Introduction to Ceylon Part 7

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This is the seventh installment in a series of articles introducing the Ceylon language. Note that some features of the language may change before the final release.

Attributes and locals

In Java, a field of a class is quite easily distinguished from a local constant or variable of a method or constructor. Ceylon doesn't really make this distinction very strongly. An attribute is really just a local that happens to be captured by some shared declaration.

Here, count is a local variable of the initializer of Counter:

class Counter() {
    variable Natural count := 0;

But in the following two examples, count is an attribute:

class Counter() {
    shared variable Natural count := 0;
class Counter() {
    variable Natural count := 0;
    shared Natural inc() {
        return ++count;

This might seem a bit strange at first, but it's really just how closure works. The same behavior applies to locals inside a method. Methods can't declare shared members, but they can return an object that captures a local:

interface Counter {
    shared formal Natural inc();
Counter createCounter() {
    variable Natural count := 0;
    object counter satisfies Counter {
        shared actual Natural inc() {
            return ++count;
    return counter;

Even though we'll continue to use the words local and attribute, keep in mind that there's no really strong distinction between the terms. Any named value might be captured by some other declaration in the same containing scope. (I'm still searching for a really good word to collectively describe attributes and locals.)


Ceylon encourages you to use immutable attributes as much as possible. An immutable attribute has its value specified when the object is initialized, and is never reassigned.

class Reference<Value>(Value x) {
    shared Value value = x;

If we want to be able to assign a value to a simple attribute or local we need to annotate it variable:

class Reference<Value>(Value x) {
    shared variable Value value := x;

Notice the use of := instead of = here. This is important! In Ceylon, specification of an immutable value is done using =. Assignment to a variable attribute or local is considered a different kind of thing, always performed using the := operator.

The = specifier is not an operator, and can never appear inside an expression. It's just a punctuation character. The following code is not only wrong, but even fails to parse:

if (x=true) {   //compile error


If we want to make an attribute with a getter mutable, we need to define a matching setter. Usually this is only useful if you have some other internal attribute you're trying to set the value of indirectly.

Suppose our class has the following simple attributes, intended for internal consumption only, so un-shared:

variable String? firstName := null;
variable String? lastName := null;

(Remember, Ceylon never automatically initializes attributes to null.)

Then we can abstract the simple attribute using a second attribute defined as a getter/setter pair:

shared String fullName {
    return " ".join(coalesce(firstName,lastName));

shared assign fullName {
    Iterator<String> tokens = fullName.tokens();
    firstName := tokens.head;
    lastName :=;

A setter is identified by the keyword assign in place of a type declaration. (The type of the matching getter determines the type of the attribute.)

Yes, this is a lot like a Java get/set method pair, though the syntax is significantly streamlined. But since Ceylon attributes are polymorphic, and since you can redefine a simple attribute as a getter or getter/setter pair without affecting clients that call the attribute, you don't need to write getters and setters unless you're doing something special with the value you're getting or setting.

Control structures

Ceylon has five built-in control structures. There's nothing much new here for Java or C# developers, so I'll just give a few quick examples without much additional commentary. However, one thing to be aware of is that Ceylon doesn't allow you to omit the braces in a control structure. The following doesn't parse:

if (x>100) bigNumber();

You are required to write:

if (x>100) { bigNumber(); }

OK, so here's the examples. The if/else statement is totally traditional:

if (x>100)) {
else if (x>1000) {
else {

The switch/case statement eliminates C's much-criticized fall through behavior and irregular syntax:

switch (x<=>100)
case (smaller) { littleNumber(); }
case (equal) { oneHundred(); }
case (larger) { bigNumber(); }

The for loop has an optional fail block, which is executed when the loop completes normally, rather than via a return or break statement. There's no C-style for.

Boolean minors;
for (Person p in people) {
    if (p.age<18) {
        minors = true;
fail {
    minors = false;

The while and do/while loops are traditional.

variable local it = names.iterator();
while (exists String name = it.head) {

The try/catch/finally statement works like Java's:

try {
catch (ConnectionException|MessageException e) {

And try supports a resource expression similar to Java 7.

try (Transaction()) {
    try (Session s = Session()) {

Sequenced parameters

A sequenced parameter of a method or class is declared using an ellipsis. There may be only one sequenced parameter for a method or class, and it must be the last parameter.

void print(String... strings) { ... }

Inside the method body, the parameter strings has type String[].

void print(String... strings) {
    for (String string in strings) {

A slightly more sophisticated example is the coalesce() method we saw above. coalesce() accepts X?[] and eliminates nulls, returning X[], for any type X. Its signature is:

shared Value[] coalesce<Value>(Value?... sequence) { ... }

Sequenced parameters turn out to be especially interesting when used in named argument lists for defining user interfaces or structured data.

Packages and imports

There's no special package statement in Ceylon. The compiler determines the package and module to which a toplevel program element belongs by the location of the source file in which it is declared. A class named Hello in the package org.jboss.hello must be defined in the file org/jboss/hello/Hello.ceylon.

When a source file in one package refers to a toplevel program element in another package, it must explicitly import that program element. Ceylon, unlike Java, does not support the use of qualified names within the source file. We can't write org.jboss.hello.Hello in Ceylon.

The syntax of the import statement is slightly different to Java. To import a program element, we write:

import org.jboss.hello { Hello }

To import several program elements from the same package, we write:

import org.jboss.hello { Hello, defaultHello, PersonalizedHello }

To import all toplevel program elements of a package, we write:

import org.jboss.hello { ... }

To resolve a name conflict, we can rename an imported declaration:

import org.jboss.hello { local Hi = Hello, ... }

We think renaming is a much cleaner solution than the use of qualified names.

There's more...

Now that we've mopped up a few missing topics, we're ready to look at first class functions in Part 8, and the declarative object-tree-builder syntax for defining user interfaces and structured data in Part 9.

If you're interested, the Ceylon module system is described briefly here.

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