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3.1.2 Values and Variables

Scheme provides many data types that you can use to represent your data. Primitive types include characters, strings, numbers and procedures. Compound types, which allow a group of primitive and compound values to be stored together, include lists, pairs, vectors and multi-dimensional arrays. In addition, Guile allows applications to define their own data types, with the same status as the built-in standard Scheme types.

As a Scheme program runs, values of all types pop in and out of existence. Sometimes values are stored in variables, but more commonly they pass seamlessly from being the result of one computation to being one of the parameters for the next.

Consider an example. A string value is created because the interpreter reads in a literal string from your program’s source code. Then a numeric value is created as the result of calculating the length of the string. A second numeric value is created by doubling the calculated length. Finally the program creates a list with two elements – the doubled length and the original string itself – and stores this list in a program variable.

All of the values involved here – in fact, all values in Scheme – carry their type with them. In other words, every value “knows,” at runtime, what kind of value it is. A number, a string, a list, whatever.

A variable, on the other hand, has no fixed type. A variable – x, say – is simply the name of a location – a box – in which you can store any kind of Scheme value. So the same variable in a program may hold a number at one moment, a list of procedures the next, and later a pair of strings. The “type” of a variable – insofar as the idea is meaningful at all – is simply the type of whatever value the variable happens to be storing at a particular moment.


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