Perl 6 needs a list concatenation op

2 minute read

Welcome to Perl 6 where everything is simple and easy to understand… sometimes?

Quick quiz: what does this code do?

my @examples =
    [0, 1, 2, (3,4,5), [7,8,9]],
    gather do {.take for ^3; take (3,4,5); take [7,8,9]};

for @examples {
  my $flat = .flat;
  say "{.WHO}: .flattens to {$flat.WHO}({$flat.gist})";

Here’s the output:

List: .flattens to Seq((0 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9))
Array: .flattens to Seq((0 1 2 (3 4 5) [7 8 9]))
Seq: .flattens to Seq((0 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9))

Is that what you expected? I think many would not. The subtle difference, even after reading the documentation for flat isn’t entirely clear.

This happens because an Array is not the same as those other types. It’s a “containerized” iterable. This means that you can’t just take some value that you know can be iterated and call .flat on it without being sure whether or not it’s containerized. Ugly innit?

So, when you have two thingies and you want to bring them together without flattening their contents, but as a single list, you can use the slip operator, unary |, to flatten just the top-level of any iterable thing into its expression. To put that in simpler terms:

|$a, |$b

will give you the iterated contents of $a, followed by the iterated contents of $b, all as a single thing ( called a Slip). It’s a bit like:

gather do {
  .take for $a;
  .take for $b;

If you have many such sub-iterables that you want to join together, you could join them using a map: |*;

But this is klunky and not very clear. People don’t think of map as stripping levels of lists and a function that appears to return two things, like this:

sub foo($a, $b) { |$a, |$b }

should probably not be one that actually returns a single list of the combined contents.

Proposed solution

My solution (now available as Operator::Listcat) is to add a new operator that performs this work as an infix along with some extras:

sub infix:<listcat>(@a, @b) is equiv(&infix:<~>) is export { |@a, |@b }
sub infix:<< ⊕ >>(@a, @b) is equiv(&infix:<~>) is export { @a listcat @b }
augment class List {
    method sling(List:D: *@lists) { [listcat] self, @lists }

There are three things here:

  • The infix operator “listcat” that works as <a b c> listcat <x y z> and returns <a b c x y z> but without flattening any further than one level.
  • The Unicode alias for listcat that evokes the Python (among a small number of other languages’) convention of using + for this purpose without actually muddying the type waters.
  • A modification to List that adds the sling method that performs a listcat between the List object that it’s called on and its arguments, returning the unified list.

Note that in current rakudo, that last one doesn’t work the way you might expect. Derived classes currently do not resolve augmented methods in their parents (see the discussion in for details).