On the Design, Implementation, and Use of Laziness in R

aviral-goel jan-vitek

The R programming language has been lazy for over twenty-five years. This paper presents a review of the design and implementation of call-by-need in R, and a data-driven study of how generations of programmers have put laziness to use in their code. We analyze 16,707 packages and observe the creation of 270.9 B promises. Our data suggests that there is little supporting evidence to assert that programmers use laziness to avoid unnecessary computation or to operate over infinite data structures. For the most part R code appears to have been written without reliance on, and in many cases even knowledge of, delayed argument evaluation. The only significant exception is a small number of packages which leverage call-by-need for meta-programming.