. Please send pull requests to help us improve it, and if you like it, it is yours to have.

bad form

Bad form in 𝒌 is code bloat. Avoid writing extra code if you can — there is too much of it written into the world. Remove inessential code, yours or not. But if you absolutely have to write more, make it useful, secure, compact, maintainable, portable and scalable.


practice

We don't know much 𝒌 to practice style yet, so this one will be read-only. Here is a trivial C program formatted in two different ways:

tlsr:

#include <stdio.h>

int
main(int argc, char **argv)
{
  int x = 'a';

  for(int i=0; i<26; i++){
    putchar(x++);
  }

  return 0;
}

rwdc:

typedef int I;
#include<stdio.h>
#define N(n,x){for(I i=0;i<n;++i)x;}
I main(){I x='a';N(26,putchar(x++))}//:~

Compare their strengths.

remarks on parlance

The most important terminology in 𝒌 revolves around functions. Functions in 𝒌 are first-class citizens. As you would expect, 𝒌 has anonymous functions, eval, apply and recursion. In that respect, 𝒌 is probably slightly more lispy than certain Lisps, only you don't need to get past any parens. However, since there are no linked lists under the hood, 𝒌 is not Lisp, because it built around efficient processing of large vectors of data. That is, 𝒌 is designed to be fast, and Lisps aren't exactly that.

implicit arguments

This is an uncommon feature, most languages require you to explicitly declare function arguments. Of course you can also do that in 𝒌 if you want to, but if you don't, a function can have up to three implicit arguments called x, y and z, which means you declare them by simply referencing them in the function body. It is a very convenient feature, not nearly as scary as it sounds:

 f:{x+y+z}    /f[] takes three arguments
 f[1;2;3]     /and here is how to call f
6
  
 e:{[a;b;c]   /not so implicit, but why?
  a+b+c}

 e[1;2;3]     /f with 9 extra keystrokes
6

 f:{x*x}      /f[] has only one argument
 f 42         /and you can omit brackets
1764

 f:{}         /empty functions are fine,
 f 42         /but give no return value

Note that when calling a function with three arguments f[1;2;3] we had to use square brackets and use an expression separator, because each argument passed to a function is an expression in its own right. However, second function only takes one argument, and we were allowed to omit brackets — although we could also say f[42].

This illustrates the core principle of 𝒌 syntax — almost everything that you intuitively feel you should be able to omit, can and should be omitted. Top candidates for omission are square [], round brackets () and space 0x20. The less you type, the better your code will get.

Syntax for explicit argument declaration {[a;b]} is just a side remark. It is good to know, but we won't see it in this text again.

rank

Function rank is another way of saying valence, a fancy word that describes a simple idea that is extremely important to be understood well. Rank of an operator or a function is basically the maximum count of arguments they take. Two functions shown above have ranks of 3 and 1 respectively.

Two specific ranks are so important that they have their own names. A function or an operator that takes...

  • one argument is called monadic
  • two arguments is called dyadic

As you will see, the majority of native operators in 𝒌 have exactly two completely different meanings based on the context where they are used, which is in turn defined by the number of arguments offered to the operator.

For example, in the expression 2+2, we use the + operator in a dyadic context, i.e. it receives two operands to work on, left and right, and is inferred to be dyadic x+y plus. The monadic +x flip will be introduced later, and has an entirely different meaning.

projections

Also known as function views, projections can be understood as "partial" function calls with at least one free, or elided argument. For example, if a function of rank 3, f[x;y;z], only receives first and third arguments, it will return its monadic projection, which itself behaves as a function:

 f:{x+y+z}      /a function of rank three
 p:f[1;;3]      /a projection of f[1;?;3]
 p 2            /is same as call f[1;2;3]
6

Projections are commonplace and are very useful. To give one example, projection provides a way for a lambda or a function to capture some of their context, i.e. bind values from the current scope to the local scope of a lambda, wherever it travels next. In other words, if you prefer functional speak, projection creates a closure.

~~explicit monadics~

*** WIP THIS NEEDS TO GO, NO LONGER VALID. instead, we need an easy explanation of k9 rank inference machinery ***

As you already know, the action of a 𝒌 operator depends on the number of arguments passed to it. However, there are situations when an operator receives two operands (typically, left and right), but is intended to perform a monadic action using right argument only. To disambiguate the rank, the operator can be declared explicitly monadic by appending : to it:

+          /context-aware, either monadic flip or dyadic plus
+:         /always stays a monadic flip, disregarding context

Later on you will see how this works in practice.

You will not get far in this course without a strong grip on the idea that some things in 𝒌 land are monadic, while others are dyadic. Make sure you got it.

On a more general note, functions in 𝒌 can be of rank 1 to 9:

*** WIP niladic discussion needs work, because: ***

 f:{x+2}
 f[]              / this is confusing
2
  • it is not really possible to define a function with no arguments. Rank zero, or niladic functions, do not exist in 𝒌.
  • a function cannot take more than nine explicit arguments, and some say this is an overly generous limit.

scope

Variable scoping in 𝒌 is an important aspect of its design. Newcomers often expect to find so called lexical scoping in 𝒌 — that is, every inner scope has access to all non-masked variables defined in all outer scopes, unless they are shadowed. This is how the majority of modern programming languages treats this subject. However, 𝒌 has a different take on this:

In 𝒌, variable visibility is limited to exactly two scopes: local and global.

Take your time to absorb this fact and appreciate its implications. While not easily digested by imperative crowd, the benefits of scope isolation are immediately obvious to functional folks:

  • While 𝒌 is not purely functional, 𝒌 function remains pure for as long as it does not access or modify global state, i.e. free from side effects. Pure functions may behave in a mathematically sound fashion, and can be reasoned about in terms of their domain and range, much like their math cousins.

  • Tight scope isolation relieves the program from an entire class of bugs related to shadowing and naming clashes.

  • Pure functions can be safely passed around, and are best friends with immutability and distributed architectures.

The main benefit of this way of thinking about functions is discipline, simplicity and composability. Code blocks that are easy to debug, test, refactor and reuse result in clean, secure and scalable systems.

on verbs and nouns

The last remark on 𝒌 terminology is of extreme importance. While 𝒌 is a computer language, its grammar is defined in terms we normally use to denote parts of human speech. That is, 𝒌 expressions are composed of verbs, nouns and adverbs. For now, let's focus on the former two and consider the following two sentences:

  • "shuffle this deck of cards"
  • "take three random cards from this deck"

Both are imperatives, where verbs act as the main part of the expression — they identify the action to be taken. However, there is an important difference between the two. In linguistics, the structure of the first sentence is known as verb-only predicate, while the second is a verb-plus-direct-object predicate. In 𝒌 speak, we recognize the verb "shuffle" in the first sentence to be monadic, while the second is built around a dyadic verb "take".

And this is exactly what 𝒌 verbs are:

  • A verb instructs the interpreter to do something, or answer some question.
  • A verb can be monadic or dyadic, i.e. requires one or two nouns to form a grammatically correct phrase.

Since verbs operate on nouns, they are very often called operators, and nouns passed to verbs are said to be their operands or arguments.

For newcomers, the biggest caveat with verbs is whether or not to consider a user-defined function, i.e. any expression enclosed in curly brackets, to be a verb — and the correct answer is no. This might feel counter-intuitive at first, but it helps to think about the content of curly brackets as of an independent expression, i.e. a sentence of arbitrary complexity, which can contain as many verbs as needed, or none at all. For that reason, functions are treated as nouns in 𝒌, and while in certain contexts verbs and functions can indeed be used interchangeably, functions differ from operators in the following fundamental way:

  • Operators can be applied using both infix and prefix notation
  • Functions can only be applied using prefix notation, also known as "functional form"

This only sounds confusing until you see what this means in practice:

 a:44;b:2      /a and b are typical nouns: variables holding an number

 a-b           /a dyadic verb 'subtract', applied using infix notation
42

 -[a;b]        /the same thing in prefix notation, aka functional form
42

 sub:{x-y}     /a dyadic noun 'sub', a function assigned to a variable

 sub[a;b]      /the only way to use 'sub' is to treat it as a function
42 
 
 a sub b      /putting 'sub' between its operands is not going to work
a sub b
^
***WIP    this actually throws ES, wtf

We shall revisit parts of 𝒌 speech again, especially adverbs, and if this quick introduction left you puzzled, for now it is safe to think that verbs are simply "built-in operators".


recap

So far you know how to:

  • add two integers
  • assign values to variables
  • declare and call basic functions
  • be friends with x, y and z
  • tell apart monadic and dyadic operators and funcitons
  • deal with verbs and nouns
  • annotate your code

This is a good start, but tells you absolutely nothing about what 𝒌 really is, and from here things will start to get real.

numbers

vectors and atoms

The term atom is a synonym for scalar value, or simply scalar. Every computer language has them, and in 𝒌 they are as useful as elsewhere. But 𝒌 belongs to a family of vector languages, which means its fundamental type is an ordered set of atoms or other ordered sets.

In 𝒌 parlance, terms array, list and vector are often used interchangeably and refer to the same thing, but we will stick with vector to avoid confusing you, because vectors are much more general than classic arrays and have nothing to do with linked lists.

 x:(0;1;2;3;4)    /one way of declaring an integer vector
 y:0 1 2 3 4      /same effect using more informal syntax

 x
0 1 2 3 4
 y
0 1 2 3 4

 a:42             /a scalar variable, an atom with a name
 v:,42            /a vector of length 1, one integer item

Optically, 𝒌 is strictly "pass by value", i.e. it is impossible to pass a reference to an object, only its copy. However, it is only an illusion created by the underlying implementation. In reality, k avoids making copies of stuff unless it becomes absolutely necessary, a technique known as "copy-on-write":

 x:0 1 2 3 4     /everything is passed by value
 y:x             /so this will make a copy of x
 y               /y is a clone, not a reference
0 1 2 3 4        /(in reality it only pretends)

 y:x:0 1 2 3 4   /same effect in one expression
                 /y and x are actually the same
                 /until one of them is modified
 
 y[1]:2          /true memory copy happens here

The first thing you need to know about vectors is that all basic arithmetic operations you expect to work for atoms work equally well for vectors as well:

x:y:0 1 2 3 4    /x and y are twin copies

 x+y             /pairwise sum of vectors
0 2 4 6 8 

 x*y             /product is pairwise too
0 1 4 9 16

 x=y             /compare x to y pairwise
11111            /1 is truthy, 0 is false

Division is a bit more tricky, we will discuss it when we get to nulls and infinities.

Mixing atomic and vector operands makes total sense and is very useful:

 x:0 1 2 3 4

 x+1             /increment all elements
1 2 3 4 5 

 x=1             /compare each of x to 1
01000

Vector indexing is zero-based as you would expect, and if you pass a vector of indices, you get back a vector of items:

 x:2 4 8 16 32
 
 x[2]          /get 3rd element of x
8

 x 2           /no need for brackets
8

 x[1 4]        /get 2nd and 5th item
4 32           /gives another vector

 x 1 4         /no need for brackets
4 32

 y:1 4         /y is an index vector
 x y           /same as x[y] less []
4 32           

Pairwise operations on vectors of incompatible shape make much less sense to 𝒌 than division by zero, and will throw an error:

 x:0 1 2 3 4
 y:0 1 2
 x+y
x+y
^
!length

Note the difference between shape and length. This reminds us that a vector can be composed not just from atoms but from other vectors as well, and there is no practical limit on the depth of nesting. In other words, vectors can have arbitrary shape:

 y:(,1;1 1;1 2 1;1 3 3 1)    /pascal's triangle
 y
,1
11
1 2 1
1 3 3 1 

Vector arithmetic is penetrating, which means that vector operators apply at depth for as long as operands have compatible shape. It is a good time to introduce the monadic +x to better see how this works:

 mat:(1 2 3;4 5 6;7 8 9)    /shall there be mat:
 mat                        /a square matrix 3*3
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9 

 tam:+mat                   /monadic + is 'flip'
 tam                        /y is a transposed x
1 4 7
2 5 8
3 6 9

 mat=tam                     /die einheitsmatrix
1 0 0
0 1 0
0 0 1

 mat>tam
0 0 0
1 0 0
1 1 0

 mat+42                     /addition penetrates
43 44 45
46 47 48
49 50 51

practice

First, lets make sure +x flip operator transposes rectangular matrices just as well as squares, which would be of little surprise. Then try to flip something less obvious, and after that you have two more transformations to apply. Inspect all intermediate results and make sure you follow their logic:

 mat:(1 2 3 4;6 7 8 9)     /a rectangular matrix
 +mat                      /flip it, no big deal
1 6
2 7
3 8
4 9

 t:(,1;1 1;1 2 1;1 3 3 1)  /t is triangle vector
 t:+t                      /flip it, what gives?
 t:t>0                     /t greater than zero?
 t:(+t)+t                  /t transposed plus t?

No rocket science, all pretty basic, but carry on.


nulls and infinities

Nulls in 𝒌 are typed. Integer null is 0N and float null is 0n.

Infinity is a special signed scalar floating point value denoted by 0w. Negative infinity is -0w.

Working with nulls and infinities can be very tricky, it is very important to pay attention to how they quack. We are finally ready to introduce dyadic operation x%y divide, because this is where nulls, infinities and some other nasty deamons often emerge from.

This is not a typo. Indeed, unlike many other languages where % denotes the remainder operation, in k it means division. There reason for this oddity is simple: in 𝒌, the character / is reserved for another language construct which is much more common than division. We will introduce it later.

 4%2             /division is %, get used to it
2.

 42%0            /division by zero is undefined
0w               /0w is an infinity symbol in k

 0%0             /an expression without meaning
0n               /0n is null, nan, nil and void


 (-1 0 1 2)%0   /divide each by 0, or formally:
-0w 0n 0w 0w    /∀x∈ℚ (x%0) ∈ {-∞,∞,∅}, beware (0%0) = ∅

The key takeway is how null arithmetic works, which is the traditional source of untold damages and sorrow in the world of software engineering.

Arithmetic on float nulls is undefined, and will always produce another float null. A float null isn't equal to, greater or less than anything, including itself:

 x:-0w 0w 0n 0N -1 0 1
 (0n-x),(0n+x),(0n*x),(0n%x),(x%0n)
0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n 0n...

 0n=x
0000000

 0n>x
0000000

However, integer nulls behave differently. Unlike float null, 0N is not a distinguished value, but is simply a placeholder for a very large number. It is very easy to infer its literal value, because simplest arithmetic on them results in immediate overflow of underlying int64 a.k.a. long long:

 0N+1
-9223372036854775807
 0N-1
9223372036854775807

*** wip null rounding needs discussion ***

 _0%0        /int null is rounded to zero

**** WIP ***

 0N 0n       / float null silently drops the int null to 0 (the logic is clear, but looks dangerous - ask atw?)
0 0n

*** WIP ***

probably need to talk about inf arith for completness sake, but messy and boring

types of types

Type system in 𝒌 gets strict when it has to, but also agrees that implicit casts and type coercion have their strengths — especially when done right, which in 𝒌 they are.

Before we see the examples, the first thing you need to know about types in 𝒌 is that they are divided into two broad classes: vector types and atomic types. That is, a vector with a single element, say, 42, is not the same type as an atomic integer of the same value. Finally, since functions and other things in 𝒌 are also assignable values, they also have their place in the type system. Those are special types and we will not cover them here in much detail.

Here is a quick overview of basic 𝒌 types and their symbolic names:

  `i        int
  `f        float
  `j        long  
  `c        char
  `n        name
  `D        date
  `t        time
  `a        dict
  `A        table
  `.        vect

This is not very revealing, so lets see them in action. The operator to query the type of anything in 𝒌 is monadic @x, and if you are not sure what we mean by monadic, perhaps it is a good time to start over.

 @42         /int scalar
`i

 @424242j    /int64 atom
`j

 @.5         /float atom
`f

 @0 1 2      /int vector
`I

 v:0 1 .5 2
 @v          /0.5 promotes vector to float
`f

 v 1         /2nd item, f is short for 1.0
1f

Like in C, there is no dedicated type for strings in 𝒌. Strings are just char vectors:

 @"k"        /"k" is char atom
`c

 s:"kei";@s  /s is char vector
`c
 
 s 0         /1st element of s
"k"

A type called name is the same idea as internalized string found in some other languages. This means that a single instance of an arbitrarily long string can be placed into a global hash table that persists for a lifetime of a 𝒌 process and can later be referenced by its hash key as many times as necessary without creating additional copies of the string.

We could say that in case of names 𝒌 actually passes references instead of values, but they are not true pointers and there is no arithmetic defined for them.

Names save a lot of memory and come handy in many situations, but not as flexible as char vectors - their length is limited to 8 alphanumeric characters, spaces are not allowed. Lets just see how they quack:

 a:`kei              /"kei" is now internalized
 @a                  /name atom is its hash key
`n

 b:`kei`kei`kei      /three references to "kei"
 @b                  /vector of string pointers
`n

`1234567890         /longer names are truncated
12345678

 `                 /empty names are very useful
`

Temporal types in k are date and time:

*** WIP *** revise / expand? attila is expert on k9 datetime:



arithmetic seems sketchy:

 2001.01.01+1
2001.01.02
 2001.01.01-1           WIP i'm guessing that date is internally an uint
ij
2001.01.01-1            e.g. dates prior to epoch are not supported
^
!nyi
 1+2001.01.01
1+2001.01.01
^
!type

 2001.01.01%1         /k9 epoch, chosen because it was a monday
0.

d:2001.01.01         /k dates use dots, expect no iso 8601 compliance
 @d                  /NOTE: type of date atom is same as date vector
`d

 t:12:34:56.789      /hh:mm:ss.sss, max resolution is milliseconds
 @t
`t

 dt:d+t;dt           /advanced date ops is a story for another day
1981-02-01T12:34:56.789 

Dictionaries are maps of keys to values, also known as hashmaps or, more generally, associative arrays. They are as useful in 𝒌 as elsewhere, but unlike many languages where this data structure is built in, 𝒌 allows both keys and values to be of any type, both vector and scalar. This might sound a bit confusing at first — since nothing prevents you from, say, constructing a dictionary where keys are themselves dictionaries — but in able hands this oddity becomes a powerful tool.

Dictionaries have the type `a, and the notation for defining them uses a dyadic operator ! key:

 d:`a`b!(1 2 3;4 5 6)      /keys!values
 d
a|1 2 3
b|4 5 6 

 @d                        /dict type is `a
`a

 d`a                       /key lookup (aka d[`a] or d `a)
1 2 3

 !d                        /dict keys
`a`b 

 . d                       /dict vals (note the space!)
`a`b
(1 2 3;4 5 6)

Tables are flipped dictionaries, and they require a separate large discussion. Here, we will only describe their syntax for the sake of completeness. Table type is `A, and notation is the same as dict, only with +x flip operator prepended. As common sense implies, a dictionary won't flip unless all values are of the same length.

No comments on any of this for now — but if you can follow the logic of what is going on here, you'll agree that in some rare circumstances the technology is indeed indistinguishable from magic. See for yourself:

 x:`goo`apl`amz
 y:1 2 3 4 5 6
 
 t:+`s`d`p!(x,x;`d y;1.5*y)  /table is a transposed dict
 @t
`A 
 
 t                           /trades: stock, date, price
s   d          p
--- ---------- ---
goo 2001.01.02 1.5
apl 2001.01.03 3
amz 2001.01.04 4.5
goo 2001.01.05 6
apl 2001.01.06 7.5
amz 2001.01.07 9

 select avg p by s from t   /pretend you didn't see this
s  |p
---|----
amz|6.75
apl|5.25
goo|3.75

Lambdas are assignable values and must therefore have their own type:

 @{x+y}                    /lambdas and functions are type dot
`.

 nil:{42}                  /don't expect nil to have rank zero
 nil[]                     /in reality nil is actually monadic
42
 nil 57                    /niladic functions don't exist in k
42

 a:({x};{x+x};{x*x})       /a vector of lambdas, sure, why not
 a[2]16                    /calls 3rd lambda, same as a[2][16]
256

Composite vector type, or you could also say mix vector, is of special mention. Such vectors are either a mixture of atoms of disparate types, or contain something more complex than atoms, e.g. other vectors:

 c:0,1,"a",2,3          /a char impostor among ints, c is mix
 @c                     /list of disparate items is type star
`*

 x:(1 2 3;4 5 6;7 8 9)  /all items are the same type at depth
 x
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
 @x                     / rectangular list of integer vectors
`LI 

 y:(,1;1 1;1 2 1)       / odd-shaped lists are lists of lists
 @y
`LL

Type casts, both explicit and implicit, are demonstrated by the following examples which also give a general feel of how type coercion behaves. The cast operator in k is a dyadic t$x, where t is a type name and x is a subject of cast:

 1+.5                  /int plus float is float, no surprises here
1.5

 1.*2                  /any float operand promotes result to float
2. 

 0.+2                  /a more idiomatic way to cast ints to float
2.

 _42.99                /explicit cast from `f to `i drops mantissa
42

 _42.0 42.99           /`f to `i will round down the entire vector
42 42

 0+"abc"               /integer operand demotes `c vector to ascii
97 98 99

 "012"+"345"           /sum ascii codes of chars, type drops to `I
99 101 103

 a:1 2 3               / lets start with a nice uniform int vector
 a[1]:4.               / now, replace its 2nd element with a float
4.
 @a                    / one float item promotes the entire vector
`F

 1+`kei                /no math for names, this type is immutable 
1+`kei
^
!type

 @@42                  / what is type name of a type name of int?

There are a few more things left to be said about the type system, but the last expression @@42 (which evaluates to some kind of wordplay, type name of a type name is name) urges us to the next section which is all about how to make sense of this expression.


right to left

(ask nsl whether the leibniz fanciness right-of-blah is a good idea. for newbies - nah, easy does it)

As you must have noticed, the syntax for indexing vectors and calling functions is identical:

 l:{x+x}      /some monadic function l[x]
 t:2 4 8 16   /some random integer vector
 r:0 3        /index vector: indices of t

 l[t]         /apply function l to each t
4 8 16 32
 t[r]         /items of t at indexes in r
2 16

 l[t[r]]      /compose: apply l to t at r
4 32 

What we also know that 𝒌 encourages us to omit brackets whenever possible, so lets do exactly that:

 l t r       /exactly the same as l[t[r]]
4 32

And here it comes: once we drop the brackets, it suddenly becomes absolutely natural to comprehend this expression right to left:

l ← t ← r

Take your time to contemplate this. In very little time you will see how this actually works in practice, and once you put it to practice yourself, you will agree that this way of functional composition is simple, elegant and intuitive:

k expressions are read, written and evaluated right to left.

But when we say "expressions" we don't mean "programs", and this is a very important distinction:

k programs are read, written and evaluated left to right.

This might sound confusing, but look at the schematic execution flow of a small 𝒌 program that consists of three identical expressions l t r, same as above, with parens added for clarity. Further down is the order of evaluation of the entire program, which leaves no room for confusion:

/     E1   >>>    E2   >>>    E3
/(l ← t ← r);(l ← t ← r);(l ← t ← r)
/   2   1       4  3       6   5

If we drop imaginary arrows, it is easy to see that evaluation steps 1, 3 and 5 are the vector indexing operation t[r], and steps 2, 4 and 6 are the application of function l[] to previous result, which amounts to l[t[r]]. At the same time, the overall execution of the program goes in the usual direction, same as in majority of computer languages.

And now that we know which way the rivers flow in 𝒌 land, we are equipped to discuss another key aspect of 𝒌 design. It has to do with the fact that a function call and vector indexing not only look the same - they also have the same binding strength, also known as precedence.

precedence

Very early on in our lives we are taught there must exist a good reason for multiplication and division to bind stronger than addition and subtraction, so they must be computed first. Later on, we are told that most computer languages must have much more complex systems of operator precedence to do anything useful with them, and much later on — all the deadly caveats hidden in those systems once they manifest themselves as invisible bugs in production code. But in 𝒌, the question of operator precedence is fully and radically answered by their order of evaluation, which we just discussed. So, here is the one and only rule ever to be learned about precedence in 𝒌:

There is no operator precedence in 𝒌, unless it is explicitly defined by round brackets.

By default, all operators in a 𝒌 expression are treated equally and evaluated strictly from right to left. Obviously, this includes arithmetic operators as well, and before you ask yourself how * can possibly have no precedence over +, consider a few basic math expressions annotated with their order of evaluation:

 3+2+1     /"take 1, add 2, add 3"
6

 3*2+1     /"take 1, add 2, multiply by 3"
9

 (3*2)-1   /"take 2, multiply by 3, sub 1"
5

 -1+3*2    /same thing, without overrides
5

As you see, it is much easier to get used to the lack of precedence than it appears at first — there is simply nothing to keep in mind except parens, and the last two examples demonstrate the common strategy of avoiding parens entirely. There is a good reason for ditching them — it makes the order of evaluation completely linear.

Although precedence overrides are sometimes inevitable and can be beneficial, they have an adverse effect on readability. Basically, while reading a 𝒌 expression, what you generally want is to go fast and uninterrupted — and precedence overrides interrupt the natural flow of comprehension. Good 𝒌 programmers think of others before themselves, and seek to produce code which follows the natural order of evaluation by minimizing the use of round brackets.


Now we can revisit the confusing expression we've seen before and actually read it:

 @@42     /"type name of a type name of 42" actually reads backwards:
`n        /"get 42, apply monadic @, get `i, apply monadic @, get `n"

A convincing proof that type name of a type name in 𝒌 is indeed a name.∎


practice

Let's revisit the code from the first snippet in this document:

 x:(1 2 3;4 5 6;7 8 9)

 x=x+1    /how can a universal truth be so false?

That was too easy, but we'll make up for it.


no stinking loops

This part might be easier to digest than the previous, especially if you are familiar with functional programming. Its title, borrowed without permission from the legendary k resource, says it all — you will not find a 𝒌 construct that resembles an explicit for loop, and although there is a while construct in 𝒌, it is almost never used in practice.

And this is not just to avoid untold damages from trivial errors people keep making in their loop definitions. The main reason explicit loops are banned from 𝒌 is because it offers something better. The idea that displaces them is a simple and strong abstraction called adverbs, but before we see them in action, it helps to understand why they are called that way:

An adverb is a modifier that accepts a user-defined function or a native operator and returns a new monadic or dyadic verb which acts on one or two input operands in some desirable way to produce an output. Input and output can be scalar values or vectors, depending on the adverb and the action it modifies.

The formal definition sounds a bit dry, so let's consider a classic example of how adverbs replace loops:

"Compute a sum of elements of a given integer vector."

Thinking in implicit loops suggests something we've all done a million times:

int sum(int in[]){
  int i=0,acc=0;
  for(;i<sizeof(in);++i)
    acc+=in[i];
  return acc;}

But what if we could state the problem to a computer like this:

"Put a + between all adjacent items and give me the grand total."

And that is the simplest way to describe what 𝒌 adverb over does when it is used to modify dyadic +. Only over, as all other adverbs, is general, and will happily modify any dyadic operator or function. Described more formally, over looks more like this pseudocode:

  1. if x is an atom, return x
  2. set acc to 0 (a.k.a. accumulator)
  3. while next x, set acc to the result of v[acc;next x]
  4. return acc

The above is nothing else but a general case of the explicit loop found in sum(), as well as of all other explicit loops of this particular family. In functional speak, one would say adverb over folds a vector of values and reduces them into a scalar.

And since over is just v/x 𝒌, this is how sum function looks like:

 s:{+/x}            /s is 'plus over x'
 s 1 2 3 4 5
15 

It is a good moment to look back at the C version, one last time — and be surprised to hear that its for loop declaration contains an ancient, but ever so popular bug, which 𝒌 version does not because spotting bugs in +/x is considerably easier. Besides, even if the C code wasn't broken, it would only work for 32-bit integers.

You could be tempted to see of what other use over could be. Let's introduce a new k operator, !x til, and implement another obvious candidate for over:

 x:!9               /! is til, get first n integers
 x                  /tada, we have all ints up to 8
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 fact:{*/1+!x}     /fact x 'mul over 1 plus til x'
 fact 20
2432902008176640000

Now that we have parted ways with loops, and discussed over in detail, it is time to meet the rest of six 𝒌 adverbs. Please welcome the magnificent six, and note that only most trivial use cases are shown:

adverb over is f/x

adverb scan is f\x

where f is a dyadic verb and x is an input vector

 a:0 1 2 3 4    /some data

 +/a            /puts a + between items, 0+1+2+3+4
10              /and returns the final result only 

 +\a            /scan returns intermediate results
0 1 3 6 10      /running sum, aka debugger of over

adverb each is f'x

where f is a monadic verb and x is an input vector

 d:42,"a",`kei   /some composite vector
 fn:{@x}         /some monadic function
 fn'd            /apply fn to each of d
`i`c`n           /the type of each item

 f:({1%x};{x*x}) /reciprocal and square 
 {x 25}'f        /call each of f for 25 
0.04
625

adverb eachleft is x f\:y

adverb eachright is x f/:y

where f is a dyadic verb and x and y are left and right inputs, either vectors or atoms

 10 20 30-\:5   /eachleft does (10-5),(20-5),(30-5)
5 15 25         /each of left,  subtracted by right

 5-/:0 20 30    /eachright does (5-0),(5-20),(5-30)
5 -15 -25       /left,  subtracted by each of right

adverb eachprior is x f':y and (f':)x

first form is seeded eachprior where f is a dyadic verb, and x is a seed value and y is an input vector

second form is seedless eachprior where f is a dyadic verb, and x is an input vector

 2+':4 8 16    /seeded eachprior gives (2+4),(4+8),(8+16)
6 12 24        /sum 1st item and seed, then sum each item and its prior

 +':4 8 16     /seedless eachprior gives (4),(4+8),(8+16)
4 12 24        /first item stays as is, then sum each item and its prior

This doesn't seem like much, adverbs seem to be doing pretty basic stuff. But hold that thought for a minute.

recap

We have seen:

  • what 𝒌 type system looks like
  • how basic vector and atom math works
  • which way to read and comprehend 𝒌 code
  • what is the only existing precedence rule
  • why there is no for and why there are adverbs

practice

Consider a slightly less trivial example of eachleft working together with x*y multiply on two vector operands:

 x:!9                       /a vector of integers from 0 til 8
 x+:1;x                     /add 1 to each of x, same as x:x+1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

 x*\:x                      /what would be x times eachleft x?

Bonus questions:

 k:+/0w             /how come k sums up to infinity this fast?
 k
 █

 +\(1+!42)%0        /how about a running sum of 42 infinities?

Make sure you can follow the logic of these examples before advancing to the next chapter, where things will get a lot less innocent. But if you didn't find the exercise challenging enough, here is another one:


Extra bonus:

here's a new operator. dyadic x mod y is modulo.

 q:7;GF:!q;q mod'GF*\:GF              /what does GF stand for? /answer:
 /`c@97+2/+2\32 458 1172 1443 275     /`c@x is cast to string

Ultimate bonus:

We introduce a dyadic operator x^y cut to generate two float matrices:

 A:3^x:0.+10+!12;B:4^x
 A
10 11 12 13.
14 15 16 17.
18 19 20 21.
 B
10 11 12.
13 14 15.
16 17 18.
19 20 21.

Fill in the blanks in the definition of a function...

 mm:{   x*\:y}
     ^^^

...which implements matrix multiplication. Good luck!

 mm[A;B]
682 728 774.
914 976 1038.
1146 1224 1302.

Don't worry if these challenges were less effortless than the previous. Thinking in adverbs, even if a bit confusing at the start, quilckly becomes a habit - and definitely not more convoluted and error-prone than thinking in imperative loops.

proverbs

how to solve it

The title of this chapter is borrowed from a legendary book published in 1945, a small volume by mathematician George Pólya where he shows how to tackle problems and arrive to solutions. It is a very inspiring read.

Let's tackle a little problem. We will look at a 𝒌 function that actually does something very useful and implements a familiar algorithm. The subject of the game is to figure out how it is implemented in 𝒌 and to identify the algorithm. It is very useful to dissect all of it on paper, so put your interpreter aside for now.

So, here is the code:

/what is f[], and can we read it?
f:{$[2>#?x;x;,/f'x@&:'~:\x<*1?x]}

This little monster is deliberately designed to make as little sense as possible at first glance, but once we take it apart, we hope you'll agree it is actually very simple and readable:

f:{$[2>#?x;x;,/f'x@&'~\:x<*1?x]}

f:{...}             /f is a function, that is a good start
f:{.x.}             /f takes only one implicit argument, x
f:{.f.}             /f clearly calls f, so it is recursive

$[?;?;?]            /the entire body of f is nothing else but
$[c;t;f]            /a ctf cond, aka if-then-else aka ternary

2>#?x               /c:      boolean condition
x                   /t:      do this if c is 1
,/f'x@&'~\:x<*1?x   /f:      do that if c is 0

2>#?x               /we don't know how to read this, but it is clear f[]
                    /halts recursion when it evaluates to 1, returning x
                    /so lets find out what it means, going right to left

                    /we have two new operators, both in monadic context:
                    /monadic ?x is 'distinct'       unique elements of x
                    /monadic #x is 'count'       count the elements of x

#?x                 /'count distinct'         count unique elements of x
2>#?x               /'greater'   true if count distinct x is less than 2

$[2>#?x;x;...]      /"if x has <2 unique items, return x, otherwise ..."

Coffee break, here is what we know so far about the overall control flow of f:

  1. we know the function is recursive.
  2. we know the condition that stops the recursion.

This gives us confidence to wrestle down the last part, the recursion step:

,/f'x@&'~\:x<*1?x    /this must be the recursion step, read right to left:

 x:4 0 1 2           /a small dataset to help us see what is going on here

 rnd:1?x             /x?y is 'find': picks x random elements from vector y
 rnd                 /list with one random item from x
,2 

 rnd:*rnd;rnd        /*x is 'first': return the head element of a vector x
2

 cmp:x<rnd           /bool vector of 1s where x[n]<rnd, 0s where otherwise
 cmp
0 1 1 0

                     /~x is 'not': boolean ¬x, non-0 turns 0, all 0 turn 1

 mask:~\:cmp         /monadic 'seedless not eachleft': cmp and its inverse
 mask
0 1 1 0
1 0 0 1
                     /&x is 'where': return indices of x where x are not 0

idx:&'mask           /monadic 'where' each:  apply 'where' to each of mask
 idx 
1 2                  /mask[0] has 1s at indices 1 and 2
0 3                  /mask[1] has 1s at indices 0 and 3

 pts:x@idx           /dyadic @ is 'index': elements of x at indices in idx
 pts
0 1                  /list of items in x less than random pivot rnd
4 2                  /list of items in x greater or equal to pivot rnd


 pts:x@&'~\:x<*1?x   /"partition x by pivot: items < rnd and items >= rnd"

 x:f'pts             /adverb each: apply f to each partition (recurse down)

 ,/x                 /,/ is 'raze': unnest aka flatten a vector of vectors
 ,/(1 2 3;4 5 6)     /in other words, raze flattens first level of nesting
1 2 3 4 5 6

Now that we know what every specific part does, we can zoom out and see the big picture. Feel free to use the interpreter to play around and test your ideas.


And of course, f is nothing else but:

 qs:{$[2>#?x;x;,/qs'x@&'~\:x<*1?x]}      /qsort on rand pivot

 i:9 2 5 5 1 8 1 3 6 1                   /a hairy int shuffle
 f:2.6 -0w 8.6 3.14159 1.7 0w 3.5 5.6    /a π in a float soup
 c:"edrofgtnljgrpliifp"                  /a char entropy pool 
 mess:(i;f;c)

 qs'mess                                 /restore order quick 

And of course this is not the quickest quicksort ever written, but this is just a toy. In real life you would simply use the built-in operator which is a lot more efficient:

 ^3 2 1                                  /monadic ^x is 'sort'
1 2 3

 sort:^'                                 /monadic  'sort each'

 (qs'mess)~(sort mess)                   /x~y 'match' operands
1 

 \t:10000  qs'mess                       /apply qs 10000 times\t:10000  sort mess                     /fix 10000x more mess

As you see, native sort is trendously faster, since it is using a very efficient sorting implementation. But what our DIY sorting function is very good for is to demonstrate the principle of doing more with less, and that is what 𝒌 is all about.

Check out examples of quicksort in the wild in C++, Python, JavaScript and Java.


recap

Previously we have seen:

  • dyadic x:y assign
  • dyadic x=y equal
  • monadic !x til (first x integers)
  • monadic +x flip / transpose
  • monadic $x string
  • monadic @x type
  • monadic ^x sort

And qs code brought a few more:

  • ctf cond $[c;t;f]
  • monadic ?x uniqe
  • monadic #x count
  • monadic *x first
  • monadic ~x not
  • monadic &x where
  • dyadic x~y match
  • dyadic x?y find
  • dyadic x@y index a.k.a. "at"
  • idiom ,/x flatten a.k.a. "raze"

Finally, you are now equipped with the most ubiquitous system routine:

  • \t:n expr benchpress an expression n times, result is in milliseconds

Although this is still a small part of 𝒌 operator arsenal, if you can do quicksort with this much, you can do a lot more. And then add vector arithmetic, and then take everything to the power of six adverbs.


practice

  1. take another good look at the code of qs function
  2. retrace the steps of the code analysis
  3. in a new 𝒌 session, reproduce qs from scratch

It sounds much harder than it really is. It might take more than one attempt, but you will be amazed how fast you will get there. However, before advancing to the next chapter, make sure that you do.


Among other things, the annotated breakdown of qs code gives a good impression of what is typically going on inside of 𝒌 programmer's head — but tells you nothing about how fast it usually happens. A proficient 𝒌 programmer would read and understand qs in well under two minutes. With a bit more practice, you will agree that reading 𝒌 programs is easy and fun.


three triangles

It is time to write our first 𝒌 program, and this time around there will be a lot less hand-holding. We will solve the classic Project Euler p18, also known as p67:

By starting at the top of the triangle below and 
moving to adjacent numbers on the row below, the 
maximum total from top to bottom is 23:37   4
    24   6
  8   59   3
------------------
9 + 4 + 7 + 3 = 23

Problems 18 and 67 are simply two bigger triangles, and the challenge is to find the sum of maximum paths in them. While 18 can be solved by bruteforce, 67 can not, but the efficient algorithm is absolutely trivial. It is given away in the example above: we simply need to fold rows going bottom up, like so:

8   5   9   3
  8   9   9         /max
  +   +   +         /sum
  2   4   6
 10  13  15         /out
   13  15           /max
    +   +           /sum
    7   4
   20  19           /out
     20             /max
      +             /sum     
      3
     23             /out

It is easy to see that the key to the solution is a function that reduces the current row (max) and merges it into the next (sum). It expects two arguments, i.e. both rows to work with, and returns out. That's all we need to implement it:

 r4:8 5 9 3      /take two bottom rows to assist thinking
 r3:2 4 6
  
 0|42            /x|y is max: returns largest of operands
42 
 1_1 2 3         /x_y is drop: discards x items of a list
2 3 

 |':r4           /max eachprior: get max element pairwise
8 8 9 9

 1_|':r4         /drop first result of seedless eachprior

 r3+1_|':r4      /pairwise sum: merge bottom row into top
10 13 15

 row:{y+1_|':x}  /row reduction operation, x bottom, y up

 row[r4;r3]      /r4 and r3 are fine, so should be others
10 13 15

Great, we have the reduction function, now let's apply it over the test triangle to make sure it folds it into what we expect. Since we are reducing a vector into an atom, it is abundantly clear which adverb we want to use:

 t:(,3;7 4;2 4 6;8 5 9 3)

 |t            /monadic |x is reverse the order of vector
8 5 9 3
2 4 6
7 4
,3

 row/|t        /apply row reductor over reversed triangle
,23

 *row/|t       /*x is first: simply return the first item
23

 mxpath:{*{y+1_|':x}/|x} /maximum path in triangle vector
 mxpath t
23 

Looks like mxpath is doing pretty well. Let's fetch the input file for the problem 67, load it, parse it and solve it:

 /backslash cmd executes an os command directly from k:
 \curl https://projecteuler.net/project/resources/p067_triangle.txt > p67.txt
 
 /if you are using wasm build of k, the file is there for you

 lines:0:"p67.txt"  /0:x reads a text file as vector of lines
 lines 2            /just to make sure we have something real
"52 40 09"

 t:. lines          /. x is 'parse', parse each line of input
 t 2
52 40 9

 #t                 /a bigger triangle, but not a bigger deal
100

 mxpath t           /returns max path sum, the solution to 67

We didn't tell you do this, but the complete program can also be written down as a single 𝒌 expression:

 *{y+1_|':x}/|. 0:"p67.txt"             /load, parse and fold

recap

We have seen some new stuff:

  • shell \cmd
  • dyadic x|y max
  • dyadic x_y drop
  • monadic |x reverse
  • monadic 0:x load ll

practice

  1. Reproduce mxpath from scratch in a new 𝒌 session, same way you did with qs.

  2. Find a way to load and parse the triangle from problem 18, and solve it using your own code.

  3. Verify solutions for 18 and 67 on Project Euler.

  4. As you know, once you provide a correct answer to an Euler problem, you can browse its discussion forum. You might want to check out some other solutions to 18 and 67 in other computer languages.

  5. Measure \t:n for 100, 1000, 10000 runs and estimate the time complexity of the algorithm. Make sure disk I/O is excluded from the measurement.


apples and oranges

There is no new material in this small chapter, so we can go straight to practice.

practice

Many things in life can only be understood in comparison. Compare functionality of these two programs:

package com.less.with.more.doing.sort;
public final class qs{public void s(int[] x){}}
qs:{$[2>#?x;x;,/qs'x@&'~\:x<*1?x]}

Now, compare the source code of these two:

import java.util.Arrays;  
public class S{public static void main(String[] a){ 
int[] x={5,4,3,2,1};Arrays.sort(x);
System.out.printf("%s",Arrays.toString(x));}} 
$ echo "^5 4 3 2 1" | k
1 2 3 4 5

Finally, compare the size of their runtimes:

   252M May 17 13:59 jdk-8u211-macosx-x64.dmg
    79M May 17 13:50 jre-8u211-macosx-x64.dmg
   109K May 17 13:54 k.tgz

gladly beyond

We have covered a lot of ground, good time to put things into perspective. Below is a complete map of 𝒌 operators, and those marked with bullets you have already seen and used at least once:

   x+y         +x
-------------------------   
:  ● assign
+  ● plus       ● flip
-  ● minus      ● minus
*  ● times      ● first
%  ● divide
&  ◦ min|and    ● where
|  ● max|or     ● reverse
<  ● less       ◦ asc
>  ● more       ◦ desc
=  ● equal      ◦ group
~  ● match      ● not
!  ● key        ● key
,  ● catenate   ● enlist
^  ◦ [f]cut     ● sort
#  ◦ [f]take    ● count
_  ● [f]drop    ● floor
?  ● find       ● unique
@  ● [f]at      ● type
.  ◦ [f]dot     ● value
$  ● parse      ● string

It really feels like we have explored more than we didn't, and it is huge progress indeed. But many things remain to be discovered, because operators is only one aspect of 𝒌 — and this short introduction could not possibly cover everything.

We conclude with a list of subjects that you are now ready to explore on your own:

𝒌 language 𝒌 platform
additional 𝒌 operators debugging and securing 𝒌 systems
tables and k-sql language building clients and servers in 𝒌
vector aggregates benchmarking, testing and tracing
entropy sources, math primitives disk i/o, persistence and streaming
advanced use of adverbs, threads ipc and distributed workloads
native csv, tsv, json and utf fault tolerance and monitoring
integrating cryptography scripting, deployment, os tuning
nanoseconds, datetime math interop with python, julia and c
𝒌-expressions tech support and user community
design of internal components 𝒌 resources, tools and packages

Although ee cummings opened his famous poem with words somewhere i have never travelled, it seems that some 𝒌 programmers prefer to read poetry backwards. That explains a lot about the title of our final chapter.