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I'm trying to understand the code suggested in https://vi.stackexchange.com/a/28506/6189:

function MyLinks(pat, spat, ssub, sflags) abort
  return glob(a:pat, v:false, v:true)
        \ ->map({_, v -> printf('[%s](%s)', fnamemodify(v, ':t:r')->substitute(a:spat, a:ssub, a:sflags), fnamemodify(v, ':t'))})
        \ ->join("\n")
endfunction

Parameters are defined MyLinks(pat, spat, ssub, sflags) but when they're used in the function like substitute(a:spat, a:ssub, a:sflags) they're each prefixed with a:.

Why? What's that do?

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2 Answers 2

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In vim script (vim 8.x and older), a variable can belong to one of a number of scopes. While it's true it's idiosyncratic as no other language has this feature, it's also consistent as no other language has e.g., "buffer variables."

buffer-variable    b:     Local to the current buffer.
window-variable    w:     Local to the current window.
tabpage-variable   t:     Local to the current tab page.
global-variable    g:     Global.
local-variable     l:     Local to a function.
script-variable    s:     Local to a :source'ed Vim script.
function-argument  a:     Function argument (only inside a function).
vim-variable       v:     Global, predefined by Vim.

For the most part, you can think of a: as merely a marker for "argument" as they are special (and otherwise ambiguous) in the language's grammar. For instance,

string[a:var]     " index by argument  
string[a : var]   " slice

However, each of these scopes are also exposed as a dictionary so a:['arg'] and a:.arg are also technically valid (but not recommended).

vim9 script introduces def functions, where the prefix is removed. Arguments then behave similarly to python accessible by name alone.

def MyFunc(...itemlist: list<number>)
      for item in itemlist
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"Why?"

Having to explicitly write a: to access parameter values while formal parameter names are defined without the a: scope in the function definition is a very old choice. Note: in this case, a: stands for argument. IMO if you really want to know why this choice has been made, you'd better ask on vim-dev mailing. I guess it is needed to distinguish parameters from local variables as l: is the default scope, and unique implicit scope in function definitions.

Note; this behaviour is really unique in vimscripts as elsewhere s:, b:, w: and t: are always mandatory, l: is the default within a function definition (and IIRC, it's explicitly required when used to define a closure), g: is the default outside function definitions (script and command-line level), but required in function definitions.

Later on, the single a: (contrary to a:xxx) has been introduced: it's a dictionary with all the function parameters.

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