Tail Call Elimination in Scala Monads

Update: Friday, August 23, 2013

This post is from 2011, but has seen a lot of traffic lately and drawn some comments that the solution given here is incomplete or “doesn’t work”. This post is definitely incomplete, but the solution does work. For the most up-to-date code, please see my paper Stackless Scala with Free Monads as well as the source code for scalaz.Free.


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Monads are Dominoes

It’s about time I made my contribution to the zoo of monad tutorials. After explaining the concept of monads to somebody who is not a programmer or a mathematician, I was told that what I had explained sounded exactly like a game of dominoes.

However, instead of explaining monads in terms of a cute metaphor about dominoes, I’m just going to throw you into the deep end. Deep breath!

Definition: A category   is given by objects and arrows between these objects. Each arrow   has a unique source object   and a target object  . For every three objects  ,  , and  , and arrows   and  , there is a composite arrow

such that

Composition is associative: if  ,  , and  , then

There exists a unique identity arrow for each object For every object  , there exists an arrow     such that for every arrow  , we have    

A category for dominoes:

The objects of the category are the natural numbers. An arrow in the category is a domino piece with two numbers on it:  . A composition of arrows   is two domino pieces placed together end-to-end by the following equation:

The identity arrow for each object   is a domino piece   with the same number   on both ends.



A monad for dominoes

Definition: A monad is given by a functor   (from a category   to itself, i.e. an endofunctor in  ), equipped with natural transformations:


where   is the identity functor and x is functor composition. This must satisfy the axioms that     and   are identity transformations, and     (i.e.   is associative).

The dominoes need not be annotated with numbers, but might be annotated with any set of objects. Therefore, there exists an endofunctor   on the category of sets, such that for all sets  , we can construct the set of dominoes  .

For every object   in  , we can construct a domino  . This is   for our monad. Then, for the set of dominoes  , we can construct   which is the set of dominoes annotated with other dominoes. For any pair of dominoes in  , composed end-to-end, we can see it as a single domino in  . The   operation in our monad is then the fact that for any such pair of dominoes  , it behaves as the domino   with regard to composition with other dominoes in  .




Exercises left to the reader:

1. What does a monoid in the category of dominoes look like?

2. How would the game of dominoes change if it allowed products and coproducts?

3. Can you come up with a coherent theory describing the behavior of “spinners” in the game of dominoes?

Imperative vs Functional Programming

Recently I had a quasi-private discussion about philosophy in programming where somebody asked a question about functional programming. I’d like to relay part of the discussion here since it might be of interest to the community at large.

Jason wrote:

I have come out strongly in support of OO, and I think it has a very clear and strong basis in the facts of how computers work and how programmers think. In brief: Computers function by executing a series of instructions, at the level of machine language, which perform calculations and manipulate memory and I/O. In the earliest days of computing, programmers gave instructions to the computer directly at this level. As programs grew more complex, programmers needed ways to achieve greater unit-economy.

Often a set of variables truly do go together, such as a record representing an item for sale in a database, and certain functions operate primarily on this data. [This choice is not arbitrary.] Objects formalize this pattern and allow programmers to express it clearly and directly.

In general, imperative programming is rooted in the fact that computers actually run programs by executing a series of instructions.

I’d love to understand better the advantages of functional programming are. So to its advocates, I ask: What are the facts of reality that give rise to it? Note that it is not enough to explain, for instance, why it is mathematically *possible* to represent any given thing in any given mathematical way. What I want to know is: How is functional style rooted in the *purpose* of the software and the *nature of the thinking* that programmers do?

On the validity of the FP approach

The fact of reality that give rise to the FP approach is that computation is essentially a process of inferring quantities. Its purpose is to aid in human thinking. The conceptual faculty is a quantitative mechanism. This is laid out eloquently in David Harriman’s book “The Logical Leap”. See also “Concept-formation as a mathematical process” in OPAR. So the computer is in essence a quantifying device. Its invention was motivated by man’s need to quantify.

Calculating with numbers (quantities of something) gives rise to algebra, and importantly the abstraction “function”. And functional programming is simply writing programs using this abstraction. Functional programming was being done well before there were computers.

Imperatives are nonessential to computing. A mechanical computer has levers, wheels, and the like. We can imagine programming Babbage’s inference engine by turning a few wheels to set the premises and then moving a lever to make it infer the consequent. Similarly, in a digital computer we fill some registers with the premises and then pull a virtual lever in the form of a CPU instruction. But it’s important to note that “instruction” here is a metaphor. What’s really going on is the selection of a function which computes a quantity based on the input given.

So in summary, the purpose of the computer is to calculate with quantities as functions of other quantities. It is a mathematical tool. Even (especially?) for things like games. Drawing a complex 3D scene on the screen in real-time involves calculating a particular quantity of light of each color to be used to illuminate each pixel on the screen, given a particular time.

On the utility of the FP approach

Referential transparency buys you modularity (the extent to which components of a program can be separated and recombined) and compositionality (the extent to which the whole program can be understood by understanding the components and the rules used to combine them).

Type systems also get more sophisticated to the extent that programs are pure. It’s easier to infer types for pure programs than it is for impure ones, for example. You also gain things like type constructor polymorphism (a.k.a. higher-kinded types) and higher-rank types. It’s my experience that in a sufficiently sophisticated program (such as a compiler for a programming language), you either use these abstractions or you repeat yourself.

Sophisticated type systems then in turn aid in program inference, which is the extent to which the computer (or the programmer with the aid of the computer) can infer the correct program from type information (think tab completion, only moreso). Program inference is currently an active area of research.

As a side-note a lot of OO folks are discovering the functional approach as a tool to aid in modular design. They call it “dependency injection”, “inversion of control”, “interpreter pattern” and the like.

On the way programmers think

I believe that the way programmers think is deeply influenced by their chosen tools. They learn to think in the concepts that pertain to the tool. I think ultimately the argument that OO mirrors how programmers think is an appeal to intuition. But as we know, there’s no such thing as intuition. When people say “intuitive”, they usually just mean “familiar”.

A word on OO and the arbitrary

In OO, as commonly practiced, the choice of distinguished argument is arbitrary. Consider this function:

K(x, y) = x

If we were to write this in OO style, then on which object, x or y, should the function K be dispatched? Should it be x.K(y), or y.K(x)? It’s arbitrary. And before you say that the function K itself is an arbitrary invention, I say no. It’s actually a constructor of emtpy lists in this implementation of a singly linked list data structure:

Empty(x, y) = x
Cons(a, b, x, y) = y(a, b(x, y))

On “types of languages”

I want to get clear on some concepts. First the question of “types of programming languages”. I don’t think it’s helpful to divide programming languages into “functional”, “object-oriented”, “imperative”, etc. Sure, certain languages are better suited to certain styles of programming, but it’s important to differentiate on essentials and not mere aesthetics.

Functional programming is a restriction that the programmer puts on his programs. Having a language with a compiler that will warn you if you’re breaking referential transparency is helpful, but not essential. I do functional programming in Java, for example, which most people consider an “imperative OO” language.

We can also do “OO” in Haskell, a purely functional language (in the sense that all Haskell programs are referentially transparent expressions). Haskell is also a very good imperative language. Here’s a Haskell program in imperative style:

main = do {
  putStrLn "What is your name?";
  name <- readLn;
  putStrLn ("Hello, " ++ name ++ "!");

Is this a sequence of instructions, or a referentially transparent expression? It’s both! Another way of writing the same program is:

main = putStrLn "What is your name?" >> readLn >>= (\name -> putStrLn "Hello, " ++ name ++ "!")

It’s important to note that these are not two different programs in any sense. The Haskell compiler literally translates the former into the latter.

The >> and >>= functions concatenate IO actions in exactly the same sense that the ++ function concatenates Strings. It’s possible for us to do this because e.g. calling readLn doesn’t immediately read from standard input. It is a referentially transparent expression that returns an IO action. The operating environment translates this IO action into instructions for the underlying machine at some convenient time. Or it may in fact not do that. The implementation of the IO data structure is abstracted away in a library, and there’s no reason that somebody couldn’t supply a different implementation with the same interface. This may be useful if you’re programming a missile silo and you need to be able to test the launchTheMissile action without starting a nuclear war.

Another benefit is that main can be composed with other programs. We could, for example, write this program:

mainTwice = main >> main

Or this one:

mainForever = main >> mainForever

I hope that helps.

Towards an Effect System in Scala, Part 1: ST Monad

Referentially Transparent Mutable State

In their paper “Lazy Functional State Threads”, John Launchbury and Simon Peyton-Jones present a way of securely encapsulating stateful computations that manipulate mutable objects. The result is Haskell’s ST monad. Its definition is very similar to the State data type. In Haskell, the ST monad is used to thread the manipulation of mutable state in such a way that the mutation is completely referentially transparent, because it is a type error for a mutable object to escape the monad.

I would like to present an implementation of this in Scala, which I recently committed to the Scalaz library. I was inspired to write this by Tim Carstens last summer, but never found a way of encoding the requisite rank-2 types in Scala’s type system in such a way that what should work does and what shouldn’t doesn’t. But Geoff Washburn got me going again. Following the technique on his blog, of representing universal quantifiers as doubly negated existentials, I was able to encode ST in a way that’s surprisingly nice to use, and actually does give you type errors if you try to access a naked mutable reference. And as Mark Harrah has pointed out, we end up not having to use the double negation after all. I’m surprised to find that doing this in the obvious way in Scala, just works.

OK, let’s get to the money. In Scala, we can declare the ST data type as follows:

case class World[A]()

case class ST[S, A](f: World[S] => (World[S], A)) {
  def apply(s: World[S]) = f(s)
  def flatMap[B](g: A => ST[S, B]): ST[S, B] =
    ST(s => f(s) match { case (ns, a) => g(a)(ns) })
  def map[B](g: A => B): ST[S, B] =
    ST(s => f(s) match { case (ns, a) => (ns, g(a)) })

def returnST[S, A](a: => A): ST[S, A] = ST(s => (s, a))

This is a monad in the obvious way. The flatMap method is monadic bind and returnST is monadic unit.

The World type represents some state of the world, and the ST type encapsulates a state transformer which receives the state of the world and returns a value which depends on that state together with a new state. Here, we are representing the world state by nothing at all. It turns out that for what we want to do with the ST monad, the contents of the state are not important, but its type very much is. A much more detailed explanation of how and why this works is given in the paper, but the punchline is that we are going to “transform the state” by mutating objects in place, and in spite of this the state transformer is going to be a pure function. This is achieved by guaranteeing that the type S for a given state transformer is unique. More on that in a second.

Purely Functional Mutable References

A simple object that we can mutate in place is one that holds a reference to another object through a mutable variable.

case class STRef[S, A](a: A) {
  private var value: A = a

  def read: ST[S, A] = returnST(value)
  def write(a: A): ST[S, STRef[S, A]] = ST((s: World[S]) => {value = a; (s, this)})
  def mod[B](f: A => A): ST[S, STRef[S, A]] = for {
    a <- read
    v <- write(f(a))
  } yield v

def newVar(a: => A) = returnST(STRef(a))

So we have monadic combinators to construct, read, write, and modify references. Note that the implementation of write blatantly mutates the object in place. The definition of mod shows how to compose state transformers in sequence, using monad comprehensions.

It’s important that an STRef is parameterized on a type S which represents the state thread that created it. This makes variables allocated by different state threads have incompatible types. Therefore, state threads cannot ever see each other’s mutable variables. Because state transformers can only be composed sequentially (with flatMap), it’s guaranteed that two of them can never simultaneously mutate the same STRef.

Running a State Transformer as a Pure Function

Note that the type of a reference to a value of type A in a state thread S is ST[S, STRef[S, A]]. If ST had a run function of type ST[S, A] => A, we would be able to get the reference out. But this type is more general than we want. What we want is for the compiler to reject code like newVar(10).run, which would give you access to the naked STRef, but to accept code like newVar(10).flatMap(_.mod(x => x + 1).flatMap(read)).run, which simply accesses an integer.

In Haskell, the type of runST is:

runST :: forall a. (forall s. ST s a) -> a.

This is a rank-2 type which Scala’s type system does not directly support.

To see why this type would prevent the leaking of a mutable reference, consider the type you would need in order to get an STRef out of the ST monad.

forall a. (forall s. ST s (STRef s a)) -> STRef ??? a

What type should go in place of the three question marks? There is no type that could possibly fit the bill because the type s is bound (introduced) by the universal quantifier to the left of the arrow. It’s a local type variable in the domain of the function, so it can’t escape to the codomain. This is why ST state transformers are referentially transparent.

Of course, if you get the value out of a reference, then you can run that just fine. In Scala terms, you can always go from ST[S, A] to A, but you can never go from ST[S, F[S]] to F[S] for any F[_].

Writing runST in Scala

So the problem becomes how to represent a rank-2 polymorphic type in Scala. I’ve shown before how we can represent a rank-2 function type by encoding it as a natural transformation. And Mark has posted on how to write natural transformations using universally quantified values. (And I just now realized that he’s using functional state threads for non-observable mutation!)

First, we need a representation of universally quantified values:

trait Forall[P[_]] {
  def apply[A]: P[A]

Now that we have rank-2 polymorphism, the implementation of runST is straightforward:

  def runST[A](f: Forall[({type λ[S] = ST[S, A]})#λ]): A =

I’m using the “type lambda” trick here to declare the type constructor inline. The realWorld object is just a dummy value.

Some Examples

Here’s a simple example of a computation that creates a mutable reference and mutates it:

def e1[S]: ST[S, STRef[S, Int]] = for {
  r <- newVar[S, Int](0)
  x <- r.mod(_ + 1)
} yield x

And this expression creates a reference, mutates it, and then reads the value out:

def e2[A] = e1[A].flatMap(_.read)

Running the latter expression is fine, since it just returns an Int:

runST(new Forall[A] { def apply[A] = e2 })

But running the former fails at compile-time because it exposes a mutable reference. Or rather, because when the compiler tries to unify with our existential type, it’s out of scope:

runST(new Forall[({type λ[S] = ST[S, STRef[S, Int]]})#λ] { def apply[A] = e1 })

found   : scalaz.Forall[[S(in type λ)]scalaz.ST[S(in type λ),scalaz.STRef[S(in type λ),Int]]]
required: scalaz.Forall[[S(in type λ)]scalaz.ST[S(in type λ),scalaz.STRef[_ >: (some other)S(in type λ) with (some other)S(in type λ), Int]]]

What are the practical implications of this kind of compile-time checking? I will just quote Peyton-Jones and Launchbury:

It is possible to encapsulate stateful computations so that they appear to the rest of the program as pure (stateless) functions which are guaranteed by the type system to have no interactions whatever with other computations, whether stateful or otherwise (except via the values of arguments and results, of course).

Complete safety is maintained by this encapsulation. A program may contain an arbitrary number of stateful sub-computations, each simultaneously active, without concern that a mutable object from one might be mutated by another.

This can be taken much further than these simple examples. In Scalaz, we have STArrays, which are purely functional mutable arrays. There’s an example of a pure binsort which uses a mutable array for sorting.

This technique can be extrapolated to implement Monadic Regions (currently underway for Scalaz), which allows compile-time tracking of not just mutable arrays and references, but file handles, database connections, and any other resource we care to track.

What we have here then is essentially the beginnings of an effect system for Scala. This allows us to compose programs from referentially transparent components which are internally implemented with mutation and effects, while those effects are guaranteed by the type system to be transparent to the rest of the program.

Simple SKI Combinator Calculus in Scala’s Type System

I would like to make two claims:

  1. The Scala type system is turing complete.
  2. This is not a bug.

The SKI combinator calculus is known to be turing equivalent:

  trait λ { type ap[_<:λ]<:λ }
  type I = λ{type ap[X<:λ] = X }
  type K = λ{type ap[X<:λ] = λ{type ap[Y<:λ] = X }}
  type S = λ{type ap[X<:λ] = λ{type ap[Y<:λ] = λ{type ap[Z<:λ] = X#ap[Z]#ap[Y#ap[Z]] }}}

And we can blow up the compiler with unbounded recursion, without resorting to circular definitions:

type Y = S#ap[I]#ap[I]#ap[S#ap[I]#ap[I]]

The latter should crash the compiler with a stack overflow error.

Hat tip: Edward Kmett

Functional Programming for Beginners

Video of a talk given at Boston Area Scala Enthusiasts’ Jan 2011 meeting at Google Cambridge. Covers what FP actually means in unambiguous terms, and how to perform various programming tasks while staying pure.

Slides are here:


Code for the IO data structure mentioned but not shown at the end of the talk is given here:

  sealed trait IO[A] 
  case object ReadLn extends IO[String]
  case class WriteLn(s: String) extends IO[Unit]
  case class Const[A](a: A) extends IO[A]
  case class Compose[A, B](a: IO[A], f: A => IO[B]) extends IO[B]

  // An example program which reads a line and writes it out again
  def readThenWrite: IO[Unit] =
    Compose(ReadLn, WriteLn)

  // An implementation for IO programs which turns them into side-effects
  def run[A](program: IO[A]): A = program match {
    case ReadLn => readLine
    case WriteLn(s) => println(s)
    case Const(a) => a
    case Compose(a, f) => run(f(run(a)))

  // An implementation for IO programs which turns them into list transitions
  def run[A](program: IO[A], in: List[String], out: List[String]): (A, List[String], List[String]) =
    program match {
      case ReadLn => (in.head, in.tail, out)
      case WriteLn(x)  => ((), in, x :: out)
      case Const(a) => (a, in, out)
      case Compose(ioa, f) => {
        val (a, tmpi, tmpo) = run(ioa, in, out)
        run(f(a), tmpi, tmpo)

Scalaz Tutorial: Enumeration-Based I/O with Iteratees

NOTE: This content is being moved to the target of this link. Please update your bookmarks.

Scalaz 5.0 adds an implementation of a concept called Iteratee. This is a highly flexible programming technique for writing enumeration-based input processors that can be freely composed.

A lot of people have asked me to write a tutorial on how this works, specifically on how it is implemented in Scalaz and how to be productive with it, so here we go.

The implementation in Scalaz is based on an excellent article by John W. Lato called “Iteratee: Teaching an Old Fold New Tricks”. As a consequence, this post is also based on that article, and because I am too unoriginal to come up with my own examples, the examples are directly translated from it. The article gives code examples in Haskell, but we will use Scala here throughout.


Most programmers have come across the problem of treating an I/O data source (such as a file or a socket) as a data structure. This is a common thing to want to do. To contrast, the usual means of reading, say, a file, is to open it, get a cursor into the file (such as a FileReader or an InputStream), and read the contents of the file as it is being processed. You must of course handle IO exceptions and remember to close the file when you are done. The problem with this approach is that it is not modular. Functions written in this way are performing one-off side-effects. And as we know, side-effects do not compose.

Treating the stream of inputs as an enumeration is therefore desirable. It at least holds the lure of modularity, since we would be able to treat a File, from which we’re reading values, in the same way that we would treat an ordinary List of values, for example.

A naive approach to this is to use iterators, or rather, Iterables. This is akin to the way that you would typically read a file in something like Ruby or Python. Basically you treat it as a collection of Strings:

    def getContents(fileName: String): Iterable[String] = {
      val fr = new BufferedReader(new FileReader(fileName))
      new Iterable[String] {
        def iterator = new Iterator[String] {
          def hasNext = line != null
          def next = {
            val retVal = line
            line = getLine
          def getLine = {
            var line:String = null
            try {
              line = fr.readLine
            } catch {
              case _ => line = null
          var line = getLine

What this is doing is a kind of lazy I/O. Nothing is read from the file until it is requested, and we only hold one line in memory at a time. But there are some serious issues with this approach. It’s not clear when you should close the file handle, or whose responsibility that is. You could have the Iterator close the file when it has read the last line, but what if you only want to read part of the file? Clearly this approach is not sufficient. There are some things we can do to make this more sophisticated, but only at the expense of breaking the illusion that the file really is a collection of Strings.

The Idea

Any red-blooded functional programmer should be thinking right about now: “Instead of getting Strings out of the file, just pass in a function that will serve as a handler for each new line!” Bingo. This is in fact the plot with Iteratees. Instead of implementing an interface from which we request Strings by pulling, we’re going to give an implementation of an interface that can receive Strings by pushing.

And indeed, this idea is nothing new. This is exactly what we do when we fold a list:

def foldLeft[B](b: B)(f: (B, A) => B): B

The second argument is exactly that, a handler for each element in the list, along with a means of combining it with the accumulated value so far.

Now, there are two issues with an ordinary fold that prevent it from being useful when enumerating file contents. Firstly, there is no way of indicating that the fold should stop early. Secondly, a list is held all in memory at the same time.

The Iteratee Solution

Scalaz defines the following two data structures (actual implementation may differ, but this serves for illustration):

  trait Input[+E]
  case class El[E](e: E) extends Input[E]
  case object Empty extends Input[Nothing]
  case object EOF extends Input[Nothing]

  trait IterV[E,A] {
    def run: A = ... // Implementation omitted
  case class Done[E,A](a: A, e: Input[E]) extends IterV[E,A]
  case class Cont[E,A](k: Input[E] => IterV[E,A]) extends IterV[E,A]

So an input to an iteratee is represented by Input[E], where E is the element type of the input source. It can be either an element (the next element in the file or stream), or it’s one of two signals: Empty or EOF. The Empty signal tells the iteratee that there is not an element available, but to expect more elements later. The EOF signal tells the iteratee that there are no more elements to be had.

Note that this particular set of signals is kind of arbitrary. It just facilitates a particular set of use cases. There’s no reason you couldn’t have other signals for other use cases. For example, a signal I can think of off the top of my head would be Restart, which would tell the iteratee to start its result from scratch at the current position in the input.

IterV[E,A] represents a computation that can be in one of two states. It can be Done, in which case it will hold a result (the accumulated value) of type A. Or it can be waiting for more input of type E, in which case it will hold a continuation that accepts the next input.

Let’s see how we would use this to process a List. The following function takes a list and an iteratee and feeds the list’s elements to the iteratee.

def enumerate[E,A]: (List[E], IterV[E,A]) => IterV[E,A] = { 
  case (Nil, i) => i 
  case (_, i@Done(_, _)) => i 
  case (x :: xs, Cont(k)) => enumerate(xs, k(El(x)))

Now let’s see some actual iteratees. As a simple example, here is an iteratee that counts the number of elements it has seen:

def counter[A]: IterV[A,Int] = {
  def step(n: Int): Input[A] => IterV[A,Int] = {
    case El(x) => Cont(step(n + 1))
    case Empty => Cont(step(n))
    case EOF => Done(n, EOF)

And here’s an iteratee that discards the first n elements:

def drop[E,A](n: Int): IterV[E,Unit] = {
  def step: Input[E] => IterV[E,Unit] = {
    case El(x) => drop(n - 1)
    case Empty => Cont(step)
    case EOF => Done((), EOF)
  if (n == 0) Done((), Empty) else Cont(step)

And one that takes the first element from the input:

def head[E]: IterV[E, Option[E]] = {
  def step: Input[E] => IterV[E, Option[E]] = {
    case El(x) => Done(Some(x), Empty)
    case Empty => Cont(step)
    case EOF => Done(None, EOF)

Let’s go through this code. Each one defines a “step” function, which is the function that will handle the next input. Each one starts the iteratee in the Cont state, and the step function always returns a new iteratee in the next state based on the input received. Note in the last one (head), we are using the Empty signal to indicate that we want to remove the element from the input. The utility of this will be clear when we start composing iteratees.

Now, an example usage. To get the length of a list, we write:

val length: Int = enumerate(List(1,2,3), counter[Int]).run // 3

The run method on IterV just gets the accumulated value out of the Done iteratee. If it isn’t done, it sends the EOF signal to itself first and then gets the value.

Composing Iteratees

Notice a couple of things here. With iteratees, the input source can send the signal that it has finished producing values. And on the other side, the iteratee itself can signal to the input source that it has finished consuming values. So on one hand, we can leave an iteratee “running” by not sending it the EOF signal, so we can compose two input sources and feed them into the same iteratee. On the other hand, an iteratee can signal that it’s done, at which point we can start sending any remaining elements to another iteratee. In other words, iteratees compose sequentially.

In fact, IterV[E,A] is an instance of the Monad type class for each fixed E, and composition is very similar to the way monadic parsers compose:

def flatMap[B](f: A => IterV[E,B]) = this match {
  case Done(x, e) => f(x) match {
    case Done(y, _) => Done(y, e)
    case Cont(k) => k(e)
  case Cont(k) => Cont(e => k(e) flatMap f)

Here then is an example of composing iteratees with a for-comprehension:

def drop1Keep1[E]: IterV[E, Option[E]] = for {
  _ <- drop(1)
  x <- head
} yield x

The iteratee above discards the first element it sees and returns the second one. The iteratee below does this n times, accumulating the kept elements into a list.

def alternates[E](n: Int): IterV[E, List[E]] = 
    foldRight(Done(List[Option[E]](),Empty))((x, y) => for {
      h <- x                                                                                          
      t <- y                                                                                          
    } yield h :: t).map(_.flatten) 

Here’s an example run:

scala> enumerate(List.range(1,15), alternates[Int](5)).run
res85: List[Int] = List(2, 4, 6, 8, 10)

We can compose an iteratee with itself an infinite number of times, accumulating the results into a Stream until we hit the EOF:

def repeat[E,A]: IterV[E,A] => IterV[E,Stream[A]] = i => {
  def step(s: Stream[A]): Input[E] => IterV[E, Stream[A]] = {
    case EOF => Done(s, EOF)
    case Empty => Cont(step(s))
    case El(e) => i match {
      case Done(a, f) => Done(s ++ Stream(a), El(e))
      case Cont(k) => for {
        h <- k(El(e))
        t <- repeat(i)
      } yield s ++ (h #:: t)

Here’s an example of that running, where we repeat the “alternates” iteratee from above:

scala> enumerate(List.range(1,15), repeat(alternates[Int](5))).run.force 
res97: scala.collection.immutable.Stream[List[Int]] = Stream(List(2, 4, 6, 8, 10), List(12, 14))

File Input With Iteratees

Using the iteratees to read from file input turns out to be incredibly easy. The only difference is in how the data source is enumerated, and in order to remain lazy (and not prematurely perform any side-effects), we must return our iteratee in a monad:

def enumReader[A](r: BufferedReader, it: IterV[String, A]): IO[IterV[String, A]] = {
  def loop: IterV[String, A] => IO[IterV[String, A]] = {
    case i@Done(_, _) => IO { i }
    case i@Cont(k) => for {
      s <- IO { r.readLine }
      a <- if (s == null) IO { i } else loop(k(El(s)))
    } yield a

The monad being used here is an IO monad that I’ll explain in a second. The important thing to note is that the iteratee is completely oblivious to the fact that it’s being fed lines from a BufferedReader rather than a List.

Here is the IO monad I’m using. As you can see, it’s really just a lazy identity monad:

object io {
  sealed trait IO[A] {
    def unsafePerformIO: A

  object IO {
    def apply[A](a: => A): IO[A] = new IO[A] {
      def unsafePerformIO = a

  implicit val IOMonad = new Monad[IO] {
    def pure[A](a: => A): IO[A] = IO(a)
    def bind[A,B](a: IO[A], f: A => IO[B]): IO[B] = IO {
      implicitly[Monad[Function0]].bind(() => a.unsafePerformIO,
                                        (x:A) => () => f(x).unsafePerformIO)()

To read lines from a file, we’ll do something like this:

def bufferFile(f: File) = IO {
  new BufferedReader(new FileReader(f))

def closeReader(r: Reader) = IO {

def bracket[A,B,C](init: IO[A], fin: A => IO[B], body: A => IO[C]): IO[C] =
for { a <- init
      c <- body(a)
      _ <- fin(a) }
  yield c

def enumFile[A](f: File, i: IterV[String, A]): IO[IterV[String, A]] =
          enumReader(_:BufferedReader, i))

The enumFile method uses bracketing to ensure that the file always gets closed. It’s completely lazy though, so nothing actually happens until you call unsafePerformIO on the resulting IO action:

scala> enumFile(new File("/Users/runar/Documents/Iteratees.txt"), head) map (_.run)                
res2: io.IO[Option[String]] = io$IO@5f90b584

scala> res2.unsafePerformIO
res3: Option[String] = Some(Scalaz Tutorial: Enumeration-Based I/O With Iteratees)

That uses the “head” iteratee from above to get the first line of the file that I’m using to edit this blog post.

We can get the number of lines in two files combined, by composing two enumerations and using our “counter” iteratee from above:

def lengthOfTwoFiles(f1: File, f2: File): IO[Int] = for {
  l1 <- enumFile(f1, counter)
  l2 <- enumFile(f2, l1)
} yield l2.run

So what we have here is a uniform and compositional interface for enumerating both pure and effectful data sources. We can avoid holding on to the entire input in memory when we don’t want to, and we have complete control over when to stop iterating. The iteratee can decide whether to consume elements, leave them intact, or even truncate the input. The enumerator can decide whether to shut the iteratee down by sending it the EOF signal, or to leave it open for other enumerators.

There is even more to this approach, as we can use iteratees not just to read from data sources, but also to write to them. That will have to await another post.