Stata Coding Practices: Programming (Ado-files)

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Programs and ado-files are the main methods by which Stata code is condensed and generalized. By writing versions of code that apply to arbitrary inputs and saving that code in a separate file, the application of the code is cleaner in the main do-file and it becomes easier to re-use the same analytical process on other datasets in the future. Stata has special commands that enable this functionality. All commands on SSC are written as ado-files by other programmers; it is also possible to embed programs in ordinary do-files to save space and improve organization of code.

Read First

This article will refer somewhat interchangeably to the concepts of "programming", "ado-files", and "user-written commands". This is in contrast to ordinary programming of do-files. The article does not assume that you are actually writing an ado-file (as opposed to a program definition in an ordinary dofile); and it does not assume you are writing a command for distribution. That said, Stata programming functionality is achieved using several core features:

  • The program command sets up the code environment for writing a program into memory.
  • The syntax command parses inputs into a program as macros that can be used within the scope of that program execution.
  • The tempvar, tempfile, and tempname commands all create objects that can be used within the scope of program execution to avoid any conflict with arbitrary data structures.

The program command

The program command defines the scope of a Stata program inside a do-file or ado-file. When a program command block is executed, Stata stores (until the end of the session) the sequence of commands written inside the block and assigns them to the command name used in the program command. Using program drop before the block will ensure that the command space is available. For example, we might write the following program in an ordinary do-file:

cap prog drop
prog def autoreg

  reg price mpg i.foreign


After executing this command block (note that end tells Stata where to stop reading), we could run:

sysuse auto.dta , clear

If we did this, Stata would output:

. autoreg

      Source |       SS           df       MS      Number of obs   =        74
-------------+----------------------------------   F(2, 71)        =     14.07
       Model |   180261702         2  90130850.8   Prob > F        =    0.0000
    Residual |   454803695        71  6405685.84   R-squared       =    0.2838
-------------+----------------------------------   Adj R-squared   =    0.2637
       Total |   635065396        73  8699525.97   Root MSE        =    2530.9

       price |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
         mpg |  -294.1955   55.69172    -5.28   0.000    -405.2417   -183.1494
     foreign |
    Foreign  |   1767.292    700.158     2.52   0.014     371.2169    3163.368
       _cons |   11905.42   1158.634    10.28   0.000     9595.164    14215.67