9.3 Calling functions

All function arguments are mandatory—there are no default values.

Functions as expressions

Functions with non-void return types are called just like any other built-in function in Stan—they are applied to appropriately typed arguments to produce an expression, which has a value when executed.

Functions as statements

Functions with void return types may be applied to arguments and used as statements. These act like sampling statements or print statements. Such uses are only appropriate for functions that act through side effects, such as incrementing the log probability accumulator, printing, or raising exceptions.

Resolving overloads

Overloaded functions alongside type promotion can result in situations where there are multiple valid interpretations of a function call. Stan requires that there be a unique signature which minimizes the number of promotions required.

Consider the following two overloaded functions

real foo(int a, real b);
real foo(real a, int b);

These functions do not have a unique minimum when called with two integer arguments foo(1,2), and therefore cannot be called as such.

Promotion of integers to complex numbers is considered as two separate promotions, one from int to real and a second from real to complex. Consider the following functions with real and complex signatures

real bar(real x);
real bar(complex z);

A call bar(5) with an integer argument will be resolved to bar(real) because it only requires a single promotion, whereas the promotion to a complex number requires two promotions.

Argument promotion

The rules for calling functions work the same way as assignment as far as promotion goes. This means that we can promote arguments to the type expected by function arguments. For example, the following will work.

real foo(real x) { return ... };
int a = 5;
real b = foo(a); // a promoted to type real

In addition to promoting int to real, Stan also promotes real to complex, and by transitivity, int to complex. This also works for containers, so an array of int may be assigned to an array of real of the same shape. And we can also promote vector to complex_vector and similarly for row vectors and matrices.

Probability functions in sampling statements

Functions whose name ends in _lpdf or _lpmf (density and mass functions) may be used as probability functions and may be used in place of parameterized distributions on the right-hand-side of sampling statements.

Restrictions on placement

Functions of certain types are restricted on scope of usage. Functions whose names end in _lp assume access to the log probability accumulator and are only available in the transformed parameter and model blocks.

Functions whose names end in _rng assume access to the random number generator and may only be used within the generated quantities block, transformed data block, and within user-defined functions ending in _rng.

Functions whose names end in _lpdf and _lpmf can be used anywhere. However, _lupdf and _lupmf functions can only be used in the model block or user-defined probability functions.

See the section on function bodies for more information on these special types of function.