Tutorial :Reliable clean-up in Mathematica


For better or worse, Mathematica provides a wealth of constructs that allow you to do non-local transfers of control, including Return, Catch/Throw, Abort and Goto. However, these kinds of non-local transfers of control often conflict with writing robust programs that need to ensure that clean-up code (like closing streams) gets run. Many languages provide ways of ensuring that clean-up code gets run in a wide variety of circumstances; Java has its finally blocks, C++ has destructors, Common Lisp has UNWIND-PROTECT, and so on.

In Mathematica, I don't know how to accomplish the same thing. I have a partial solution that looks like this:

Attributes[CleanUp] = {HoldAll};  CleanUp[body_, form_] :=    Module[{return, aborted = False},     Catch[      CheckAbort[       return = body,       aborted = True];      form;      If[aborted,       Abort[],       return],      _, (form; Throw[##]) &]];  

This certainly isn't going to win any beauty contests, but it also only handles Abort and Throw. In particular, it fails in the presence of Return; I figure if you're using Goto to do this kind of non-local control in Mathematica you deserve what you get.

I don't see a good way around this. There's no CheckReturn for instance, and when you get right down to it, Return has pretty murky semantics. Is there a trick I'm missing?

EDIT: The problem with Return, and the vagueness in its definition, has to do with its interaction with conditionals (which somehow aren't "control structures" in Mathematica). An example, using my CleanUp form:

CleanUp[   If[2 == 2,    If[3 == 3,     Return["foo"]]];   Print["bar"],     Print["cleanup"]]  

This will return "foo" without printing "cleanup". Likewise,

CleanUp[   baz /.    {bar :> Return["wongle"],     baz :> Return["bongle"]},     Print["cleanup"]]  

will return "bongle" without printing cleanup. I don't see a way around this without tedious, error-prone and maybe impossible code-walking or somehow locally redefining Return using Block, which is heinously hacky and doesn't actually seem to work (though experimenting with it is a great way to totally wedge a kernel!)


Great question, but I don't agree that the semantics of Return are murky; They are documented in the link you provide. In short, Return exits the innermost construct (namely, a control structure or function definition) in which it is invoked.

The only case in which your CleanUp function above fails to cleanup from a Return is when you directly pass a single or CompoundExpression (e.g. (one;two;three) directly as input to it.

Return exits the function f:

In[28]:= f[] := Return["ret"]    In[29]:= CleanUp[f[], Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[29]:= cleaned    Out[29]= "ret"  

Return exits x:

In[31]:= x = Return["foo"]    In[32]:= CleanUp[x, Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[32]:= cleaned    Out[32]= "foo"  

Return exits the Do loop:

In[33]:= g[] := (x = 0; Do[x++; Return["blah"], {10}]; x)    In[34]:= CleanUp[g[], Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[34]:= cleaned    Out[34]= 1  

Returns from the body of CleanUp at the point where body is evaluated (since CleanUp is HoldAll):

In[35]:= CleanUp[Return["ret"], Print["cleaned"]];    Out[35]= "ret"    In[36]:= CleanUp[(Print["before"]; Return["ret"]; Print["after"]),    Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[36]:= before    Out[36]= "ret"  

As I noted above, the latter two examples are the only problematic cases I can contrive (although I could be wrong) but they can be handled by adding a definition to CleanUp:

In[44]:= CleanUp[CompoundExpression[before___, Return[ret_], ___], form_] :=              (before; form; ret)    In[45]:= CleanUp[Return["ret"], Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[46]:= cleaned    Out[45]= "ret"    In[46]:= CleanUp[(Print["before"]; Return["ret"]; Print["after"]),    Print["cleaned"]]    During evaluation of In[46]:= before    During evaluation of In[46]:= cleaned    Out[46]= "ret"  

As you said, not going to win any beauty contests, but hopefully this helps solve your problem!

Response to your update

I would argue that using Return inside If is unnecessary, and even an abuse of Return, given that If already returns either the second or third argument based on the state of the condition in the first argument. While I realize your example is probably contrived, If[3==3, Return["Foo"]] is functionally identical to If[3==3, "foo"]

If you have a more complicated If statement, you're better off using Throw and Catch to break out of the evaluation and "return" something to the point you want it to be returned to.

That said, I realize you might not always have control over the code you have to clean up after, so you could always wrap the expression in CleanUp in a no-op control structure, such as:

ret1 = Do[ret2 = expr, {1}]  

... by abusing Do to force a Return not contained within a control structure in expr to return out of the Do loop. The only tricky part (I think, not having tried this) is having to deal with two different return values above: ret1 will contain the value of an uncontained Return, but ret2 would have the value of any other evaluation of expr. There's probably a cleaner way to handle that, but I can't see it right now.



Pillsy's later version of CleanUp is a good one. At the risk of being pedantic, I must point out a troublesome use case:

Catch[CleanUp[Throw[23], Print["cleanup"]]]  

The problem is due to the fact that one cannot explicitly specify a tag pattern for Catch that will match an untagged Throw.

The following version of CleanUp addresses that problem:

SetAttributes[CleanUp, HoldAll]  CleanUp[expr_, cleanup_] :=    Module[{exprFn, result, abort = False, rethrow = True, seq},      exprFn[] := expr;      result = CheckAbort[        Catch[          Catch[result = exprFn[]; rethrow = False; result],          _,          seq[##]&        ],        abort = True      ];      cleanup;      If[abort, Abort[]];      If[rethrow, Throw[result /. seq -> Sequence]];      result    ]  

Alas, this code is even less likely to be competitive in a beauty contest. Furthermore, it wouldn't surprise me if someone jumped in with yet another non-local control flow that that this code will not handle. Even in the unlikely event that it handles all possible cases now, problematic cases could be introduced in Mathematica X (where X > 7.01).

I fear that there cannot be a definitive answer to this problem until Wolfram introduces a new control structure expressly for this purpose. UnwindProtect would be a fine name for such a facility.


Michael Pilat provided the key trick for "catching" returns, but I ended up using it in a slightly different way, using the fact that Return forces the return value of a named function as well as control structures like Do. I made the expression that is being cleaned up after into the down-value of a local symbol, like so:

Attributes[CleanUp] = {HoldAll};  CleanUp[expr_, form_] :=    Module[{body, value, aborted = False},       body[] := expr;       Catch[      CheckAbort[       value = body[],       aborted = True];      form;      If[aborted,       Abort[],       value],      _, (form; Throw[##]) &]];  

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