setClass {methods}R Documentation

Create a Class Definition


Functions to create (setClass) and manipulate class definitions.


setClass(Class, representation, prototype, contains=character(),
         validity, access, where, version, sealed, package)

removeClass(Class, where)

isClass(Class, formal=TRUE, where)

getClasses(where, inherits = missing(where))

findClass(Class, where, unique = "")

resetClass(Class, classDef, where)

sealClass(Class, where)


Class character string name for the class. Other than setClass, the functions will usually take a class definition instead of the string (allowing the caller to identify the class uniquely).
representation the slots that the new class should have and/or other classes that this class extends. Usually a call to the representation function.
prototype an object (usually a list) providing the default data for the slots specified in the representation.
contains what classes does this class extend? (These are called superclasses in some languages.) When these classes have slots, all their slots will be contained in the new class as well.
where For setClass and removeClass, the environment in which to store or remove the definition. Defaults to the top-level environment of the calling function (the global environment for ordinary computations, but the environment or name space of a package when loading that package).
For other functions, where defines where to do the search for the class definition, and the default is to search from the top-level environment or name space of the caller to this function.
unique if findClass expects a unique location for the class, unique is a character string explaining the purpose of the search (and is used in warning and error messages). By default, multiple locations are possible and the function always returns a list.
inherits in a call to getClasses, should the value returned include all parent environments of where, or that environment only? Defaults to TRUE if where is omitted, and to FALSE otherwise.
validity if supplied, should be a validity-checking method for objects from this class (a function that returns TRUE if its argument is a valid object of this class and one or more strings describing the failures otherwise). See validObject for details.
access Access list for the class. Saved in the definition, but not currently used.
version A version indicator for this definition. Saved in the definition, but not currently used.
sealed If TRUE, the class definition will be sealed, so that another call to setClass will fail on this class name.
package An optional package name for the class. By default (and usually) the package where the class definition is assigned will be used.
formal Should a formal definition be required?
classDef For removeClass, the optional class definition (but usually it's better for Class to be the class definition, and to omit classDef).


These are the functions that create and manipulate formal class definitions. Brief documentation is provided below. See the references for an introduction and for more details.

Define Class to be an S-style class. The effect is to create an object, of class "classRepEnvironment", and store this (hidden) in the specified environment or database. Objects can be created from the class (e.g., by calling new), manipulated (e.g., by accessing the object's slots), and methods may be defined including the class name in the signature (see setMethod).
Remove the definition of this class, from the environment where if this argument is supplied; if not, removeClass will search for a definition, starting in the top-level environment of the call to removeClass, and remove the (first) definition found.
Is this the name of a formally defined class? (Argument formal is for compatibility and is ignored.)
The names of all the classes formally defined on where. If called with no argument, all the classes visible from the calling function (if called from the top-level, all the classes in any of the environments on the search list). The inherits argument can be used to search a particular environment and all its parents, but usually the default setting is what you want.
The list of environments or positions on the search list in which a class definition of Class is found. If where is supplied, this is an environment (or name space) from which the search takes place; otherwise the top-level environment of the caller is used. If unique is supplied as a character string, findClass returns a single environment or position. By default, it always returns a list. The calling function should select, say, the first element as a position or environment for functions such as get.

If unique is supplied as a character string, findClass will warn if there is more than one definition visible (using the string to identify the purpose of the call), and will generate an error if no definition can be found.

Reset the internal definition of a class. Causes the complete definition of the class to be re-computed, from the representation and superclasses specified in the original call to setClass.

This function is called when aspects of the class definition are changed. You would need to call it explicitly if you changed the definition of a class that this class extends (but doing that in the middle of a session is living dangerously, since it may invalidate existing objects).

Seal the current definition of the specified class, to prevent further changes. It is possible to seal a class in the call to setClass, but sometimes further changes have to be made (e.g., by calls to setIs). If so, call sealClass after all the relevant changes have been made.

Inheritance and Prototypes

Defining new classes that inherit from (“extend”) other classes is a powerful technique, but has to be used carefully and not over-used. Otherwise, you will often get unintended results when you start to compute with objects from the new class.

As shown in the examples below, the simplest and safest form of inheritance is to start with an explicit class, with some slots, that does not extend anything else. It only does what we say it does.

Then extensions will add some new slots and new behavior.

Another variety of extension starts with one of the built-in data types, perhaps with the intention of modifying R's standard behavior for that class. In this case, the new class inherits the built-in data type as its “data” part. See the “numWithId” example below.

When such a class definition is printed, the data part shows up as a pseudo-slot named “.Data”.

S3 Classes

Earlier, informal classes of objects (usually referred to as “S3” classes) are used by many R functions. It's natural to consider including them as the class for a slot in a formal class, or even as a class to be extended by the new class. This isn't prohibited but there are some disadvantages, and if you do want to include S3 classes, they should be declared by including them in a call to setOldClass. Here are some considerations:


Certain slot names are not allowed in the current implementation, as they correspond to attributes which are treated specially. These are class, comment, dim, dimnames, names, (from R 2.4.0) row.names and tsp.


The R package methods implements, with a few exceptions, the programming interface for classes and methods in the book Programming with Data (John M. Chambers, Springer, 1998), in particular sections 1.6, 2.7, 2.8, and chapters 7 and 8.

While the programming interface for the methods package follows the reference, the R software is an original implementation, so details in the reference that reflect the S4 implementation may appear differently in R. Also, there are extensions to the programming interface developed more recently than the reference. For a discussion of details see ?Methods and the links from that documentation.

See Also

setClassUnion, Methods, makeClassRepresentation


## A simple class with two slots
         representation(x="numeric", y="numeric"))
## A class extending the previous, adding one more slot
         representation("track", smooth = "numeric"))
## A class similar to "trackCurve", but with different structure
## allowing matrices for the "y" and "smooth" slots
         representation(x="numeric", y="matrix", smooth="matrix"),
         prototype = list(x=numeric(), y=matrix(0,0,0),
                          smooth= matrix(0,0,0)))
## Suppose we want trackMultiCurve to be like trackCurve when there's
## only one column.
## First, the wrong way.
try(setIs("trackMultiCurve", "trackCurve",
    test = function(obj) {ncol(slot(obj, "y")) == 1}))

## Why didn't that work?  You can only override the slots "x", "y",
## and "smooth" if you provide an explicit coerce function to correct
## any inconsistencies:

setIs("trackMultiCurve", "trackCurve",
  test = function(obj) {ncol(slot(obj, "y")) == 1},
  coerce = function(obj) {
         x = slot(obj, "x"),
         y = as.numeric(slot(obj,"y")),
         smooth = as.numeric(slot(obj, "smooth")))

## A class that extends the built-in data type "numeric"

setClass("numWithId", representation(id = "character"),
         contains = "numeric")

new("numWithId", 1:3, id = "An Example")

[Package methods version 2.5.0 Index]