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On Aug 11, 2014, at 12:13 PM, Mason Mackaman <> wrote:

> Okay, I’ve figured out the relationship between _G and _ENV, _ENV=_G. The reason things were confusing me before is I had forgotten that _G is really _ENV._G, so that clears that up. But now the other part of my question is even bigger, What the hell is the point of _G?

Not quite. The whole _ENV and _G thing can appear a bit messy, and partly this is historical. Here’s the way it works (with some simplifications)...

Inside Lua is a special built-in table (a Lua table) known as the Registry. It is NOT normally accessible to Lua, but is accessible to C code via the Lua API. (There is actually one registry per main Lua state, but that’s not important for this discussion.) Stored at a well-known key (index) in this Registry is another Lua table which is the “distinguished environment” otherwise known as the table that holds Lua globals (as you know Lua globals are just values in a Lua table). When this global variable table is first created, the _G entry in the table is also set to reference the table (a self-reference). This only happens once (I’m not absolutely certain of this, but it seems to be implied by the docs).

When any Lua chunk is compiled and loaded, it starts off life as a Lua function (actually a closure) on the Lua stack ready to be called (all chunks are compiled as functions). This function will always have an upvalue named _ENV.. By default, the compiled function will have _ENV initialized to the “distinguished environment” that is stored in the Registry as explained above. However, you can, at chunk compile/load time, supply a *different* table to use as the value of _ENV for that chunk (see the various load() functions). The content of this custom table is entirely in your control, in particular Lua makes NO attempt to place an _G entry in it.

Also, when a function is compiled, Lua treats all global variable accesses as if they were prefixed with “_ENV.”, hence “foo” is converted to “”. By default, this means that all global variable accesses are converted to table lookups in the table stored in the _ENV upvalue. And, as explained above, this table is either the distinguished environment or another table supplied by you when the chunk was compiled/loaded.

However, the _ENV name is not magical, apart from it’s being used to decorate global variable names by the compiler. Once the compiler has added the “_ENV.” prefix it treats the name normally. This means you can write code like this in Lua:

foo = 10
local _ENV = { foo=20 }

In both cases, “foo” is converted to “”. However, in the first case, “” refers to the table in the _ENV upvalue, while in the second case “” refers to the foo value in the newly created local _ENV table (and hence will print 20).

How does this all relate to _G? The ONLY thing Lua does is set _G in the initial distinguished environment. That’s it. _G pre-dates the use of _ENV (which was new in Lua 5.2), and my assumption is that it was intended (among other things) to allow functions to run in explicitly specified global environments, for example:

function doit(X, a, b)

This kind of thing is no longer necessary with 5.2 as a result of the new _ENV model (which is much more elegant as it avoids the need for all the manual “X” decorations).

What all this means is that whatever is in _ENV at any point in your code *IS* the current global environment by definition, while what is in _G is whatever your code has defined it to be, and may or may not be what you intend/need.