We now come to the decisive step of mathematical abstraction: we forget about what the symbols stand for. … [The mathematician] need not be idle; there are many operations which he may carry out with these symbols, without ever having to look at the things they stand for.Hermann Weyl The Mathematical Way of Thinking

We concentrated in chapter 1 on computational processes and on the role of functions in program design. We saw how to use primitive data (numbers) and primitive operations (arithmetic operations), how to combine functions to form compound functions through composition, conditionals, and the use of parameters, and how to abstract processes by using function declarations. We saw that a function can be regarded as a pattern for the local evolution of a process, and we classified, reasoned about, and performed simple algorithmic analyses of some common patterns for processes as embodied in functions. We also saw that higher-order functions enhance the power of our language by enabling us to manipulate, and thereby to reason in terms of, general methods of computation. This is much of the essence of programming.

In this chapter we are going to look at more complex data. All the
functions
in chapter 1 operate on simple numerical data, and simple
data are not sufficient for many of the problems we wish to address
using computation. Programs are typically designed to model complex
phenomena, and more often than not one must construct computational
objects that have several parts in order to model real-world phenomena
that have several aspects. Thus, whereas our focus in chapter 1 was
on building abstractions by combining
functions
to form compound
functions, we turn in this chapter to another key aspect of any
programming language: the means it provides for building abstractions
by combining data objects to form *compound data*.

Why do we want compound data in a programming language? For the same reasons that we want compound functions: to elevate the conceptual level at which we can design our programs, to increase the modularity of our designs, and to enhance the expressive power of our language. Just as the ability to declare functions enables us to deal with processes at a higher conceptual level than that of the primitive operations of the language, the ability to construct compound data objects enables us to deal with data at a higher conceptual level than that of the primitive data objects of the language.

Consider the task of designing a system to perform arithmetic with
rational numbers. We could imagine an operation `add_rat` that takes
two rational numbers and produces their sum. In terms of
simple data, a rational number can be thought of as two integers: a
numerator and a denominator. Thus, we could design a program in which
each rational number would be represented by two integers (a numerator
and a denominator) and where
`add_rat`
would be implemented by two
functions
(one producing the numerator of the sum and one producing
the denominator). But this would be awkward, because we would then
need to explicitly keep track of which numerators corresponded to
which denominators. In a system intended to perform many operations
on many rational numbers, such bookkeeping details would clutter the
programs substantially, to say nothing of what they would do to our
minds. It would be much better if we could glue together

a
numerator and denominator to form a pair—a *compound data
object*—that our programs could manipulate in a way that would be
consistent with regarding a rational number as a single conceptual
unit.

The use of compound data also enables us to increase the modularity of
our programs. If we can manipulate rational numbers directly as
objects in their own right, then we can separate the part of our
program that deals with rational numbers per se from the details of
how rational numbers may be represented as pairs of integers. The
general technique of isolating the parts of a program that deal with
how data objects are represented from the parts of a program that deal
with how data objects are used is a powerful design methodology called
*data abstraction*. We will see how data abstraction makes
programs much easier to design, maintain, and modify.

The use of compound data leads to a real increase in the expressive
power of our programming language. Consider the idea of forming a
linear combination

$ax+by$. We might like to write a
function
that would accept $a$, $b$, $x$, and $y$ as arguments and return the
value of $ax+by$. This presents no difficulty if the arguments are to
be numbers, because we can readily
declare the function

function linear_combination(a, b, x, y) { return a * x + b * y; }

But suppose we are not concerned only with numbers. Suppose we would like to describe a process that forms linear combinations whenever addition and multiplication are defined—for rational numbers, complex numbers, polynomials, or whatever. We could express this as a function of the form

function linear_combination(a, b, x, y) { return add(mul(a, x), mul(b, y)); }

We begin this chapter by implementing the rational-number arithmetic
system mentioned above. This will form the background for our
discussion of compound data and data abstraction. As with compound
functions, the main issue to be addressed is that of abstraction as a
technique for coping with complexity, and we will see how data
abstraction enables us to erect suitable
*abstraction barriers*
between different parts of a program.

We will see that the key to forming compound data is that a
programming language should provide some kind of glue

so that data
objects can be combined to form more complex data objects. There are
many possible kinds of glue. Indeed, we will discover how to form
compound data using no special data

operations at all, only
functions. This will further blur the distinction between
function

and data,

which was already becoming tenuous toward
the end of chapter 1. We will also explore some conventional
techniques for representing sequences and trees. One key idea in
dealing with compound data is the notion of
*closure*—that the
glue we use for combining data objects should allow us to combine not
only primitive data objects, but compound data objects as well.
Another key idea is that compound data objects can serve as
*
conventional interfaces* for combining program modules in
mix-and-match ways. We illustrate some of these ideas by presenting a
simple graphics language that exploits closure.

We will then augment the representational power of our language by
introducing
*symbolic expressions*—data whose elementary parts
can be arbitrary symbols rather than only numbers. We explore various
alternatives for representing sets of objects. We will find that,
just as a given numerical function can be computed by many different
computational processes, there are many ways in which a given data
structure can be represented in terms of simpler objects, and the
choice of representation can have significant impact on the time and
space requirements of processes that manipulate the data. We will
investigate these ideas in the context of symbolic differentiation,
the representation of sets, and the encoding of information.

Next we will take up the problem of working with data that may be
represented differently by different parts of a program. This leads
to the need to implement
*generic operations*, which must handle
many different types of data. Maintaining modularity in the
presence of generic operations requires more powerful abstraction
barriers than can be erected with simple data abstraction alone. In
particular, we introduce *data-directed programming* as a
technique that allows individual data representations to be designed
in isolation and then combined
*additively* (i.e., without
modification). To illustrate the power of this approach to system
design, we close the chapter by applying what we have learned to the
implementation of a package for performing symbolic arithmetic on
polynomials, in which the coefficients of the polynomials can be
integers, rational numbers, complex numbers, and even other
polynomials.

[1] The ability to directly manipulate
functions
provides an analogous increase in the expressive power of a
programming language. For example, in
section 1.3.1 we introduced the `sum`
function, which takes a
function
`term` as an argument and
computes the sum of the values of `term` over some specified
interval. In order to define `sum`, it is crucial that we be able
to speak of a
function
such as `term` as an entity in its own
right, without regard for how `term` might be expressed with more
primitive operations. Indeed, if we did not have the notion of `sum`. Moreover,
insofar as performing the summation is concerned, the details of how
`term` may be constructed from more primitive operations are
irrelevant.

a function,it is doubtful that we would ever even think of the possibility of defining an operation such as

2 Building Abstractions with Data