My Favorite Restaurant In New Orleans ... no longer in business

Over the years I've told many people about my experience at Jimmy Moran's Riverside Restaurant in New Orleans. Unfortunately, this place closed many years ago. But it had AMAZING Fettuccine Alfredo (yes, I had lots of Butter, Cream, and Parmesan over the years before I was weaned). He went to Italy to learn how to make it. He would come out to your table in the dining room with all the ingredients on a rolling cart covered with a white cloth, including freshly made Fettuccine pasta, and assemble an amazing pillow of clouds for you to eat! Every other time I've tried to get this dish in a restaurant it has been horrible. Sigh.

How to get text to look the right size on Laptop and Phone, and another trick

 I recently tried to publish some content and found the text to be WAY too small on cell phones. So I searched the web and found this <HEAD> content that fixes the problem. Just add this tag inside your HEAD block:

<meta name='viewport' content='width=device-width initial-scale=1'/>

I also noticed that they added a way to create nested tree views that open and close without and script or CSS in HTML5, which is now in every major browser. Just use the <details> and <summary> tags

Wean Yourself

I am weaned. Like most adult mammals, I don't eat dairy products. When I quit, at age 23, my face cleared up. No more pimples. Then my nose cleared up. I could smell! Then my energy level went up. I started riding my bike from Providence to Boston. I was clearly onto something. But in the mid-80s in New England it was not so easy. Now it's easy.

Dairy is not really good for you. The places with the highest dairy consumption have the highest osteoporosis. Do you really need all that fat and protein?

So I haven't had dairy in 30 years. Except in small amounts, like in baked goods. Not croissants. But an occasional cake. I employ the don't-ask-don't-tell policy sometimes. But mayonnaise is not dairy, so that's OK. My favorite food was Fettuccine Alfredo at Moran's Riverside restaurant in New Orleans. Amazing! But I don't miss dairy now. Not at all.

Lately dairy has been creeping into more foods, especially at restaurants. I recently order fried calamari, which came with (completely un-announced) lots of parmesan cheese all over it. When this happens I can't help feeling that they have sprinkled dirt all over my food, and then server it to me with a smile. I always send it back. Even more amazing was the cheese in the cole slaw I was served recently. I asked the manager over, who admitted they had added cheese but not mentioned it on the menu. She said "but it's so good!" Except when it's not.

Everyone always says "Give up cheese? I could never do that!" But it is surprisingly easy. Hamburgers are great without it. Even pizza is just as good without cheese... that's the way the italians do it, anyway. Other ethnic foods don't use it to begin with (although I have noticed a starting increase in the use of cream cheese in sushi). Just Say No!

Are you weaned?

Declarative versus Imperative

I responded to a recent discussion Declarative vs imperative programming on the Types mailing list, but my post was rejected because of a bad mail header. By the time I got around to fixing it, the discussion was old. But for what it's worth, here are my thoughts:
I have been thinking about the use of the words "declarative" and "imperative" for some time. This is my understanding of how they are commonly used in computer science today:
Declarative: describing "what" is to be computed rather than "how" to compute the result/behavior
Imperative: a description of a computation that involves implicit effects, usually mutable state and input/output.
As others have pointed out, our usage originally came from the distinction between imperative and declarative statements in natural languages. However, I think that our usage has diverged significantly from this origin, so that the words no longer form a dichotomy.
For example, one might argue that a finite state machine is both declarative and imperative in the computer science senses. I think Uday made a similar suggestion. There is also Wadler's classic paper on "How to declare an imperative".
Another hint that "declarative" and "imperative" are not antonyms is that the definitions don't have any significant words in common. The antonym of "imperative" in common usage is "pure functional". I don't know of a widely-used word that acts as an antonym for "declarative", although "operational" might work. It may be that "imperative" has a connotation of "step-by-step", which hints at it being the opposite of "declarative", but this connotation is fairly weak at this point. If we wanted to we could try to force “declarative” and “imperative” to be antonyms, possibly by redefining what we mean by “imperative”, but I'm not sure that would be an improvement.
I agree with those who say that "declarative" is a spectrum. For example, some people say that Haskell is a declarative language, but I my view Haskell programs are very much about *how* to compute a result. It is true that many details about how are left out (memory management, order of operations, etc). But if you compare a Haskell program with a logical specification (pre/post conditions), they are quite different. Thus while I would say Haskell is more declarative than many other programming languages, Haskell is not a declarative language in the strongest sense of the word. Haskell programs are not specifications, they are computations, in the sense that they say how to compute and answer.
Here is a quick shot at a spectrum between "how" and "what". Each level has a quick summary of the "how" that is involved, and it also includes all the "hows" listed below them. I suspect that many of you might disagree with the placement or absence of various languages, so I cannot claim that this list is definitive.
 More "How"
How the machine works
How memory is managed
   C, C++, etc
Order of operations
   Java, Smalltalk, Python, Ruby, etc
How data flows (with issues like nontermination and cut)
   Haskell, Prolog, Lambda Calculus (in various forms)
----split between Programming and Specification Languages---
Restricted Specification Languages
   BNF, SQL, Excel, Statecharts
Logical specification languages
   VDM, Z, B, Alloy
 More "What"
The idea that a specification language (by definition) cannot be executed is widely held but false. I consider BNF to be a simple counter example. BNF is clearly a specification language, and it clearly has efficient execution (parsing) strategies.
As for the objects/type distinction that sparked this discussion, I think the discussion was pretty reasonable, and I would like to thank Jonathan for presenting my views so articulately.
I agree with Uday that we need to get our own house in order. These kinds of discussions are a good start.

Advice for faculty candidates interviewing at UTCS

Everybody has heard the advice that job talks must be "accessible to a broad audience". Some people take this to mean that "all of the talk must be understandable by a broad CS audience". Unfortunately this leads the speaker to remove all the depth from their talk, for fear that somebody in the audience might not understand it. The resulting talks are underwhelming.

Keshav Pingali suggested this recipe based on thirds: 1/3 of your talk should be understandable by everyone. This should include the motivation and the high-level contribution and significance of the work. 1/3 of your talk should be understandable by people in your general area. Finally, 1/3 should be understandable by specialists working on your particular problem.

I'm not sure I would go so far as Keshav. But I do agree that there must be at least part of your talk where you describe the key problem and your solution in detail, and that this is likely to be fully understood by only a few people in the audience. But that's OK.

So PLEASE keep the depth in your talks and don't worry too much that somebody might not be able to follow. Just think about how many job talks you've been to where you haven't understood everything. It's OK. Take a deep breath. Show your depth!

Revised definitions of object and object-oriented

I revised my proposed definition of object based on feedback, to be more general. Please put comments on the original post. I'm very interested in getting more feedback on the definition.

The Day Functional Programming Became Pure

The definition of "functional programming" changed slowly over the last 20 years, as expressed on the Wikipedia page on Functional Programming. Perhaps the process started even earlier with John Backus's famous Turing Award lecture Can programming be liberated from the von Neumann style?: a functional style and its algebra of programs. [Note, I have revised this to put the quotations in chronological order and add a new paragraph on the end]

Before 14 August 2003, the page described functional programming as a style that emphasized the use of functions. For example on 14 October 2001‎ the entire page was 220 words long, and began:
Functional programming is a style of programming that emphasizes the evaluation of functional expressions, rather than execution of commands. The expressions in these languages are formed by using functions to combine basic values.  
A functional programming language is a language that supports and encourages functional programming. The oldest example is LISP. More recent examples include Scheme, ML, Haskell, Erlang, Clean.
Lisp is identified as the first functional language, and Schema, ML and Haskell are on equal footing.

The changes started on On 14 August 2003 when the pages from Nupedia, which had a structured and peer reviewed model for content production, were integrated into Wikipedia by Luxor to create a page with 1,640 words:
Functional programming is a programming paradigm that treats computation as the evaluation of mathematical functions. In contrast to imperative programming, functional programming emphasizes the evaluation of functional expressions, rather than execution of commands. The expressions in these languages are formed by using functions to combine basic values.  

At this point functional programming is not about emphasizing use of functions. Instead it means programming with mathematical functions. Implicit in this definition is that such functions are pure, but because it is not explicit the implications were not clear. This description was elaborated until 29 May 2006, when the page read:
Functional programming is a programming paradigm that treats computation as the evaluation of mathematical functions. Functional programming emphasizes the definition of functions rather than the implementation of state machines, in contrast to procedural programming, which emphasizes the execution of sequential commands. A purely functional program does not modify state to produce values (as is done in imperative programming), it constructs new values from (but does not overwrite) existing values. 
There is no uniform agreement on what constitutes functional programming or a functional programming language. Often considered important are higher-order and first-class functions, closures, and recursion. Other common features of functional programming languages are continuations, Hindley-Milner type inference systems, non-strict evaluation (i.e. "laziness"), and monads.
There is still a distinction between (ordinary) functional programming and the "pure" form of functional programming, which avoids the use of mutable state. At this point there was a small but significant change, in the middle of the night, with no fanfare, by an unknown person. At 01:07 on 29 May 2006 it was changed to read:
Functional programming is a programming style that treats computation as the evaluation of mathematical functions and avoids state and mutable data. Functional programming emphasizes the definition of functions, in contrast to procedural programming, which emphasizes the execution of sequential commands. 
Functional programming relies on concepts from the lambda calculus, Lisp, and more recently Haskell. Frequently mentioned are the avoidance of state and side-effects (which provides for referential transparency), higher order functions, recursion, and closures. 
At a stroke, the author made explicit the requirement for purity and added it to the definition of functional programming. This requirement had been implicit in the description of functional programming, as computation with mathematical functions. This author also resolved the uncertainty about how functional programming should be defined. Prior pages said there is no agreement, but the new definition was stated without such doubts.

The change was made by ideogram, whose real-world identity is not disclosed. This account was created a few days before the active editing of the Functional Programming page started. Since then the account has been banned numerous times for unacceptable behavior (trolling) but this seems to be urelated to the editing of the Functional Programming page.

They didn't leave a revision comment. On the other hand, there is some discussion about the issues on the Functional Programming Talk page. There have been edits since this point, which have restored some of the previous language, but they are later removed. Currently (July 14, 2012) the page reads:
In computer science, functional programming is a programming paradigm that treats computation as the evaluation of mathematical functions and avoids state and mutable data. It emphasizes the application of functions, in contrast to the imperative programming style, which emphasizes changes in state.[1] Functional programming has its roots in lambda calculus, a formal system developed in the 1930s to investigate function definition, function application, and recursion. Many functional programming languages can be viewed as elaborations on the lambda calculus.[1] 
In practice, the difference between a mathematical function and the notion of a "function" used in imperative programming is that imperative functions can have side effects, changing the value of program state. Because of this, they lack referential transparency, i.e. the same language expression can result in different values at different times depending on the state of the executing program. Conversely, in functional code, the output value of a function depends only on the arguments that are input to the function, so calling a function f twice with the same value for an argument x will produce the same result f(x) both times. Eliminating side effects can make it much easier to understand and predict the behavior of a program, which is one of the key motivations for the development of functional programming.
[1] Paul Hudak. 1989. Conception, evolution, and application of functional programming languages. ACM Computing Surveys volume 21, issue 3 (September 1989).
What are the implications of this? How did this change come about? Are we in the midst of a (small) scientific revolution? Who is behind this?

According to the new definition ML and Lisp are no longer functional languages. It is possible to write some some in a functional subset of these languages. The first requirement is avoiding the use of "ref" types in ML, or the use of assignment and structural mutation in Lisp languages. However, this is not enough, because many of the standard libraries for ML and Lisp languages have side-effects. This is especially true of any libraries for IO. As a result, the range of program that can be conveniently written in a functional style is fairly limited.

A Proposal for Simplified, Modern Definitions of "Object" and "Object Oriented"

In this note I propose simplified, modern definitions for "object" and "object oriented". A modern definition is needed because we have learned quite a bit over the last 20 years since the last time there was a concerted effort to define objects. Due to extensive experimentation, we can distinguish what is absolutely essential from what is common and useful. Eliminating the non-essential allows the definitions to be simpler. Simplicity will help in communicating essential ideas broadly, while still enabling more detailed discussion of advanced features within the OO community. Simplicity is almost always the result of hard work, it is not the starting point.

This effort is entirely one of wording and presentation. The fundamental nature of objects is well-known and understood by the OO community, and these definitions will not change those characteristics. However, this proposal does change some of the words that we use to talk about our shared understanding. This is necessary because our previous definitions have become unwieldy and out of sync with everyday usage.

It is becoming clear to me that this summary is far too concise. If there is interest, I might expand it with examples and additional discussion. It might even turn into a book, if I find the time. If you want to discuss this topic in more detail and have something to contribute, please email me. We have an active discussion group.

This note is a companion to my essay On understanding data abstraction, revisited [1]. For additional background, see [2,3]. This note begins with the proposed definitions followed by some discussion of terms used in the definitions. It then reviews related concepts, including inheritance, mutable state, etc. I also discuss the implications of these definitions for describing and classifying existing programming languages. Finally, I provide some background on previous definitions of "object" and "object oriented".


The definitions given below are intended to capture the characteristics that are essential and required for something to be an object, not what features are useful or frequently included in object-oriented languages. Since there are many ways to implement objects, the definitions are formulated in terms of the properties that an object must satisfy, not the internal details of how they are constructed.

An object is a first-class, dynamically dispatched behavior. A behavior is a collection of named operations that can be invoked by clients where the operations may share additional hidden details. Dynamic dispatch means that different objects can implement the same operation name(s) in different ways, so the specific operation to be invoked must come from the object identified in the client's request. First class means that objects have the same capabilities as other kinds of values, including being passed to operations or returned as the result of an operation.

A language or system is object oriented if it supports the dynamic creation and use of objects. Support means that objects are easy to define and use. It is possible to encode objects in C or Haskell, but an encoding is not support.


The new definition focuses on the key characteristic of objects as behavioral abstractions. In other words, objects are known only by what they do. In common usage, "behavior is the range of responses that an agent may have in response to stimulus from their environment. For objects, the environment is represented by clients, which are external entities that make use of the object. The stimulus from the environment to the object is represented by invocation of an operation on the object. Thus the collection of operations provided by the object defines the range of behaviors it may have to stimulus from clients, which represent its environment.

The use of the word "behavior" makes the definition somewhat abstract, but it avoids tying the definition to any implementation technology. However, it is perfectly reasonable to substitute more specific words in place of behavior, and the definition is still meaningful. Consider this slight variation of the definition: "An object is a first-class, dynamically dispatched X that provides named operations that can be invoked by clients." In this version, X can be replaced by "module", "record", "structure", "function", "entity", or many other words and still be essentially valid definitions. The point is that the essential characteristics are "dynamic dispatch", "first-class", and "collection of operations". Exactly how the object is concretely represented is not important.

Behavioral abstractions are effective for modeling a wide range of concepts, including real-world objects, processes, algorithms and also data. But it has not been proven that objects are the only way, or are even an inherently better way, to model real-world objects. Modeling concepts (including data) by their observable behavior contrasts sharply with other approaches based on data structures, relations, or algebraic data types. One might argue from the other direction, that any program that uses behavioral abstraction to model data is object oriented.

Taken to the extreme, we might say that only thing that can be known about an object is its behavior. This idea is implemented in Microsoft COM, for example. However, it is often expedient or useful to allow more kinds of interactions between clients and the objects they manipulate. The definition requires that objects have behavior, but it does not prohibit other features from being included. However, objects are required to present a behavioral interface to clients, not a pure structural one. This means that some classes in Java do not create objects, but instead create structures. An object that contains operations and public fields is a hybrid. I think this fits well with accepted usage of terminology.

First-class values and declarations

There is a subtle distinction between use of a value being first class and a declaration form being first class. The definition of objects invokes the usage criteria: it says that objects can be used anywhere that values can be used. There is general consensus that first-class functions require both the usage and the declaration criteria: functions are first class only if they can be used anywhere that other values can be used, and also that functions can be declared anywhere in the program. If functions only had to meet the usage criteria, then C would have first-class functions, because it supports function pointers. To be truly first class, a declaration form must be allowed anywhere and also have access to all the lexical context of enclosing scopes. For example, class declarations are not truly first class in C++: a class can be defined inside a function, but the class does not have access to the lexically enclosing function arguments.

We do not require objects to satisfy the first-class declaration criteria, because that would require objects/classes to be definable anywhere in a program, which is clearly not the case in some object-oriented languages, including Eiffel. Some object-oriented languages, including Beta, Grace, Scala, JavaScript and Self, do have first-class object/class declarations. Java satisfies the declaration criteria since the introduction of anonymous and inner classes. Smalltalk also satisfies the declaration criteria, because classes can be created dynamically anywhere. Nested class definitions in C++ are second class: they can be defined anywhere, but do not have access to the enclosing lexical scopes.

Being first-class means that objects have a recognizable identity. This is necessary for them to be passed to operations or returned as results of operations. However, it does not imply that the system must allow identities of two objects to be compared for equality.

Given the definition of "objects as first-class behaviors", it should be clear that objects can be used to encode first-class functions, because an object can contain a single function. Scala and Java 8 provide syntactic support to make this encoding easy to use. There is a nice parallel between "first-class functions" and "first-class behaviors".

It is very important to understand that objects can also represent what is normally understood as "data". They do so by representing "data" as "behavior". That is, the data is defined by what it can do not by any idea of structure that can be inspected. This is why many object-oriented languages do not have any concept of "data structures", for example structs/records and union in C, Pascal, ML or Haskell. Given dynamic dispatch, object-oriented languages have little need for "pattern matching", which tends to expose internal representations anyway. It is possible to define views on objects that support pattern matching without exposing the internal representation, e.g. "unapply" in Scala.

Dynamic Dispatch

Dynamic dispatch of operations is the essential characteristic of objects. It means that the operation to be invoked is a dynamic property of the object itself. Operations cannot be identified statically, and there is no way in general to exactly what operation will executed in response to a given request, except by running it. This is exactly the same as with first-class functions, which are always dynamically dispatched.

Dynamic dispatch is sometimes called "message passing", "late binding", "dynamic binding", or "polymorphism". Programming language researchers have identified several kinds of polymorphism, including subtype polymorphism, ad-hoc polymorphism and parametric polymorphism. Polymorphism is often associated with type systems, but in object-oriented programming it is a dynamic property. The Greek word "polymorphism" means roughly "having many forms". It does not mean that a particular object has many forms, but rather that a client can interact with many different forms of objects without having to know exactly which kind is being used. We call this object polymorphism.

Object-oriented languages introduced two forms of extensibility: dynamic dispatch and inheritance. They are often tied together, but they are in fact separate concepts.

Dynamic dispatch allows new kinds of objects to be defined that implement the same behavioral interfaces as existing objects. The new objects can then be mixed together with the existing objects, without rewriting existing code. Inheritance is a mechanism for incremental modification of self-referential structures. Dynamic dispatch is essential to objects, while inheritance is useful but not absolutely essential.


The definitions are certainly simple and, I hope, clearly stated. Remember that the goal is to capture the essential characteristics at an appropriate level of abstraction, using familiar terminology. That is, the definitions specify what is required, not what is useful or familiar. I believe that the definition of "object", while presented using different terminology, corresponds very closely to the broad understanding of the concept, and to previous descriptions in the literature. Some examples from the literature are discussed at the very end of this note.

The proposed definition of "object oriented" does not match some previous definitions, because it leaves out topics that are often considered essential to objects, especially mutable state, classes, inheritance, and identity. I argue below that these related ideas, while widely used and very useful, are not absolutely essential.

The proposed definition does brings the term "object-oriented" into closer alignment with current usage. For example, under many previous definitions, JavaScript is not an object-oriented language, because it does not have classes and inheritance. The definition on Wikipedia is fairly close to the proposal given here.

Related Concepts

In seeking a fundamental, primitive concept of "object", there are several ways to identify non-essential features. One is that if a feature already has a good name and is orthogonal to the concept of "object", then there is no reason to include the feature in the definition of "object". Thus, for example, we might have "mutable objects" and "non-mutable objects" if the concept of mutation is orthogonal. Another technique is to imagine whether a significant and useful object-oriented program can be written without the feature, then that feature is probably not essential. We can also example the variety of languages that have been defined to identify their common features. I propose that the following features are not essential parts of the definition of an object.

It is interesting that much of the criticism of object-oriented programming focuses on these optional features.

Mutable State

Mutable state is not essential to the definition of objects. It is useful and common, but not essential. It is clearly possible to define objects that do not allow mutation. One kind of immutable object is the Value Objects, which are quite common and useful. Obviously mutable state can exist without objects. But the key point is that, at the level of language semantics, combining first-class behaviors and mutable state doesn't introduce any complex interactions. They just work together fine. There are some interactions between mutable state and inheritance. At the implementation level there can also be complex issues. But conceptually, objects and mutability don't have any fundamental interference between each other. Thus they are orthogonal.

Excluding mutable state as a required part of the definition of "object" is certainly radical. But our understanding of mutable state has increased considerably in the last 20 years. We have better ways to program without mutation and better ways to control it. Of the 23 patterns in "Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software", only State, Memento, Observer, Decorator, and possibly Chain or Responsibility and Adapter, require mutability. Patterns involving representing data as behavior but without mutation are becoming more common.


Inheritance is neither essential nor only useful for object-oriented programming. You can define objects perfectly well without (implementation) inheritance in dynamic languages or static languages with interfaces. Unfortunately, in some languages (e.g. Simula and C++) implementation inheritance is the only way to achieve dynamic dispatch. In other languages (e.g. Java) is is less work to achieve dynamic dispatch using implementation inheritance than with interfaces. This problems only arise in statically typed languages that allow classes to be used as types. In C++, the convention is to use fully abstract classes as interfaces. Inheriting from such a class is really just a way to declare interface compatibility. To summarize, in Java "extends" is not essential but "implements" is. In other words, as long as the language supports dynamic dispatch, inheritance is not essential. On the other hand, Java has class inheritance but not interface inheritance. This is because the implicit self-reference in an interface is not modified when an interface extends another interface. Java allows extension of interfaces, but not true inheritance of interfaces.

Inheritance is not required for polymorphism/dynamic dispatch. For example, in Smalltalk two classes can implement the same methods, which allows their objects to be used interchangeably, even if neither class inherits the other. Go has dynamic dispatch but not inheritance.

On the other hand, inheritance can also be used for wrapping functions, deriving new data types, or extending ML-style modules. Functional programming papers that include a notion of data extensibility often use a form of "open recursion", which is the functional programmer's name for inheritance. The essence of inheritance is composition where the "self reference" of the inherited parts is modified to refer to the combined structure. As just one example, type and function inheritance is used extensively in Wouter Swierstra's paper on Data Type a la Carte.

Delegation is the dynamic analog of inheritance, which is usually defined statically.


There are successful and useful object-oriented languages that do not include a concept of "class". The most well known example is Self. To me, classes are best understood as factories for creating objects. As such, they can be implemented as ordinary functions with a nested object definition. Even in a statically typed language, there is no requirement that a class act as a type. The idea that classes are types has caused more confusion and poorly designed code than anything else I know, other than the use of "null" for references.


Identity is often listed as an essential property of objects. As mentioned above, objects have identity in the sense that they exist. This basic idea of identity allows object to be referenced by clients, and also refer to themselves.

However, identity can also mean the ability to determine if two references denote the same object. By "the same object" I mean that both references refer to the result of a single object creation event. In many languages, identity corresponds to the ability to compare object references for pointer equality. It is possible to have mutable state without supporting an operation to compare two references for equality. While it is possible to support identity on immutable objects, I'm not sure if that is useful. In either case, this demonstrates that identity and mutability are orthogonal concepts.

There are good reasons why objects should not be required to have identity. Objects should be able to impersonate other objects. This is necessary for the Wrapper pattern to work properly. Identity also conflicts with the principle that objects should have absolute control over what clients know about them. If identity is needed, it is easy to define and implement an interface that allows identity checking, although this does not prohibit impostors from faking an identity. It can certainly be useful to have non-forgeable identities, and this feature can be added to objects without unwanted interactions. For example, Mark Miller argues that true identity is required to solve the Grant Matcher Puzzle. One reason for including identity comparison is to be able to write low-level libraries that need some form of identity, for example serialization of a graph of objects. However, I believe that all such cases can be defined by adding a public operation to the object itself, rather than building identity into the system.


Mutli-methods do not fit very well into the definition of objects given above. A multi-method call is not a request on a particular object to perform an operation. It is a request to the system to select an appropriate method to operate on a combination of arguments. However, multi-methods include the kind of object-oriented dynamic dispatch described above as a special case, where the dispatch is performed on just one argument. The question of whether multi-methods are better than other approaches is still a matter of debate. Proponents argue that multi-methods give significant additional expressive power, while others argue that multi-methods reduce the modularity of solutions. The bottom line is that multi-methods support object-oriented programming, but multi-methods in their full generality are different from objects as defined here.


In a pure object system, everything is an object. This is an idea that is difficult to achieve, but Smalltalk and Self come close.

Other features

Other features, including reflection, static typing, interfaces, first-class classes, concurrent objects, synchronization, etc. are included in some OO languages but not others. This means they are not essential to the definition of "object", even if they are very useful.

Implications for Languages

The proposed definitions of object and object-oriented programming are more liberal than previous definitions. In particular, it allows more languages to be called "object-oriented" than previous, more restrictive definitions. The definition does not preclude languages from supporting other features.

All familiar object-oriented languages are included in the definition, including Simula, Smalltalk, C++, Eiffel, Beta, Objective-C, Visual Basic, Self, Java, C#, Perl, Matlab, PHP, Python, Scala, OCaml, and Ruby. I'm not sure if Lua is object oriented. Of the top 20 languages in the TIOBE Programming Community, 14 are object oriented.

One important point is that using an object-oriented language does not automatically imply that one is doing object-oriented programming. The definition of "object oriented" states that the language must support the creation and use of objects, but it does not require that they be used. Most languages include a wide range of features, and even object-oriented features can be used for other purposes besides objects.

For example, classes in C++ and Java do not necessarily create objects. In other words, it is also possible to not do object-oriented programming in Java. If you work at it, you can. Just as there were programmers who wrote Lisp as if it were FORTAN, there are Java programmers who write as if Java were C or ML. They use classes as if they were structs, define lots of static methods, and use "instanceof" for representation-based pattern matching. There is even an undergraduate PL textbook that uses Java this way. As I have said before, it is possible to do object-oriented programming in Java. Since Java is so widely known, there is a tendency to assume that object-oriented programming is defined to be "anything you can do in Java". But just because you are using Java doesn't mean your program is object-oriented.

ML, Modula-2 and the original version of Ada support modules, but are not object oriented because the modules are not first-class. Modula-3 is object oriented, and Ada 95 added support for objects to Ada.

JavaScript was not object oriented by most previous definitions, because it lacks classes and inheritance. It is object-oriented under the proposed definition, because it supports both dynamic dispatch and delegation for extensibility.

Erlang is an interesting case. It is object oriented, (pure) functional, and imperative all at the same time. Sequential Erlang is pure functional it does not support mutable data. Concurrent Erlang is imperative because it has aliasing of mutable processes. This mutable state does not exist within a process, but rather exists in the system at the level of references to a process. In other words, the behavior of an process reference can change over time. The transitions between states of an process are pure functional. Finally, by sending structured messages that specify an operation request, an Erlang process can act as an object. The process is a behavior that uses a dispatch function to invoke different operation within the object. One might argue that this is an encoding of objects, not true support, but the practice seems to be reasonably common in real Erlang programs. Erlang can also implement objects using parameterized modules. There is also a convention for describing interfaces, called behaviors in Erlang. Erlang can be understood as an object-oriented language that is locally functional and globally imperative.

As mentioned above, multi-methods support objects as as special case, by defining multi-methods that dispatch on only one argument. CLOS, Dylan, and Cecil are object oriented. However, it is also possible to program multi-method abstractions that are not objects.

All languages in the Lisp family, including Scheme and Racket are object-oriented because it is possible to define a few simple macros that allow objects to be created and used as if they were built-in features of the languages. These macros count as "support" even though they are in some sense an encoding. Usually objects are defined as closures that dispatch to the appropriate operation based on an operation name in the argument list. The result is very similar to the way objects are implement in Erlang. Such macros exist for all Lisp-based languages, and in many cases they macros are included as part of the base language.

Haskell is not object-oriented. It includes a feature called type classes that involves creating "classes" and "instances" of those classes. However, type classes, as normally used, are statically bound. Hence they do not meet the requirement that operations are late-bound, or polymorphic, in objects. One might also argue that the instances are not first-class. There are many ways to encode objects in Haskell, including some based on combining type classes and existentials.

There is a recent trend in functional programming to adopt behavioral representations for data, especially when tackling the Expression Problem. One great example is Carette, Kiselyov and Shan's "Tagless, Finally" representation, which is related to the work on "Polymorphic Embedding of DSLs" in Scala. The influences between OO and FP go in both directions.

Go is object-oriented because it supports dynamic dispatch, even though it does not have inheritance. Protocols in Clojure provide support for object-oriented programming. [if you can provide more details on these, please write to me].

As I have suggested before, the untyped lambda calculus is also object oriented, because the only way to implement "data" is with behavior. If this is true, then object-oriented programming and functional programming were born at the same moment. The story of their fall from grace and potential future reconciliation is a long and fascinating one.


David Barbour argues that any definition of object must include state. He tweeted "Specific procedures are pure. Procedures include functions. Does this mean effects aren't the essential nature of procedures?" I responded "It means that Procedure = Function + Mutable State. We decompose ideas into their primitive, orthogonal components." Exactly how we decompose concepts, and what names we choose to use for these concepts, is not predefined. He responded "Similarly, I would suggest that 'Object' is not a primitive, orthogonal concept. Try: Object = Existential + Mutable State." But this is incorrect, because existentials can be used for other things, especially ADTs. Pierce's book presents two standard encodings for objects, but only one of them uses existentials. I believe that existential encodings of objects are provably non-essential, because the existentials can always be removed by simple transformations. In addition, Abadi and Cardelli's object calculus does not require existentials.

He also questions whether "object" should be considered a fundamental, orthogonal concept. It could be explained as a form of codata, for example. Or we could simply use "first-class module" instead. Some people clearly have an agenda to preclude using "object" as a name for a fundamental concept. Other people, including myself, prefer to use the term "object" in a fundamental way. My guess is that the winner gets to pick the terminology, just as the winner gets to write the history.

Thanks to all those who provided comments and suggestions for previous versions, and especially the members of IFIP WG 2.16 on Language Design for their input.

There is no way to prove that terminology is correct. Deciding what words to use for what concepts is a social problem, not a mathematical one. However, I have talked with hundreds of people about these issues over the years, and I believe that my proposal is reasonable given the current usage of terminology in the community.

Historical Notes

Kristen Nygaard, one of the designers of Simula, wrote that object-oriented "program execution is regarded as a physical model, simulating the behavior of either a real or imaginary part of the world." As stated, this is a way of regarding or viewing an object-oriented program. It is generally understood that Nygaard intended it as a definition, that the execution of an object is a physical model of the part of a world. While this is perfectly fine as a statement of the purpose or goal of using objects, I do not think it is suitable as a definition of object-oriented programming. The problem is that it provides very little guidance about what an object actually is. In other words, its not implementable just based on the description. What I take as the key point is that focus on behavior, which is central to the definition of objects proposed here.

In Jul 2003 Alan Kay wrote "OOP to me means only messaging, local retention and protection and hiding of state-process, and extreme late-binding of all things. It can be done in Smalltalk and in LISP. There are possibly other systems in which this is possible, but I'm not aware of them." The proposed definition shares a focus on polymorphic invocation of behavior, which Kay called "messaging". He also mentions state, which we should assume to be mutable. But the focus of that part of the discussion is on "hiding", which is also important in the proposed definition. The final requirement, for "extreme late-binding of all things" is less easy to interpret. It is this requirement that leads Kay to reject all other programming languages that were widely known at the time. I'm curious if he would allow Ruby or Python to be object oriented.

In another email he wrote "The big idea is 'messaging' - that is what the kernal of Smalltalk/Squeak is all about... The key in making great and growable systems is much more to design how its modules communicate rather than what their internal properties and behaviors should be."

Peter Wegner's write-up of his OOPSLA 89 Keynote, "Concepts and Paradigms of Object-Oriented Programming Expansion," gives what I think is a widely accepted definition:

"Objects are collections of operations that share a state. The operations determine the messages (calls) to which the object can respond, while the shared state is hidden from the outside world and is accessible only to the object's operations (see Figure 1). Variables representing the internal state of an object are called instance variables and its operations are called methods. Its collection of methods determines its interface and its behavior."

Note that his first paragraph does not explicitly require the state to be mutable. His first example does include mutable state, but it is not highlighted strongly in the definition.

He goes on to say "The object's behavior is entirely determined by its responses to acceptable messages and is independent of the data representation of its instance variables. Moreover, the object's knowledge of its callers is entirely determined by its messages. Object-oriented message passing facilitates two-way abstraction: senders have an abstract view of receivers and receivers have an abstract view of senders."

Peter Wegner proposed a widely used classification system: "object-based languages: the class of all languages that support objects class-based languages: the subclass that requires all objects to belong to a class object-oriented languages: the subclass that requires classes to support inheritance"

The proposal given here simplifies this and removes the requirements to support classes and inheritance.

Alan Snyder: The Essence of Objects: Concepts and Terms [IEEE Software 10(1): 31-42 (1993)] says "An object embodies an abstraction characterized by services." He goes on to explain each of these concepts in detail and mentions that the objects in question can have mutable state. But the essential concept is the idea of clients requesting behavior of an object via its public services.

There many more early important papers that define "object" in similar ways. Mutable state is always included in the definition, but it is not the primary characteristic.


Revision History

Revised July 13, 12:34pm CDT: Fixed treatment of "functional" and discussion of language implications.
Revised July 13, 6:34pm CDT: Revised discussion of Common Lisp.
Revised July 14, 12:22pm CDT: Added Alan Kay quote. Modified module section slightly.
Revised July 14, 3:33pm CDT: Revised multi-method section.
Revised July 19, 10:46am CDT: Revised extensively to use "behavior" instead of "module".