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Variables and fields

Variables are defined using the let keyword. For an overview of the syntax, refer to Defining variables in the syntax guide.

Inko infers the types of variables based on their values:

let a = 10 # `a` is inferred as `Int`

For more information about type inference, refer to the Type inference section.

Fields are defined using the let keyword in a class definition:

class Person {
  let @name: String
}

Assigning variables and fields

Variables and fields are assigned new values using =. For variables this requires the variable to be mutable:

let a = 10
let mut b = 10

a = 20 # Not OK, `a` isn't defined as mutable
b = 20 # This is OK

For fields the surrounding method must be mutable:

class Person {
  let @name: String

  fn foo {
    @name = 'Alice' # Not OK as `foo` is not a mutable method
  }

  fn mut foo {
    @name = 'Alice' # OK
  }
}

When a variable or field is assigned a new value, its old value is dropped. Assignments always return nil.

Inko also supports swapping of values using :=, known as a "swap assignment". This works the same as regular assignments, except the old value is returned instead of dropped:

let mut a = 10

a = 20 # This returns `10`

This also works for fields:

class Person {
  let @name: String

  fn replace_name(new_name: String) -> String {
    @name := new_name
  }
}

Ownership

When a value is assigned to a variable, the value is moved into that variable. If the value is owned this means the original variable (if there was any) is no longer available. If the value is a reference, the variable is given a new reference, allowing you to continue using the old variable:

let a = [10]
let b = a

a.pop # Invalid, as `a` is moved into `b`

Field ownership

The type fields are exposed as depends on the kind of method the field is used in. If a method is immutable, the field type is ref T. If the method is mutable, the type of a field is instead mut T; unless it's defined as a ref T:

class Person {
  let @name: String
  let @grades: ref Array[Int]

  fn foo {
    @name   # => ref String
    @grades # => ref Array[Int]
  }

  fn mut foo {
    @name   # => mut String
    @grades # => ref Array[Int]
  }

  fn move foo {
    @name   # => String
    @grades # => ref Array[Int]
  }
}

If a method is marked as moving using the move keyword, you can move fields out of their owner, and the fields are exposed using their original types (i.e. @name is exposed as String and not mut String):

class Person {
  let @name: String

  fn move into_name -> String {
    @name
  }
}

When moving a field, the remaining fields are dropped individually and the owner of the moved field is partially dropped. It's a compile-time error to use the same field or self after a field is moved. You also can't capture any fields or self from the owner the field is moved out of.

If a type defines a custom destructor, its fields can't be moved in a moving method.

Drop semantics

When exiting a scope, any variables defined in this scope are dropped in reverse-lexical order. This means that if you define a and then b, b is dropped before a.

When using return or throw, all variables defined up to that point are dropped in the same reverse-lexical order.

Conditional moves and loops

If a variable is dropped conditionally, it's not available afterwards:

let a = [10]

if something {
  let b = a
}

# `a` _might_ be moved at this point, so we can't use it anymore.

The same applies to loops: if a variable is moved in a loop, it can't be used outside the loop:

let a = [10]

loop {
  let b = a
}

Any variable defined outside of a loop but moved inside the loop must be assigned a new value before the end of the loop. This means the above code is incorrect, and we have to fix it like so:

let mut a = [10]

loop {
  let b = a

  a = []
}

We can do the same for conditions:

let mut a = [10]

if condition {
  let b = a

  a = []
}

# `a` can be used here, because we guaranteed it always has a value at this
# point

If a value is moved in one branch of a condition, it's still available in the other branches:

let a = [10]

# This is fine, because only one branch ever runs.
if foo {
  let b = a
} else if bar {
  let b = a
}

This also applies to pattern match expressions.

To handle dropping of conditionally moved variables, Inko uses hidden variables called "drop flags". These are created whenever necessary and default to true. When a variable is moved its corresponding drop flag (if any) is set to false. When it's time to drop the variable, the compiler inserts code that checks the value of this flag and only drops the variable if the value is still true. This means that this:

let a = [10]

if condition {
  let b = a
}

Is more or less the same as this:

let a = [10]
let a_flag = true

if condition {
  a_flag = false

  let b = a
}

if a_flag {
  drop(a)
}