Why can't I bind + in clojure?

Can anyone explain why I can rebind list but not +?

(binding [list vector]
  (list 1 3))
(binding [list +]
  (list 1 3))
(binding [+ list]
  (+ 1 3))

I'd like to rebind + so I can do partial evaluation.


In Clojure 1.1.0 at least, + with two arguments is inlined for performance. Your binding happens too late. With more arguments it works differently.

Clojure 1.1.0-master-SNAPSHOT
user=> (binding [+ -] (+ 1 2))
user=> (binding [+ -] (+ 1 2 3))

One workaround is to make your own namespace and shadow clojure.core/+ with your own function.

user=> (ns foo (:refer-clojure :exclude [+]))
foo=> (defn + [& args] (reduce clojure.core/+ args))
foo=> (+ 1 2)
foo=> (binding [+ -] (+ 1 2))

Note that inlining appears to happen even more aggressively in the current snapshot of Clojure 1.2.0.

Clojure 1.2.0-master-SNAPSHOT
user=> (binding [+ -] (+ 1 2))
user=> (binding [+ -] (+ 1 2 3))

It may be wisest to use a function name other than +, e.g. add, to avoid confusion.

Quick workaround: use let instead of binding and this will work for you just fine:

user=> (let [+ list] (+ 2 3))
(2 3)

A little (incomplete) digging into the reason:

Take a look at the source for the + function:

(defn +
  "Returns the sum of nums. (+) returns 0."
  {:inline (fn [x y] `(. clojure.lang.Numbers (add ~x ~y)))
   :inline-arities #{2}}
  ([] 0)
  ([x] (cast Number x))
  ([x y] (. clojure.lang.Numbers (add x y)))
  ([x y & more]
   (reduce + (+ x y) more)))

Notice that there are several inline function definitions for different numbers of arguments. If you try to rebind the 0 or 1 arity definitions, it works just fine:

user=> (binding [+ (fn [] "foo")] (+))
user=> (binding [+ (fn [a] (list a))] (+ 1))

Now, this definitely doesn't work (as you discovered) for the 2-argument case. I'm not quite connecting the dots, but the . (special form) makes me suspicious combined with binding being a macro whereas let is a special form...

The metadata specially calling out arity 2 also seems suspicious.

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