Suggest.el: Synthesising Constants


Suggest.el v0.4 is now out, and it offers some really interesting new ways of making suggestions.

Supplying Constants

Suppose the user gives us the input '(a b c d) and desired output 'a. We would already suggest car, but that only gets the first element of the list. They may have wanted elt or nth, which get elements at a specific position.

We now try adding constants to the user’s inputs, specifically nil, t, -1, 0, 1 and 2. This makes suggest.el much more effective.

Here’s the example we mentioned:

;; Inputs (one per line):
'(a b c d)

;; Desired output:
'a

;; Suggestions:
(car '(a b c d)) 
(elt '(a b c d) 0) ; <- new
(nth 0 '(a b c d)) ; <- new

We can now suggest grouping items in a list pairwise:

;; Inputs (one per line):
'(a b c d e f)

;; Desired output:
'((a b) (c d) (e f))

;; Suggestions:
(-partition 2 '(a b c d e f)) ; <- new

Converting a vector to a list:

;; Inputs (one per line):
(vector 1 2 3)

;; Desired output:
(list 1 2 3)

;; Suggestions:
(string-to-list (vector 1 2 3))
(append (vector 1 2 3) nil) ; <- new
(-rotate 0 (vector 1 2 3))  ; <- new
(-concat (vector 1 2 3) nil)  ; <- new

Truncating lists:

;; Inputs (one per line):
'(a b c d e)

;; Desired output:
'(c d e)

;; Suggestions:
(-drop 2 '(a b c d e)) ; <- new
(-slice '(a b c d e) 2) ; <- new
(cdr (cdr '(a b c d e)))

Choosing good values for constants is difficult, but the current set seems to be a good tradeoff between performance, the likelihood of finding a result, and the number of useful results.

Ranking Suggestions

Now we have more possibilities, ordering our suggestions is more complex. The first prototype didn’t always get the ordering correct:

;; Inputs (one per line):
0

;; Desired output:
1

;; Suggestions:
(+ 0 1) ; <- new
(- 1 0) ; <- new
(1+ 0)

The user is probably looking for the increment function, 1+. (+ 0 1) feels like stating the obvious.

Suggest.el prefers function calls that don’t require extra arguments, giving us a better order:

;; Inputs (one per line):
0

;; Desired output:
1

;; Suggestions:
(1+ 0)
(+ 1 0) ; <- new
(- 1 0) ; <- new

If suggest.el tries a function and it returns, we save it. If it isn’t the value we’re looking for, it’s saved to a list of ‘intermediate’ values. This is important for finding nested function calls.

Some intermediate values are very common, especially when exploring arithmetic. There are many ways you can convert an integer to the same float value, for example:

(sqrt 0) ;=> 0.0
(float 0) ;=> 0.0
(fround 0) ;=> 0.0
(ffloor 0) ;=> 0.0
(fceiling 0) ;=> 0.0
(ftruncate 0) ;=> 0.0

Suggest.el previously considered every single way of generating the same value. v0.4 only tries each unique value 3 times. This allows us to explore more unique possibilities, increasing the likelihood of finding a result before giving up.

Literature Review

Finally, I’ve spent some time researching similar tools, and documented them in the related projects section.

Not only has it been interesting to see other approaches, suggest.el has benefited from the comparisons. The Smalltalk Finder, for example, also explores bitwise operations, so suggest.el does too!

If there are simple code snippets that you think suggest.el should find, please file a bug. I’m routinely surprised by the results it finds, but I’m sure it could be smarter still.

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