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An Introduction


Most programming languages allow you to divide your program into smaller parts. These can be called “sub-routines”, “procedures”, “functions” or “methods”. In Pike, we use the term “method”. Other parts of the program can call the method, i e cause it to be executed.

How to create a method

To create a method, you must define it, with a method definition. A method definition follows this template:

*access-modifiers* *type* *method-name*( *parameter-list* )

Here is a description of the various parts in the definition template:

  • The access-modifiers are optional. If they are present, they control from where this method can be called. An example of an access-modifier is private, which makes it impossible for other programs to call this method.

  • The type is a data type, which specifies the type of the value that the method returns. It is sometimes called the “return type of the method”, or the “type of the method”. An example of a data type is string. If the type is void, the method is not supposed to return a value.

  • The method-name is the name of the method. This is an identifier, for example plus, destroy_all_enemy_ships or mUndoLatestChange. A method should have a name that correctly describes what the method does: a method that prints a list of customers should probably be called something like print_customers.

  • The parameter-list is a comma-separated list of the parameters of the method. A parameter acts like a variable, which is local in the method, and which gets the corresponding argument value from the method call as its initial value. Some examples of parameters are “int number_of_cars“ and “string name“. A method can have up to 256 parameters. If the method doesn’t expect to receive any argument values, the parameter-list can be empty.

  • The method-body is a block, and can contain statements and local definitions.

Sometimes we talk of the head and the body of a method. The body is of course the method-body in the template above, while the head consists of everything in the method definition except the body. We can say that the method head is a description of the method: its name, which arguments it expects, and what type of value it will return. A part of the program that wants to call a method, needs to know about the head of that method, but not about the body.

The method body, on the other hand, contains the statements that will be executed when the method is called. The body is therefore a description of what, and how, the method performs whatever it is that it does.

Here is a simple example of a method definition:

float average(float x1, float x2)
  return (x1 + x2) / 2;

The method average returns the average of its two arguments. Both the return value and the two parameters are floating-point values. Here are some valid statements that contain calls to average:

float x = average(19.0 + 11.0, 10.0);
average(27.13, x + 27.15);
float y = average(1.0, 2.0) + average(6.0, 7.1);
float z = average(1.0, average(2.0, 3.0));

When a method has finished what it has to do, we say that it returns. The program will then continue executing immediately after the place of the method call. If the method has produced a value, we say that we return that value.

The return statement is used to send a value from a method back to the point from where it was called:

return *expression*;

The return statement will also cause Pike to leave the method, and continue execution immediately after the point where the call to the method was made. You can have several return statements in the same method. If the method is defined to return void, you can use return without a value to leave the method:


If you reach the end of the body of a method, without having returned first, the method will return zero as return value.