return -- Return a value

Syntax: return ?options? ?value?

Returns from a TCL procedure or script, optionally including a value. By default, the command simply returns the given value, or the empty string if value is omitted.

proc just_return {} {
    if {$a eq "all done"} {
        # Just return.  The return value will be the empty string, ""

proc identity {x} {
    # Return the argument
    return $x

The options allow the caller to return any TCL return code and to return through multiple procedures at once. The options are as follows:

Option Description
-code code The TCL result code; defaults to ok.
-level level Number of stack levels to return through; defaults to 1.
-errorcode errorCode The error code, when -code is error. Defaults to NONE.
-errorinfo errorInfo The initial error stack trace. Defaults to the empty string.

The -code and -level Options

The -code and -level options work together. The semantics are tricky to understand; a good aid is to try things and use catch to review the result value and options.

If -code is given, the code must be one of ok (the default), error, return, break, continue, or an integer. Integer codes 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 correspond to the symbolic constants just given. Other integers can be used to implement application-specific control structures.

If -level is given, the level must be an integer greater than or equal to zero; it represents the number of stack levels to return through, and defaults to 1.

Because of the defaults, a bare return is equivalent to return -code ok -level 1:

# These are the same:
proc simple {}  { return "Hello world" }
proc complex {} { return -code ok -level 1 "Hello world" }

Both tell the interpreter to return "Hello world" to caller the caller of the current procedure as a normal (ok) return value.

By selecting a different -code, one can return some other error code. For example, break and return -code break -level 0 are equivalent. This can be useful in several ways. For example, suppose you want to extend the language to support break and continue with labels, to be used with some new control structure. You could do the following; note the -level 1. The return command returns from your labeled_break procedure to its caller, where it is understood as a break result.

proc labeled_break {{label ""}} {
    return -code break -level 1 $label

Your new control structure would [catch] the result, see that it's a break, and jump to the indicated label.

Similarly, suppose you want to write a command that works like return but does some additional processing. You could do the following; note the -level 2. The 2 is because the command needs to return from your list_return method, and then from the calling procedure: two stack levels.

# Return arguments as a list
proc list_return {a b c} {
    return -level 2 -code ok [list a b c]

Returning Errors Cleanly

The normal way to throw an error in TCL is to use either the error or throw command; the latter is used in more modern code when there's an explicit error code. However, both of these commands will appear in the error stack trace.

Some TCL programmers consider it good style in library code to throw errors using return, as follows (with or without the -errorcode):

proc my_library_proc {} {
   return -code error -level 1 -errorcode {MYLIB MYERROR} "My Error Message"

The advantage of this approach is that the stack trace will show my_library_proc as the source of the error, rather than error or catch.

The -errorinfo Option and Re-throwing Errors

Sometimes it's desirable to catch an error, take some action (e.g., log it), and then rethrow it. The return command is used to do this:

set code [catch {
    # Some command or script that can throw an error
} result opts]

if {$code == 1} {
    # Log the error message
    puts "Got an error: $result"

    # Rethrow the error by returning with exactly the options and return
    # result that we received.
    return {*}$opts $result

TCL Liens

The standard TCL return command is more complicated than shown here; however, the Molt implementation provides all of the useful patterns the author has ever seen in use. Some of the specific differences are as follows:

  • Molt rejects any options other than the ones listed above, and ignores -errorcode and -errorinfo if the -code is anything other than error. Standard TCL's return retains all option/value pairs it is given, to be included in the catch options.

  • Standard TCL's return takes an -options option; in Standard TCL, return -options $opts is equivalent to return {*}$ops. Molt doesn't support -options, as it doesn't add any value and is confusing.

  • Standard TCL provides two versions of the stack trace: the "error info", meant to be human readable, and the "error stack", for programmatic use. The -errorstack is used to initialize the error stack when rethrowing errors, as -errorinfo is used to initialize the error info string. Molt does not support the error stack at this time.

Some of these liens may be reconsidered over time.