Class 17: Functions II





Functions and Top-Down design

The essence of programming is breaking down a single, large, complex problem into many simple pieces that can be attacked independently. Functions help us to do this, and that is one of their most important features. They help us write programs in a top down manner, essentially be letting us write our program using a "wish-list" of functions that we can actually go back and implement later. An example should make this clearer.

Problem: You have a bank account whose annual interest rate depends on the amount of money you have in your account at the beginning of each year. Your annual rate starts at 3%, and grows by an additional half a percent for each thousand dollars in your account up to, but not exceeding 8%. So, for example, if you have $3,358.02 in your account at the beginning of the year, your rate is 4.5%. Interest in this account is compounded monthly at the annual rate (i.e. the monthly compounding rate is the annual rate divided by 12). Each year you also make a transaction (deposit or withdrawal) before the bank figures out what your rate is (fortunately!). Write a program that simulates 5 years under this system, interactively querying the user for transactions at the beginning of each year, and returning the balance at the end of the 5th year.

There's a lot to this problem. However, imagine how much easier it would be to solve if the following functions were available:  

         double transaction(double B); - which would do the interactive part for you - taking the initial balance B and returning the balance after the transaction.

         double rate(double B); - which would return the interest rate based on the account balance.

         double compound(double r); - which would give you the value of a single dollar after a year's monthly compounding with annual interest rate r. If your balance is B and your rate is r at the beginning of the year, the new balance is B*compound(r).

With this "wish list" of functions, we could write the program quite easily:

double B = 0.0;
for(int i = 0; i < 5; i++)
 B = transaction(B);
 double r = rate(B);
 B = B*compound(r);
cout << B << endl;

This is a pretty easy program! Of course, the 3 functions in our wish list do not exist, so we'll have to implement them for ourselves.

double transaction(double B)
 // Get type of transaction
 char act;
 cout << "Enter w: withdrawl d:deposit ";
 cin >> act;
 // Get amount of transaction
 double A;
 cout << "Enter amount: ";
 cin >> A;
 // Get new Balance figure
 if (act == 'w')
 B = B - A;
 B = B + A;
 return B;
double rate(double B)
 // Get # of thousands
 int T = B/1000;
 // Calc rate
 double r = 3 + T*0.5;
 if (r > 8)
 r = 8;
 return r;
double compound(double r)
 // Sim. year with monthly compounding
 double R = r/100, total = 1.0;
 for(int i = 0; i < 12; i++)
 total = total*(1 + R/12);
 return total;

The key here is that each of these functions can be implemented independently. When I implement transaction, I don't need to worry about any other aspect of the program - it's like transaction is its own little (easy!) program to write. Take a look at the complete program.


Multi-Parameter Functions

Functions get infinitely more interesting when they have more than one argument or parameter. We've already seen at least one example of a multi-parameter function from the cmath library, the pow function. Specifying multiple parameters for a function is just like specifying several single parameters in a comma-separated list. For example, suppose you wanted to define a function max that looked at two ints and returned the larger of the two. It's prototype would be

int max(int,int);

The definition would look like this:

int max(int a, int b)
 if (a < b)
 return b;
 return a;

Note that this example shows you that you can return from anywhere within a function, just like you can return from anywhere within main.

It's important to note that the order of arguments is important. For example, suppose you had a function

void rep(int,char);

that printed the char argument to the screen the number of times given by the int. If I want to print a # symbol 42 times, I need to be sure to say rep(42,'#'), because the function expects the int object first. If I said rep('#',42) instead, do you know what'd happen? I'd print 35 *s! Why? Because the same kind of implicit type conversions that go on inside expressions go on with function arguments! The rep function expects an int as its first argument, and when it gets '#' instead, it simply converts it to an int ... and the ASCII value of '#' is 35, so that's the int you get. Likewise, a char is expected as the second argument, and when rep gets the number 42 instead, it converts it to a character, and ASCII value 42 gives you the character '*'.

When implicit conversions aren't possible, the compiler gives you an error message. For example, if you tried to call rep("#",42) the compiler would give you an error saying that the first argument of rep was supposed to be an int, but you gave it a string, and there's no way to convert the string to an int. You'll likely see lots of these messages in your life!



Functions which return the type bool are traditionally referred to as predicates. Imagine that you had to compute more and more terms of a series approximation for cos(x) until your series approximation and the cmath library approximation agreed to a particular precision. In other words, you had two floating-point values and a number n and you had to test to see whether they agreed to within 10-n. We could define a function approxEqual to do this.

bool approxEqual(double, double, int);

... where the first two arguments are the quantities to compare, and the int argument is the precision.

bool approxEqual(double x, double y, int n)
 if (fabs(x - y) > pow(10,-n))
 return false;
 return true;

With the definition of this predicate, the main while-loop of you program would look like


Really there's no need to bring predicates up as a special subject, since functions that return bools are not any more special than functions that return, say, strings. However, you might not have thought much about the use of having such functions.



1.      Surveying Problem This gives you another simple example of top-down design.

2.      Drawing a triangle with *'s This is a simple multi-parameter function problem.

3.      Distance between points This is another simple multi-parameter function problem.

4.      What percentage of numbers are prime? This is a simple example using a predicate.

Assoc Prof Christopher Brown

Last modified by LT M. Johnson 08/16/2007 09:08 AM