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Programming in Emacs Lisp

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7.4 nth

The nthcdr function takes the CDR of a list repeatedly. The nth function takes the CAR of the result returned by nthcdr. It returns the Nth element of the list.

Thus, if it were not defined in C for speed, the definition of nth would be:

 
(defun nth (n list)
  "Returns the Nth element of LIST.
N counts from zero.  If LIST is not that long, nil is returned."
  (car (nthcdr n list)))

(Originally, nth was defined in Emacs Lisp in `subr.el', but its definition was redone in C in the 1980s.)

The nth function returns a single element of a list. This can be very convenient.

Note that the elements are numbered from zero, not one. That is to say, the first element of a list, its CAR is the zeroth element. This is called `zero-based' counting and often bothers people who are accustomed to the first element in a list being number one, which is `one-based'.

For example:

 
(nth 0 '("one" "two" "three"))
    => "one"

(nth 1 '("one" "two" "three"))
    => "two"

It is worth mentioning that nth, like nthcdr and cdr, does not change the original list--the function is non-destructive. This is in sharp contrast to the setcar and setcdr functions.


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