Lua Programming/Single page version

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Lua (not "LUA", which is incorrect although common) is a powerful, fast, lightweight and embeddable programming language. It is used by many frameworks, games and other applications. While it can be used by itself, it has been designed to be easy to embed in another application. It is implemented in ANSI C, a subset of the C programming language that is very portable, which means it can run on many systems and many devices where most other scripting languages would not be able to run. The purpose of this book is to teach Lua programming to anyone regardless of previous programming experience. The book can be used as an introduction to programming, for someone who has never programmed before, or as an introduction to Lua, for people who have programmed before but not in Lua. Since there are many development platforms and games that use Lua, this book can also be used to learn to use Lua and then to use it in that development platform.

This book aims to teach usage of the latest version of Lua. This means it will be attempted to regularly update it as new versions of Lua come out (Lua releases are infrequent enough that this should not be too difficult). Currently, the book is up-to-date for Lua 5.2. If you are using Lua in an embedded environment that uses an older version of Lua in the 5.x branch (Lua 5.0 and Lua 5.1), the material should still be sufficiently relevant for you.

Lua was designed and is being maintained at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, which is located in Brazil. Its creators are Roberto Ierusalimschy, Waldemar Celes and Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo.

"Lua" (pronounced LOO-ah) means "Moon" in Portuguese. As such, it is neither an acronym nor an abbreviation, but a noun. More specifically, "Lua" is a name, the name of the Earth's moon and the name of the language. Like most names, it should be written in lower case with an initial capital, that is, "Lua". Please do not write it as "LUA", which is both ugly and confusing, because then it becomes an acronym with different meanings for different people. So, please, write "Lua" right!
—Lua authors, About Lua

Lua comes from two languages that were designed by TeCGraf (a laboratory at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro): DEL and Sol. DEL means "data entry language", while Sol means "simple object language" and also means sun in Portuguese, which is why the name Lua was chosen, since it means "moon" in Portuguese. It was created for Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, but was also used in many other projects in TeCGraf, and is now used in a multitude of projects world-wide. Lua is one of the leading languages in the field of embedded game development.

One of the main advantages of Lua is its simplicity. Some companies use it exclusively because of that advantage: they think their employees would be able to work better if they could use a programming language to perform certain tasks, but they cannot afford to give to their employees a full course on a complicated programming language. Some very simple languages like Bash or Batch here would not be powerful enough to perform these tasks, but Lua is both powerful and simple. Another of the important advantages of Lua is its capability to be embedded, which was one of the most important characteristics of it throughout all of its development. Games like or World of Warcraft or ROBLOX need to be able to embed Lua in their application so users of the application can use it.

Programming, which is also sometimes called scripting in the case of programs that run inside embedded applications, is the process of writing computer programs. A programming language is a language used to give instructions to a computer through computer code that is contained in a computer program. A programming language consists of two things: a syntax, which is like grammar in English, and libraries, basic functions provided with the language. These libraries could be compared with vocabulary in English.

Hello, world![edit | edit source]

Lua can either be used embedded in an application or by itself. This book will not describe the process to install Lua on your computer, but you can execute code using codepad or the Lua demo. The first example of Lua code in this book will be the basic and traditional hello world program.

A "Hello world" program is a computer program that outputs "Hello, world" on a display device. Because it is typically one of the simplest programs possible in most programming languages, it is by tradition often used to illustrate to beginners the most basic syntax of a programming language, or to verify that a language or system is operating correctly.
—Wikipedia, Hello world program
print("Hello, world!")

The code above prints the text Hello, world! to the output, printing referring to displaying text in the output, not to printing something on paper. It does so by calling the print function with the string "Hello, world!" as an argument. This will be explained in the chapter about functions.

Note that Lua is most of the time embedded in a lower level application, which means that the print function will not always display text in an area that is visible to the user. The documentation of the programming interface of these applications will generally explain how text may be displayed to users.

Comments[edit | edit source]

A comment is a code annotation that is ignored by the programming language. Comments can be used to describe one or many lines of code, to document a program, to temporarily disable code, or for any other reason. They need to be prefixed by two hyphens to be recognized by Lua and they can be put either on their own line or at the end of another line:

print("This is normal code.")
-- This is a comment
print("This is still normal code.") -- This is a comment at the end of a line of code.

These comments are called short comments. It is also possible to create long comments, which start with a long bracket and can continue on many lines:

print("This is normal code")
--[[Line 1
Line 2

Long brackets consist of two brackets in the middle of which any number of equality signs may be put. That number is called the level of the long bracket. Long brackets will continue until the next bracket of the same level, if there is one. A long bracket with no equal sign is called a long bracket of level 0. This approach makes it possible to use closing double brackets inside of long comments by adding equal signs in the middle of the two brackets. It is often useful to do this when using comments to disable blocks of code.

This is a comment that contains a closing long bracket of level 0 which is here: ]]
However, the closing double bracket doesn't make the comment end, because the comment was opened with an opening long bracket of level 2, and only a closing long bracket of level 2 can close it.

In the example above, the closing long bracket of level 0 (]]) does not close the comment, but the closing long bracket of level 2 (]==]) does.

Syntax[edit | edit source]

The syntax of a programming language defines how statements and expressions must be written in that programming language, just like grammar defines how sentences and words must be written. Statements and expressions can be respectively compared to sentences and words. Expressions are pieces of code that have a value and that can be evaluated, while statements are pieces of code that can be executed and that contain an instruction and one or many expressions to use that instruction with. For example, 3 + 5 is an expression and variable = 3 + 5 is a statement that sets the value of variable to that expression.

The entire syntax of Lua can be found in extended Backus–Naur form on the Lua website, but you wouldn't understand anything if you read it. Extended Backus–Naur Form is a metalanguage, a language used to describe another language, just like a metawebsite is a website about a website, and just like metatables, in Lua, are tables that define the behavior of other tables (you'll learn about metatables and tables later in this book). But you're not going to have to learn extended Backus–Naur form in this book, because, while a language like Lua can be described using a metalanguage, it can also be described using words and sentences, in English, and this is exactly what this book is going to do.

Since English can be used to describe another language, then it must itself be a metalanguage (because it corresponds to the definition of a metalanguage). This is indeed the case. And since the purpose of a programming language is to describe instructions, and you can do that with English, English must also be a programming language. This, in a way, is also the case. In fact, English is a language that can be used for many things. But extended Backus–Naur form is a specialized language, and programming languages are also specialized languages. Specialization is the characteristic of being very good at doing something in particular, but not being capable of doing other things. Extended Backus–Naur form is very good at describing other languages, but it cannot be used to write instructions or to communicate a message. Programming languages are very good at giving instructions, but they cannot be used to describe languages or to communicate messages.

English is capable of doing everything: describing languages, giving instructions and communicating messages. But it is not very good at doing some of these. In fact, it is so bad at giving instructions that, if it is used to give instructions to a computer, the computer won't understand anything. That's because computers need the instructions to be very precise and unambiguous.

Obtaining Lua[edit | edit source]

Lua can be obtained on the official Lua website, on the download page. Instructions are also available there: the download button is for the source code, which is probably not what you want. You are probably looking for binaries, so you should look around the page to find information about those (what exactly you are looking for depends on the platform you are using). The purpose of this book is only to teach the Lua language, not to teach usage of the Lua tools. It is generally assumed that the reader will be using Lua in an embedded environment, but this does not need to be the case for the book to be useful, only does it mean that the book will not describe the usage of Lua as a standalone language.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

There are some questions you can answer to verify that you have understood the material in this chapter. Note that finding the answer to some of those questions could require having knowledge that is not presented in this chapter. This is normal: the quizzes are part of the learning experience, and they can introduce information that is not available elsewhere in the book.

1 What does "Lua" mean in Portuguese?

2 Which of these is a long comment of level 0?


3 What is extended Backus–Naur form?

A language
A programming language
A natural (or ordinary) language
A notation
A metalanguage
A markup language

Expressions[edit | edit source]

As explained before, expressions are pieces of code that have a value and that can be evaluated. They cannot be executed directly (with the exception of function calls), and thus, a script that would contain only the following code, which consists of an expression, would be erroneous:

3 + 5
-- The code above is erroneous because all it contains is an expression.
-- The computer cannot execute '3 + 5', since that does not make sense.

Code must be comprised of a sequence of statements. These statements can contain expressions which will be values the statement has to manipulate or use to execute the instruction.

Some code examples in this chapter do not constitute valid code, because they consist of only expressions. In the next chapter, statements will be covered and it will be possible to start writing valid code.

Types[edit | edit source]

To evaluate an expression is to compute it to find its value. The value a given expression evaluates to might be different from one context to another, since it can depend on the environment and stack level. This value will sometimes be a number, sometimes text and the other times any of many other data types, which is why it is said to have a type.

In Lua, and in programming in general, expressions will usually consist of one or more values with zero or more operators. Some operators can only be used with some types (it would be illogical, for example, to try to divide text, while it makes sense to divide numbers). There are two kinds of operators: unary operators and binary operators. Unary operators are operators that only take one value. For example, the unary - operator only takes one number as a parameter: -5, -3, -6, etc. It takes one number as a parameter and negates that number. The binary - operator, however, which is not the same operator, takes two values and subtracts the second from the first: 5 - 3, 8 - 6, 4 - 9, etc.

It is possible to obtain a number's type as a string with the type function:

print(type(32425)) --> number

Numbers[edit | edit source]

Numbers generally represent quantities, but they can be used for many other things. The number type in Lua works mostly in the same way as real numbers. Numbers can be constructed as integers, decimal numbers, decimal exponents or even in hexadecimal. Here are some valid numbers:

  • 3
  • 3.0
  • 3.1416
  • 314.16e-2
  • 0.31416E1
  • 0xff
  • 0x56

Arithmetic operations[edit | edit source]

The operators for numbers in Lua are the following:

Operation Syntax Description Example Result
Arithmetic negation -a Changes the sign of a and returns the value -3.14159
Addition a + b Returns the sum of a and b 5.2 + 3.6 8.8
Subtraction a - b Subtracts b from a and returns the result 6.7 - 1.2 5.5
Multiplication a * b Returns the product of a and b 3.2 * 1.5 4.8
Exponentiation a ^ b Returns a to the power b, or the exponentiation of a by b 5 ^ 2 25
Division a / b Divides a by b and returns the result 6.4 / 2 3.2
Floor division a // b Divides a by b and returns the integer part of the result 6.4 // 2 3
Modulo operation a % b Returns the remainder of the division of a by b 5 % 3 2

You probably already know all of these operators (they are the same as basic mathematical operators) except the last. The last is called the modulo operator, and simply calculates the remainder of the division of one number by another. 5 % 3, for example, would give 2 as a result because 2 is the remainder of the division of 5 by 3. The modulo operator is less common than the other operators, but it has multiple uses.

Integers[edit | edit source]

A new subtype of numbers, integers, was added in Lua 5.3. Numbers can be either integers or floats. Floats are similar to numbers as described above, while integers are numbers with no decimal part. Float division (/) and exponentiation always convert their operands to floats, while all other operators give integers if their two operands were integers. In other cases, with the exception of the floor division operator (//), the result is a float.

Nil[edit | edit source]

Nil is the type of the value nil, whose main property is to be different from any other value; it usually represents the absence of a useful value. Some examples of things that have the value nil:

  • value of variables that you access before assigning them a value
  • value you get when trying to access a variable outside of its scope
  • value for any key in a table that hasn't been assigned
  • value returned by tonumber if it can't convert a string to a number

On a more advanced note, purposefully assigning a nil value removes the reference to a variable or table, and allows the garbage collector to reclaim its memory.

Booleans[edit | edit source]

A boolean value can be either true or false, but nothing else. This is written in Lua as true and false, which are reserved keywords. Important to note is that nil is a different data type as stated earlier. and, or, not() are usually associated with boolean values, but can be used with any datatype in Lua.

Operation Syntax Description
Boolean negation not a If a is false or nil, returns true. Otherwise, returns false.
Logical conjunction a and b Returns the first argument if it is false or nil. Otherwise, returns the second argument.
Logical disjunction a or b Returns the first argument if it is neither false nor nil. Otherwise, returns the second argument.

Essentially, the not operator just negates the boolean value (makes it false if it is true and makes it true if it is false), the and operator returns true if both are true and false if not and the or operator returns true if either of arguments is true and false otherwise. This is however not exactly how they work, as the exact way they work is explained in the table above. In Lua, the values false and nil are both considered to be false in logical expressions, while everything else is considered as true (even 0 and empty strings).

The relational operators introduced in the next chapter (<, >, <=, >=, ~=, ==) do not necessarily take boolean values as operands, but will always give a boolean value as a result.

This can be difficult to reconcile. For added clarity, here are some truth tables or expression-result pairs. Here x can be nil, true or false:

Expression Result
true and x x
false and x false
nil and x nil
true or x true
false or x x
nil or x x

This somewhat counterintuitively means that

Expression Result
false and nil false
nil and false nil

In addition,

Expression Result
false == nil
nil == false
nil and false nil
Expression Result
not(true) false

Strings[edit | edit source]

Strings are sequences of characters that can be used to represent text. They can be written in Lua by being contained in double quotes, single quotes or long brackets, which were covered before in the section about comments (it should be noted that comments and strings have nothing in common other than the fact they can both be delimited by long brackets, preceded by two hyphens in the case of comments). Strings that aren't contained in long brackets will only continue for one line. Because of this, the only way to make a string that contains many lines without using long brackets is to use escape sequences. This is also the only way to insert single or double quotes in certain cases. Escape sequences consist of two things: an escape character, which will always be a backslash ('\') in Lua, and an identifier that identifies the character to be escaped.

Escape sequences in Lua
Escape sequence Description
\n A new line
\" A double quote
\' A single quote (or apostrophe)
\\ A backslash
\t A horizontal tab
\### ### must be a number from 0 to 255. The result will be the corresponding ASCII character.

Escape sequences are used when putting the character directly in the string would cause a problem. For example, if you have a string of text that is enclosed in double quotes and must contain double quotes, then you need to enclose the string in different characters or to escape the double quotes. Escaping characters in strings delimited by long brackets is not necessary, and this is true for all characters. All characters in a string delimited with long brackets will be taken as-is. The % character is used in string patterns to escape magic characters, but the term escaping is then used in another context.

"This is a valid string."

'This is also a valid string.'

"This is a valid \" string 'that contains unescaped single quotes and escaped double quotes."

This is a line that can continue
on more than one line.

It can contain single quotes, double quotes and everything else (-- including comments). It ignores everything (including escape characters) except closing long brackets of the same level as the opening long bracket.

"This is a valid string that contains tabs \t, double quotes \" and backlashes \\"

"This is " not a valid string because there is an unescaped double quote in the middle of it."

For convenience, if an opening long string bracket is immediately followed by a new line, that new line will be ignored. Therefore, the two following strings are equivalent:

[[This is a string
that can continue on many lines.]]

This is a string
that can continue on many lines.]]

-- Since the opening long bracket of the second string is immediately followed by a new line, that new line is ignored.

It is possible to get the length of a string, as a number, by using the unary length operator ('#'):

print(#("This is a string")) --> 16

Concatenation[edit | edit source]

In formal language theory and computer programming, string concatenation is the operation of joining two character strings end-to-end. For example, the concatenation of "snow" and "ball" is "snowball".
—Wikipedia, Concatenation

The string concatenation operator in Lua is denoted by two dots ('..'). Here is an example of concatenation that concatenates "snow" and "ball" and prints the result:

print("snow" .. "ball") --> snowball

This code will concatenate "snow" and "ball" and will print the result.

Other types[edit | edit source]

The four basic types in Lua (numbers, booleans, nil and strings) have been described in the previous sections, but four types are missing: functions, tables, userdata and threads. Functions are pieces of code that can be called, receive values and return values back. Tables are data structures that can be used for data manipulation. Userdata are used internally by applications Lua is embedded in to allow Lua to communicate with that program through objects controlled by the application. Finally, threads are used by coroutines, which allow many functions to run at the same time. These will all be described later, so you only need to keep in mind that there are other data types.

Literals[edit | edit source]

Literals are notations for representing fixed values in source code. All values can be represented as literals in Lua except threads and userdata. String literals (literals that evaluate to strings), for example, consist of the text that the string must represent enclosed into single quotes, double quotes or long brackets. Number literals, on the other hand, consist the number they represent expressed using decimal notation (ex: 12.43), scientific notation (ex: 3.1416e-2 and 0.31416E1) or hexadecimal notation (ex: 0xff).

Coercion[edit | edit source]

Coercion is the conversion of a value of one data type to a value of another data type. Lua provides automatic coercion between string and number values. Any arithmetic operation applied to a string will attempt to convert this string to a number. Conversely, whenever a string is expected and a number is used instead, the number will be converted to a string. This applies both to Lua operators and to default functions (functions that are provided with the language).

print("122" + 1) --> 123
print("The number is " .. 5 .. ".") --> The number is 5.

Coercion of numbers to strings and strings to numbers can also be done manually with the tostring and tonumber functions. The former accepts a number as an argument and converts it to a string, while the second accepts a string as an argument and converts it to a number (a different base than the default decimal one can optionally be given in the second argument).

Bitwise operations[edit | edit source]

Since Lua 5.3, bitwise operators are provided to operate on binary numerals (bit patterns). These operators are not used as frequently as the others, so you may skip this section if you do not need them.

The bitwise operators in Lua always operate on integers, converting their operands if this is necessary. They also give integers.

The bitwise AND operation (with operator &) performs logical conjunction on each pair of bits of two binary representations of equal length. For example, 5 & 3 evaluates to 1. We can explain this by looking at the binary representation of these numbers (the subscripts are used to denote the base):

If the bits in a given position in the binary representation of both 5 and 3 are 1 (as is the case for the last bit), then the bit at that position will be 1 in the result; in all other cases, it will be 0.

The bitwise OR operation (with operator |) works in the same way as the bitwise AND, performing logical disjunction instead where it performs logical conjunction. Thus, 5 | 3 will evaluate to 7:

Here, we can see that the bit in each position in the final result was 0 only when the binary representations of the two operands had a 0-bit at that position.

The bitwise XOR operation (with operator ~) works like two others, but at a given position, the final bit is only 1 if one, and not both, of the bits in the operands are 1.

This is the same as the previous example, but we can see that the last bit in the result is 0 instead of 1, since the last bit of both operands was 1.

The bitwise NOT operation (with operator ~) performs logical negation on each bit of its unique operand, which means that each 0 becomes 1 and that each 1 becomes 0. Thusly, ~7 will evaluate to -8:

Here, the first bit became 1 in the result because it was 0 in the operand, and the other bits became 0 because they were all 1.

Left shiftRight shift

In addition to these bitwise operators, Lua 5.3 also supports arithmetic bit shifts. The left shift, with operator << and illustrated on left, consists in shifting all bits to the left, by a number of bits that corresponds to the second operand. The right shift, denoted by operator >> and illustrated on right, does the same but in the opposite direction.

Operator precedence[edit | edit source]

Operator precedence works the same way in Lua as it typically does in mathematics. Certain operators will be evaluated before others, and parentheses can be used to arbitrarily change the order in which operations should be executed. The priority in which operators are evaluated is in the list below, from higher to lower priority. Some of these operators were not discussed yet, but they will all be covered at some point in this book.

  1. Exponentiation: ^
  2. Unary operators: not, #, -, ~
  3. Level 2 mathematical operators: *, /, //, %
  4. Level 1 mathematical operators: +, -
  5. Concatenation: ..
  6. Bit shifts: <<, >>
  7. Bitwise AND: &
  8. Bitwise XOR: ~
  9. Bitwise OR: |
  10. Relational operators: <, >, <=, >=, ~=, ==
  11. Boolean and: and
  12. Boolean or: or

Quiz[edit | edit source]

There are some questions you can answer to verify that you have understood the material in this chapter. Note that finding the answer to some of those questions could require having knowledge that is not presented in this chapter. This is normal: the quizzes are part of the learning experience, and they can introduce information that is not available elsewhere in the book.

1 What will print(type(type(5.2))) output?

2 What will the expression 0 or 8 return?


3 Which strings are valid?

"test's test"
'test\'s test'
"test"s test"
'test"s test'
"test\'s test"
'test's test'

4 Which expressions give the string "1223"?

"122" + 3
"122" .. 3
"12" + "23"
12 .. 23

5 True or false? not 5^3 == 5


Statements[edit | edit source]

Statements are pieces of code that can be executed and that contain an instruction and expressions to use with it. Some statements will also contain code inside of themselves that may, for example, be run under certain conditions. Dissimilarly to expressions, they can be put directly in code and will execute. Lua has few instructions, but these instructions, combined with other instructions and with complex expressions, give a good amount of control and flexibility to the user.

Assignment[edit | edit source]

Programmers frequently need to be able to store values in the memory to be able to use them later. This is done using variables. Variables are references to a value which is stored in the computer's memory. They can be used to access a number later after storing it in the memory. Assignment is the instruction that is used to assign a value to a variable. It consists of the name of the variable the value should be stored in, an equal sign, and the value that should be stored in the variable:

variable = 43
print(variable) --> 43

As demonstrated in the above code, the value of a variable can be accessed by putting the variable's name where the value should be accessed.

The assignment operator[edit | edit source]

In Lua, as with most other programming languages, the equals sign (=) acts as a dyadic assignment operator assigning the value of the expression of the right hand operand to the variable named by the left operand:

Assignment of variables[edit | edit source]

The following examples show the use of the equals sign for the assignment of variables:

fruit = "apple"   -- assign a string to a variable
count = 5         -- assign a numeric value to a variable

Strings and Numeric Values[edit | edit source]

Note that literal strings should be enclosed in quotation marks to distinguish them from variable names:

apples = 5
favourite = "apples"   -- without quotes, apples would be interpreted as a variable name

Note that numeric values do not need to be enclosed in quotation marks and cannot be misinterpreted as a variable name, because variable names cannot begin with a numeral:

apples = 6    -- no quotes are necessary around a numeric parameter
pears = "5"   -- quotes will cause the value to be considered a string

Multiple Assignments[edit | edit source]

The Lua programming language supports multiple assignments:

apples, favorite = 5, "apples" -- assigns apples = 5, favorite = "apples"

Identifiers[edit | edit source]

Identifiers, in Lua, are also called names. They can be any text composed of letters, digits, and underscores and not beginning with a digit. They are used to name variables and table fields, which will be covered in the chapter about tables.

Here are some valid names:

  • name
  • hello
  • _
  • _tomatoes
  • me41
  • __
  • _thisIs_StillaValid23name

Here are some invalid names:

  • 2hello : starts with a digit
  • th$i : contains a character that isn't a letter, a digit or an underscore
  • hel!o : contains a character that isn't a letter, a digit or an underscore
  • 563text : starts with a digit
  • 82_something : starts with a digit

Also, the following keywords are reserved by Lua and can not be used as names: and, break, do, else, elseif, end, false, for, function, if, in, local, nil, not, or, repeat, return, then, true, until, while.

When naming a variable or a table field, you must choose a valid name for it. It must therefore start with a letter or an underscore and only contain letters, underscores and digits. Note that Lua is case sensitive. This means that Hello and hello are two different names.

Scope[edit | edit source]

The scope of a variable is the region of the code of the program where that variable is meaningful. The examples of variables you have seen before are all examples of global variables, variables which can be accessed from anywhere in the program. Local variables, on the other hand, can only be used from the region of the program in which they were defined and in regions of the program that are located inside that region of the program. They are created exactly in the same way as global variables, but they must be prefixed with the local keyword.

The do statement will be used to describe them. The do statement is a statement that has no other purpose than to create a new block of code, and therefore a new scope. It ends with the end keyword:

local variable = 13 -- This defines a local variable that can be accessed from anywhere in the script since it was defined in the main region.
	-- This statement creates a new block and also a new scope.
	variable = variable + 5 -- This adds 5 to the variable, which now equals 18.
	local variable = 17 -- This creates a variable with the same name as the previous variable, but this one is local to the scope created by the do statement.
	variable = variable - 1 -- This subtracts 1 from the local variable, which now equals 16.
	print(variable) --> 16
print(variable) --> 18

When a scope ends, all the variables in it are gotten rid of. Regions of code can use variables defined in regions of code they are included in, but if they "overwrite" them by defining a local variable with the same name, that local variable will be used instead of the one defined in the other region of code. This is why the first call to the print function prints 16 while the second, which is outside the scope created by the do statement, prints 18.

In practice, only local variables should be used because they can be defined and accessed faster than global variables, since they are stored in registers instead of being stored in the environment of the current function, like global variables. Registers are areas that Lua uses to store local variables to access them quickly, and can only usually contain up to 200 local variables. The processor, an important component of all computers, also has registers, but these are not related to Lua's registers. Each function (including the main thread, the core of the program, which is also a function) also has its own environment, which is a table that uses indices for the variable names and stores the values of these variables in the values that correspond to these indices.

Forms of assignment[edit | edit source]

Augmented assignment[edit | edit source]

Augmented assignment, which is also called compound assignment, is a type of assignment that gives a variable a value that is relative to its previous value, for example, incrementing the current value. An equivalent of the code a += 8, which increments the value of a by 8, known to exist in C, JavaScript, Ruby, Python does not exist in Lua, which means that it is necessary to write a = a + 8.

Chained assignment[edit | edit source]

Chained assignment is a type of assignment that gives a single value to many variables. The code a = b = c = d = 0, for example, would set the values of a, b, c and d to 0 in C and Python. In Lua, this code will raise an error, so it is necessary to write the previous example like this:

d = 0
c = d -- or c = 0
b = c -- or b = 0
a = b -- or a = 0

Parallel assignment[edit | edit source]

Parallel assignment, which is also called simultaneous assignment and multiple assignment, is a type of assignment that simultaneously assigns different values (they can also be the same value) to different variables. Unlike chained assignment and augmented assignment, parallel assignment is available in Lua.

The example in the previous section can be rewritten to use parallel assignment:

a, b, c, d = 0, 0, 0, 0

If you provide more variables than values, some variables will be not be assigned any value. If you provide more values than variables, the extra values will be ignored. More technically, the list of values is adjusted to the length of list of variables before the assignment takes place, which means that excess values are removed and that extra nil values are added at its end to make it have the same length as the list of variables. If a function call is present at the end of the values list, the values it returns will be added at the end of that list, unless the function call is put between parentheses.

Moreover, unlike most programming languages Lua enables reassignment of variables' values through permutation. For example:

first_variable, second_variable = 54, 87
first_variable, second_variable = second_variable, first_variable
print(first_variable, second_variable) --> 87 54

This works because the assignment statement evaluates all the variables and values before assigning anything. Assignments are performed as if they were really simultaneous, which means you can assign at the same time a value to a variable and to a table field indexed with that variable’s value before it is assigned a new value. In other words, the following code will set dictionary[2], and not dictionary[1], to 12.

dictionary = {}
index = 2
index, dictionary[index] = index - 1, 12

Conditional statement[edit | edit source]

Conditional statements are instructions that check whether an expression is true and execute a certain piece of code if it is. If the expression is not true, they just skip over that piece of code and the program continues. In Lua, the only conditional statement uses the if instruction. False and nil are both considered as false, while everything else is considered as true.

local number = 6

if number < 10 then
	print("The number " .. number .. " is smaller than ten.")

-- Other code can be here and it will execute regardless of whether the code in the conditional statement executed.

In the code above, the variable number is assigned the number 6 with an assignment statement. Then, a conditional statement checks if the value stored in the variable number is smaller than ten, which is the case here. If it is, it prints "The number 6 is smaller than ten.".

It is also possible to execute a certain piece of code only if the expression was not true by using the else keyword and to chain conditional statements with the elseif keyword:

local number = 15

if number < 10 then
	print("The number is smaller than ten.")
elseif number < 100 then
	print("The number is bigger than or equal to ten, but smaller than one hundred.")
elseif number ~= 1000 and number < 3000 then
	print("The number is bigger than or equal to one hundred, smaller than three thousands and is not exactly one thousand.")
	print("The number is either 1000 or bigger than 2999.")

Note that the else block must always be the last one. There cannot be an elseif block after the else block. The elseif blocks are only meaningful if none of the blocks that preceded them was executed.

Operators used to compare two values, some of which are used in the code above, are called relational operators. If the relation is true, they return the boolean value true. Otherwise, they return the boolean value false.

equal to not equal to greater than less than greater than or equal to less than or equal to
Mathematical notation = > <
Lua operator == ~= > < >= <=

The code above also demonstrates how the and keyword can be used to combine many boolean expressions in a conditional expression.

Loops[edit | edit source]

Frequently, programmers will need to run a certain piece of code or a similar piece of code many times, or to run a certain piece of code a number of times that may depend on user input. A loop is a sequence of statements which is specified once but which may be carried out several times in succession.

Condition-controlled loops[edit | edit source]

Condition-controlled loops are loops that are controlled by a condition. They are very similar to conditional statements, but instead of executing the code if the condition is true and skipping it otherwise, they will keep running it while the condition is true, or until the condition is false. Lua has two statements for condition-controlled loops: the while loop and the repeat loop. Such loops will run code, then check if the condition is true. If it is true, then they run the code again, and they repeat until the condition is false. When the condition is false, they stop repeating the code and the program flow continues. Each execution of the code is called an iteration. The difference between while and repeat loops is that repeat loops will check the condition at the end of the loop while while loops will check it at the start of the loop. This only makes a difference for the first iteration: repeat loops will always execute the code at least once, even if the condition is false at the first time the code is executed. This is not the case for while loops, which will only execute the code the first time if the condition is actually true.

local number = 0

while number < 10 do
	number = number + 1 -- Increase the value of the number by one.

The code above will print 0, then 1, then 2, then 3, and so on, until 9. After the tenth iteration, number will no longer be smaller than ten, and therefore the loop will stop executing. Sometimes, loops will be meant to run forever, in which case they are called infinite loops. Renderers, software processes that draw things on the screen, for example, will often loop constantly to redraw the screen to update the image that is shown to the user. This is frequently the case in video games, where the game view must be updated constantly to make sure what the user sees is kept up-to-date. However, cases where loops need to run forever are rare and such loops will often be the result of errors. Infinite loops can take a lot of computer resources, so it is important to make sure that loops will always end even if unexpected input is received from the user.

local number = 0

	number = number + 1
until number >= 10

The code above will do exactly the same thing as the code that used a while loop above. The main differences is that, unlike while loops, where the condition is put between the while keyword and the do keyword, the condition is put at the end of the loop, after the until keyword. The repeat loop is the only statement in Lua that creates a block and that is not closed by the end keyword.

Count-controlled loops[edit | edit source]

Incrementing a variable is increasing its value by steps, especially by steps of one. The two loops in the previous section incremented the variable number and used it to run the code a certain number of times. This kind of loop is so common that most languages, including Lua, have a built-in control structure for it. This control structure is called a count-controlled loop, and, in Lua and most languages, is defined by the for statement. The variable used in such loops is called the loop counter.

for number = 0, 9, 1 do

The code above does exactly the same thing as the two loops presented in the previous section, but the number variable can only be accessed from inside the loop because it is local to it. The first number following the variable name and the equality symbol is the initialization. It is the value the loop counter is initialized to. The second number is the number the loop stops at. It will increment the variable and repeat the code until the variable reaches this number. Finally, the third number is the increment: it is the value the loop counter is increased of at each iteration. If the increment is not given, it will be assumed to be 1 by Lua. The code below would therefore print 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5.

for n = 1, 2, 0.1 do
	if n >= 1.5 then
		break -- Terminate the loop instantly and do not repeat.

The reason the code above does not go up to 2 and only up to 1.5 is because of the break statement, which instantly terminates the loop. This statement can be used with any loop, including while loops and repeat loops. Note that the >= operator was used here, although the == operator would theoretically have done the job as well. This is because of decimal precision errors. Lua represents numbers with the double-precision floating-point format, which stores numbers in the memory as an approximation of their actual value. In some cases, the approximation will match the number exactly, but in some cases, it will only be an approximation. Usually, these approximations will be close enough to the number for it to not make a difference, but this system can cause errors when using the equality operator. This is why it is generally safer when working with decimal numbers to avoid using the equality operator. In this specific case, the code would not have worked if the equality operator had been used[1] (it would have continued going up until 1.9), but it works with the >= operator.

Blocks[edit | edit source]

A block is a list of statements that are executed sequentially. These statements can include empty statements, that do not contain any instruction. Empty statements can be used to start a block with a semicolon or write two semicolons in sequence.

Function calls and assignments may start with a parenthesis, which can lead to an ambiguity. This fragment is an example of this:

a = b + c
(print or io.write)('done')

This code could be interpreted in two ways:

a = b + c(print or io.write)('done')
a = b + c; (print or io.write)('done')

The current parser always sees such constructions in the first way, interpreting the opening parenthesis as the start of the arguments to a call. To avoid this ambiguity, it is a good practice to always precede with a semicolon statements that start with a parenthesis:

;(print or io.write)('done')

Chunks[edit | edit source]

The unit of compilation of Lua is called a chunk. A chunk can be stored in a file or in a string inside the host program. To execute a chunk, Lua first precompiles the chunk into instructions for a virtual machine, and then it executes the compiled code with an interpreter for the virtual machine. Chunks can also be precompiled into binary form (bytecode) using luac, the compilation program that comes with Lua, or the string.dump function, which returns a string containing a binary representation of the function it is given.

The load function can be used to load a chunk. If the first parameter given to the load function is a string, the chunk is that string. In this case, the string may be either Lua code or Lua bytecode. If the first parameter is a function, load will call that function repeatedly to get the pieces of the chunk, each piece being a string that will be concatenated with the previous strings. It is then considered that the chunk is complete when nothing or the empty string is returned.

The load function will return the compiled chunk as a function if there is no syntactic error. Otherwise, it will return nil and the error message.

The second parameter of the load function is used to set the source of the chunk. All chunks keep a copy of their source within them, in order to be able to give appropriate error messages and debugging information. By default, that copy of their source will be the code given to load (if code was given; if a function was given instead, it will be "=(load)"). This parameter can be used to change it. This is mostly useful when compiling code to prevent people from getting the original source back. It is then necessary to remove the source included with the binary representation because otherwise the original code can be obtained there.

The third parameter of the load function can be used to set the environment of the generated function and the fourth parameter controls whether the chunk can be in text or binary. It may be the string "b" (only binary chunks), "t" (only text chunks), or "bt" (both binary and text). The default is "bt".

There is also a loadfile function that works exactly like load, but instead gets the code from a file. The first parameter is the name of the file from which to get the code. There is no parameter to modify the source stored in the binary representation, and the third and fourth parameters of the load function correspond to the second and third parameters of this function. The loadfile function can also be used to load code from the standard input, which will be done if no file name is given.

The dofile function is similar to the loadfile function, but instead of loading the code in a file as a function, it immediately executes the code contained in a source code file as a Lua chunk. Its only parameter is used to specify the name of the file it should execute the contents of; if no argument is given, it will execute the contents of the standard input. If the chunk returns values, they will be provided by the call to the dofile function. Because dofile does not run in protected mode, all errors in chunks executed through it will propagate.


Functions[edit | edit source]

An illustration of a stack and of the operations that can be performed on it.
An illustration of a stack and of the operations that can be performed on it.

A stack is a list of items where items can be added (pushed) or removed (popped) that behaves on the last-in-first-out principle, which means that the last item that was added will be the first to be removed. This is why such lists are called stacks: on a stack, you cannot remove an item without first removing the items that are on top of it. All operations therefore happen at the top of the stack. An item is above another if it was added after that item and is below it if it was added before that item.

A function (also called a subroutine, a procedure, a routine or a subprogram) is a sequence of instructions that perform a specific task and that can be called from elsewhere in the program whenever that sequence of instructions should be executed. Functions can also receive values as input and return an output after potentially manipulating the input or executing a task based on the input. Functions can be defined from anywhere in a program, including inside other functions, and they can also be called from any part of the program that has access to them: functions, just like numbers and strings, are values and can therefore be stored in variables and have all the properties that are common to variables. These characteristics make functions very useful.

Because functions can be called from other functions, the Lua interpreter (the program that reads and executes Lua code) needs to be able to know what function called the function it is currently executing so that, when the function terminates (when there is no more code to execute), it can return to execution of the right function. This is done with a stack called the call stack: each item in the call stack is a function that called the function that is directly above it in the stack, until the last item in the stack, which is the function currently being executed. When a function terminates, the interpreter uses the stack's pop operation to remove the last function in the list, and it then returns to the previous function.

There are two types of functions: built-in functions and user-defined functions. Built-in functions are functions provided with Lua and include functions such as the print function, which you already know. Some can be accessed directly, like the print function, but others need to be accessed through a library, like the math.random function, which returns a random number. User-defined functions are functions defined by the user. User-defined functions are defined using a function constructor:

local func = function(first_parameter, second_parameter, third_parameter)
	-- function body (a function's body is the code it contains)

The code above creates a function with three parameters and stores it in the variable func. The following code does exactly the same as the above code, but uses syntactic sugar for defining the function:

local function func(first_parameter, second_parameter, third_parameter)
	-- function body

It should be noted that, when using the second form, it is possible to refer to the function from inside itself, which is not possible when using the first form. This is because local function foo() end translates to local foo; foo = function() end rather than local foo = function() end. This means that foo is part of the function’s environment in the second form and not in the first, which explains why the second form makes it possible to refer to the function itself.

In both cases, it is possible to omit the local keyword to store the function in a global variable. Parameters work like variables and allow functions to receive values. When a function is called, arguments may be given to it. The function will then receive them as parameters. Parameters are like local variables defined at the beginning of a function, and will be assigned in order depending on the order of the arguments as they are given in the function call; if an argument is missing, the parameter will have the value nil. The function in the following example adds two numbers and prints the result. It would therefore print 5 when the code runs.

local function add(first_number, second_number)
	print(first_number + second_number)

add(2, 3)

Function calls are most of the time under the form name(arguments). However, if there is only one argument and it is either a table or a string, and it isn't in a variable (meaning it is constructed directly in the function call, expressed as a literal), the parentheses can be omitted:

print "Hello, world!"
print {4, 5}

The second line of code in the previous example would print the memory address of the table. When converting values to strings, which the print function does automatically, complex types (functions, tables, userdata and threads) are changed to their memory addresses. Booleans, numbers and the nil value, however, will be converted to corresponding strings.

The terms parameter and argument are often used interchangeably in practice. In this book, and in their proper meanings, the terms parameter and argument mean, respectively, a name to which the value of the corresponding argument will be assigned and a value that is passed to a function to be assigned to a parameter.

Returning values[edit | edit source]

Functions can receive input, manipulate it and give back output. You already know how they can receive input (parameters) and manipulate it (function body). They can also give output by returning one or many values of any type, which is done using the return statement. This is why function calls are both statements and expressions: they can be executed, but they can also be evaluated.

local function add(first_number, second_number)
	return first_number + second_number

print(add(5, 6))

The code in the above function will first define the function add. Then, it will call it with 5 and 6 as values. The function will add them and return the result, which will then be printed. This is why the code above would print 11. It is also possible for a function to return many values by separating the expressions that evaluate to these values with commas.

Users can define their own functions and customize them to meet their needs.

Besides taking arguments and returning values, user-defined functions can also have side effects, which are changes to variables or the program state caused by the function’s execution. [1]

Errors[edit | edit source]

There are three types of errors: syntactic errors, static semantic errors and semantic errors. Syntactic errors happen when code is plainly invalid. The following code, for example, would be detected by Lua as invalid:

print(5 ++ 4 return)

The code above doesn't make sense; it is impossible to get a meaning out of it. Similarly, in English, "cat dog tree" is not syntactically valid because it has no meaning. It doesn't follow the rules for creating a sentence.

Static semantic errors happen when code has a meaning, but still doesn't make sense. For example, if you try adding a string with a number, you get a static semantic error because it is impossible to add a string with a number:

print("hello" + 5)

The code above follows Lua's syntactic rules, but it still doesn't make sense because it is impossible to add a string with a number (except when the string represents a number, in which case it will be coerced into one). This can be compared in English to the sentence "I are big". It follows the rules for creating sentences in English, but it still doesn't make sense because "I" is singular and "are" is plural.

Finally, semantic errors are errors that happen when the meaning of a piece of code is not what its creator thinks it is. Those are the worst errors because they can be very hard to find. Lua will always tell you when there is a syntactic error or a static semantic error (this is called throwing an error), but it cannot tell you when there is a semantic error since it doesn't know what you think the meaning of the code is. These errors happen more often than most people would think they do and finding and correcting them is something many programmers spend a lot of time doing.

The process of finding errors and correcting them is called debugging. Most of the time, programmers will spend more time finding errors than actually correcting them. This is true for all types of errors. Once you know what the problem is, it is usually simple to fix it, but sometimes, a programmer can look at a piece of code for hours without finding what is wrong in it.

Protected calls[edit | edit source]

Throwing an error is the action of indicating, whether it is done manually or automatically by the interpreter (the program that reads the code and executes it), that something is wrong with the code. It is done automatically by Lua when the code given is invalid, but it can be done manually with the error function:

local variable = 500
if variable % 5 ~= 0 then
	error("It must be possible to divide the value of the variable by 5 without obtaining a decimal number.")

The error function also has a second argument, which indicates the stack level at which the error should be thrown, but this will not be covered in this book. The assert function does the same thing as the error function, but it will only throw an error if its first argument evaluates to nil or false and it doesn't have an argument that can be used to specify the stack level at which the error should be thrown. The assert function is useful at the start of a script, for example, to check if a library that is required for the script to work is available.

It may be hard to understand why one would desire to voluntarily throw an error, since the code in a program stops running whenever an error is thrown, but, often, throwing errors when functions are used incorrectly or when a program is not running in the right environment can be helpful to help the person who will have to debug the code to find it immediately without having to stare at the code for a long time without realizing what is wrong.

Sometimes, it can be useful to prevent an error from stopping the code and instead do something like displaying an error message to the user so he can report the bug to the developer. This is called exception handling (or error handling) and is done by catching the error to prevent its propagation and running an exception handler to handle it. The way it is done in different programming languages varies a lot. In Lua, it is done using protected calls.[2] They are called protected calls because a function called in protected mode will not stop the program if an error happens. There are two functions that can be used to call a function in protected mode:

Function Description
pcall(function, ...) Calls the function in protected mode and returns a status code (a boolean value whose value depends on if an error was thrown or not) and the values returned by the function, or the error message if the function was stopped by an error. Arguments can be given to the function by passing them to the pcall function after the first argument, which is the function that should be called in protected mode.
xpcall(function, handler, ...) Does the same thing as pcall, but, when the function errors, instead of returning the same values as those pcall would return, it calls the handler function with them as parameters. The handler function can then be used, for example, to display an error message. As for the pcall function, arguments can be passed to the function by being given to the xpcall function.

Stack overflow[edit | edit source]

The call stack, the stack that contains all the functions that were called in the order in which they were called, was mentioned earlier. That call stack in most languages, including Lua, has a maximum size. This maximum size is so big that it should not be worried about in most cases, but functions that call themselves (this is called recursivity and such functions are called recursive functions) can reach this limit if there is nothing to prevent them from calling themselves over and over indefinitely. This is called a stack overflow. When the stack overflows, the code stops running and an error is thrown.

Variadic functions[edit | edit source]

Variadic functions, which are also called vararg functions, are functions that accept a variable number of arguments. A variadic function is indicated by three dots ("...") at the end of its parameter list. Arguments that do not fit in the parameters in the parameter list, instead of being discarded, are then made available to the function through a vararg expression, which is also indicated by three dots. The value of a vararg expression is a list of values (not a table) which can then be put in a table to be manipulated with more ease with the following expression: {...}. In Lua 5.0, instead of being available through a vararg expression, the extra arguments were available in a special parameter called "arg". The following function is an example of a function that would add the first argument to all the arguments it receives, then add all of them together and print the result:

function add_one(increment, ...)
	local result = 0
	for _, number in next, {...} do
		result = result + number + increment

It is not necessary to understand the code above as it is only a demonstration of a variadic function.

The select function is useful to manipulate argument lists without needing to use tables. It is itself a variadic function, as it accepts an indefinite number of arguments. It returns all arguments after the argument with the number given as its first argument (if the number given is negative, it indexes starting from the end, meaning -1 is the last argument). It will also return the number of arguments it received, excluding the first one, if the first argument is the string "#". It can be useful to discard all arguments in an argument list before a certain number, and, more originally, to distinguish between nil values being sent as arguments and nothing being sent as an argument. Indeed, select will distinguish, when "#" is given as its first argument, nil values from no value. Argument lists (and return lists as well) are instances of tuples, which will be explored in the chapter about tables; the select function works with all tuples.

print((function(...) return select('#', ...) == 1 and "nil" or "no value" end)()) --> no value
print((function(...) return select('#', ...) == 1 and "nil" or "no value" end)(nil)) --> nil
print((function(...) return select('#', ...) == 1 and "nil" or "no value" end)(variable_that_is_not_defined)) --> nil

-- As this code shows, the function is able to detect whether the value nil was passed as an argument or whether there was simply no value passed.
-- In normal circumstances, both are considered as nil, and this is the only way to distinguish them.
  1. "Lua Functions - Comprehensive Guide with Examples". 2023-03-22. Retrieved 2023-05-17.
  2. For more information, see: Ierusalimschy, Roberto (2003). "Error Handling in Application Code". Programming in Lua (first ed.). ISBN 8590379817. Retrieved June 20, 2014.

Tables[edit | edit source]

Tables are the only data structure in Lua, but they are more flexible than the data structures in many other languages. They are also called dictionaries (because they make values corresponding to indices, as the definitions in a dictionary correspond to the terms), associative arrays (because they associate values to indices, thus making them be arrays of values that are associated to indices), hash tables, symbol tables, hash maps and maps. They are created using tables constructors, which are defined by two braces that may optionally contain values separated by commas or semicolons. The following example demonstrates an array (an ordered list of values) and demonstrates how an array's length can be obtained.

local array = {5, "text", {"more text", 463, "even more text"}, "more text"}
print(#array) --> 4 ; the # operator for strings can also be used for arrays, in which case it will return the number of values in the array
-- This example demonstrates how tables can be nested in other tables. Since tables themselves are values, tables can include other tables. Arrays of tables are called multi-dimensional arrays.

Tables may contain values of any type except nil. This is logical: nil represents the absence of a value. Inserting "the absence of a value" in a table wouldn't make sense. Values in tables may be separated either by commas or semicolons, and they may continue on many lines. It is common to use commas for single-line table constructors and semicolons for multi-line tables, but this is not necessary.

local array = {
		"more text, in a nested table";
	true -- booleans can also be in tables

Tables are composed of fields, which are pairs of values, one of which is an index (also called a key) the other being the value that corresponds to that index. In arrays, the indices are always numerical values. In dictionaries, the indices can be any value.

local dictionary = {
	text = "more text";
	[8] = {}; -- an empty table
	func = function() print("tables can even contain functions!") end;
	["1213"] = 1213

As the example above illustrates, values can be added to a dictionary like they are in arrays with just the value (in which case the index will be a number), with an identifier and an equal sign prefixing the value (in which case the index will be the string that corresponds to the identifier) or with a value enclosed in parentheses and an equal sign prefixing the value (in which case the index is the value in parentheses). The latter is the most flexible way to make an index correspond to a value because it can be used with any value or expression.

It is possible to access a value in a table by putting the index the value corresponds to inside brackets, after an expression that evaluates to the table:

local dictionary = {number = 6}
print(dictionary["number"]) --> 6

If the index is a string which follows the criteria for Lua identifiers (it doesn't contain spaces, start with a number or contain anything else than numbers, letters and underscores), it can be accessed without brackets, by prefixing the string with a dot:

local dictionary = {["number"] = 6}
print(dictionary.number) --> 6

The two previous examples create an identical table and print the same value, but define and access the indices using different notations. It is also possible, in the case of tables that contain other tables to access a value that is inside the nested table by first indexing the first table to get the nested table, and then indexing the value inside of the nested table:

local nested_table = {
	[6] = {
		func = function() print("6") end
nested_table[6].func() -- This will access the nested table, access the function that is inside it and then call that function, which will print the number 6.

Foreach loop[edit | edit source]

The chapter on statements described two types of loops: condition-controlled loops and count-controlled loops. In Lua, there is a third type of loop, the foreach loop, which is also called the generic for loop. A foreach loop is a loop that allows the programmer to execute code for each field in a table. The example below demonstrates a foreach loop that traverses the items in an array of numbers and prints all the indices and the sum of the values that correspond to them with the number one:

local array = {5, 2, 6, 3, 6}

for index, value in next, array do
	print(index .. ": " .. value + 1)
-- Output:
-- 1: 6
-- 2: 3
-- 3: 7
-- 4: 4
-- 5: 7

The two loops in the following example will do the same thing as the loop in the previous example.

local array = {5, 2, 6, 3, 6}

for index, value in pairs(array) do
	print(index .. ": " .. value + 1)

for index, value in ipairs(array) do
	print(index .. ": " .. value + 1)

The method shown in the first example does the same thing as the first loop in the previous example. However, the last one (the one that uses the ipairs function) will only iterate up to the first integer key absent from the table, which means it will only iterate through numerical values that are in order as they are in an array. There used to be two functions called table.foreach and table.foreachi, but they were deprecated in Lua 5.1 and removed in Lua 5.2. Deprecation is a status applied to a feature or practice to indicate that it has been removed or superseded and that it should be avoided. Using the foreach loop to traverse tables is therefore preferable to using these two functions.

Unpacking tables[edit | edit source]

In Lua, a distinction is made between a tuple, a simple list of values, and a table, a data structure that maps indices to values. A function call to a function that returns many values evaluates to a tuple. A list of values in an assignment statement where many variables are assigned at once is also a tuple. The vararg expression, which is used in variadic functions, is also a tuple. Because a tuple is a list of values and therefore not a single value, it cannot be stored in a variable, although it can be stored in many variables. It is possible to convert a tuple into an array by putting the expression that evaluates to the tuple in a table constructor.

function return_tuple()
	return 5, 6 -- Because this function returns two values, a function call to it evaluates to a tuple.

local array = {return_tuple()} -- same as local array = {5, 6}
local a, b = return_tuple() -- same as local a, b = 5, 6
print(return_tuple()) -- same as print(5, 6)

It is possible to unpack an array (change it from a table to a tuple) by using the unpack function of the table library with the array as an argument:

local array = {7, 4, 2}
local a, b, c = table.unpack(array)
print(a, b, c) --> 7, 4, 2

In Lua versions preceding Lua 5.2, the unpack function was part of the basic library. It has since been moved to the table library.

Methods[edit | edit source]

Because tables can contain functions and associate a name to these functions, they will often be used to create libraries. Lua also has syntactic sugar that can be used to create methods, functions that are used to manipulate an object, which will generally be represented by the table. This might be a bit hard to understand by someone who doesn't know about object-oriented programming, which is outside the scope of this book, so there's nothing wrong with not understanding the purpose of this. The two examples below do exactly the same thing:

local object = {}

function object.func(self, arg1, arg2)
	print(arg1, arg2)

object.func(object, 1, 2) --> 1, 2
local object = {}

function object:func(arg1, arg2)
	print(arg1, arg2)

object:func(1, 2) --> 1, 2

When calling a function that is in a table and that corresponds to an index that is a string, using a colon instead of a dot will add a hidden argument which is the table itself. Similarly, defining a function in a table using a colon instead of a dot will add a hidden self parameter in the parameter list. Usage of a colon to define the function doesn't mean a colon must also be used to call the function and vice-versa, because these are completely interchangeable.

Sorting[edit | edit source]

Sorting tables in Lua can be relatively trivial. In most cases, the sort function of the table library can be used to sort tables, which makes everything relatively easy. The sort function sorts elements of an array in a given order, in-place (i.e. without creating a new array). If a function is provided as a second argument, it should receive two elements of the array and return true when the first element should come before the second in the final order. If no second argument is provided, Lua will sort the elements in the array according to the < operator, which returns true when used with two numbers and when the first number is smaller than the second, but which also works with strings, in which case it returns true when the first string is lexicographically smaller than the second.

Metatables[edit | edit source]

Metatables are tables that can be used to control the behavior of other tables. This is done through metamethods, fields in that table which indicate to the Lua virtual machine what should be done when code attempts to manipulate the table in specific ways. Metamethods are defined by their name. The __index metamethod, for example, tells Lua what to do when code attempts to index in a table a field that doesn't exist yet. A table's metatable can be set using the setmetatable function, which accepts two tables as arguments, the first table being the table of which the metatable should be set, and the second being the metatable to which the table's metatable should be set. There is also a getmetatable function, which returns the metatable of a table. The following code demonstrates how a metatable could be used to make all non-existent fields in a table appear as if they contained a number; these numbers are generated randomly, using the math.random function:

local associative_array = {
	defined_field = "this field is defined"

setmetatable(associative_array, {
	__index = function(self, index)
		return math.random(10)

There are many things that may be noticed in the above example. One of the things that may be noticed is that the name of the field containing the __index metamethod is prefixed with two underscores. This is always the case: when Lua looks in a table's metatable for metamethods, it looks for indices that correspond to the name of a metamethod and that start with two underscores. Another thing that may be noticed is that the __index metamethod is in fact a function (most metamethods are functions, but not all are), which takes two arguments. The first argument, self, is the table of which the __index metamethod was invoked. In the case here, we could just refer directly to the associative_array variable, but this is useful when a single metatable is used for many tables. The second argument is the index that was attempted to be indexed. Finally, it can be noted that the function tells the Lua virtual machine what should be given to the code that indexed the table by returning a value. Most metamethods can only be functions, but the __index metamethod can also be a table. If it is a table, Lua will, when a program attempts to index a field of the table that doesn't exist, look in that table for the same index. If it finds it, it will return the value corresponding to that index in the table that is specified in the __index metamethod.

__newindex(self, index, value)
The __newindex metamethod can be used to tell the Lua virtual machine what to do when a program attempts to add a new field in a table. It may only be a function, and it will only be called if there isn't already a field with the index to which the program attempts to write. It has three arguments: the first two are the same as the arguments of the __index metamethod, and the third is the value that the program attempted to set the value of the field to.
__concat(self, value)
The __concat metamethod can be used to tell the Lua virtual machine what to do when a program attempts to concatenate a value to the table, using the concatenation operator (..).
__call(self, ...)
The __call metamethod can be used to specify what should happen when a program attempts to call the table. This makes it possible to indeed make a table behave as if it was a function. The arguments passed when the table was called are given after the self argument, which is the table itself, as always. This metamethod can be used to return values, in which case calling the table will return these values.
This metamethod can be used to specify the effect of using the unary minus operator on the table.
This metamethod can be a function that returns the value the tostring function should return when it is called with the table as its argument.
__add(self, value)
__sub(self, value)
__mul(self, value)
__div(self, value)
__mod(self, value)
__pow(self, value)
These metamethods can be used to tell the virtual machine what to do respectively when a value is added to, subtracted from, multiplied to or divided by the table. The last two are similar, but are respectively for the modulus operator (%) and the exponentiation operator (^).
__eq(self, value)
This metamethod is used by the equality operator (==). It will only be used if the two values compared have the same metatable. The non-equality operator (~=) uses the opposite of the result of this function.
__lt(self, value)
__le(self, value)
These metamethods are used by the "less than" and "less than or equal to" operators. The "greater than" and "greater than or equal to" operators will return the opposite of what these metamethods return. They will only be used if the values have the same metatable.
This metamethod is called by Lua before the garbage collector collects a value a metatable with this metamethod is attached to. It only works with userdata values, and cannot be used with tables.
This metamethod is called by Lua when the length operator (#) is used on a userdata value. It cannot be used with tables.
If this metamethod is present (it can be anything), using getmetatable on the table will return this metamethod's value instead of the metatable, and changing the table's metatable with the setmetatable function will not be allowed.
This metamethod should be a string that can contain the letter "k" or "v" (or both). If the letter "k" is present, the table's keys will be weak. If the letter "v" is present, the table's values will be weak. What this means will be explained later, along with garbage collection.

Metatables, although normal Lua programs can only use them with tables, are in fact the mechanism at the core of the way Lua handles operators and operations, and they can in fact theoretically be used with any value. However, Lua only allows them to be used with tables and userdata values created with the undocumented newproxy function. Using Lua's C API or the debug library, it is possible to set the metatable of values of other types, like numbers and strings.

It is sometimes desirable to perform an operation on a table without invoking metamethods. This is possible for indexing, adding fields in a table, checking for equality and obtaining the length of a table using the rawget, rawset, rawequal and rawlen functions, respectively. The first returns the value corresponding to the index given to it as its second argument in the table given to it as the first argument. The second sets to the value given in its third argument the value corresponding to the index given in the second argument in the table given in the first argument. The third returns whether the two values given to it are equal. Finally, the fourth returns the length (an integer) of the object it is given, which must be a table or a string.

Iterators[edit | edit source]

An iterator is a function that is used conjunctly with a foreach loop. In most cases, an iterator is used to loop over or traverse a data-structure. Examples of this are the iterators returned by the pairs and ipairs functions which are used, respectively, to traverse the elements of a table or of an array. The pairs function, for example, returns the next function, along with the table it is given as an argument, which explains the equivalence in pairs(dictionary) with in next, dictionary, since the former actually evaluates to the latter.

There is no requirement for iterators to always work with data structures, as iterators can be designed for any case where looping is required. For example, the file:lines function returns an iterator which returns a line from a file at each iteration. Similarly, the string.gmatch function returns an iterator which returns a match of a pattern in a string at each iteration. This code, for example, would print all the lines in a file called "file.txt".

for line in"file.txt"):lines() do

Creating iterators[edit | edit source]

An iterator consists of three things:

  • A transformation function
  • A state value
  • One or many loop variables

The transformation function is used to modify the values of the loop variables (the variables that appear between the for and the in) for each iteration of the loop. This function is invoked before every iteration and takes, as arguments, the values the loop variables were set to during the last iteration. The function is expected to return a tuple (one or many values) containing the new values for these variables. The loop variables will be set to the components of the returned tuple and the loop will go through an iteration. Once that iteration has completed (so long as it has not been interrupted by a break or return statement) the transformation function will be called again and will return another set of values, which the loop variables will be set to for the next iteration, and so on and so forth. This cycle of calling the transformation function and iterating over the statements of the loop will continue until the transformation function returns nil.

Along with the loop variables, the transformation function is also passed in a state value which will remain constant throughout the loop. The state value can be used, for example, to maintain a reference to the data structure, file handle or resource the transformation function is iterating over.

An example of a transformation function which will produce a sequence of numbers up to 10 is given below. This transformation function requires only one loop variable which will have its value stored in value.

function seq(state, value)
	if (value >= 10) then
		return nil -- Returning nil will terminate the loop
		local new_value = value + 1 -- The next value to use within the loop is the current value of `value` plus 1.
		-- This value will be used as the value of `value` the next time this function is called.
		return new_value

The generic for loop expects a tuple containing the transformation function, the state value and the initial values of the loop variables. This tuple can be included directly after the in keyword.

-- This will display the numbers from 1 to 10.
for value in seq, nil, 0 do

In most cases, however, this tuple will be returned by a function. This allows for the use of iterator factories which, when called, returns a new iterator that can be used with a generic for loop:

function count_to_ten()
	local function seq(state, value)
		if (value >= 10) then
			return nil
			local new_value = value + 1
			return new_value
	return seq, nil, 0

for value in count_to_ten() do

Since Lua supports closures and functions as first-class objects, the iterator factory can also take arguments which can be used within the transformation function.

function count_to(limit)
	local function seq(state, value)
		if (value >= limit) then
			return nil
			local new_value = value + 1
			return new_value
	return seq, nil, 0

for value in count_to(10) do -- Print the numbers from 1 to 10

for value in count_to(20) do -- Print the numbers from 1 to 20

Standard libraries[edit | edit source]

Lua is a language that is said to "not be provided with batteries". This means that its libraries are kept to the minimum necessary to do some stuff. Lua relies on its community to create libraries that can be used to perform more specific tasks. The Lua Reference Manual provides documentation for all the libraries[1], so they will only be briefly described here. All the libraries except the basic and the package libraries provide their functions and values as fields of a table.

Basic library[edit | edit source]

The basic library provides core functionality to Lua. All its functions and values are directly available in the global environment, and all functions and values available directly in the global environment by default are part of the basic library.

Assertion[edit | edit source]

An assertion is a predicate that is assumed by the developer to be true. They are used in programs to ensure that a specific condition is true at a specific moment of the execution of a program. Assertions are used in unit tests to verify that a program works correctly, but are also used in program code, in which case the program will fail when an assertion is false, either to verify that the environment in which the program is correct, or to verify that no error was made in program code and to generate appropriate error messages to make it easier to find bugs in the code when something doesn't happen as expected. In Lua, assertions are made with the assert function, which accepts a condition and a message (which will default to "assertion failed!") as parameters. When the condition evaluates to false, assert throws an error with the message. When it evaluates to true, assert returns all its arguments.

Garbage collection[edit | edit source]

Garbage collection is a form of automatic memory management implemented by Lua and many other languages. When a program needs to store data in a variable, it asks the operating system to allocate space in the computer's memory to store the variable's value. Then, when it doesn't need the space anymore (generally because the variable fell out of scope), it tells the operating system to deallocate the space so that another program may use it. In Lua, the actual process is much more complex, but the basic idea is the same: the program must tell the operating system when it doesn't need a variable's value anymore. In low level languages, allocation is handled by the language, but deallocation is not because the language cannot know when a programmer doesn't need a value anymore: even if a variable that referenced the value fell out of scope or was removed, another variable or a field in a script may still reference it, and deallocating it would cause problems. In higher level languages, deallocation may be handled by various automatic memory management systems, such as garbage collection, which is the system used by Lua. The garbage collector regularly searches through all the values allocated by Lua for values that are not referenced anywhere. It will collect values that the program cannot access anymore (because there is no reference to them) and, since it knows that these values can safely be deallocated, will deallocate them. This is all done transparently and automatically, so the programmer does not generally need to do anything about it. However, sometimes, the developer may want to give instructions to the garbage collector.

Weak references[edit | edit source]

Weak references are references that are ignored by the garbage collector. These references are indicated to the garbage collector by the developer, using the mode metamethod. A table's mode metamethod should be a string. If that string contains the letter "k", all the keys of the table's fields are weak, and if it contains the letter "v", all the values of the table's fields are weak. When an array of objects has weak values, the garbage collector will collect these objects even if they are referenced in that array, as long as they are only referenced in that array and in other weak references. This behavior is sometimes useful, but rarely used.

Manipulating the garbage collector[edit | edit source]

The garbage collector may be manipulated with the collectgarbage function, which is part of the basic library and serves as an interface to the garbage collector. Its first argument is a string that indicates to the garbage collector what action should be performed; a second argument is used by some actions. The collectgarbage function can be used to stop the garbage collector, manually perform collection cycles and count the memory used by Lua.

Coroutines[edit | edit source]

Coroutines are computer program components that generalize subroutines to allow multiple entry points for suspending and resuming execution at certain locations. Coroutines are well-suited for implementing more familiar program components such as cooperative tasks, exceptions, event loop, iterators, infinite lists and pipes.
—Wikipedia, Coroutine

Coroutines are components that can be created and manipulated with the coroutine library in Lua and that allow the yielding and resuming of the execution of a function at specific locations by calling functions that yield the coroutine from inside of itself or that resume it from outside of itself. Example:

  1. A function in the main thread creates a coroutine from a function with coroutine.create and resumes it with coroutine.resume, to which the number 3 is passed.
  2. The function in the coroutine executes and gets the number passed to coroutine.resume as an argument.
  3. The function arrives at a certain point in its execution where it calls coroutine.yield with, as an argument, the sum of the argument it received (3) and 2 (hence, 3+2=5).
  4. The call to coroutine.resume returns 5, because it was passed to coroutine.yield, and the main thread, now running again, stores that number in a variable. It resumes the coroutine again after having executed some code, passing to coroutine.resume the double of the value it has received from the call to coroutine.resume (i.e. it passes 5×2=10).
  5. The coroutine gets the value passed to coroutine.resume as the result of the call to coroutine.yield and terminates after running some more code. It returns the difference between the result of the call to coroutine.yield and the value it was given as a parameter initially (i.e. 10−3=7).
  6. The main thread gets the value returned by the coroutine as the result of the call to coroutine.resume and goes on.

This example, put in code, gives the following:

local co = coroutine.create(function(initial_value)
	local value_obtained = coroutine.yield(initial_value + 2) -- 3+2=5
	return value_obtained - initial_value -- 10-3=7

local _, initial_result = coroutine.resume(co, 3) -- initial_result: 5
local _, final_result = coroutine.resume(co, initial_result * 2) -- 5*2=10
print(final_result) --> 7

The coroutine.create function creates a coroutine from a function; coroutines are values of type "thread". coroutine.resume starts or continues the execution of a coroutine. A coroutine is said to be dead when it has encountered an error or has nothing left to run (in which case it has terminated its execution). When a coroutine is dead, it cannot be resumed. The coroutine.resume function will return true if the execution of the coroutine was successful, along with all the values returned, if the coroutine has terminated, or passed to coroutine.yield if it has not. If the execution was not successful, it will return false along with an error message. coroutine.resume returns the running coroutine and true when that coroutine is the main thread, or false otherwise.

The coroutine.status function returns the status of a coroutine as a string:

  • "running" if the coroutine is running, which means it must be the coroutine which called coroutine.status
  • "suspended" if the coroutine is suspended in a call to yield or if it has not started running yet
  • "normal" if the coroutine is active but not running, which means it has resumed another coroutine
  • "dead" if the coroutine has finished running or has encountered an error

The coroutine.wrap function returns a function that resumes a coroutine every time it is called. Extra arguments given to this function will act as extra arguments to coroutine.resume and values returned by the coroutine or passed to coroutine.yield will be returned by a call to the function. The coroutine.wrap function, unlike coroutine.resume, does not call the coroutine in protected mode and propagates errors.

There are many use cases for coroutines, but describing them are outside the scope of this book.

String matching[edit | edit source]

When manipulating strings, it is frequently useful to be able to search strings for substrings that follow a certain pattern. Lua has a string manipulation library that offers functions for doing this and a notation for expressing patterns that the functions can search for in strings. The notation offered by Lua is very similar to regular expressions, a notation for expressing patterns used by most languages and tools in the programming world. However, it is more limited and has slightly different syntax.

The find function of the string library looks for the first match of a pattern in a string. If it finds an occurrence of the pattern in the string, it returns the indices in the string (integers representing the position of characters in the string starting from the first character, which is at position 1) where the occurrence starts and ends. If it doesn't find an occurrence of the pattern, it returns nothing. The first parameter it accepts is the string, the second being the pattern and the third being an integer indicating the character position where the find function should start searching. Finally, the find function can be told to perform a simple match without patterns by being given the value true as its fourth argument. It will then simply search for an occurrence of the second string it is given in the first string. The third argument must be given when a simple match is performed. This example code searches for the word "lazy" in a sentence and prints the start and end positions of the occurrence it finds of the word:

local start_position, end_position = string.find("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.", "lazy", 1, true)
print("The word \"lazy\" was found starting at position " .. start_position .. " and ending at position " .. end_position .. ".")

This code gives the result The word "lazy" was found starting at position 36 and ending at position 39.. It is equivalent to the following:

local sentence = "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."
local start_position, end_position = sentence:find("lazy", 1, true)
print("The word \"lazy\" was found starting at position " .. start_position .. " and ending at position " .. end_position .. ".")

This works because the index metamethod of strings is set to the table containing the functions of the string library, making it possible to replace string.a(b, ...) by b:a(...).

Functions in the string library that accept indices to indicate character position or that return such indices consider the first character as being at position 1. They accept negative numbers and interpret them as indexing backwards, from the end of the string, with the last character being at position -1.

Patterns are strings that follow a certain notation to indicate a pattern that a string may match or not. For this purpose, patterns contain character classes, combinations that represent sets of characters.

Character combination Description
. All characters
%a Letters (uppercase and lowercase)
%c Control characters
%d Digits
%g Printable characters (except the space character)
%l Lowercase letters
%p Punctuation characters
%s Space characters
%u Uppercase letters
%w Alphanumeric characters (digits and letters)
%x Hexadecimal digits

All characters that are not special represent themselves and special characters (all characters that are not alphanumeric) can be escaped by being prefixed by a percentage sign. Character classes can be combined to create bigger character classes by being put in a set. Sets are noted as character classes noted between square brackets (i.e. [%xp] is the set of all hexadecimal characters plus the letter "p"). Ranges of characters can be noted by separating the end characters of the range, in ascending order, with a hyphen (i.e. [0-9%s] represents all the digits from 0 to 9 plus space characters). If the caret ("^") character is put at the start of the set (right after the opening square bracket), the set will contain all characters except those it would have contained if that caret had not been put at the start of the set.

The complement of all classes represented by a letter preceded of a percentage sign can be noted as a percentage sign followed by the corresponding uppercase letter (i.e. %S represents all characters except space characters).

Patterns are sequences of pattern items that represent what sequences should be found in the pattern for a string to match it. A pattern item can be a character class, in which case it matches any of the characters in the class once, a character class followed by the "*" character, in which case it matches 0 or more repetitions of characters in the class (these repetition items will always match the longest possible sequence), a character class followed by the addition ("+") character, in which case it matches 1 or more repetitions of characters in the class (these repetition items will also always match the longest possible sequence), a character class followed by the minus ("-") character, in which case it matches 0 or more repetitions of characters in the class, but matches the shortest possible sequence or a character class followed by an interrogation mark, in which case it matches one or no occurrence of a character in the class.

It is possible to match substrings equivalent to previously captured substrings: %1 will match the first captured substring, %2 the second, and so on until %9. Captures are described below. There are two other functionalities offered by patterns, as described by the reference manual:

%bxy, where x and y are two distinct characters; such item matches strings that start with x, end with y, and where the x and y are balanced. This means that, if one reads the string from left to right, counting +1 for an x and -1 for a y, the ending y is the first y where the count reaches 0. For instance, the item %b() matches expressions with balanced parentheses.

%f[set], a frontier pattern; such item matches an empty string at any position such that the next character belongs to set and the previous character does not belong to set. The set set is interpreted as previously described. The beginning and the end of the subject are handled as if they were the character '\0'.

—Lua authors, Lua 5.2 Reference Manual

Patterns are sequences of pattern items, optionally preceded by a caret, which indicates that the pattern can only match at the beginning of the string, and optionally followed by a dollar sign, which indicates that the pattern can only match at the end of the string. These symbols are said to anchor the match at the beginning or the end of the string. These two characters only have a special meaning when at the beginning or at the end of a pattern.

Sub-patterns can be enclosed inside parentheses inside patterns to indicate captures. When a match succeeds, the substrings of the string that match captures are stored for future use, for example to be returned by gmatch. They are always numbered starting from the position of their left parenthesis. Two empty parentheses denote the empty capture, which captures the current string position (which is a number and is not a part of the string).

The gmatch function can be used to iterate through the occurrences of a pattern in a string; it is not possible, unlike with the find function, to specify an initial position to start searching or to perform simple matching. The gmatch function returns an iterator that, when called, returns the next captures from the given pattern in the string. The whole match is given instead if there are no captures specified in the pattern. The following example shows how to iterate through the words in a sentence and print them one by one:

local sentence = "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."
for word in sentence:gmatch('%a+') do

In this example, the entire match is given by the only value returned by the iterator, word.

The gsub function can be used to replace all occurrences of a pattern in a string by something else. Its first two arguments are the string and the pattern, while the third is the string to replace occurrences by and the fourth is the maximum number of occurrences that should be replaced. The third argument, instead of being a string, can also be a table or a function.

When the third argument is a string, it is called the replacement string and it replaces occurrences of the pattern in the string. Captures stored by the pattern can be embedded in the replacement string; they are noted by a percentage sign followed by a digit representing the number of the capture. The match itself can be represented by %0. Percentage signs in replacement strings must be escaped as %%.

When the third argument is a table, the first capture is used as a key to index that table and the replacement string is the value corresponding to that key in the table. When it is a function, that function is called for every match, with all captures passed as arguments. In both cases, if there is no capture, the entire match is used instead. If the function or table gives the value false or nil, no replacement is done.

Here are some examples taken directly from the Lua 5.2 Reference Manual:

x = string.gsub("hello world", "(%w+)", "%1 %1")
--> x="hello hello world world"

x = string.gsub("hello world", "%w+", "%0 %0", 1)
--> x="hello hello world"

x = string.gsub("hello world from Lua", "(%w+)%s*(%w+)", "%2 %1")
--> x="world hello Lua from"

x = string.gsub("home = $HOME, user = $USER", "%$(%w+)", os.getenv)
--> x="home = /home/roberto, user = roberto"

x = string.gsub("4+5 = $return 4+5$", "%$(.-)%$", function (s)
      return load(s)()
--> x="4+5 = 9"

local t = {name="lua", version="5.2"}
x = string.gsub("$name-$version.tar.gz", "%$(%w+)", t)
--> x="lua-5.2.tar.gz"
—Lua authors, Lua 5.2 Reference Manual

Lua offers other functions for manipulating strings than those for pattern matching. These include the reverse function, which returns a string with the order of the characters reversed, the lower function, which returns the lowercase equivalent of a string, the upper function, which returns the uppercase equivalent of a string, the len function, which returns the length of a string and the sub function, which returns the substring of a string that starts at and ends at the two character positions given as arguments. There are more, and their documentation can be found in the Reference Manual.

  1. Ierusalimschy, Roberto; Celes, Waldemar; Henrique de Figueiredo, Luiz. Lua 5.2 Reference Manual. Retrieved 30 November 2013.

Glossary[edit | edit source]

This is a glossary that contains terms related to programming in the context of Lua. Its use is recommended to find the meaning of words that are not understood.

abstract class
An abstract class is a class of which instances cannot be created directly. Abstract classes are abstract types.
abstract data type
An abstract data type is a model to represent a class of data structures that have similar behavior. Abstract data types are defined by the operations that can be performed on them and by mathematical constraints of these operations rather than by the implementation and the way the data is stored in the memory of the computer.
abstract type
An abstract type is a type of data of which instances cannot be created directly.
actual parameter
See argument.
additive inverse
The additive inverse of a number is the number that, when added to that number, yields zero. For example, the additive inverse of 42 is -42.
arithmetic negation
Arithmetic negation is the operation that produces the additive inverse of a number.
arithmetic operation
An arithmetic operation is an operation whose operands are numbers.
The arity of an operation or of a function is the number of operands or arguments the operation or function accepts.
An argument is a value passed to a function.
An array is a data structure consisting of a collection of values, each identified by at least one array index or key.
associative array
An associative array is an abstract data type composed of a collection of pairs of keys and values, such that each possible key appears at most once in the collection.
augmented assignment
Augmented assignment is a type of assignment that gives a variable a value that is relative to its prior value.
binary operation
A binary operation is an operation of which the arity is two.
See logical data.
boolean negation
See logical negation.
chained assignment
Chained assignment is a type of assignment that gives a single value to many variables. Example: a = b = c = d = 0.
A chunk is a sequence of statements.
compound assignment
See augmented assignment.
String concatenation is the operation of joining two strings of characters. For example, the concatenation of "snow" and "ball" is "snowball".
concrete class
A concrete class is a class of which instances can be created directly. Concrete classes are concrete types.
concrete type
A concrete type is a type of which instances can be created directly.
A condition is a predicate that is used in a conditional statement or as an operand to the conditional operator. Conditions, in Lua, are considered as true when their expression evaluates to a value other than nil or false, and are considered as false otherwise.
conditional operator
A conditional operator is an operator that returns a value if a condition is true and another if it isn't.
conditional statement
A conditional statement is a statement that executes a piece of code if a condition is true.
data structure
A data structure is a particular way of storing and organizing data in the memory of a computer. It is the implementation of an abstract data type.
data type
A data type is a model for representing the storage of data in the memory of a computer.
See associative array.
exclusive disjunction
Venn diagram of
The exclusive disjunction operation is a binary operation that produces the value true when one of its operands is true but the other is not. The exclusive disjunction of a and b is expressed mathematically as . There is no operator corresponding to exclusive disjunction in Lua, but can be represented as (a or b) and not (a and b).
formal parameter
See parameter.
A function is a sequence of statements (instructions) that perform a specific task. Functions can be used in a program wherever that particular task needs to be performed. Functions are usually defined in the program that will use them, but are sometimes defined in libraries that can be used by other programs.
hash map
See hash table.
hash table
A hash table is an implementation as a data structure of the associative array. A hash table uses a hash function to compute an index into an array of buckets or slots, from which the value corresponding to the index can be found.
inline if
See conditional operator.
An integer is a number that can be written without a fractional or decimal component. Integers are implemented in Lua in the same way as other numbers.
length operation
The length operation is the operation that produces the number of values in an array.
A literal is a notation for representing a fixed value in source code. All values can be represented as literals in Lua except threads and userdata.
logical complement
The logical complement of a boolean value is the boolean value that is not that value. This means the logical complement of true is false and vice versa.
logical conjunction
Venn diagram of
The logical conjunction operation is a binary operation that produces the value true when both of its operands are true and false in all other cases. It is implemented as the and operator in Lua and it returns its first operand if it is false or nil and the second operand otherwise. The logical conjunction of a and b is expressed mathematically as .
logical data
The logical data type, which is generally called the boolean type, is the type of the values false and true.
logical disjunction
Venn diagram of
The logical disjunction operation is a binary operation that produces the value false when both of its operands are false and true in all other cases. It is implemented as the or operator in Lua and it returns the first operand if it is neither false nor nil and the second otherwise. The logical disjunction of a and b is expressed mathematically as .
logical negation
Logical negation, implemented in Lua by the not operator, is the operation that produces the logical complement of a boolean value.
See associative array.
A method is a function that is a member of an object and generally operates on that object.
See modulo operation.
modulo operation
The modulo operation, implemented in Lua by the % operator, is the operation that produces the remainder of the division of a number by another.
See modulo operation.
multiple assignment
See parallel assignment.
The type nil is the type of the value nil, whose main property is to be different from any other value; it usually represents the absence of a useful value.
not operator
See logical negation.
The number type represents real (double-precision floating-point) numbers. It is possible to build Lua interpreters that use other internal representations for numbers, such as single-precision float or long integers.
An operator is a token that generates a value from one or many operands.
parallel assignment
Parallel assignment is a type of assignment that simultaneously assigns values to different variables.
A parameter is a variable in a function definition to which the argument that corresponds to it in a call to that function is assigned.
A predicate is an expression that evaluates to a piece of logical data.
See function.
relational operator
A relational operator is an operator that is used to compare values.
See function.
sign change
See arithmetic negation.
simultaneous assignment
See parallel assignment.
The type string represents arrays of characters. Lua is 8-bit clean: strings can contain any 8-bit character, including embedded zeros.
string literal
A string literal is the representation of a string value within the source code of a computer program. With respect to syntax, a string literal is an expression that evaluates to a string.
See function.
See function.
See token.
symbol table
A symbol table is an implementation as a data structure of the associative array. They are commonly implemented as hash tables.
A token is an atomic piece of data, such as a word in a human language or such as a keyword in a programming language, for which a meaning may be inferred during parsing.
A variable is a label associated to a location in the memory. The data in that location can be changed and the variable will point to the new data.
variadic function
A variadic function is a function of indefinite arity.

Index[edit | edit source]

This is an alphabetical index of the book.

Contents: Top - 0–9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A[edit | edit source]

B[edit | edit source]

C[edit | edit source]

D[edit | edit source]

E[edit | edit source]

F[edit | edit source]

G[edit | edit source]

H[edit | edit source]

I[edit | edit source]

J[edit | edit source]

K[edit | edit source]

L[edit | edit source]

M[edit | edit source]

N[edit | edit source]

O[edit | edit source]

P[edit | edit source]

Q[edit | edit source]

R[edit | edit source]

S[edit | edit source]

T[edit | edit source]

U[edit | edit source]

V[edit | edit source]

W[edit | edit source]

X[edit | edit source]

Y[edit | edit source]

Z[edit | edit source]

Lua API[edit | edit source]

There is a separate index for the functions and variables that are part of the Lua API. This index points to parts of the book where functions or variables in the API are mentioned.

Basic functions[edit | edit source]

Coroutine manipulation[edit | edit source]

String manipulation[edit | edit source]

Table manipulation[edit | edit source]