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A collection of tools and building blocks for the Parrot Virtual Machine.
Pages: HomeDevelopmentArticles and ExamplesWinxed


Creating Objects

init_pmc VTABLEs

Parrot provides a vtable called init_pmc which can be used to initialize an object at the lowest level during object allocation. init_pmc takes a single PMC argument, which can be passed in using the bracketed form of the new keyword:

class Foo {
    function init_pmc[vtable](var pmc) {

function create_foo(var init) {
    var foo = new ['Foo'](init);
    return foo;

In this example the Foo class defines an init_pmc vtable override which is called by Parrot when the new operator executes. This is a low-level approach to initialization and has a number of flaws. If possible, or unless an exceptional need presents itself, try not to use this mechanism for your own types. For some of Parrot’s lowest level built-in types this is the only way to initialize them, but you are writing code in Winxed and you have other options.

As an aside, Parrot also provides an init vtable, which initializes a new PMC without taking an argument. Parrot decides which to call depending on whether or not an argument was passed to the new opcode at the Parrot level. Following the example above, we can call the init VTABLE instead of init_pmc if we allocate foo without parenthesis or an argument:

class Foo {
    function init_pmc[vtable](var pmc) {

    function init[vtable])_ {

function create_foo(var init) {
    var foo = new ['Foo'];  // Calls init, not init_pmc
    return foo;

Either init or init_pmc VTABLEs are called every time Parrot allocates an object. It is usually transparent and has no effect. The only time this information matters is if you want to instead use init_pmc, or if you want to add in some kind of initialization logic in init. If you provide a version of it in your code as a [vtable], that will be called before a Constructor. Typically this is a low-level detail that you shouldn’t be playing with for a variety of reasons. However, if you absolutely need to perform initialization before calling a constructor or perform initialization that might alter the dynamic dispatch of the constructor, init is a handy tool to use. Try to avoid it if you can because it can produce results which are surprising from a higher level viewpoint, but be aware that it is available.


Winxed defines a constructor as any method which has the same name as the short name of the Class. So if we define a class Foo { }, the function function Foo() { } is the constructor for it. Likewise class Foo.Bar.Baz { } has a constructor named function Baz() { }.

If we use the new keyword with the name of the class (without brackets) we can create a new object of that type:

var foo = new Foo;

Notice two things. First, this statement does not invoke the init_pmc vtable (but it does automatically invoke the init vtable). Second, we do not invoke the Foo class contructor. To invoke the constructor, you need to use parenthesis:

var foo = new Foo();

If your class is nested inside a namespace, you use the namespace to specify the full name of the Class. The constructor is still the Class shortname:

class Bar.Foo {
    function Foo() {
        ...     // Constructor

function get_a_foo() {
    var foo = new Bar.Foo();

In this example, the class is named Foo so the constructor is named Foo. However, Winxed needs to look up the class using the namespace path Bar.Foo.

There is no easy syntax in Winxed for calling init_pmc VTABLE and the constructor. However, you don’t mind getting into some of the dirty details, you can produce this behavior yourself:

var init_args = ...;
var foo_class = class Bar.Foo;
var obj;
${ new obj, foo_class, init_args };
string foo_name = string(foo_class);

This is ugly, but easy enough to hide in a wrapper function. Rosella does something similar to this in the and Rosella.construct routines.

Creating Objects Review

Here are some common scenarios for allocating a PMC, and what effect they have:

var f = new Foo.Bar.Baz;

This creates a new object of type Baz, which Winxed will look up in the Foo.Bar namespace. This calls init VTABLE, but does not call a constructor. This form of the allocation will cause Winxed to display a warning if Foo.Bar.Baz cannot be located at compile time (if it is defined in a dynamically-loaded library, for instance).

var f = new Foo.Bar.Baz();

This is the same as the example above but it also automatically invokes the constructor Baz() on the object as soon as it is allocated. This calls the init VTABLE first, before the constructor. Notice that this will throw a method not found exception if the constructor does not exist.

var f = new ["Foo", "Bar", "Baz"];

This creates a new Foo.Bar.Baz object using the lower-level syntax. It invokes the init VTABLE but no constructor. This form does not cause Winxed to display a warning if the type is not found at compile time.

These two invocations are the same:

var f = new "Foo";
var f = new ["Foo"];

Notice that the first form does not use brackets but can also not be used with namespaces or nested classes. The first form without brackets is commonly used to allocate new built-in Parrot types, because they are not namespaces and do not have Constructors in the way Winxed defines the term.

var f = new ["Foo", "Bar", "Baz"](p);

This creates a new Foo.Bar.Baz calling the init_pmc VTABLE with value p. It does not call the constructor and does not issue a warning at runtime. Notice that for both of the lower-level calls you can always call the constructor explicitly:

var f = new ["Foo", "Bar", "Baz"](p);

Notice also that we can use the more simple form with init_pmc:

var f = new "Foo"(p)

Examining Objects


Classes are objects. We can get the Class from an object using the typeof builtin:

var my_class = typeof(x);

In string context, typeof returns the class shortname instead:

string class_name = typeof(x);


The instanceof operator is used to check if an object is a member of a certain class. It returns a boolean value, and is typically used with if statements:

if (x instanceof Foo.Bar.Baz) { ... }
if (x instanceof ["Foo", "Bar", "Baz"]) { ... }

The instanceof keyword cannot currently be used to check if a var is a member of a class using a class reference:

var x_class = typeof(x);
if (x instanceof x_class) { ... }   // Parse fail.

To work with class instance objects, you need to use the PIR isa opcode:

var x_class = typeof(x);
int isa_x_class = 0;
${ isa isa_x_class, x, x_class };
if (isa_x_class) { ... }

Playing with the Class

Parrot provides a number of methods on the default Class object for examining and altering the methods and attributes of a class, for instantiating new objects from the class object reference, or altering the inheritance hierarchy of the class at runtime. Be careful in making alterations to a class: Some alterations such as the inheritance hierarchy cannot be changed after the class has been instantiated for the first time. Also, changing things like the available methods and the available attributes may have weird effects on existing objects. This is because objects typically cache details about methods and attributes after they are created. You can end up with objects of the same class which have different sets of attributes, different sets of methods, or whose methods have different behaviors.

Object Roles and Capabilities

Similarly to our isa examples above, we can determine if a var implements a particular role, or if it can perform certain methods with does and can respectively.

// Detect if an object is an array
int does_array = 0;
${ does does_array, x, "array" };
if (does_array) { ... }

// Detect if an object is a hash
int does_hash = 0;
${ does does_hash, x, "hash" };
if (does_hash) { ... }

// Determine if the object is a Sub, or a Sub-like invokeable object
int does_invoke = 0;
${ does does_invoke, x, "invokable" };
if (does_invoke) { ... }

The does opcode falls back to the “does” vtable. All Parrot built-in types are properly marked with certain roles: “array” for arrays and array-like objects which can be indexed by number, “hash” for hashes and hash-like objects which can be indexed by string, “invokable” for Subs and objects that can be invoked, etc. If you want to create a custom type that can be used in place of these built-in types you probably want to add an override for the “does” vtable in your class:

function does[vtable](string role) {
    if (role == "array")
        return 1;
    return 0;

Here is a wrapper class that wraps a Sub to perform error-checking on the inputs to ensure non-null:

class SubWithNonNullArguments {
    var sub;
    function SubWithNonNullArguments(var s) {
        self.sub = s;

    function does[vtable](string role {
        return (role == "invokable");

    function invoke[vtable](var p [slurpy]) {
        for (var item in p) {
            if (item == null)
                die("Arguement cannot be null!");
        var s = self.sub;
        return s(p:[flat]);

Here we provide a class that overrides the “does” vtable to pretend to be a Sub, and overrides the “invoke” vtable to handle the actual call. Inside the “invoke” vtable we slurpy up all the arguments into a single array, loop over them to check for null, and then pass the flattened list to the original subroutine. This is a pretty powerful, and pretty common kind of idiom, and you see it done in many places where we need to add a wrapper around one routine so that the internal routine does not know it has been wrapped. We’ll see more examples of this later.

In addition to the “does” opcode and vtable, we can use the “can” opcode to determine if an object has certain methods. The “can” opcode uses the “find_method” vtable internally to search for a method of the given name. If “find_method” returns null, can returns 0. Winxed has a find_method built-in which calls the “find_method” PIR op internally. The difference between “find_method” and “can” ops at the PIR level is that the “find_method” op throws an exception if the method does not exist, while “can” returns a boolean result.

int can_do = 0;
${ can can_do, x, "foobar" };
if (can_do) {
    say("X can foobar!");
} else
    say("X can not foobar :(");

Here is the same kind of sequence using the find_method builtin:

var foobar = null;
try {
    var foobar = find_method(x, "foobar");
    say("X can foobar!");
} catch {
    say("X can not foobar :(");
if (foobar != null)

It’s a similar amount of code, but setting exception handlers is much more expensive of an operation than the “can” opcode is. The reason why the invocation of the foobar method is pulled out of the try/catch block is because if the foobar method throws an exception we will get both messages. We want to separate out searching for the method from actually invoking the method, and handle the errors separately.

We haven’t seen the try/catch syntax before. We’ll look at those in more detail later.

Null and Definedness