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GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual

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5.4 Accessing Elements of Lists

Function: car cons-cell
This function returns the value referred to by the first slot of the cons cell cons-cell. Expressed another way, this function returns the CAR of cons-cell.

As a special case, if cons-cell is nil, then car is defined to return nil; therefore, any list is a valid argument for car. An error is signaled if the argument is not a cons cell or nil.

 
(car '(a b c))
     => a
(car '())
     => nil

Function: cdr cons-cell
This function returns the value referred to by the second slot of the cons cell cons-cell. Expressed another way, this function returns the CDR of cons-cell.

As a special case, if cons-cell is nil, then cdr is defined to return nil; therefore, any list is a valid argument for cdr. An error is signaled if the argument is not a cons cell or nil.

 
(cdr '(a b c))
     => (b c)
(cdr '())
     => nil

Function: car-safe object
This function lets you take the CAR of a cons cell while avoiding errors for other data types. It returns the CAR of object if object is a cons cell, nil otherwise. This is in contrast to car, which signals an error if object is not a list.

 
(car-safe object)
==
(let ((x object))
  (if (consp x)
      (car x)
    nil))

Function: cdr-safe object
This function lets you take the CDR of a cons cell while avoiding errors for other data types. It returns the CDR of object if object is a cons cell, nil otherwise. This is in contrast to cdr, which signals an error if object is not a list.

 
(cdr-safe object)
==
(let ((x object))
  (if (consp x)
      (cdr x)
    nil))

Macro: pop listname
This macro is a way of examining the CAR of a list, and taking it off the list, all at once. It is new in Emacs 21.

It operates on the list which is stored in the symbol listname. It removes this element from the list by setting listname to the CDR of its old value--but it also returns the CAR of that list, which is the element being removed.

 
x
     => (a b c)
(pop x)
     => a
x
     => (b c)

Function: nth n list
This function returns the nth element of list. Elements are numbered starting with zero, so the CAR of list is element number zero. If the length of list is n or less, the value is nil.

If n is negative, nth returns the first element of list.

 
(nth 2 '(1 2 3 4))
     => 3
(nth 10 '(1 2 3 4))
     => nil
(nth -3 '(1 2 3 4))
     => 1

(nth n x) == (car (nthcdr n x))

The function elt is similar, but applies to any kind of sequence. For historical reasons, it takes its arguments in the opposite order. See section 6.1 Sequences.

Function: nthcdr n list
This function returns the nth CDR of list. In other words, it skips past the first n links of list and returns what follows.

If n is zero or negative, nthcdr returns all of list. If the length of list is n or less, nthcdr returns nil.

 
(nthcdr 1 '(1 2 3 4))
     => (2 3 4)
(nthcdr 10 '(1 2 3 4))
     => nil
(nthcdr -3 '(1 2 3 4))
     => (1 2 3 4)

Function: last list &optional n
This function returns the last link of list. The car of this link is the list's last element. If list is null, nil is returned. If n is non-nil the n-th-to-last link is returned instead, or the whole list if n is bigger than list's length.

Function: safe-length list
This function returns the length of list, with no risk of either an error or an infinite loop.

If list is not really a list, safe-length returns 0. If list is circular, it returns a finite value which is at least the number of distinct elements.

The most common way to compute the length of a list, when you are not worried that it may be circular, is with length. See section 6.1 Sequences.

Function: caar cons-cell
This is the same as (car (car cons-cell)).

Function: cadr cons-cell
This is the same as (car (cdr cons-cell)) or (nth 1 cons-cell).

Function: cdar cons-cell
This is the same as (cdr (car cons-cell)).

Function: cddr cons-cell
This is the same as (cdr (cdr cons-cell)) or (nthcdr 2 cons-cell).

Function: butlast x &optional n
This function returns the list x with the last element, or the last n elements, removed. If n is greater than zero it makes a copy of the list so as not to damage the original list. In general, (append (butlast x n) (last x n)) will return a list equal to x.

Function: nbutlast x &optional n
This is a version of butlast that works by destructively modifying the cdr of the appropriate element, rather than making a copy of the list.


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