14.4. Nil and void

Reference class variables can be declared without being allocated. Unassigned reference or abstract type variables have the void value, indicating the non-existence of an object (See void expressions). However, for immutable types this unassigned value is not distinguished from other legitimate values; for example, the void of type INT is the zero.

It is often algorithmically convenient to have a sentinel value which has a special interpretation. For example, hash tables often distinguish empty table entries without a separate bit indicating that an entry is empty. Because void is a legitimate value for immutable types, void can't be used as this sentinel value. For this reason, classes may define a 'nil' value to be used to represent the non-existence of an immutable object. Such classes subtype from $NIL and define the routines 'nil:SAME' and 'is_nil: BOOL'.

Example 14-8. The 'nil' value is generally a rarely used or illegal value. For INT, it is the most negative representable integer. For floating point types, it is NaN. 'is_nil' is necessary because NaN is defined by IEEE to not be equal to itself.

type $NIL is  -- In standard library
   nil: SAME;
   is_nil: BOOL;