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I am new to Clojure, I am new to Macros and I have no prior background in Lisp. I went on to create my own switch case like form and ended up with this:

(defmacro switch-case [v cases default] (if (cases v) (cases v) default )) 

and then tried making a function and ended up with this:

(defn fn-switch-case [v cases default] (if (cases v) (cases v) default ))


(switch-case 5 {6 "six" 7 "seven"} "not there")


(fn-switch-case 5 {6 "six" 7 "seven"} "not there")

Work fine.

What could be the scenario where I would need a macro and a function wont work ? Is there a drawback in my function or macro implementations ?

share|improve this question
I don't have a specific example for you, but the simple answer is that macros are needed for creating new syntax (as in Domain-Specific Languages). But, as your example illustrates, ordinary first-class Lisp functions are already powerful enough to do the job without requiring macros, in many cases. You should favor ordinary functions over macros; only use macros when an ordinary function won't do. – Robert Harvey May 28 '13 at 14:38
See also – Robert Harvey May 28 '13 at 14:52

One benefit of macros is that they don't follow the same evaluation rules as functions, since they're just performing transformations on the code.

An example of a construct you couldn't create just by using functions is Clojure's threading macro.

It lets you insert an expression as the first argument in a sequence of forms:

(-> 5
  (+ 3)
  (* 4))

is equivalent to

(* (+ 5 3) 4)

You wouldn't be able to create this kind of construct using only functions, since before the -> expression was evaluated, the inner (+ 3) and (* 4) would be, meaning -> would receive

(-> 5

and it needs to see the actual functions being used in order to work.

In your example, consider if the result for some case were to have side-effects or call some other function. A function version would not be able to prevent that code from being run in a situation where that result is not picked, whereas a macro could prevent that code from being evaluated unless it is the option taken.

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I get it. becoz of my mind, I cant think beyond a function. i always end up making a construct that looks like a function and can be done with a function. because I am used to writing code not making languages and constructs or DSls. – Amogh Talpallikar May 29 '13 at 12:34

I'm not exactly sure what you want your switch-case function to do. What should be the value of:

(def x 5)
(switch-case x {5 :here}

It might be useful if you viewed the source of the related core functions/macros by using the repl

(clojure.repl/source case)

But in general a reason why you might want a macro as opposed to a function is that using the core case macro

(case 6
  5 (print "hello")
  "not there")

will not print hello. However, if case were defined as a function, it print "hello" to the screen and the whole expression would evaluate to "not there". This is because functions evaluate their arguments before every calling the function.

share|improve this answer
This doesn't really answer the main question. It only nitpicks on the example. – Florian Margaine May 28 '13 at 14:31
The last part answers the question. It says something a macro can do that a function cannot. – WuHoUnited May 28 '13 at 22:10
You could have been a little clearer about how argument evaluation differs with macros. – Robert Harvey May 28 '13 at 22:46
I was learning macros. I wanted to create a construct assuming it wasn't there. So I thought of making a switch case using if form. I couldn't think of anything else. – Amogh Talpallikar May 29 '13 at 13:16

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