base (version 3.2.1)

function: Function Definition


These functions provide the base mechanisms for defining new functions in the R language.


function( arglist ) expr return(value)


Empty or one or more name or name=expression terms.
An expression.
An expression.

Technical details

This type of function is not the only type in R: they are called closures (a name with origins in LISP) to distinguish them from primitive functions. A closure has three components, its formals (its argument list), its body (expr in the ‘Usage’ section) and its environment which provides the enclosure of the evaluation frame when the closure is used. There is an optional further component if the closure has been byte-compiled. This is not normally user-visible, but it indicated when functions are printed.


The names in an argument list can be back-quoted non-standard names (see ‘backquote’).

If value is missing, NULL is returned. If it is a single expression, the value of the evaluated expression is returned. (The expression is evaluated as soon as return is called, in the evaluation frame of the function and before any on.exit expression is evaluated.)

If the end of a function is reached without calling return, the value of the last evaluated expression is returned.


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole.

See Also


formals, body and environment for accessing the component parts of a function.

debug for debugging; using invisible inside return(.) for returning invisibly.


Run this code
norm <- function(x) sqrt(x%*%x)

## An anonymous function:
(function(x, y){ z <- x^2 + y^2; x+y+z })(0:7, 1)

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