Function Definitions

As we’ve already seen, Modelica includes many useful functions for describing mathematical behavior. But, inevitably, it is necessary to create new functions for specific purposes. Defining such functions is similar, syntactically, to a Model Definition.

Basic Syntax

A basic Modelica function includes one or more arguments, a return value and an algorithm section to compute the return value in terms of the arguments. The arguments to the function are preceded by the input qualifier and the return value is preceded by the output qualifier. For example, consider the following simple function that squares its input argument:

function Square
  input Real x;
  output Real y;
  y := x*x;
end Square;

Here the input argument x has the type Real. The output variable y also has the Real type. Arguments and return values can be scalars or arrays (or even records, although we won’t introduce records until later).

Intermediate Variables

For complex calculations, it is sometimes useful to define variables to hold intermediate results. Such variables must be clearly distinguished from arguments and return values. To declare such intermediate variables, make their declarations protected. Making the variables protected indicates to the Modelica compiler that these variables are not arguments or return values, but are instead used internally by the function. For example, if we wished to write a function to compute the circumference of a circle, we might utilize an intermediate variable to store the diameter:

function Circumference
  input Real radius;
  output Real circumference;
  Real diameter := radius*2;
  circumference := 3.14159*diameter;
end Circumference;

Here we see how some intermediate result or common sub-expression can be associated with an internal variable.

Default Input Arguments

In some cases, it makes sense to include default values for some input arguments. In these cases, it is possible to include a default value in the declaration of the input variable. Consider the following function to compute the potential energy of a mass in a gravitational field:

function PotentialEnergy
  input Real m "mass";
  input Real h "height";
  input Real g=9.81 "gravity";
  output Real pe "potential energy";
  pe := m*g*h;
end PotentialEnergy;

By providing a default value for g, we do not force users of this function to provide a value for g each time. Of course, this kind of approach should only be used when there is a reasonable default value for a given argument and it should never be used if you want to force users to provide a value.

These default values have some important effects when Calling Functions that we shall discuss shortly.

Multiple Return Values

Note that a function can have multiple return values (i.e., multiple declarations with the output qualifier). For example, to consider a function that computes both the circumference and area of a circle:

function CircleProperties
  input Real radius;
  output Real circumference;
  output Real area;
  Real diameter := radius*2;
  circumference := 3.14159*diameter;
  area := 3.14159*radius^2;
end CircleProperties;

Our upcoming discussion on Calling Functions will cover how to address multiple return values.

Calling Functions

So far, we’ve covered how to define new functions. But it is also worth spending some time discussing the various ways of calling functions. In general, functions are invoked in a way that would be expected by both mathematicians and programmers, e.g.,

f(z, t);

Here we see the typical syntax name of the function name followed by a comma separated list of arguments surrounded by parentheses. But there are several interesting cases to discuss.

The syntax above is “positional”. That means that values in the function call are assigned to arguments based on the order. But since Modelica function arguments have names, it is also possible to call functions using named arguments. Consider the following function for computing the volume of a cube:

function CylinderVolume
  input Real radius;
  input Real length;
  output Real volume;
  volume = 3.14159*radius^2*length;
end CylinderVolume;

When calling this function, it is important not to confuse the radius and the volume. To avoid any possible confusion regarding their order, it is possible to call the function used named arguments. In that case, the function call would look something like:

CylinderVolume(radius=0.5, length=12.0);

Named arguments are particularly useful in conjunction with default argument values. Recall the PotentialEnergy function introduced earlier. It can be invoked in several ways:

PotentialEnergy(1.0, 0.5, 9.79)       // m=1.0, h=0.5, g=9.79
PotentialEnergy(m=1.0, h=0.5, g=9.79) // m=1.0, h=0.5, g=9.79
PotentialEnergy(h=0.5, m=1.0, g=9.79) // m=1.0, h=0.5, g=9.79
PotentialEnergy(h=0.5, m=1.0)         // m=1.0, h=0.5, g=9.81
PotentialEnergy(0.5, 1.0)             // m=0.5, h=1.0, g=9.81

The reason named arguments are so important for arguments with default values is if a function has many arguments with default arguments, you can selectively override values for those arguments by referring to them by name.

Finally, we previously pointed out the fact that it is possible for a function to have multiple return values. But the question remains, how do we address multiple return values? To see how this is done in practice, let us revisit the CircleProperties function we defined earlier in this section. The following statement shows how we can reference both return values:

(c, a) := CircleProperties(radius);

In other words, the left hand side is a comma separated list of the variables to be assigned to (or equated to, in the case of an equation section) wrapped by a pair of parentheses.

As this discussion demonstrates, there are many different ways to call a function in Modelica.

Important Restrictions

In general, we can perform the same kinds of calculations in functions as we can in models. But there are some important restrictions.

  1. Input arguments are read only - You are not allowed to assign a value to a variable which is an input argument to the function.
  2. You are not allowed to reference the global variable time from within a function.
  3. No equations or when statements - A function can have no more than one algorithm section and it cannot contain when statements.
  4. The following functions cannot be invoked from a function: der, initial, terminal, sample, pre, edge, change, reinit, delay, cardinality, inStream, actualStream
  5. Arguments, results and intermediate (protected) variables cannot be models or blocks.
  6. Array sizes are restricted - Arguments that are arrays can have Unspecified Dimensions and the size will be implicitly determined by the context in which the function is invoked. Results that are arrays must have their sizes specified in terms of constants or in relation to the sizes of input arguments.

One important thing to note is that functions are not restricted in terms of recursion (i.e., a function is allowed to call itself).

Side Effects

In the Software-in-the-Loop Controller example, we introduced external functions that had side effects. This means that the value returned by the function was not strictly a function of its arguments. Such a function is said to have “side effects”. Functions with side effects, should be qualified with the impure keyword. This tells the Modelica compiler that these functions cannot be treated as purely mathematical functions.

The use of impure functions is restricted. They can only be invoked from within a when statement or another impure function.

Function Template

Taking all of this into account, the following can be considered a generalized function definition:

function FunctionName "A description of the function"
  input InputType1 argName1 "description of argument1";
  input InputTypeN argNameN := defaultValueN "description of argumentN";
  output OutputType1 returnName1 "description of return value 1";
  output OutputTypeN returnNameN "description of return value N";
  InterType1 intermedVarName1 "description of intermediate variable 1";
  InterTypeN intermedVarNameN "description of intermediate variable N";
  annotation ...
  // Statements that use the values of argName1..argNameN
  // to compute intermedVarName1..intermedVarNameN
  // and ultimately returnName1..returnNameN
end FunctionName;