methods (version 3.6.2)

implicitGeneric: Manage Implicit Versions of Generic Functions


The implicit generic mechanism stores generic versions of functions in a table in a package. The package does not want the current version of the function to be a generic, however, and retains the non-generic version.

When a call to setMethod or setGeneric creates a generic version for one of these functions, the object in the table is used. This mechanism is only needed if special arguments were used to create the generic; e.g., the signature or the valueClass options.

Function implicitGeneric() returns the implicit generic version, setGenericImplicit() turns a generic implicit, prohibitGeneric() prevents your function from being made generic, and registerImplicitGenerics() saves a set of implicit generic definitions in the cached table of the current session.


implicitGeneric(name, where, generic)
setGenericImplicit(name, where, restore = TRUE)
prohibitGeneric(name, where)
registerImplicitGenerics(what, where)



Character string name of the function.


Package or environment in which to register the implicit generics. When using the functions from the top level of your own package source, this argument should be omitted.


Obsolete, and likely to be deprecated.


Should the non-generic version of the function be restored?.


Optional table of the implicit generics to register, but nearly always omitted, when it defaults to a standard metadata name.


Function implicitGeneric() returns the implicit generic definition (and caches that definition the first time if it has to construct it).

The other functions exist for their side effect and return nothing useful.

Implicit Generics for Base Functions

Implicit generic versions exist for some functions in the packages supplied in the distribution of R itself. These are stored in the ‘methods’ package itself and will always be available.

As emphasized repeatedly in the documentation, setGeneric() calls for a function in another package should never have non-default settings for arguments such as signature. The reasoning applies specially to functions in supplied packages, since methods for these are likely to exist in multiple packages. A call to implicitGeneric() will show the generic version.


Multiple packages may define methods for the same function, to apply to classes defined in that package. Arithmetic and other operators, plot() and many other basic computations are typical examples. It's essential that all such packages write methods for the same definition of the generic function. So long as that generic uses the default choice for signature and other parameters, nothing needs to be done.

If the generic has special properties, these need to be ensured for all packages creating methods for it. The simplest solution is just to make the function generic in the package that originally owned it. If for some reason the owner(s) of that package are unwilling to do this, the alternative is to define the correct generic, save it in a special table and restore the non-generic version by calling setGenericImplicit.

Note that the package containing the function can define methods for the implicit generic as well; when the implicit generic is made a real generic, those methods will be included.

The usual reason for having a non-default implicit generic is to provide a non-default signature, and the usual reason for that is to allow lazy evaluation of some arguments. All arguments in the signature of a generic function must be evaluated at the time the function needs to select a method. In the base function with() in the example below, evaluation of the argument expr must be delayed; therefore, it is excluded from the signature.

If you want to completely prohibit anyone from turning your function into a generic, call prohibitGeneric().

Function implicitGeneric() returns the implicit generic version of the named function. If there is no table of these or if this function is not in the table, the result of a simple call setGeneric(name) is returned.

See Also



Run this code
### How we would make the function with() into a generic:

## Since the second argument, 'expr' is used literally, we want
## with() to only have "data" in the signature.

# }
setGeneric("with", signature = "data")
## Now we could predefine methods for "with" if we wanted to.

## When ready, we store the generic as implicit, and restore the

# }

# (This implicit generic is stored in the 'methods' package.)
# }

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