Capturing Calls to Undefined Properties

The TADS 3 language doesn't require you to specify the types of variables, functions, and properties when you declare them - in fact, the language doesn't have any way of making these declarations even if you wanted to. This means that the language isn't "statically typed": you can't tell the type of a variable with certainty just by looking at the variable's definition.

(This isn't to say the language is "weakly typed", by the way, which is a common misconception about this type of language. TADS is actually a strongly typed language with run-time typing. A weakly typed language is one where values can be reinterpreted as different types at the byte storage level, such as the way an integer can be reinterpreted as a pointer, or vice versa, in C. C could be considered a weakly typed language with static typing; TADS is the opposite, a strongly typed language with run-time typing.)

Because the compiler doesn't know in advance what kind of object a variable might contain, the compiler can't determine whether or not a particular property will be defined for the object. For example, consider this code:

local x;
x = getSomeObject();;

Because the compiler can't tell what kind of object x will contain when this code is executed, the compiler can't know whether or not that object will define the property "name."

When you call a property (or, equivalently, a method) on an object, and the object doesn't define that property and doesn't inherit it from any superclass, the VM will do one of two things:

The basic system library doesn't export any symbol called propNotDefined, so in a low-level TADS 3 program, you must explicitly export this symbol if you want to use the propNotDefined mechanism. However, note that the adv3 library does export propNotDefined, so the mechanism is enabled automatically if you're writing a library-based game.

Refer to the section on exporting symbols for details on the export mechanism.

Throwing an Exception for Undefined Properties

Calling an undefined property is perfectly legal in TADS, so there are no error messages or other negative consequences when a program does so. It's possible, though, to use the propNotDefined mechanism described above to introduce your own error on undefined property evaluation, if you wish to modify the language to make such calls illegal. Of course, doing so is only suitable if you're using TADS to create something highly customized. Be aware that you'll have to replace all of the standard Adv and system library components if you don't want to allow undefined property calls, since the standard components all operate within the standard rule that calls to undefined properties are legal. This sort of change is thus only possible if you're creating a complete replacement library.

Here's an example of how you might do this:

// this export is needed only if the library doesn't
// otherwise define it
property propNotDefined;
export propNotDefined;

// an exception for invoking an undefined property -
// note that reflection could be used to provide a better message
class PropNotDefinedException: Exception
  construct(prop, argList) { prop_ = prop; argList_ = argList; }
  displayException() { "call to undefined property"; }
  prop_ = nil
  argList_ = nil

// throw an exception for any undefined property invocations
modify Object
  propNotDefined(prop, [args])
    throw new PropNotDefinedException(prop, args);

Proxy Objects

It's frequently useful to define one object as a "proxy" for another, so that the proxy object redirects most method calls to its underlying object. This allows the proxy to provide its own definitions for a few particular properties, while letting the original object do everything else. The propNotDefined mechanism makes this easy to implement.

// redirect everything but 'name' to the original
class Proxy: object
  construct(original) { orig_ = original; }

  // change the name
  name = "proxy for <<>>"

  // redirect everything we don't define ourselves
  propNotDefined(prop, [args])
    // call the undefined property on the original object

  // my underlying object
  orig_ = nil