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2.4.8 The INTERPRET Instruction
     INTERPRET expr ;

The INTERPRET instruction is used to dynamically build and execute
REXX instructions during run-time. First, it evaluates the
expression expr, and then parses and interprets the result as a
(possibly empty) list of REXX instructions to be executed. For

     foo = ‘hello, world’
     interpret ‘say “’foo’!”’

executes the statement SAY “hello, world!” after having evaluated
the expression following INTERPRET. This example shows several
important aspects of INTERPRET. Firstly, it’s very easy to get
confused by the levels of quotes, and a bit of caution should be
taken to nest the quotes correctly. Secondly, the use of INTERPRET
does not exactly improve readability.

Also, INTERPRET will probably increase execution time considerably
if put inside loops, since the interpreter may be forced to
reparse the source code for each iteration. Many optimizing REXX
interpreters (and in particular REXX compilers) has little or no
support for INTERPRET. Since virtually anything can happen inside
it, it is hard to optimize, and it often invalidates assumptions
in other parts of the script, forcing it to ignore other possible
optimizations. Thus, you should avoid INTERPRET when speed is at a

There are some restrictions on which statements can be inside an
INTERPRET statement. Firstly, labels cannot occur there. TRL
states that they are not allowed, but you may find that in some
implementations labels occurring there will not affect the label
symbol table of the program being run. Consider the statement:

     interpret ‘signal there; there: say hallo’

This statement transfers control to the label THERE in the
program, never to the THERE label inside the expression of the
INTERPRET instruction. Equivalently, any SIGNAL to a label THERE
elsewhere in the program never transfers control to the label
inside the INTERPRET instruction. However, labels are strictly
speaking not allowed inside INTERPRET strings.

Example: Self-modifying Program

There is an idea for a self-modifying program in REXX which is
basically like this:

     string = ‘’
     do i=1 to sourceline()
          string = string ‘;’ sourceline(i)
     string = transform( string )
     interpret string
     transform: procedure
          parse arg string
          /* do some transformation on the argument */
          return string

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why this program will not
work in REXX, and it may be instructive to investigate why.
Firstly, it uses the label TRANSFORM, which is not allowed in the
argument to INTERPRET. The interpret will thus refer to the
TRANSFORM routine of the “outermost” invocation, not the one “in”
the INTERPRET string.

Secondly, the program does not take line continuations into mind.
Worse, the SOURCELINE() built-in function refers to the data of
the main program, even inside the code executed by the INTERPRET
instruction.  Thirdly, the program will never end, as it will nest
itself up till an implementation-dependent limit for the maximum
number of nested INTERPRET instructions.

In order to make this idea work better, temporary files should be

On the other hand, loops and other multi-clause instructions, like
IF and SELECT occur inside an INTERPRET expression, but only if
the whole instruction is there; you can not start a structured
instruction inside an INTERPRET instruction and end it outside, or
vice-versa. However, the instruction SIGNAL is allowed even if the
label is not in the interpreted string. Also, the instructions
ITERATE and LEAVE are allowed in an INTERPRET, even when they
refer to a loop that is external to the interpreted string.

Most of the time, INTERPRET is not needed, although it can yield
compact and interesting code. If you do not strictly need
INTERPRET, you should consider not using it, for reasons of
compatibility, speed, and readability. Many of the traditional
uses of INTERPRET have been replaced by other mechanisms in order
to decrease the necessity of INTERPRET; e.g. indirect
specification of variables in EXPOSE and DROP, the improved
VALUE() built-in function, and indirect specification of patterns
in templates.

Only semicolon (;) is allowed as a clause delimiter in the string
interpreted by an INTERPRET instruction. The colon of labels can
not be used, since labels are not allowed. Nor does specific end-
of-line character sequences have any defined meaning there.
However, most interpreters probably allow the end-of-line
character sequence of the host operating system as alternative
clause delimiters. It is interesting to note that in the context
of the INTERPRET instruction, an implicit, trailing clause
delimiter is always appended to the string to be interpreted.