Accumulating Attributes In Elixir

Module attributes in Elixir serve three purposes:

  1. They serve to annotate the module, often with information to be used by the user or the VM.
  2. They work as constants.
  3. They work as temporary module storage to be used during compilation.

Typically, if you declare an attribute twice like this:

@unit_of_measure :fathom
@unit_of_measure :stone

The second declaration will override the first:

IO.inspect(@unit_of_measure)
# :stone

But by registering the attribute by calling register_attribute you get the opportunity to set the attribute to accumulate. When accumulating, each declaration will push the declared value onto the head of a list.

defmodule TriColarian do
  @moduledoc false

  Module.register_attribute(__MODULE__, :colors, accumulate: true)

  @colors :green
  @colors :red
  @colors :yellow

  def colors do
    @colors
  end
end

TriColarian.colors()
# [:yellow, :red, :green]

At compile time, perhaps when executing a macro, you have the opportunity to dynamically build a list.

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