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Accessing Lists

Accessing lists and retrieving their elements is really similar to handling pairs - which seems quite natural as lists are built from pairs. In this chapter we will discuss the basic procedures to access list elements.

car/cdr Access

In the previous chapter we have already seen how the car and the cdr of lists can be retrieved, and the cadr (and friends) shorthands are available for lists as well:

guile> (define l (list 1 2 3 4))
guile> l
(1 2 3 4)
guile> (car l)
guile> (cdr l)
(2 3 4)
guile> (cadr l)
guile> (cddr l)
(3 4)
guile> (caddr l)
guile> (cdddr l)
guile> (cadddr l)

Adding ds in the cXXr procedure name selects increasingly “right” parts of the list, while using an a as the initial letter selects the corresponding value at that position.

One point of specific interest is the last element. As explained in the previous chapter any cdr variant retrieves a list (at least from a proper list), so (cdddr l) also returns (4). In order to retrieve values from a list one always has to use the a as the first letter, equivalent to using “the car of whatever position in the list we are interested in”.

As a mental exercise think about what the cdar of this list would be and why (cddddr l) returns what it returns (if you have read the previous chapter the second question should be clear).

Other Access Options

Scheme and Guile provide much more convenient ways to handle lists and their elements. However, I think these should better be discussed after you are familiar with more basic concepts. Therefore I have moved the more elaborate access methods to a separate chapter.

Last update: November 3, 2022