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A DSL with an Endo - monoids for free

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A DSL with an Endo - monoids for free

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When we design a domain model, one of the issues that we care about is abstraction of implementation from the user level API. Besides making the published contract simple, this also decouples the implementation and allows post facto optimization to be done without any impact on the user level API.

Consider a class like the following ...
// a sample task in a project
case class Task(name: String)
// a project with a list of tasks & dependencies amongst the
// various tasks
case class Project(name: String,
                   startDate: java.util.Date,
                   endDate: Option[java.util.Date] = None,
                   tasks: List[Task] = List(),
                   deps: List[(Task, Task)] = List())
We can always use the algebraic data type definition above to add tasks and dependencies to a project. Besides being cumbersome as a user level API, it also is a way to program too close to the implementation. The user is coupled to the fact that we use a List to store tasks, making it difficult to use any alternate implementation in the future. We can offer a Builder like OO interface with fluent APIs, but that also adds to the verbosity of implementation, makes builders mutable and is generally more difficult to compose with other generic functional abstractions.

Ideally we should be having a DSL that lets users create projects and add tasks and dependencies to them.

In this post I will discuss a few functional abstractions that will stay behind from the user APIs, and yet provide the compositional power to wire up the DSL. This is a post inspired by this post which discusses a similar DSL design using Endo and Writers in Haskell.

Let's address the issues one by one. We need to accumulate tasks that belong to the project. So we need an abstraction that helps in this accumulation e.g. concatenation in a list, or in a set or in a Map .. etc. One abstraction that comes to mind is a Monoid that gives us an associative binary operation between two objects of a type that form a monoid.
trait Monoid[T] {
  def append(m1: T, m2: T): T
  def zero: T
A List is a monoid with concatenation as the append. But since we don't want to expose the concrete data structure to the client API, we can talk in terms of monoids.

The other data structure that we need is some form of an abstraction that will offer us the writing operation into the monoid. A Writer monad is an example of this. In fact the combination of a Writer and a Monoid is potent enough to have such a DSL in the making. Tony Morris used this combo to implement a logging functionality ..
for {
  a <- k withvaluelog ("starting with " + _)
  b <- (a + 7) withlog "adding 7"
  c <- (b * 3).nolog
  d <- c.toString.reverse.toInt withvaluelog ("switcheroo with " + _)
  e <- (d % 2 == 0) withlog "is even?"
} yield e
We could use this same technique here. But we have a problem - Project is not a monoid and we don't have a definition of zero for a Project that we can use to make it a Monoid. Is there something that would help us get a monoid from Project i.e. allow us to use Project in a monoid ?

Enter Endo .. an endomorphism which is simply a function that takes an argument of type T and returns the same type. In Scala, we can state this as ..
sealed trait Endo[A] {
  // The captured function
  def run: A => A
Scalaz defines Endo[A] and provides a lot of helper functions and syntactic sugars to use endomorphisms. Among its other properties, Endo[A] provides a natural monoid and allows us to use A in a Monoid. In other words, endomorphisms of A form a monoid under composition. In our case we can define an Endo[Project] as a function that takes a Project and returns a Project. We can then use it with a Writer (as above) and implement the accumulation of tasks within a Project.

Exercise: Implement Tony Morris' logger without side-effects using an Endo.

Here's how we would like to accumulate tasks in our DSL ..
for {
  _ <- task("Study Customer Requirements")
  _ <- task("Analyze Use Cases")
  a <- task("Develop code")
} yield a
Let's define a function that adds a Task to a Project ..
// add task to a project
val withTask = (t: Task, p: Project) => p.copy(tasks = t :: p.tasks)

and use this function to define the DSL API task which makes an Endo[Project] and passes it as a Monoid to the Writer monad. In the following snippet, (p: Project) => withTask(t, p) is a mapping from Project => Project, which gets converted to an Endo and then passed to the Writer monad for adding to the task list of the Project.
def task(n: String): Writer[Endo[Project], Task] = {
  val t = Task(n)
  for {
    _ <- tell(((p: Project) => withTask(t, p)).endo)
  } yield t
The DSL snippet above is a monad comprehension. Let's add some more syntax to the DSL by defining dependencies of a Project. That's also a mapping from one Project state to another and can be realized using a similar function like withTask ..
// add project dependency
val withDependency = (t: Task, on: Task, p: Project) =>
  p.copy(deps = (t, on) :: p.deps)
.. and define a function dependsOn to our DSL that allows the user to add the explicit dependencies amongst tasks. But this time instead of making it a standalone function we will make it a method of the class Task. This is only for getting some free syntactic sugar in the DSL. Here's the modified Task ADT ..
case class Task(name: String) {
  def dependsOn(on: Task): Writer[Endo[Project], Task] = {
    for {
      _ <- tell(((p: Project) => withDependency(this, on, p)).endo)
    } yield this
Finally we define the last API of our DSL that glues together the building of the Project and the addition of tasks and dependencies without directly coupling the user to some of the underlying implementation artifacts.
def project(name: String, startDate: Date)(e: Writer[Endo[Project], Task]) = {
  val p = Project(name, startDate)
And we can finally create a Project along with tasks and dependencies using our DSL ..
project("xenos", now) {
  for {
    a <- task("study customer requirements")
    b <- task("analyze usecases")
    _ <- b dependsOn a
    c <- task("design & code")
    _ <- c dependsOn b
    d <- c dependsOn a
  } yield d
In case you are interested I have the whole working example in my github repo.

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Published at DZone with permission of Debasish Ghosh, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.


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