AFC - Abacus Formula Compiler for Java

Special Rewrite Functions

AFC contains a number of special, internal functions that you can use to rewrite spreadsheet functions using simpler base functions.


The function

let name = expr in body

defines a local constant name as the result of expr during the evaluation of body. Within body, the constant can be referenced as name. It may be referenced more than once (which is the reason let exists). Example:

let n = COUNT(xs) in n * n

In the generated Java code, AFC allocates a local variable for the result and initializes it inline at its first occurrence. Like so:

double n;
return (n = count(xs)) * n;

Sequences of lets can be written as:

let a = 1
let b = 2
let c = 3
in a + b + c

A let nested within a non-top level expression must be parenthesized:

1 + (let c = 2 in c*c)

Fold / Iterate / Apply

Folding here means to aggregate a list of values value-list into a single result value. It is also possible to fold values from multiple parallel lists (vectors). The definition of a fold is separated from its application to a list of values. This is so we can apply a fold like a summation to both a range (SUM) and a database selection (DSUM). Here’s a quick example:

def sum = fold/reduce with s = 0 each xi as s = s + xi end
rewrite sum( xs* ) = apply sum to list xs

Fold / Iterate

A fold is written as follows:

    acc-name-1 = init-expr-1, 
    acc-name-n = init-expr-n]
[index index-name]
each value-name-1, ..., value-name-m
    acc-name-1 = folding-expr-1,
    acc-name-n = folding-expr-n]
[[with count count-name]
into merge-expr]
[when empty empty-expr]

Iterate is very similar, but allows the use of the current index within the folding-expr:

    acc-name-1 = init-expr-1, 
    acc-name-n = init-expr-n
[index index-name]
each value-name-1, ..., value-name-m
    acc-name-1 = folding-expr-1,
    acc-name-n = folding-expr-n
[[with count count-name]
into merge-expr]
[when empty empty-expr]

Both of these functions correspond roughly to the following loop in pseudo-code:

double acc-name-1 = init-expr-1;
double acc-name-n = init-expr-n;
int index-name = 0;
while (more-values) {
    double value-name-1 = values-1[ index-name ];
    double value-name-m = values-m[ index-name ];
    acc-name-1 = folding-expr-1;
    acc-name-n = folding-expr-n;
if (index-name > 0) {
    int count-name = index-name;
    return merge-expr;
return empty-expr;

Things of note:

  • The value-i arrays are placeholders for the value lists fed to the fold by apply (see below).
  • Within a folding-expr-i, you can reference the prior value of acc-name-i, all of the value-name-j, and index-name. You should not refer to any other accumulator value.
  • Within the merge-expr you can reference all the final acc-name-i, and count-name.
  • When you don’t need index-name, then don’t specify it. Likewise for count-name. This allows more efficient code to be generated.
  • When n = 1 (single accumulator), you can omit the into merge-expr part. The result is then simply the last value of the accumulator.
  • When n = 1, you can omit the when empty empty-expr part. The result if the list is empty is then the initial value of the accumulator (init-expr-1).
  • When n = m = 1, you may specify fold/reduce. Then the fold can be optimized by initializing the accumulator with the first list value and skipping the folding-expr-1 for the first list value. So SUM(1, 2) is reduced to 1 + 2 and not 0 + 1 + 2. The compiler will still use a plain fold if there is no easily recognized list value to be used as the initial accumulator value (for example, when the fold is applied to a repeating section).
  • Using fold instead of iterate allows the compiler to rearrange the values in the list prior to folding it. This allows it to do better constant folding and generate more efficient code.

A single list, single accumulator fold is often compiled to an inlined, unrolled version when applied to a static cell range. So SUM(A1:A3) becomes A1 + A2 + A3. This is not the case if the cell range has repeating sections in it. For other folds, the compiler emits a helper function.


There are two versions of apply, which applies a fold to one or more lists of values:

apply fold-def to list list-param
apply fold-def to vectors {vec-param-1, ..., vec-param-m}

The former is used with the standard aggregators where all the arguments are considered the input list:

def sum = fold/reduce with s = 0 each xi as s = s + xi end
rewrite sum( xs* ) = apply sum to list xs

This also shows how the definition of the fold can be moved out of the rewrite rule and refered to by name. You normally only do this when the fold can be reused elsewhere (for instance in the definition of database folds).

The latter is used for folds over vectors (arrays), which consist of a single contiguous cell range. Here’s an example with a single array:

rewrite npv( rate, vs# ) =
	let rate1 = rate + 1
			iterate with
				r = 0
			index i
			each vi as
				r = r + vi / rate1 ^ i
		to vectors {vs}

and with multiple arrays:

rewrite covar( xs#, ys# ) =
	if COUNT( xs ) <> COUNT( ys ) then NA() else
		fold with
			sx = 0,
			sy = 0,
			sxy = 0
		each xi, yi as
			sx = sx + xi,
			sy = sy + yi,
			sxy = sxy + xi * yi
		with count n into
			(sxy - sx*sy/n) / n
		when empty err( "#DIV/0! because list doesn't contain numbers in COVAR" ) ::NUMERIC
	to vectors {xs, ys}