This first edition was written for Lua 5.0. While still largely relevant for later versions, there are some differences.
The third edition targets Lua 5.2 and is available at Amazon and other bookstores.
By buying the book, you also help to support the Lua project.


4.2 – Local Variables and Blocks

Besides global variables, Lua supports local variables. We create local variables with the local statement:

    j = 10         -- global variable
    local i = 1    -- local variable
Unlike global variables, local variables have their scope limited to the block where they are declared. A block is the body of a control structure, the body of a function, or a chunk (the file or string with the code where the variable is declared).
    x = 10
    local i = 1        -- local to the chunk
    
    while i<=x do
      local x = i*2    -- local to the while body
      print(x)         --> 2, 4, 6, 8, ...
      i = i + 1
    end
    
    if i > 20 then
      local x          -- local to the "then" body
      x = 20
      print(x + 2)
    else
      print(x)         --> 10  (the global one)
    end
    
    print(x)           --> 10  (the global one)
Beware that this example will not work as expected if you enter it in interactive mode. The second line, local i = 1, is a complete chunk by itself. As soon as you enter this line, Lua runs it and starts a new chunk in the next line. By then, the local declaration is already out of scope. To run such examples in interactive mode, you should enclose all the code in a do block.

It is good programming style to use local variables whenever possible. Local variables help you avoid cluttering the global environment with unnecessary names. Moreover, the access to local variables is faster than to global ones.

Lua handles local variable declarations as statements. As such, you can write local declarations anywhere you can write a statement. The scope begins after the declaration and goes until the end of the block. The declaration may include an initial assignment, which works the same way as a conventional assignment: Extra values are thrown away; extra variables get nil. As a specific case, if a declaration has no initial assignment, it initializes all its variables with nil.

    local a, b = 1, 10
    if a<b then
      print(a)   --> 1
      local a    -- `= nil' is implicit
      print(a)   --> nil
    end          -- ends the block started at `then'
    print(a,b)   -->  1   10

A common idiom in Lua is

    local foo = foo
This code creates a local variable, foo, and initializes it with the value of the global variable foo. That idiom is useful when the chunk needs to preserve the original value of foo even if later some other function changes the value of the global foo; it also speeds up access to foo.

Because many languages force you to declare all local variables at the beginning of a block (or a procedure), some people think it is a bad practice to use declarations in the middle of a block. Quite the opposite: By declaring a variable only when you need it, you seldom need to declare it without an initial value (and therefore you seldom forget to initialize it). Moreover, you shorten the scope of the variable, which increases readability.

We can delimit a block explicitly, bracketing it with the keywords do-end. These do blocks can be useful when you need finer control over the scope of one or more local variables:

    do
      local a2 = 2*a
      local d = sqrt(b^2 - 4*a*c)
      x1 = (-b + d)/a2
      x2 = (-b - d)/a2
    end          -- scope of `a2' and `d' ends here
    print(x1, x2)