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Values and Types

Lua is a dynamically typed language. This means that variables do not have types; only values do. There are no type definitions in the language. All values carry their own type.

All values in Lua are first-class values. This means that all values can be stored in variables, passed as arguments to other functions, and returned as results.

There are eight basic types in Lua: nil, boolean, number, string, function, userdata, thread, and table. The type nil has one single value, nil, whose main property is to be different from any other value; it often represents the absence of a useful value. The type boolean has two values, false and true. Both nil and false make a condition false; they are collectively called false values. Any other value makes a condition true. Despite its name, false is frequently used as an alternative to nil, with the key difference that false behaves like a regular value in a table, while a nil in a table represents an absent key.

The type number represents both integer numbers and real (floating-point) numbers, using two subtypes: integer and float. Standard Lua uses 64-bit integers and double-precision (64-bit) floats, but you can also compile Lua so that it uses 32-bit integers and/or single-precision (32-bit) floats. The option with 32 bits for both integers and floats is particularly attractive for small machines and embedded systems. (See macro LUA_32BITS in file luaconf.h.)

Unless stated otherwise, any overflow when manipulating integer values wrap around, according to the usual rules of two-complement arithmetic. (In other words, the actual result is the unique representable integer that is equal modulo 2^n^ to the mathematical result, where n is the number of bits of the integer type.)

Lua has explicit rules about when each subtype is used, but it also converts between them automatically as needed (see Coercions and Conversions). Therefore, the programmer may choose to mostly ignore the difference between integers and floats or to assume complete control over the representation of each number.

The type string represents immutable sequences of bytes. Lua is 8-bit clean: strings can contain any 8-bit value, including embedded zeros ('\0'). Lua is also encoding-agnostic; it makes no assumptions about the contents of a string. The length of any string in Lua must fit in a Lua integer.

Lua can call (and manipulate) functions written in Lua and functions written in C (see Function Calls). Both are represented by the type function.

The type userdata is provided to allow arbitrary C data to be stored in Lua variables. A userdata value represents a block of raw memory. There are two kinds of userdata: full userdata, which is an object with a block of memory managed by Lua, and light userdata, which is simply a C pointer value. Userdata has no predefined operations in Lua, except assignment and identity test. By using metatables, the programmer can define operations for full userdata values (see Metatables and Metamethods). Userdata values cannot be created or modified in Lua, only through the C API. This guarantees the integrity of data owned by the host program and C libraries.

The type thread represents independent threads of execution and it is used to implement coroutines (see Coroutines). Lua threads are not related to operating-system threads. Lua supports coroutines on all systems, even those that do not support threads natively.

The type table implements associative arrays, that is, arrays that can have as indices not only numbers, but any Lua value except nil and NaN. (Not a Number is a special floating-point value used by the IEEE 754 standard to represent undefined numerical results, such as 0/0.) Tables can be heterogeneous; that is, they can contain values of all types (except nil). Any key associated to the value nil is not considered part of the table. Conversely, any key that is not part of a table has an associated value nil.

Tables are the sole data-structuring mechanism in Lua; they can be used to represent ordinary arrays, lists, symbol tables, sets, records, graphs, trees, etc. To represent records, Lua uses the field name as an index. The language supports this representation by providing as syntactic sugar for a["name"]. There are several convenient ways to create tables in Lua (see Table Constructors).

Like indices, the values of table fields can be of any type. In particular, because functions are first-class values, table fields can contain functions. Thus tables can also carry methods (see Function Definitions).

The indexing of tables follows the definition of raw equality in the language. The expressions a[i] and a[j] denote the same table element if and only if i and j are raw equal (that is, equal without metamethods). In particular, floats with integral values are equal to their respective integers (e.g., 1.0 == 1). To avoid ambiguities, any float used as a key that is equal to an integer is converted to that integer. For instance, if you write a[2.0] = true, the actual key inserted into the table will be the integer 2.

Tables, functions, threads, and (full) userdata values are objects: variables do not actually contain these values, only references to them. Assignment, parameter passing, and function returns always manipulate references to such values; these operations do not imply any kind of copy.

The library function type returns a string describing the type of a given value (see type).