Getting started

Fundamental notions


Single-line comments start with the symbol # and end at the end of the line.

# Text following the symbol '#' is treated as a comment and is ignored
# Call the built-in function print()
print("hello world")

Multi-line comments start with !* and end with !*. They can span over several lines, but cannot be nested.

This is a multi-line comment which is ignored.
Call the built-in function print()
print("hello world")


A variable must start with a letter or the symbol _, and can be followed by any number of letters, digits or the symbol _. The name of variables is case-sensitive, which means that myvar and Myvar are treated as different variables. Variables can be declared using the var keyword.

var x = 5
var y

In this example, the variable x is declared and is simultaneously assigned the value 5 (a Number), whereas y is simply declared but is not assigned any value. When a variable is declared but is not explicitly assigned a value, it is automatically initialized to the value null.

Because Phonometrica’s scripting language is dynamic, variables can be bound to values of any type. In the following example, x is first declared as a number, and is subsequently used to store a string:

var x = 5
print(x) # prints "5"
x = "hello"
print(x) # prints "hello"

Variable scope

The scope of a variable is the region of code where it is visible (and accessible). There are three types of scope: global scope, module scope and function scope. When a variable is declared with the keyword var, it is declared as a local variable in the current scope: if it is declared in a function, it is a local variable visible anywhere inside that function (i.e. it has function scope), otherwise it has module scope and is visible anywhere in the script where it is defined (each script corresponds to a module). If a variable is defined without the var keyword, it is a global variable which is visible everywhere (i.e. it has global scope). Observe the following difference:

var a = 1 # a is a local variable visible in the current module
b = 2 # b is a global variable visible from other modules

In general, using global variables is strongly discouraged as it can be difficult to reason about them and it is easy to inadvertantly overwrite a value is there already exists a global variable with the same name. The only place where the use of global variables is recommended is in the console, as it saves some typing.

Built-in data types


The Null type is a special type that has only one value, namely null (in lower case). It is used to represent an invalid value.


A Boolean can take on two values: false and true. Boolean values are used to express truth conditions about the state of a program. All conditions in control structures must evaluate to a Boolean value. There are only four values that are interpreted as false: null, false, 0 and undefined (a special invalid numeric value). All other values are interpreted as true.


The Number type is used to represent real numbers. There are three special values of type Number that deserve some attention: +Infinity (positive infinity), -Infinity (negative infinity) and undefined. The latter value represents an invalid number, such as the logarithm of a negative number.

Note that the decimal point is always represented by the symbol . (dot), even if the language of your operating system uses a different symbol (some languages, such as French, use a comma instead).


A String represents an ordered sequence of characters, represented as Unicode code points. Strings must be enclosed between double quotes or single quotes. Thus, "abc" and 'abc' represent the same string, which is formed by the concatenation of the three characters a, b and c. Code points may correspond to single letters, but they can represent more complex units. For example, the string "é" contains one code point, even though it represents a composite character (the letter e + an acute accent). Likewise, the string "한글" (the name of the Korean alphabet, in Korean) contains two code points, although it is composed of two syllables, each of which contains three letters.

Internally, strings are encoded as UTF-8, which is the most widespread Unicode encoding. Source files are also expected to be encoded in UTF-8.

Strings are immutable, which means that they can never be modified. Functions which “modify” a string always return a modified copy, leaving the original string unchanged.

You can use the concatenation operator & to concatenate two or more values. If they are not strings, they will automatically

be converted to strings.

var pi = 3.14
print("The value of pi is " & pi)


A List is an ordered collection of items. Like strings, lists can be modified and their capacity is automatically adjusted when items are added. Lists can be created directly using a list literal:

var lst = [ "a", "b", "c", 3.14 ]

The variable lst contains four elements, three strings and one number. To access elements in the list, we use array indexing by using the name of the variable followed by square brackets containing the index, as follows:

print(lst[2]) # prints "b"

We can also assign a new value at a given index, like so:

lst[3] = "C"

Indices start at 1 and can be negative: -1 represents the last element, -2 the second-to-last element, and so on.


An Array is a one or two dimension numeric array. Elements along each dimension start at 1 and can be negative. (Negative indices start from the end of the dimension.) Two-dimensional arrays are accessed with a pair of indices noted (i, j), where i represents the i th row and j represents the j th column. To get or set an element in an array, use the index [] operator.

You can create a new array by passing the size of each dimension to the constructor. For instance, here is how to create an array containing 3 rows and 4 columns:

var array = new Array(3, 4)

for i = 1 to array.row_count do
    for j = 1 to array.column_count do
        array[i,j] = i + j

This code will produce the following output:

@[2.0000000000, 3.0000000000, 4.0000000000, 5.0000000000, 6.0000000000
  3.0000000000, 4.0000000000, 5.0000000000, 6.0000000000, 7.0000000000
  4.0000000000, 5.0000000000, 6.0000000000, 7.0000000000, 8.0000000000]

Another way to produce the same output would be to use an array literal, which is indicated with the @[] operator. Inside the brackets, rows are separated by commas and columns are separated by semicolons. Therefore, our array could be written as follows:

var array = @[2, 3, 4, 5, 6; 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]


An Object represents an unordered mapping of key/value pairs. Each key/value pair represents a field. Keys must be strings and are always unique, whereas values can be anything. Objects can be declared with object literals:

var person = { "name" : "john", "surname" : "smith", "age" : 38 }

In this example, we declare an object with three pairs (separated by commas): the key and value are separated by the : (colon) symbol. This table could correspond to mappings from names (keys) to ages (values) for instance. Note that there is no need for the keys and/or values to be homogeneous: any valid Value (even null!) may appear in an object. Note that even though we declared key/value pairs in a specific order in our example, there is no guarantee that they will be stored in this particular order. For all practical purposes, tables should be regarded as unordered collections, which means that the order of their elements is random.

When the keys are strings which are valid variable names, we don’t need to surround them with quotes. The person variable could also be declared as follows:

var person = { name : "john", surname : "smith", age : 38 }

There are two ways to access fields in an object. We can use array indexing like for tables, but using a string key instead:

print(person["name"]) # prints "john"

Alternatively, if the key is a valid identifier, we can use the dot notation: = "John"
print( # prints "John"


A Function is a special object which can be used to create reusable blocks of code. Functions are created using the keyword function. Here is an example of a function which calculates the area of a rectangle. It expects two arguments (x and y), which correspond to the rectangle’s height and width.

function area(x, y)
    return x * y

We can then call the function with specific values for x and y:

var rect = { height: 100, width: 30 }
var a = area(rect.height, rect.width)
print("The area of the rectangle is " & a)

If a function is called with fewer arguments than it expects, missing arguments are replaced by null. If a function is called with more arguments than it expects, additional arguments are discarded.

Functions are first class values, which means that they can be assigned to variables, passed as function argument to other functions, and used as a return value inside a function. In fact the defition of area() above could also be written as follows:

var area = function(x, y)
    return x * y

In this case, we create an anonymous function object, and assign the result to a variable named area.

Control flow

If statement

It is often necessary to execute a code block only if a certain condition is satisfied. This can be achieved with the if statement

if extension == ".txt" then
    print("This is a text file")
elsif extension == ".xml" then
    print("This is an XML file")
    print("extension '" & extension & "' not recognized")

This block of code tries to execute the block following the if branch if its condition is true, otherwise it tries to execute the first elsif branch (if any), and if all else fails, it executes the else branch. The elsif and else branches are optional, and there is no limit on the number of elsif branches.

While loop

The while loop allows you to execute a block of code while some condition is true.

var x = 1
# Print numbers from 1 to 10
while x <= 10 do
    x++ # increment x

Repeat loop

The repeat loop is similar to the while loop but there are two key differences: the block of code is executed until some condition is satisfied, and it is executed at least once since it precedes the evaluation of the condition.

var x = 1
# Print numbers from 1 to 10
    x++ # increment x
until x > 10

For loop

The for loop, as in other programming languages, is used to iterate through a block of instructions, incrementing (or decrementing) a counter at each iteration. The for loop must always have a start condition and an end condition, and may optionally have a step condition, which indicates by how much the counter should be incremented/decremented (if no step is specified, the default is 1). Here is the single example, which prints the numbers from 1 to 10 (inclusive):

var i

for i = 1 to 10 do

To print all the odd digits between 1 and 10, we can use the following loop:

for var i = 1 to 10 step 2 do

To iterate in decreasing order, downto must be used instead of to:

for i = 10 downto 1 do

Foreach loop

The foreach loop is similar to the for loop, but offers a simpler way to iterate over the values of a list and the keys of an object.

# Iterate over a list
var lst = ["a", "b", "c"]

foreach value in lst do

# Iterate over an object
var person =  { name : "john", surname : "smith", age : 38 }

foreach key in person do
    print(key & " -> " & person[key])


It is sometimes necessary to interrupt a script because it can no longer proceed further. To signal an error, use the error() function, which takes as an argument a string explaining what kind of error happened. For example:

function area(x, y)
    if x < 0 or y < 0 then
        error("x and y must be non-negative")

    return x * y

Another way to trigger errors is to use the assert() function, which expects a Boolean expression as its first argument, followed by an optional error message. It will trigger an error with the error message if the condition is false.

function area(x, y)
    assert(x >= 0, "x must be non-negative")
    assert(y >= 0, "y must be non-negative")
    return x * y


Mathematical operators

Phonometrica supports the following mathematical operators: + (addition), - (subtraction), * (multiplication) and / (division). Multiplication and division take precedence over addition and subtraction. These operators implicitly convert the left and right expressions to Number if needed.

Boolean operators

Phonometrica supports the 3 standard Boolean operators and, or and not.

Concatenatation operator

The concatenation operator & allows to concatenate two or more strings. It implicitly converts values to String if needed.