How to write coercion methods

I'm having a bunch of custom-made Reference Classes and would like to write coercion methods for some of them. It'd be nice if a function call would look like this:

objectCoerce(src=obj, to="list", ...)

where ... is the crucial part as sometimes I want to pass additional stuff for certain coercions (see do.deep = TRUE/FALSE below.

However, in order to do that, do I need to implement sort of a "transformer" that takes the to argument, tries to instantiate an empty object of the class specified by to and then calls the "regular" method dispatch? Or is there a better way?

Below you'll find my current solution. It works, but I'm "loosing" the option to coerce to class character" as this class is used to process things to the regular dispatcher and a to = "character would result in infinite recursion. Plus, it's a lot of overhead.

EDIT 2011-12-02

Of course setAs would be the first address to check. But the function specified by arg def in setAs can only take one argument, and often that's too rigid for me. For example, I don't see how I could include the do.deep = TRUE/FALSE switch when using setAs.

Class Defs
setRefClass(Class="MyVirtual")

setRefClass(
    Class="A",
    contains="MyVirtual",
    fields=list(
        x="character"
    )
)

setRefClass(
    Class="B",
    contains="MyVirtual",
    fields=list(
        x.a="A",
        x.b="numeric",
        x.c="data.frame"
    )
)

setGeneric(
    name="objectCoerce",
    signature=c("src", "to"),
    def=function(src, to, ...){
        standardGeneric("objectCoerce")       
    }
)
Generic Method
setGeneric(
    name="objectCoerce",
    signature=c("src", "to"),
    def=function(src, to, ...){
        standardGeneric("objectCoerce")       
    }
)
Intermediate Transformer
setMethod(
    f="objectCoerce",
    signature=signature(src="ANY", to="character"),
    definition=function(src, to, do.deep=FALSE, ...){        

    # Transform 'to' to a dummy object of class 'to'
    to.0 <- to
    # For standard R classes
    try.res <- try(eval(substitute(
        to <- CLASS(), 
        list(CLASS=as.name(to.0))
    )), silent=TRUE)
    # For S4 classes
    if(inherits(try.res, "try-error")){
        try.res <- try(eval(substitute(
            to <- new(CLASS), 
            list(CLASS=to.0)
        )), silent=TRUE)
        # For my classes. In order to get an 'hollow' object, some of them 
        # need to be instantiated by 'do.hollow=TRUE'
        if(inherits(try.res, "try-error")){
            try.res <- try(eval(substitute(
                to <- new(CLASS, do.hollow=TRUE), 
                list(CLASS=to.0)
            )), silent=TRUE)
            if(inherits(try.res, "try-error")){
                stop(try.res)
            }
        }
    }
    # Pass transformed 'to' along so the standard method 
    # dispatcher can kick in.
    out <- objectCoerce(src=src, to=to, do.deep=do.deep, ...)
    return(out)
    }
)
Coercion Method 'MyVirtual' to 'list'
setMethod(
    f="objectCoerce",
    signature=signature(src="MyVirtual", to="list"),
    definition=function(src, to, do.deep=FALSE, ...){        

    fields <- names(getRefClass(class(src))$fields())
    out <- lapply(fields, function(x.field){
        src$field(x.field)        
    })
    names(out) <- fields

    if(do.deep){
        out <- lapply(out, function(x){
            out <- x
            if(inherits(x, "MyVirtual")){
                out <- objectCoerce(src=x, to=to, do.deep=do.deep, .ARGS=.ARGS)
            }     
            return(out)
        })
    }

    return(out)

    }
)
Test Run
x <- new("B", x.a=new("A", x="hello world!"), x.b=1:5, 
    x.c=data.frame(a=c(TRUE, TRUE, FALSE)))

> objectCoerce(src=x, to="list")
$x.a
Reference class object of class "A"
Field "x":
[1] "hello world!"

$x.b
[1] 1 2 3 4 5

$x.c
      a
1  TRUE
2  TRUE
3 FALSE

> objectCoerce(src=x, to="list", do.deep=TRUE)
$x.a
$x.a$x
[1] "hello world!"


$x.b
[1] 1 2 3 4 5

$x.c
      a
1  TRUE
2  TRUE
3 FALSE

Answers


Maybe use setAs to create a coerce method (though one would rather have one's own base class to write the method on, rather than doing this for envRefClass)

setAs("envRefClass", "list", function(from) {
    fields <- names(getRefClass(class(from))$fields())
    Map(from$field, fields)
})

and then

> as(new("B"), "list")
$x.a
Reference class object of class "A"
Field "x":
character(0)

$x.b
numeric(0)

$x.c
data frame with 0 columns and 0 rows

? The deep version might be like

setAs("envRefClass", "list", function(from) {
    fields <- names(getRefClass(class(from))$fields())
    curr <- Map(from$field, fields)
    recurr <- sapply(curr, is, "envRefClass")
    curr[recurr] <- lapply(curr[recurr], as, "list")
    curr
})

I don't have good ideas for combining these, other than to create a psuedo-class 'deep_list' and a coerce method to that. I feel like I'm not understanding your post.


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