Lesson 0.4 Introduction to Racket


The purpose of this lesson is to familiarize you with the basics of Racket (a dialect of Scheme). You will learn about

This is a long lesson: it covers the features of Racket that will be covered from now until Week 4.

In this lesson, we will often refer to "contracts" and "purpose statements". For the purpose of this lesson, you can treat these as informal notions. We will learn more about contracts and purpose statements in Lesson 1.4.

As you go through this lesson, you should follow along, trying all the examples in the DrRacket interaction window. Don't just try what's shown on the page-- try variations as well, and see what happens. (This is an example of what we mean when we say active learning.)

To do this, install DrRacket (if you have not done so already), and open it. The exact way in which you open DrRacket will depend on your OS. Then click "Choose Language..." either in the Language submenu in the menu bar or in the language selector in the bottom left corner of the DrRacket window and choose the "Beginning Student" language under "Teaching Languages / How to Design Programs".


Maybe the most fundamental building block in Racket (and other languages) is an expression. An expression is a piece of syntax that returns one result. An expression can be as simple as a single number


or more complex as the calculation of the square root of a number

    (sqrt 5)

(Don't be alarmed if you don't understand the above syntax just yet.)

You can try typing the above examples in the bottom half (a.k.a. Interaction Window) of DrRacket. There you will see a prompt > and next to it you can type an expression. Whenever you write an expression next to the prompt and press enter, DrRacket will "evaluate" the expression and print the "result" in the line underneath.

    > 5

    > (sqrt 5)

The #i prefix warns that the printed result is inexact. For example, it's a bad idea to compare inexact numbers for equality. If you really need to do this (say for an automated test), use check-within (in BSL) or check-= (in rackunit), which take a third argument representing the error tolerance.

In the next section we will see how we can use the interaction window of DrRacket as an advanced calculator.

Numbers, Booleans, and Arithmetic

As we mentioned above, some of the primitive expressions in Racket are numbers; positive and negative, integers and decimals

    > 17

    > -10

    > 3.1415

Racket also has a set of arithmetic operators that work with numbers.

    ; + : Number Number -> Number
    ; Adds two numbers and returns the result

    ; - : Number Number -> Number
    ; Subtracts two numbers and returns the result

    ; * : Number Number -> Number
    ; Multiplies two numbers and returns the result

    ; / : Number Number -> Number
    ; Divides two numbers and returns the result

+, -, *, / are the names of the operators.

Number Number -> Number is the Contract for each of them. It guarantees that these operators take two numbers as arguments and return a number as a result. Knowing the contract of an operator is imperative in order to use it correctly!

Now let's see how we can apply these operators on some operands (a.k.a. arguments) and start doing something interesting with our Racket calculator.

To apply an operator on some operands we need a pair of parentheses that enclose both the operator and the operands, in order.

    > (+ 3 5)

The operator is always the first thing in the parentheses, followed by the operands. Here + is the operator, 3 is the first operand, and 5 the second operand. The order of the operands is important:

    > (- 13 7)

    > (- 7 13)

Whenever you see the "parentheses-notation" in Racket you should immediately recognize that it is the application of an operator to several operands, and you should be able to recognize that the first thing between the parentheses is the operator, the second thing is the first operand, the third is the second operand, etc.

So now we have a simple calculator where we can do one operation after the other. To calculate 3*2 + 5*3 we can type:

    > (* 3 2)

    > (* 5 3)

    > (+ 6 15)

Remember that all of the above are expressions. Each one is being evaluated by DrRacket and a result is returned in its place. Having this in mind we can build more complex expressions, and make our calculator compute 3*2 + 5*3 writing just one big expression:

    > (+ (* 3 2) (* 5 3))

In Racket (as in its predecessors, Scheme, and Lisp), there are no operator precedences to be memorized. Instead, the parentheses always tell you the order in which complex expressions are evaluated: parenthesized subexpressions are evaluated before the expressions that contain them. After all, you couldn't do it any other way.

If your expression is complicated, break it across multiple lines. When you do this, ALWAYS use indentation to make the expression more readable:

    > (+ (+ (- 20 5)
            (+ 10 4))
         (* (- 100 93)
            (* 3.5 
               (- 5 3))))

In practice, expressions this long should be split using functions. We'll see how to do that a little later.

We now know how to use Racket as a decent calculator to do arithmetic. But let's not stop there. Let's see how we can also do logical calculations.

Racket has some more primitive expressions, the set of booleans:

    ; True
    > true

    ; False
    > false

It also provides operators that can be applied on booleans

    ; and : Boolean Boolean -> Boolean
    ; Logic conjunction

    ; or : Boolean Boolean -> Boolean
    ; Logic disjunction (Inclusive)

    ; not : Boolean -> Boolean
    ; Logic negation

    > (not false)

    > (and true false)

    > (or (and true
               (or true false))
          (or (not true)
              (not (and (not false)

There are also operators that connect the "world" of numbers and the "world" of booleans. These operators perform tests on numeric (or other) data and return a boolean value. These are called predicates.

    ; = : Number Number -> Boolean
    ; Tests two numbers for equality

    ; < : Number Number -> Boolean
    ; Tests if the first operand is less than the second

    ; > : Number Number -> Boolean
    ; Tests if the first operand is greater than the second

    ; <= : Number Number -> Boolean
    ; Tests if the first operand is less or equal than the second

    ; >= : Number Number -> Boolean
    ; Tests if the first operand is greater or equal than the second

So for example:

    > (< 300.0001 300)

    > (= (+ (* 3 50)
            (* 3 25))
         (* 3
            (+ 50 25)))

Q: What will this return?

    > (< 3 (< 2 1))

Be careful of the contracts of operators to avoid these type errors.


There are times that we need the value of an expression to change depending on some condition. Racket provides a construct to implement this kind of branching.

      [test-1 expr-1]
      [test-2 expr-2]
      [test-3 expr-3]
      [else expr-n])

The cond is a multi-branch conditional. Each clause has a test and an associated expression. The first test that succeeds triggers its associated expression, and the value of the associated expression is returned. The final else clause is chosen if no other test succeeded.

For example:

      > (cond 
          [(< (sqrt 5) (/ 5 2)) true]
          [else false])

This example is simple, but it is a BAD example, because to compute the value of this expression, you didn't need a cond at all: this expression always returns the value of

     (< (sqrt 5) (/ 5 2))

If you write code like this on your assignments, you WILL be penalized.

A better example might have been

      > (cond 
          [(< (sqrt 5) (/ 5 2)) 27)
          [else 42])

This expression is also bad because it's a two-way cond with an else-clause. This should have been written

     > (if (< (sqrt 5) (/ 5 2))

In this course, you will write a cond expression only as part of the template for a structural decomposition. Templates will be discussed in Lesson 1.4

Ex 1: Write an expression whose value is the number of seconds in a leap year (a leap year has 366 days). Next, write 2 more expressions that have the same value.

Ex 2: Write an expression that returns true if the result of 100/3 is greater than the result of (100 + 3) / (3 + 3) and false otherwise.

Defining Functions

At this point our DrRacket calculator can do a great deal of things. It's almost like a scientific calculator, but we are not there just yet. It would be nice if we were able to define our own operators on numbers and booleans and extend the functionality of our calculator. Racket has a special syntax for doing just that:

    (define (fcn-name arg-1 arg-2 ...) expr)

With this syntax we can define a new function called fcn-name. This new function takes a number of arguments arg-1, arg-2, etc., and when applied evaluates the expression expr and returns the result. expr can refer to the arguments, to produce its resulting value. For example let's define the Boolean operation 'nand', using 'and' and 'not':

    ; nand : Boolean Boolean -> Boolean
    ; RETURNS the negative of the conjunction of the two given booleans.
    (define (nand x y)
      (not (and x y)))

We can use our new function just like any other operator:

    > (nand true true)

Next, let's define a function that returns the average of two numbers:

    ; average : Number Number -> Number
    ; RETURNS: the average of its arguments
    ; usage:
    ; (average 3 5)    =>  4
    ; (average -7 7)  =>  0

    (define (average x y)
      (/ (+ x y) 2))

Let's also define abs using cond:

    (define (abs x)
        [(< x 0) (- 0 x)]
        [else x]))

Ex 3: Write the definition of a function that converts a temperature from degrees Fahrenheit to degrees Celsius. The formula for the conversion is C = (F-32) * (5/9) . The contract, purpose statement and examples for this function are:

    ; f->c : Number -> Number
    ; GIVEN: a temperature in degrees Fahrenheit as an argument
    ; RETURNS: the equivalent temperature in degrees Celsius.
    ; Examples:
    ; (f->c 32)  => 0
    ; (f->c 100) => 37.77777777777777....

Test your function with at least the given examples. How is the value of (f->c 100) displayed?

Ex 4: Define a function called tip that takes two arguments, a number representing the amount of a bill in dollars, and a decimal number between 0.0 and 1.0, representing the percentage of tip one wants to give (e.g. 0.15 = 15%). tip should return the amount of the tip in dollars. The contract, purpose statement, and examples of tip are the following:

    ; tip : NonNegNumber Number[0.0,1.0] -> Number
    ; GIVEN: the amount of the bill in dollars and the
    ; percentage of tip
    ; RETURNS: the amount of the tip in dollars.
    ; Examples:
    ; (tip 10 0.15)  => 1.5
    ; (tip 20 0.17)  => 3.4

Test your function with at least the given examples.

Ex 5: Define a function called sq that computes the square of a number. Write the contract, purpose statement, examples and definition of this function. Follow the examples of contracts and purpose statements above.

Ex 6: One of the solutions of the quadratic equation is given by the formula:

x_+ = \frac{-b + \sqrt {b^2-4ac}}{2a}

Write the contract, purpose statement, examples, and definition of a function quadratic-root that takes as arguments a, b, and c, and computes the root of the corresponding quadratic equation.

Ex 7: Define a function called circumference that computes the circumference of a circle. The contract, purpose statement, and usage of circumference are:

    ; circumference : Number -> Number
    ; GIVEN: the radius r of a circle 
    ; RETURNS: its circumference, using the formula 2 * pi * r.
    ; Examples:
    ; (circumference 1)  =>  2*pi
    ; (circumference 0)  =>  0

(pi is a predefined constant in Racket) Test your function with at least the given examples. How is the value of twice pi displayed?

Ex 8: The area included in a circle of radius r is given by the formula pi * r^2. Using the interaction window of DrRacket as a calculator, compute the area included in circles of radius 1, 5, and 7.

Write the contract, purpose statement, examples, and the definition of a function called circle-area that computes the area included in a circle of radius r, using the above formula. Use the three calculations you did above as your examples.

Ex 9: Find out what the operator remainder does by typing it in the definitions window, highlighting it, and pressing F1.

Try applying remainder on some examples to make sure you understand what it does. (how is it different from modulo? Find some arguments for which remainder and modulo give different results.)

Define a predicate is-even? that takes a number as an argument and returns true if this number is divisible by 2, and false otherwise. Do not use the function even? that is predefined in BSL Use remainder or something similar.

Ex 10: Define a function that takes three numbers as arguments and returns the sum of the two larger numbers. As always, write down contract, purpose statement, and examples.

Complex Data Types: Structs

Number and Boolean are primitive data types in Racket. It is often useful to have more complex data types. Racket provides the possibility to create those as we need them. The general scheme is:

 (define-struct data-type-name (field-1 field-2 ...))  

The above code tells racket to introduce a type with a certain name that has certain named fields. Racket then creates some functions for us:

Let's see how that works in an example. Let's define a data type called Point. It represents a position in a two-dimensional plane, and is defined as follows:

 (define-struct point (x y)) 

(Note that we always write the type name with an upper-case first letter while we write names in definitions always in lower-case).

The definition above causes Racket to define the following functions:

Ex11: What do you think are the contracts for the point-functions?

Hint: The Beginning Student language already contains a data type much like Point, called Posn. You can look up the contracts for Posn in the Racket Help Desk. There are many ways to reach the Help Desk. For example, enter "make-posn" into the Racket command prompt, select it and press F1.

Ex12: What are the values of the following expressions? Be sure to predict the answers in your head before trying the expressions.

Ex13: What will happen if you type (make-point true false)? what is the result of (point-x (make-point true false))?

Ex14: Which functions will Racket create when we execute this: (define-struct student (id name major))?

More on Struct-definitions

You should have done at least Ex11 and Ex13 before you continue here!

The contracts of make-point and point-x are

But (point-x (make-point true false)) works and returns true. which is not a Number! That is because Racket does not care that much about types and contracts - it will only stop if you ask it to do something it just can't, like asking for the x-component of a Boolean, but otherwise it will shove values around without complaining.

Racket also does not care what the values represent. If the x-component of your Point, is a number, you can use it to represent a percentage of something or a temperature in degress celsius, or any other quantity that that is represented as a number.

Racket does not generate the correct contracts of the point-functions, nor do they appear out of thin air. We have to write down some information for other programs to know what contracts to follow. That is, somewhere we have to state the following:

The way we do this is a comment next to the struct-definition:

    (define-struct point (x y))
    ;; A Point is a (make-point Number Number).
    ;; It represents a position on the screen.
    ;; Interpretation:
    ;;   x = the x-coordinate on the screen (in pixels from the left).
    ;;   y = the y-coordinate on the screen (in pixels from the top).

Here, the first line tells us what the types of the fields are (i.e. both x and y are Numbers) and the following tells us what the type in general and its fields in particular represent. Now it is easy for everyone to see that (make-point true false) is not allowed and may lead to errors somewhere, and that x is neither degrees celsius nor meters nor feet. We'll see much more about this in Lesson 1.3

Ex15: Write down reasonable comments for the definition of the type Student from Ex14 that define the types of the fields and their interpretation.


For this part, we will use an Image library that we will be using for the rest of the term. In order to use it, you best place the following code at the top of your file:

(require 2htdp/image)

In this class, we will work with images quite often. Here are the basic functions for drawing you will encounter:

    ;; bitmap : Path -> Image
    ;; Takes a path (as a string, e.g. "myfile.jpg") and loads that file as an image.
    ;; above : Image ... -> Image
    ;; Takes an arbirary number of images and places them above each other

    ;; beside : Image ... -> Image
    ;; Takes an arbirary number of images and places them beside each other

    ;; An OutlineMode is one of
    ;;  - "outline" ... only the shapes outline is drawn
    ;;  - "solid" ... the whole inside of the shape is filled

    ;; rectangle : Number Number OutlineMode Color -> Image
    ;; Creates an image of a rectangle with given width and height, drawing mode and color

    ;; circle : Number OutlineMode Color -> Image
    ;; Creates animage of a circle with given radius, drawing mode and color

    ;; text : String Number Color -> Image
    ;; Renders the given string in the given color with the given number as text size and
    ;; returns the resulting image

    ;; empty-scene : Number Number -> Image
    ;; Creates an empty white rectangle with given width and height
    ;; place-image : Image Number Number Image -> Image
    ;; Places the first image into the second image with its center at the given coordinates (x/y)
string-append is another useful function:
    ;; string-append : String ... -> String
    ;; Takes an arbitrary number of strings and concatenates them
    > (string-append "Hello " "World!")
    "Hello World!"

Ex16: Create a folder on git and save your Racket file there. Then also copy some image to that folder (either take it from your computer or download one from the internet). Then put the following in your racket file:

(define my-image (bitmap "[the file name of your image]"))
Play around with some of the image functions, also try something like
(above my-image my-image my-image)

Ex17: Create some solid blue rectangles with the following dimensions:

Ex18: Give the dimensions of the next 2 rectangles in the sequence. Write down a formula that describes the n-th element in this sequence. Write down a contract, purpose statement, examples, and definition for a function rec-sequence that takes an argument n, where n is a number that tells the function to return the nth element in this sequence. Test the function!

Ex19: Design the following function:

    ;; rel-rec-sequence: Number Number  PosReal PosReal -> Rectangle
    ;; Takes two numbers and returns a solid blue rectangle, where the first number is
    ;; the width of the rectangle, and the second number is the proportion of width
    ;; and height of the rectangle to be produced (i.e. height = width * proportion).
Test the function!

Ex20: Try to assemble a human shape from circles and rectangles using the image functions above. It does not need to look fancy, just imagine a head, a chest and arms and feet. Then use the stepper to see how DrRacket assembles your image.

Ex21: Here is a struct definition:

(define-struct person (first-name last-name age height weight))
Write down a reasonable comment part of that data definition that specifies types and interpretations of the fields. Then write the function person-image that takes a person and returns an image like the ones in Ex20, but in a way that the height and width of this image is related to the height of the person (i.e. if one person is twice the size of another person, the image for the first person should be twice as high and wide as the image of the second person).

Ex21a: extend -person-image such that the full (first + last) name of the person is drawn below the image of the person.


Structs can already consist of more than one value, but very often we need to store an arbitrary number of values. A fundamental part of programming in Racket lets us do just that: lists. In contrast to the structs we have seen, there are two basic ways to create a list value. The first is rather self-explanatory:

    ;; empty : List
    ;; The empty list
But somehow, we also have to get values into lists, so we have a second constructor:
    ;; cons: Any List -> List
    ;; Given some value and a list, returns a new list in which the given value is the
    ;; first element and the given list is the rest of the new list.
Can you guess how to create a list with one element? The answer is to use cons with that element and the empty list, that is:
    > (cons "Something" empty)
    (cons "Something" empty)

And a list of two elements? Well, this time we'll have to use cons twice:

    > (cons "Something" (cons "Some other thing" empty))
    (cons "Something" (cons "Some other thing" empty))
Note that cons prefixes an element to the list-- that is, it returns a new list that is like the old list, except that the new element is added at the front.

Ex22: Write down an expression whose value is the list of numbers from 1 to 5.

Ex23: Write down an expression whose value is a list of 5 booleans, alternating between true and false, starting with true

Writing down all these constructors is a bit cumbersome, so here's a shorthand for creating lists:

    ;; list : Any ... -> List
    ;; Takes any number of values and returns a list of those values.
    ;; Example: (list 1 2 3 4 5) => (cons 1 (cons 2 (cons 3 (cons 4 (cons 5 empty)))))
That is a lot shorter! Now that we have seen how to construct lists, what can we do with them? We'll deconstruct them again, piece by piece:
    ;; list-fn : List -> ??
    ; (define (list-fn lst)
    ;   (cond
    ;     [(empty? lst) ...]
    ;     [else (... (first lst) (list-fn (rest lst)))]))
If you forgot what cond is about, look a few headlines back. Apart from that, you'll see that there is a predicate empty? that lets you check if a list is empty. If it is not, then the list must have been constructed by using cons, and that means that there must be a first element of the list and some rest - and as you may have guessed, the functions first and rest return just those.

A interesting thing is the call to list-fn in the last line of list-fn. This is what we call recursion. There is a lot to be said about recursion later in the term, but for now we'll just use this technique to process lists.

Let us rather talk about what we do in this function: we get some list as an argument, and we know that there are two cases how that list could have been constructed: either using empty or using cons. Well, there has to be a result in any case, but if the list is empty, we cannot extract a value from it, so we have to replace the dots in the first case with a meaningful value in case the list is empty. If, on the other hand, there is a value and a rest, both of them may influence the final result of our computation. Therefore, we calculate the result of the computation of the rest of the list (which may be empty or have some more elements, but less than the list we were given) and then combine it with the first element. Let's look at an example:

    ;; sum : List -> Number
    ;; Returns the sum of the numbers in the given list
    ;; Examples: 
    ;; (sum empty) = 0
    ;; (sum (list 1)) = 1
    ;; (sum (list 1 2 3) = 6
    (define (sum lst)
        [(empty? lst) 0]
        [else (+ (first lst) (sum (rest lst)))]))

Look what we inserted here: the sum of all the numbers in an empty list is clearly 0. And if we take the number that is first in a list and add it to the sum of all the numbers in the rest of the list, we clearly get the sum of all numbers in the list. We do not necessarily have to use any of the values in the list in every case:

    ;; list-length : List -> Number
    ;; Returns the length of the given list
    ;; Examples: 
    ;; (list-length empty) = 0
    ;; (list-length (list 1)) = 1
    ;; (list-length (list 1 2 3) = 3
    (define (list-length lst)
        [(empty? lst) 0]
        [else (+ 1 (list-length (rest lst)))]))

Here, the length of an empty list is again clearly 0, and the length of a list where there is a first element and a rest must be 1 + the length of that rest.

Ex24: Write a function that returns the product of all the numbers in a list (Hint: be careful with the empty list)

Look at the following pieces of code. Is there anything wrong with either one or both of them?

    (list-length (list 1 5 "a" true 3))

    (sum (list 1 5 "a" true 3))

list-length works just fine, but sum does not. Racket complains because this code violates the contract of +: + expects a number as its first argument, and here it is given true. (+ true 3) is not a valid operation. And indeed, altough we have not mentioned contracts for a while, we have severely violated our contracts. Could you guess what the contract for first would be? As we said that the contract of cons is

    ;; cons : Any List -> List
Therefore we cannot know anything for sure about the first element in a list. Thus, the right contract would be
   ;; first : List -> Any
   ;; WHERE: the list is non-empty
But + requires Numbers as arguments, so it is not safe to supply it with arguments of type Any. To fix this, we introduce further conventions that Racket itself does not care about as long as everything works (like with list-length): we introduce specialized lists for certain types, for example the type ListOfNumber, (in short: LoN). You can still use empty, cons, list, first and rest, but you can change the contracts to have (Some-Type) instead of Any and ListOf(Some-Type) instead of List. So for ListOfNumber we'll have
;; cons  : Number ListOfNumber -> List-Of-Number
;; first :ListOfNumber -> Number
but for ListofBoolean we'll have
;; cons  : Boolean ListOfBoolean -> ListOfBoolean
;; first : ListOfBoolean -> Boolean

Ex25: Design a function that, given a list of booleans, returns true if all booleans in the list are true. Write down contract, purpose statement and examples, and test your function.

Ex26: Design a function that takes a list of Points and draws a solid blue circle with radius 10 at every Point in that list into a 300x300 scene.

Ex27: Design a function that takes a list of strings and draws the combined text of those strings, separated by spaces.

Ex27a: There are two ways to do Ex27 with the functions available to you. Try the way that you did not use to solve Ex27.

Ex28: Design a function that takes a list of lists of strings as an argument that treats each of the lists of strings as a line (assembled like in Ex27) in a text and renders the whole text as an image.

Ex29: Look up the beside/align function on the Racket Help Desk. Use it to design a function that takes a list of people (as defined in Ex21) and uses the function from Ex21 to draw these people, placing them beside each other to form some kind of a group photo.

Ex30: Design a function that, given a list of booleans, returns a list with each boolean reversed (e.g. (neg-list (list true false true)) => (cons false (cons true (cons false empty))   ).

Ex31: Design a function that, given a list of Numbers, returns a list of Images, where each image is a circle that has a radius based on a number of the input list.

Ex32: Design a function that takes a list of Points and returns the sum of the distances to each of those Points from (0,0). You should write a helper function to calculate the distance. Use the Manhattan distance measure (distance = x + y).

Last modified: Sun Sep 14 09:57:11 Eastern Daylight Time 2014