Luau is based on Lua 5.1, and as such incorporates all features of 5.1, except for ones that had to be taken out due to sandboxing limitations. Because of backwards compatibility constraints, we don’t remove features deprecated by later versions (e.g. we still support
setfenv). Later Lua versions introduce new features into the language and new libraries/functions.
Our overall goal is to incorporate features from the later versions of Lua when it makes sense for us to do so - the motivations behind some newer features are unclear or don’t apply to the domain Luau is used in, and many features carry costs that don’t always make sense to pay. The rest of this document describes the status of all features of Lua 5.2 and beyond, with the following classification:
- ✔️ - the feature is available in Luau
- ❌ - the feature is not available in Luau because we don’t believe it makes sense to include it
- 😞 - the feature is not available in Luau because of compatibility/sandboxing concerns
- 🔜 - the feature is not available in Luau yet but we’d like to include it and are possibly working on it
- 🤷♀️ - the feature is not available in Luau yet; we don’t have strong opinions on it so it might make it at some point
Please note that all of these decisions are not final, they are just our current stance. In some cases evolution of our VM may make a feature that was previously impractical to support due to performance complications feasible. In some cases a feature that didn’t have a strong use case gains one, so we can implement it.
Luau has certain limitations around the number of local variables, registers, upvalues, constants and instructions. These limits are often different from the limits imposed by various versions of Lua, and are documented here without promising that future versions will adhere to these. Note that writing code that is close to any of these limits is dangerous because this code may become invalid as our codegen evolves.
- Local variables: 200 per function (same as all versions of Lua, this includes function arguments)
- Upvalues: 200 per function (up from 60 in Lua 5.1)
- Registers: 255 per function (same as all versions of Lua, this includes local variables and function arguments)
- Constants: 2^23 per function (up from 2^18 in Lua 5.1)
- Instructions: 2^23 per function (up from 2^17 in Lua 5.1, although in both cases the limit only applies to control flow)
- Nested functions: 2^15 per function (down from 2^18 in Lua 5.1)
- Stack depth: 20000 Lua calls per Lua thread, 200 C calls per C thread (e.g.
pcallnesting is limited to 200)
Note that Lua 5.3 has a larger upvalue limit (255) and a larger constant limit (2^26); existing Luau limits are likely sufficient for reasonable use cases.
Since several features were removed from Lua 5.1 for sandboxing reasons, this table lists them for completeness.
||note that some functions in
||removed for sandboxing, no direct file access|
||exposing bytecode is dangerous for sandboxing reasons|
||extra flexibility removed for sandboxing|
Sandboxing challenges are covered in the dedicated section.
|yieldable metamethods||❌||significant performance implications|
|ephemeron tables||❌||this complicates the garbage collector esp. for large weak tables|
|emergency garbage collector||❌||Luau runs in environments where handling memory exhaustion in emergency situations is not tenable|
|goto statement||❌||this complicates the compiler, makes control flow unstructured and doesn’t address a significant need|
|finalizers for tables||❌||no
|no more fenv for threads or functions||😞||we love this, but it breaks compatibility|
|tables honor the
||❌||performance implications, no strong use cases|
|support for hexadecimal floats||🤷♀️||no strong use cases|
|order metamethods work for different types||❌||no strong use cases and more complicated semantics + compat|
|empty statement||🤷♀️||less useful in Lua than in JS/C#/C/C++|
||🤷♀️||we’d like to do it for return/continue as well but there be dragons|
|arguments for function called through
|optional base in
|optional separator in
||🤷♀️||no real use cases|
||❌||would like to reevaluate iteration design long term|
Two things that are important to call out here are various new metamethods for tables and yielding in metamethods. In both cases, there are performance implications to supporting this - our implementation is very highly tuned for performance, so any changes that affect the core fundamentals of how Lua works have a price. To support yielding in metamethods we’d need to make the core of the VM more involved, since almost every single “interesting” opcode would need to learn how to be resumable - which also complicates future JIT/AOT story. Metamethods in general are important for extensibility, but very challenging to deal with in implementation, so we err on the side of not supporting any new metamethods unless a strong need arises.
__ipairs, we aren’t sure that this is the right design choice - self-iterating tables via
__iter are very appealing, and if we can resolve some challenges with array iteration order, that would make the language more accessible so we may go that route instead.
Ephemeron tables may be implemented at some point since they do have valid uses and they make weak tables semantically cleaner, however the cleanup mechanism for these is expensive and complicated, and as such this can only be considered after the pending GC rework is complete.
|integers (64-bit by default)||❌||backwards compatibility and performance implications|
|basic utf-8 support||✔️||we include
|functions for packing and unpacking values (string.pack/unpack/packsize)||✔️|
|floor division||❌||no strong use cases, syntax overlaps with C comments|
||❌||no strong use cases, performance implications|
|stricter error checking for
||😞||we love this, but it breaks compatibility|
It’s important to highlight integer support and bitwise operators. For Luau, it’s rare that a full 64-bit integer type is necessary - double-precision types support integers up to 2^53 (in Lua which is used in embedded space, integers may be more appealing in environments without a native 64-bit FPU). However, there’s a lot of value in having a single number type, both from performance perspective and for consistency. Notably, Lua doesn’t handle integer overflow properly, so using integers also carries compatibility implications.
If integers are taken out of the equation, bitwise operators make much less sense; additionally,
bit32 library is more fully featured (includes commonly used operations such as rotates and arithmetic shift; bit extraction/replacement is also more readable). Adding operators along with metamethods for all of them increases complexity, which means this feature isn’t worth it on the balance.
Floor division is less harmful, but it’s used rarely enough that
math.floor(a/b) seems like an adequate replacement; additionally,
// is a comment in C-derived languages and we may decide to adopt it in addition to
-- at some point.
|new generational mode for garbage collection||🔜||we’re working on gc optimizations and generational mode is on our radar|
|to-be-closed variables||❌||the syntax is ugly and inconsistent with how we’d like to do attributes long-term; no strong use cases in our domain|
|const variables||❌||while there’s some demand for const variables, we’d never adopt this syntax|
|new implementation for math.random||✔️||our RNG is based on PCG, unlike Lua 5.4 which uses Xoroshiro|
||🤷♀️||no strong use cases|
||🤷||not useful without to-be-closed variables|
|coercions string-to-number moved to the string library||😞||we love this, but it breaks compatibility|
||🤷♀️||no strong use cases|
||🤷♀️||no strong use cases|
|The use of the
||😞||breaks compatibility and doesn’t seem very interesting otherwise|
|When finalizing objects, Lua will call
|The function print calls
|By default, the decoding functions in the utf8 library do not accept surrogates.||😞||breaks compatibility and doesn’t seem very interesting otherwise|
Lua has a beautiful syntax and frankly we’re disappointed in the
<toclose> which takes away from that beauty. Taking syntax aside,
<toclose> isn’t very useful in Luau - its dominant use case is for code that works with external resources like files or sockets, but we don’t provide such APIs - and has a very large complexity cost, evidences by a lot of bug fixes since the initial implementation in 5.4 work versions.
<const> in Luau doesn’t matter for performance - our multi-pass compiler is already able to analyze the usage of the variable to know if it’s modified or not and extract all performance gains from it - so the only use here is for code readability, where the
<const> syntax is… suboptimal.
If we do end up introducing const variables, it would be through a
const var = value syntax, which is backwards compatible through a context-sensitive keyword similar to
Differences from Lua
We have a few behavior deviations from Lua 5.x that come from either a different implementation, or our desire to clean up small inconsistencies in the language/libraries:
- Tail calls are not supported to simplify implementation, make debugging/stack traces more predictable and allow deep validation of caller identity for security
- Order of table assignment in table literals follows program order in mixed tables (Lua 5.x assigns array elements first in some cases)
- Equality comparisons call
__eqmetamethod even when objects are rawequal (which matches other metamethods like
<=and facilitates NaN checking)
os.timereturns UTC timestamp when called with a table for consistency