hisham hm

String interpolation in Lua

Lua is known for having a very lean standard library, and for providing mechanisms to do things instead of a ton of features.

String interpolation isn’t available out of the box, but doing it in Lua isn’t a new trick. In fact, the manual includes it as an example of string.gsub:

local t = {name="lua", version="5.3"}
x = string.gsub("$name-$version.tar.gz", "%$(%w+)", t)
--> x="lua-5.3.tar.gz"

This applies to members of a table only, though. Python is introducing a general string-interpolation syntax:

a = "Hello"
b = "World"
f"{a} {b}"
f"{a + ' ' + b}"

Given that Lua supports the f"str" syntax for functions with a single string argument, I thought it would be nice to put its Lua-provides-the-mechanisms ethos to test by trying to write my own Python-like f-string formatter.

And here it is, in all its 28-line glory (and I went for readability, and not to write it as short as possible):

function f(str)
   local outer_env = _ENV
   return (str:gsub("%b{}", function(block)
      local code = block:match("{(.*)}")
      local exp_env = {}
      setmetatable(exp_env, { __index = function(_, k)
         local stack_level = 5
         while debug.getinfo(stack_level, "") ~= nil do
            local i = 1
               local name, value = debug.getlocal(stack_level, i)
               if name == k then
                  return value
               i = i + 1
            until name == nil
            stack_level = stack_level + 1
         return rawget(outer_env, k)
      end })
      local fn, err = load("return "..code, "expression `"..code.."`", "t", exp_env)
      if fn then
         return tostring(fn())
         error(err, 0)

It works just like the Python example:

a = "Hello"
b = "World"
print(f"{a} {b}")

Unlike the one-liner from the Lua manual, it also works with local variables:

local c = "Hello"
local d = "World"
print(f"Also works with locals: {c} {d}")

   local h = "Hello"
      local w = "World"
      print(f"Of any scope level: {h} {w}")

Some more demos:

print(f"Allows arbitrary expressions: one plus one is {1 + 1}")

local t = { foo = "bar" }
print(f"And values: t.foo is {t.foo}; print function is {_G.print}")

local ok, err = pcall(function()
   print(f"This fails: { 1 + } ")
print("Errors display nicely: ", err)

If there’s interest, I can make this a module in LuaRocks (probably calling it F rather than f).

Update! This is now available in LuaRocks as a module! Install it with:

luarocks install f-strings

More info at the f-strings GitHub page. Enjoy!