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4.3.1 Evaluation Order and Arity
4.3.2 Keyword Arguments
4.3.3 The apply Function

4.3 Function Calls (Procedure Applications)

An expression of the form

(proc-expr arg-expr ...)

is a function call—also known as a procedure applicationwhen proc-expr is not an identifier that is bound as a syntax transformer (such as if or define).

4.3.1 Evaluation Order and Arity

A function call is evaluated by first evaluating the proc-expr and all arg-exprs in order (left to right). Then, if proc-expr produces a function that accepts as many arguments as supplied arg-exprs, the function is called. Otherwise, an exception is raised.

> (cons 1 null)


> (+ 1 2 3)


> (cons 1 2 3)

cons: arity mismatch;

 the expected number of arguments does not match the given


  expected: 2

  given: 3





> (1 2 3)

application: not a procedure;

 expected a procedure that can be applied to arguments

  given: 1




Some functions, such as cons, accept a fixed number of arguments. Some functions, such as + or list, accept any number of arguments. Some functions accept a range of argument counts; for example substring accepts either two or three arguments. A function’s arity is the number of arguments that it accepts.

4.3.2 Keyword Arguments

Some functions accept keyword arguments in addition to by-position arguments. For that case, an arg can be an arg-keyword arg-expr sequence instead of just a arg-expr:

+Keywords introduces keywords.

(proc-expr arg ...)
arg = arg-expr
  | arg-keyword arg-expr

For example,

(go "super.rkt" #:mode 'fast)

calls the function bound to go with "super.rkt" as a by-position argument, and with 'fast as an argument associated with the #:mode keyword. A keyword is implicitly paired with the expression that follows it.

Since a keyword by itself is not an expression, then

(go "super.rkt" #:mode #:fast)

is a syntax error. The #:mode keyword must be followed by an expression to produce an argument value, and #:fast is not an expression.

The order of keyword args determines the order in which arg-exprs are evaluated, but a function accepts keyword arguments independent of their position in the argument list. The above call to go can be equivalently written

(go #:mode 'fast "super.rkt")

+Procedure Applications and #%app in The Racket Reference provides more on procedure applications.

4.3.3 The apply Function

The syntax for function calls supports any number of arguments, but a specific call always specifies a fixed number of arguments. As a result, a function that takes a list of arguments cannot directly apply a function like + to all of the items in a list:

(define (avg lst) ; doesn’t work...
  (/ (+ lst) (length lst)))


> (avg '(1 2 3))

+: contract violation

  expected: number?

  given: '(1 2 3)

(define (avg lst) ; doesn’t always work...
  (/ (+ (list-ref lst 0) (list-ref lst 1) (list-ref lst 2))
     (length lst)))


> (avg '(1 2 3))


> (avg '(1 2))

list-ref: index too large for list

  index: 2

  in: '(1 2)

The apply function offers a way around this restriction. It takes a function and a list argument, and it applies the function to the values in the list:

(define (avg lst)
  (/ (apply + lst) (length lst)))


> (avg '(1 2 3))


> (avg '(1 2))


> (avg '(1 2 3 4))


As a convenience, the apply function accepts additional arguments between the function and the list. The additional arguments are effectively consed onto the argument list:

(define (anti-sum lst)
  (apply - 0 lst))


> (anti-sum '(1 2 3))


The apply function accepts keyword arguments, too, and it passes them along to the called function:

(apply go #:mode 'fast '("super.rkt"))
(apply go '("super.rkt") #:mode 'fast)

Keywords that are included in apply’s list argument do not count as keyword arguments for the called function; instead, all arguments in this list are treated as by-position arguments. To pass a list of keyword arguments to a function, use the keyword-apply function, which accepts a function to apply and three lists. The first two lists are in parallel, where the first list contains keywords (sorted by keyword<?), and the second list contains a corresponding argument for each keyword. The third list contains by-position function arguments, as for apply.

(keyword-apply go