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A simple introduction to Wipple

February 3, 2021

As we know, computers are designed to process information — number crunching, handling people’s names and phone numbers, showing websites, and more. The problem is that computers are really just machines that can’t operate without human guidance. Our job as programmers is to tell the computer what to do, and the way we do that is by writing code. Wipple is a “programming language”: similar to languages like English, Wipple is a way to convey meaning, but instead you’re having a conversation with the computer!


Computers work by taking some input, and using the program they’re given to process that input into some output. A program needs a way to refer to the input, and in Wipple we do this by using names. Think of names like labels on boxes — they’re a way to identify whatever is inside. A mystery box isn’t very useful! Names can be one word, like number or color or x, or multiple words separated by a dash, like favorite-color or lorem-ipsum. When a name refers to a piece of information, it’s called a variable.

Let’s write a program to keep track of a bank account’s balance. We can refer to the balance with a name like balance! Let’s try writing some code in the playground:

show! balance

You’ll see we get an error. How come? The problem is that we haven’t told the computer what balance actually refers to — it’s like having a stray label not attached to any box. In order to make balance refer to something, say $75, we can use a colon (:, pronounced “is”):

balance : 75

The above code reads as “balance is 75”. Now try running both lines of code at once; on the right you should see:

balance ==> 75

Now the computer knows that balance refers to 75!

(If you still got an error running the code, make sure that balance : 75 is placed before show! balance. If you place it after, it’s like trying to read a label before it’s attached to a box — you’re doing things in the wrong order.)


So we have a way to refer to input. But how do we actually do anything with it? In Wipple, we can describe how to transform input into output using what’s called a function. If you remember from math, the function f(x) = x + 3 takes some input x and multiplies it by 3. Wipple functions are similar — all you have to do is use an arrow (=>, pronounced “becomes”):

input => output

The above code reads as “input becomes output”. Whatever is on the left is the input, and whatever is on the right is the output. For example, we can describe adding 3 to a number like so:

number => number + 3

Here we run into the “mystery box” problem again, though — we have a function but no way to use it! To fix this we can give our function a name:

add-three : number => number + 3

The above code reads as “add-three is when some number becomes the number plus 3”. Or more concisely, “add-three is a function that adds 3 to its input”.

In order to use the function, we write add-three and then the desired input:

add-three 2

If you show! that in the playground (show! (add-three 2)), you get 5!

(add-three 2) ==> 5

Going back to the bank account example, we can use a function to describe how to deposit money into our account:

deposit : amount => balance + amount

Finally, let’s deposit $50 into our account!

show! (deposit 50)
(deposit 50) ==> 125

We can update our balance by updating balance to the result of deposit 50:

balance : deposit 50

You can repeat this line of code multiple times to keep adding money!

If you want, you can also define a withdraw function and use it in the same way:

withdraw : amount => balance - amount

Congratulations, now you know how to write basic programs in Wipple! Here’s the full playground for you to experiment with.

More Wipple guides are coming soon… stay tuned! You can check out the Wipple project on GitHub if you’re interested.

© 2023 Wilson Gramer