4.21 Analysing and Constructing Atoms

These predicates convert between Prolog constants and lists of character codes. The predicates atom_codes/2, number_codes/2 and name/2 behave the same when converting from a constant to a list of character codes. When converting the other way around, atom_codes/2 will generate an atom, number_codes/2 will generate a number or exception and name/2 will return a number if possible and an atom otherwise.

The ISO standard defines atom_chars/2 to describe the `broken-up' atom as a list of one-character atoms instead of a list of codes. Up-to version 3.2.x, SWI-Prolog's atom_chars/2 behaved, compatible to Quintus and SICStus Prolog, like atom_codes. As of 3.3.x SWI-Prolog atom_codes/2 and atom_chars/2 are compliant to the ISO standard.

To ease the pain of all variations in the Prolog community, all SWI-Prolog predicates behave as flexible as possible. This implies the `list-side' accepts either a code-list or a char-list and the `atom-side' accept all atomic types (atom, number and string).

[ISO]atom_codes(?Atom, ?String)
Convert between an atom and a list of character codes. If Atom is instantiated, if will be translated into a list of character codes and the result is unified with String. If Atom is unbound and String is a list of character codes, it will Atom will be unified with an atom constructed from this list.
[ISO]atom_chars(?Atom, ?CharList)
As atom_codes/2, but CharList is a list of one-character atoms rather than a list of character codes49Up-to version 3.2.x, atom_chars/2 behaved as the current atom_codes/2. The current definition is compliant with the ISO standard.
?- atom_chars(hello, X).

X = [h, e, l, l, o]
[ISO]char_code(?Atom, ?Code)
Convert between character and character code for a single character.50This is also called atom_char/2 in older versions of SWI-Prolog as well as some other Prolog implementations. The atom_char/2 predicate is available from the library backcomp.pl
[ISO]number_chars(?Number, ?CharList)
Similar to atom_chars/2, but converts between a number and its representation as a list of one-character atoms. Fails with a syntax_error if Number is unbound and CharList does not describe a number.
[ISO]number_codes(?Number, ?CodeList)
As number_chars/2, but converts to a list of character codes rather than one-character atoms. In the mode -, +, both predicates behave identically to improve handling of non-ISO source.
atom_number(?Atom, ?Number)
Realises the popular combination of atom_codes/2 and number_codes/2 to convert between atom and number (integer or float) in one predicate, avoiding the intermediate list. Calling in mode +,- to convert numbers represented as atoms is often good style. Converting numbers to atoms, which in turn are assembled into larger units before communication them to the outside world is bad style. Consider using streams or with_output_to/2 to reduce the number of expensive intermediate atoms.
name(?AtomOrInt, ?String)
String is a list of character codes representing the same text as Atom. Each of the arguments may be a variable, but not both. When String is bound to an character code list describing an integer and Atom is a variable Atom will be unified with the integer value described by String (e.g. `name(N, "300"), 400 is N + 100' succeeds).
term_to_atom(?Term, ?Atom)
True if Atom describes a term that unifies with Term. When Atom is instantiated Atom is converted and then unified with Term. If Atom has no valid syntax, a syntax_error exception is raised. Otherwise Term is ``written'' on Atom using write/1.
atom_to_term(+Atom, -Term, -Bindings)
Use Atom as input to read_term/2 using the option variable_names and return the read term in Term and the variable bindings in Bindings. Bindings is a list of Name = Var couples, thus providing access to the actual variable names. See also read_term/2. If Atom has no valid syntax, a syntax_error exception is raised.
[ISO]atom_concat(?Atom1, ?Atom2, ?Atom3)
Atom3 forms the concatenation of Atom1 and Atom2. At least two of the arguments must be instantiated to atoms, integers or floating point numbers. For ISO compliance, the instantiation-pattern -, -, + is allowed too, non-deterministically splitting the 3-th argument into two parts (as append/3 does for lists). See also string_concat/3.
concat_atom(+List, -Atom)
List is a list of atoms, integers or floating point numbers. Succeeds if Atom can be unified with the concatenated elements of List. If List has exactly 2 elements it is equivalent to atom_concat/3, allowing for variables in the list.
concat_atom(?List, +Separator, ?Atom)
Creates an atom just like concat_atom/2, but inserts Separator between each pair of atoms. For example:
?- concat_atom([gnu, gnat], ', ', A).

A = 'gnu, gnat'

This predicate can also be used to split atoms by instantiating Separator and Atom:

?- concat_atom(L, -, 'gnu-gnat').

L = [gnu, gnat]
[ISO]atom_length(+Atom, -Length)
True if Atom is an atom of Length characters long. This predicate also works for strings (see section 4.23). If the prolog flag iso is not set, it also accepts integers and floats, expressing the number of characters output when given to write/1 as well as code-lists and character-lists, expressing the length of the list.bugNote that [] is both an atom an empty code/character list. The predicate atom_length/2 returns 2 for this atom.
atom_prefix(+Atom, +Prefix)
True if Atom starts with the characters from Prefix. Its behaviour is equivalent to ?- sub_atom(Atom, 0, _, _, Prefix). Depreciated.
[ISO]sub_atom(+Atom, ?Before, ?Len, ?After, ?Sub)
ISO predicate for breaking atoms. It maintains the following relation: Sub is a sub-atom of Atom that starts at Before, has Len characters and Atom contains After characters after the match.
?- sub_atom(abc, 1, 1, A, S).

A = 1, S = b

The implementation minimises non-determinism and creation of atoms. This is a very flexible predicate that can do search, prefix- and suffix-matching, etc.