Barbarian Meets Coding

WebDev, UX & a Pinch of Fantasy

3 minutes readlua


What is Lua?

Lua is a lightweight, high-level, multi-paradigm programming language with a minimalistic and easy to learn syntax.

Installing Lua

brew install lua luarocks

Once installed you can run the lua repl by writing lua in your terminal:

▶ lua
Lua 5.4.3  Copyright (C) 1994-2021, PUC-Rio

Or interpret a lua script running the lua interpreter:

lua myprogram.lua


You can create variables in Lua by assignment a value to a variable like so:

isGood = true

number = 42
number2 = 12.23

str = 'a string'
str2 = "another string"
str3 = --[[
    A multiline string
    that expands
    multiple lines.

Variables are global by default, you can create a local variable using the local keyword:

number = 42        -- global variable
local number = 42  -- local variable (block scope)


-- This is a comment in lua
   This is a multiline comment in lua

Control Flow

-- if/else
if age > 21 then
  print('Allowed to drink beer! Yippie!')
elseif age > 20 then
  print('Almost there')
  print('Not allowed to drink beer')

-- while loop
while countdown > 0 do
  countdown = countdown - 1

-- for loops
sum = 0
for i = 1, 100 do  -- Range includes both ends.
  sum = sum + i

-- Count down
sum = 0
for i = 100, 1, -1 do  -- Range: begin, end[, step]
sum = sum + i 

-- Another loop construct:
  print('the way of the future')
  num = num - 1
until num == 0

-- Iterating over a table
-- pairs -> iterates over key/values, order not guaranteed
for key,value in pairs(table) do
  print(key, value)

-- Iterating over an array
-- ipairs -> iterates over numeric keys, order guaranteed
for index,value in ipairs(array) do
  print(index, value)

-- you can ignore keys
for _,value in ipairs(array) do

Logic operators

== -- equal
~= -- unequal

-- Undefined variables return nil.
-- This is not an error:
foo = anUnknownVariable  -- Now foo = nil.

-- Only nil and false are falsy; 0 and '' are true!
if not foo then print('it was false') end
if not false then print('it was false') end
if 0 then print('it was true') end
if {} then print('it was true') end
if '' then print('it was true') end

-- 'or' and 'and' are short-circuited.
-- This is similar to the a?b:c operator in JS:
result = false and 'yes' or 'no'  --> 'no'

Input and Output

print("hello world");
io.write("hello world")  -- Defaults to stdout


Tables are lua’s unique compound data structure, they can be used to describe objects (dictionaries) or arrays.

-- a table literal defines key/value pairs
person = { height = 180, weight = 91}

-- index notation lets you access values
print(person.height) -- 180
person.weigth = nil  -- removes a key from the table

-- you can have non-strings as keys as well
table = {[12] = "jaime", [22] = "jamie", [{}] = "wop"}

-- when you call a function with one single param, and that
-- param is a table you don't need to use parentheses. This
-- kind of looks weird, but is a very common pattern in lua:
print{name="jaime", height=180}

-- table iteration
for key, value in pairs(table) do
  print(key, value)

-- _G is a special table of all globals.
print(_G['_G'] == _G) 

-- You can use tables as an array if you don't specify a key:
people = {"john", "jane", "jaime"}

-- list iteration (note how indices start at 1)
for i = 1, #people do  -- #people is the size of the list

-- table operations
table.insert(myTable, value)  -- adds value to table

Error handling

-- Imagine a function that throws an error when it tries to access something
-- which doesn't exist e.g. this function will throw an error if we send nil as
-- table
function printField(table, field)

local person = nil
-- you can use a pcall to handle errors in lua
-- pcall means protected call and lets you handle errors smoothly:
local ok, result = pcall(printHeight, person, "height")
-- More info:


Jaime González García

Written by Jaime González García , dad, husband, software engineer, ux designer, amateur pixel artist, tinkerer and master of the arcane arts. You can also find him on Twitter jabbering about random stuff.Jaime González García