setMethod {methods}R Documentation

Create and Save a Method


Create and save a formal method for a given function and list of classes.


setMethod(f, signature=character(), definition,
          where = topenv(parent.frame()),
          valueClass = NULL, sealed = FALSE)

removeMethod(f, signature, where)


f A generic function or the character-string name of the function.
signature A match of formal argument names for f with the character-string names of corresponding classes. This argument can also just be the vector of class names, in which case the first name corresponds to the first formal argument, the next to the second formal argument, etc.
definition A function definition, which will become the method called when the arguments in a call to f match the classes in signature, directly or through inheritance.
where the database in which to store the definition of the method;
For removeMethod, the default is the location of the (first) instance of the method for this signature.
valueClass If supplied, this argument asserts that the method will return a value of this class. (At present this argument is stored but not explicitly used.)
sealed If TRUE, the method so defined cannot be redefined by another call to setMethod (although it can be removed and then re-assigned). Note that this argument is an extension to the definition of setMethod in the reference.


R methods for a particular generic function are stored in an object of class MethodsList. The effect of calling setMethod is to store definition in a MethodsList object on database where. If f doesn't exist as a generic function, but there is an ordinary function of the same name and the same formal arguments, a new generic function is created, and the previous non-generic version of f becomes the default method. This is equivalent to the programmer calling setGeneric for the same function; it's better practice to do the call explicitly, since it shows that you intend to turn f into a generic function.

Methods are stored in a hierarchical structure: see Methods for how the objects are used to select a method, and MethodsList for functions that manipulate the objects.

The class names in the signature can be any formal class, plus predefined basic classes such as "numeric", "character", and "matrix". Two additional special class names can appear: "ANY", meaning that this argument can have any class at all; and "missing", meaning that this argument must not appear in the call in order to match this signature. Don't confuse these two: if an argument isn't mentioned in a signature, it corresponds implicitly to class "ANY", not to "missing". See the example below. Old-style (“S3”) classes can also be used, if you need compatibility with these, but you should definitely declare these classes by calling setOldClass if you want S3-style inheritance to work.

While f can correspond to methods defined on several packages or environments, the underlying model is that these together make up the definition for a single generic function. When R proceeds to select and evaluate methods for f, the methods on the current search list are merged to form a single generic function and associated methods list. When f is called and a method is “dispatched”, the evaluator matches the classes of the actual arguments to the signatures of the available methods. When a match is found, the body of the corresponding method is evaluated, but without rematching the arguments to f. Aside from not rematching the arguments, the computation proceeds as if the call had been to the method. In particular, the lexical scope of the method is used.

Method definitions can have default expressions for arguments. If those arguments are then missing in the call to the generic function, the default expression in the method is used. If the method definition has no default for the argument, then the expression (if any) supplied in the definition of the generic function itself is used. But note that this expression will be evaluated in the environment defined by the method.

It is possible to have some differences between the formal arguments to a method supplied to setMethod and those of the generic. Roughly, if the generic has ... as one of its arguments, then the method may have extra formal arguments, which will be matched from the arguments matching ... in the call to f. (What actually happens is that a local function is created inside the method, with its formal arguments, and the method is re-defined to call that local function.)

Method dispatch tries to match the class of the actual arguments in a call to the available methods collected for f. Roughly, for each formal argument in turn, we look for the best match (the exact same class or the nearest element in the value of extends for that class) for which there is any possible method matching the remaining arguments. See Methods for more details.


These functions exist for their side-effect, in setting or removing a method in the object defining methods for the specified generic.
The value returned by removeMethod is TRUE if a method was found to be removed.


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 and ongoing development, see ?Methods and the pointers from that documentation..

See Also

method.skeleton, which is the recommended way to generate a skeleton of the call to setMethod, with the correct formal arguments and other details.

Methods, MethodsList for details of the implementation


## methods for plotting track objects (see the example for setClass)
## First, with only one object as argument:
setMethod("plot", signature(x="track", y="missing"),
  function(x,  y, ...) plot(slot(x, "x"), slot(x, "y"), ...)
## Second, plot the data from the track on the y-axis against anything
## as the x data.
setMethod("plot", signature(y = "track"),
 function(x, y, ...) plot(x, slot(y, "y"), ...)
## and similarly with the track on the x-axis (using the short form of
## specification for signatures)
setMethod("plot", "track",
 function(x, y, ...) plot(slot(x, "y"), y,  ...)
t1 <- new("track", x=1:20, y=(1:20)^2)
tc1 <- new("trackCurve", t1)
slot(tc1, "smooth") <- smooth.spline(slot(tc1, "x"), slot(tc1, "y"))$y #$
plot(qnorm(ppoints(20)), t1)
## An example of inherited methods, and of conforming method arguments
## (note the dotCurve argument in the method, which will be pulled out
## of ... in the generic.
setMethod("plot", c("trackCurve", "missing"),
function(x, y, dotCurve = FALSE, ...) {
  plot(as(x, "track"))
  if(length(slot(x, "smooth") > 0))
    lines(slot(x, "x"), slot(x, "smooth"),
         lty = if(dotCurve) 2 else 1)
## the plot of tc1 alone has an added curve; other uses of tc1
## are treated as if it were a "track" object.
plot(tc1, dotCurve = TRUE)
plot(qnorm(ppoints(20)), tc1)

## defining methods for a special function.
## Although "[" and "length" are not ordinary functions
## methods can be defined for them.
setMethod("[", "track",
  function(x, i, j, ..., drop) {
    x@x <- x@x[i]; x@y <- x@y[i]

setMethod("length", "track", function(x)length(x@y))

## methods can be defined for missing arguments as well
setGeneric("summary") ## make the function into a generic

## A method for summary()
## The method definition can include the arguments, but
## if they're omitted, class "missing" is assumed.

setMethod("summary", "missing", function() "<No Object>")

[Package methods version 2.5.0 Index]