Dispatch and SparseArray have nice output forms that summarise their contents:

Example of Dispatch output

The contents even manage to be retained fully on copy/paste. How can I make this happen for my own symbols?

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, now I find that this is a duplicate! $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2015 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


If you want to make a nice neat way of displaying a thing with Head head, the following will work (thanks to Sjoerd):

head /: Format[b : head[a_Association]] := 
   Graphics3D[Cone[], ImageSize -> 20],
   {BoxForm`MakeSummaryItem[{"Summary 1: ", a["sum1"]}, StandardForm], 
    BoxForm`MakeSummaryItem[{"Summary 2: ", a["sum2"]}, StandardForm]}, 
   {BoxForm`MakeSummaryItem[{"Expanded thing 1: ", a["sumhidden1"]}, StandardForm], 
    BoxForm`MakeSummaryItem[{"Expanded thing 2: ", a["sumhidden2"]}, StandardForm], 
    BoxForm`MakeSummaryItem[{"Expanded thing 3: ", a["sumhidden3"]}, StandardForm]},

If you give a definition as

 <| "sum1" -> 10, "sum2" -> "Hi!",
    "sumhidden1" -> 1, "sumhidden2" -> 2, "sumhidden3" -> Pi

then the output (shown twice, once non-expanded in the Out cell and once expanded in the next In cell) is:

Nice output for head object

Moreover, this object has the same FullForm as the original: you can copy and paste it, and it'll still work fine. In particular, though it appears to have Head NiceHeadName, it actually still has Head head, just as required.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you please tell me what role b plays here? $\endgroup$
    – chris
    Apr 7, 2020 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @chris If you FullForm the expression, the relevant chunk is Format[Pattern[b, head[Pattern[a, Blank[Association]]]]]. It's just a pattern name. See the docs for Pattern, and note that b_ is shorthand for b : _. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2020 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ What is the point of the b in ` "NiceHeadName", b, ` ? It seems to lead to some recursions in some situation and I do not see its benefit? $\endgroup$
    – chris
    May 23, 2020 at 14:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.