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Alex Flores
Alex Flores
7,864 Points

Can someone explain this list function to me?

I'm reading through Eloquent JavaScript and I'm doing the examples, but this one totally stumped me. I have no idea how/why this works the way it does. The goal of the function it to take a list as an argument and return the list index specified by the other argument.

function nth(list, n) {
  if (!list)
    return undefined;
  else if (n == 0)
    return list.value;
    return nth(list.rest, n - 1);

So this is a recursive function and it's going through each list index, one by one and it's stopping once n = 0. My question is, why is the compiler reading it like this (one by one down the list). Isn't there an easier way to call a list value?

1 Answer

Steven Parker
Steven Parker
229,788 Points

This function appears to be designed to work with a particular kind of list known as a linked list. There's no index ([]) operation for this kind of list, so the only way to access a particular element is to search through the chain of elements as this function does.

This would have been a bit clearer if you had included the definition of the list the function works with, but it would appear that each element contains a value named value and a reference to the next element named rest.

The complexity is due to the type of list. Other types can be accessed in simpler ways. Hopefully, there's an explanation of why and when you might use this type of list in the place where you found this code.