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12.4 Defining Functions

We usually give a name to a function when it is first created. This is called defining a function, and it is done with the defun macro.

— Macro: defun name args [doc] [declare] [interactive] body...

defun is the usual way to define new Lisp functions. It defines the symbol name as a function with argument list args and body forms given by body. Neither name nor args should be quoted.

doc, if present, should be a string specifying the function's documentation string (see Function Documentation). declare, if present, should be a declare form specifying function metadata (see Declare Form). interactive, if present, should be an interactive form specifying how the function is to be called interactively (see Interactive Call).

The return value of defun is undefined.

Here are some examples:

          (defun foo () 5)
          (foo)
               ⇒ 5
          
          (defun bar (a &optional b &rest c)
              (list a b c))
          (bar 1 2 3 4 5)
               ⇒ (1 2 (3 4 5))
          (bar 1)
               ⇒ (1 nil nil)
          (bar)
          error--> Wrong number of arguments.
          
          (defun capitalize-backwards ()
            "Upcase the last letter of the word at point."
            (interactive)
            (backward-word 1)
            (forward-word 1)
            (backward-char 1)
            (capitalize-word 1))

Be careful not to redefine existing functions unintentionally. defun redefines even primitive functions such as car without any hesitation or notification. Emacs does not prevent you from doing this, because redefining a function is sometimes done deliberately, and there is no way to distinguish deliberate redefinition from unintentional redefinition.

— Function: defalias name definition &optional doc

This function defines the symbol name as a function, with definition definition (which can be any valid Lisp function). Its return value is undefined.

If doc is non-nil, it becomes the function documentation of name. Otherwise, any documentation provided by definition is used.

The proper place to use defalias is where a specific function name is being defined—especially where that name appears explicitly in the source file being loaded. This is because defalias records which file defined the function, just like defun (see Unloading).

By contrast, in programs that manipulate function definitions for other purposes, it is better to use fset, which does not keep such records. See Function Cells.

You cannot create a new primitive function with defun or defalias, but you can use them to change the function definition of any symbol, even one such as car or x-popup-menu whose normal definition is a primitive. However, this is risky: for instance, it is next to impossible to redefine car without breaking Lisp completely. Redefining an obscure function such as x-popup-menu is less dangerous, but it still may not work as you expect. If there are calls to the primitive from C code, they call the primitive's C definition directly, so changing the symbol's definition will have no effect on them.

See also defsubst, which defines a function like defun and tells the Lisp compiler to perform inline expansion on it. See Inline Functions.