methods (version 3.6.2)

GenericFunctions: Tools for Managing Generic Functions


The functions documented here manage collections of methods associated with a generic function, as well as providing information about the generic functions themselves.


isGeneric(f, where, fdef, getName = FALSE)
isGroup(f, where, fdef)
removeGeneric(f, where)

dumpMethod(f, signature, file, where, def) findFunction(f, generic = TRUE, where = topenv(parent.frame())) dumpMethods(f, file, signature, methods, where) signature(…)

removeMethods(f, where = topenv(parent.frame()), all = missing(where))

setReplaceMethod(f, …, where = topenv(parent.frame()))

getGenerics(where, searchForm = FALSE)



The character string naming the function.


The environment, namespace, or search-list position from which to search for objects. By default, start at the top-level environment of the calling function, typically the global environment (i.e., use the search list), or the namespace of a package from which the call came. It is important to supply this argument when calling any of these functions indirectly. With package namespaces, the default is likely to be wrong in such calls.


The class signature of the relevant method. A signature is a named or unnamed vector of character strings. If named, the names must be formal argument names for the generic function. Signatures are matched to the arguments specified in the signature slot of the generic function (see the Details section of the setMethod documentation).

The signature argument to dumpMethods is ignored (it was used internally in previous implementations).


The file or connection on which to dump method definitions.


The function object defining the method; if omitted, the current method definition corresponding to the signature.

Named or unnamed arguments to form a signature.


In testing or finding functions, should generic functions be included. Supply as FALSE to get only non-generic functions.


Optional, the generic function definition.

Usually omitted in calls to isGeneric


If TRUE, isGeneric returns the name of the generic. By default, it returns TRUE.


The methods object containing the methods to be dumped. By default, the methods defined for this generic (optionally on the specified where location).


in removeMethods, logical indicating if all (default) or only the first method found should be removed.


In getGenerics, if TRUE, the package slot of the returned result is in the form used by search(), otherwise as the simple package name (e.g, "package:base" vs "base").

Summary of Functions


Is there a function named f, and if so, is it a generic?

The getName argument allows a function to find the name from a function definition. If it is TRUE then the name of the generic is returned, or FALSE if this is not a generic function definition.

The behavior of isGeneric and getGeneric for primitive functions is slightly different. These functions don't exist as formal function objects (for efficiency and historical reasons), regardless of whether methods have been defined for them. A call to isGeneric tells you whether methods have been defined for this primitive function, anywhere in the current search list, or in the specified position where. In contrast, a call to getGeneric will return what the generic for that function would be, even if no methods have been currently defined for it.

removeGeneric, removeMethods:

Remove all the methods for the generic function of this name. In addition, removeGeneric removes the function itself; removeMethods restores the non-generic function which was the default method. If there was no default method, removeMethods leaves a generic function with no methods.


Dispatches a method from the current function call for the generic function f. It is an error to call standardGeneric anywhere except in the body of the corresponding generic function.

Note that standardGeneric is a primitive function in the base package for efficiency reasons, but rather documented here where it belongs naturally.


Dump the method for this generic function and signature.


return a list of either the positions on the search list, or the current top-level environment, on which a function object for name exists. The returned value is always a list, use the first element to access the first visible version of the function. See the example.

NOTE: Use this rather than find with mode="function", which is not as meaningful, and has a few subtle bugs from its use of regular expressions. Also, findFunction works correctly in the code for a package when attaching the package via a call to library.


Dump all the methods for this generic.


Returns a named list of classes to be matched to arguments of a generic function.


returns the names of the generic functions that have methods defined on where; this argument can be an environment or an index into the search list. By default, the whole search list is used.

The methods definitions are stored with package qualifiers; for example, methods for function "initialize" might refer to two different functions of that name, on different packages. The package names corresponding to the method list object are contained in the slot package of the returned object. The form of the returned name can be plain (e.g., "base"), or in the form used in the search list ("package:base") according to the value of searchForm



If the fdef argument is supplied, take this as the definition of the generic, and test whether it is really a generic, with f as the name of the generic. (This argument is not available in S-Plus.)


If where supplied, just remove the version on this element of the search list; otherwise, removes the first version encountered.


Generic functions should usually have a call to standardGeneric as their entire body. They can, however, do any other computations as well.

The usual setGeneric (directly or through calling setMethod) creates a function with a call to standardGeneric.


The resulting source file will recreate the method.


If generic is FALSE, ignore generic functions.


If signature is supplied only the methods matching this initial signature are dumped. (This feature is not found in S-Plus: don't use it if you want compatibility.)


The advantage of using signature is to provide a check on which arguments you meant, as well as clearer documentation in your method specification. In addition, signature checks that each of the elements is a single character string.


Returns TRUE if f was a generic function, FALSE (silently) otherwise.

If there is a default method, the function will be re-assigned as a simple function with this definition. Otherwise, the generic function remains but with no methods (so any call to it will generate an error). In either case, a following call to setMethod will consistently re-establish the same generic function as before.


Chambers, John M. (2016) Extending R, Chapman & Hall. (Chapters 9 and 10.)

See Also

getMethod (also for selectMethod), setGeneric, setClass, showMethods


Run this code
require(stats) # for lm

## get the function "myFun" -- throw an error if 0 or > 1 versions visible:
findFuncStrict <- function(fName) {
  allF <- findFunction(fName)
  if(length(allF) == 0)
    stop("No versions of ",fName," visible")
  else if(length(allF) > 1)
    stop(fName," is ambiguous: ", length(allF), " versions")
    get(fName, allF[[1]])

try(findFuncStrict("myFun"))# Error: no version
lm <- function(x) x+1
try(findFuncStrict("lm"))#    Error: 2 versions
findFuncStrict("findFuncStrict")# just 1 version

# }
## method dumping ------------------------------------

setClass("A", slots = c(a="numeric"))
setMethod("plot", "A", function(x,y,...){ cat("A meth\n") })
dumpMethod("plot","A", file="")
# }
setMethod("plot", "A",
function (x, y, ...)
# }
<!-- %dont -->
# }
tmp <- tempfile()
dumpMethod("plot","A", file=tmp)
## now remove, and see if we can parse the dump
stopifnot(removeMethod("plot", "A"))
stopifnot(is(getMethod("plot", "A"), "MethodDefinition"))

## same with dumpMethods() :
setClass("B", contains="A")
setMethod("plot", "B", function(x,y,...){ cat("B ...\n") })
dumpMethods("plot", file=tmp)
stopifnot(removeMethod("plot", "A"),
          removeMethod("plot", "B"))
stopifnot(is(getMethod("plot", "A"), "MethodDefinition"),
          is(getMethod("plot", "B"), "MethodDefinition"))
# }

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