Types, containers, and advanced functions

Important “base” types

We already know basic data types (from base package) such as Data.Char, Bool, or Data.Int and structures like Data.List and Data.Tuple pretty well. But of course, there are more widely used types and we are going to know some more now.


In most programming languages, there is a notion of null or nil or even None value. Such a value is usable, but it leads often to undesired crashes of “Null pointer exception”. As Haskell is type-safe, it does not allow such rogue surprises to happen, but instead deals with a possible “null” situation in a managed way.

If we were to design such a solution, we may use ADTs like that:

data IntOrNull = I Int | NullInt
data StringOrNull = S String | NullString
data ValueOrNull a = Value a | Null

myDiv     :: Int -> Int -> ValueOrNull Int
myDiv x 0 = Null
myDiv x y = Value (x `div` y)

divString     :: Int -> Int -> String
divString x y = case (myDiv x y) of
                  Null      -> "Division by zero is not allowed!"
                  Value res -> "Result: " ++ show res

In Haskell, we have a pretty structure called Maybe which does exactly that for us and there are some functions helping with common usage. It is a very important structure and you will be dealing with it very often. You can find more about in the documentation of Data.Maybe.

It is defined as:

data Maybe a = Nothing | Just a
Prelude Data.Maybe> :type Just 10
Just 10 :: Num a => Maybe a
Prelude Data.Maybe> :type Nothing
Nothing :: Maybe a
Prelude Data.Maybe> fromJust (Just 10)
Prelude Data.Maybe> fromJust Nothing
*** Exception: Maybe.fromJust: Nothing
Prelude Data.Maybe> fromMaybe "default" Nothing
Prelude Data.Maybe> fromMaybe "default" (Just "something")
Prelude Data.Maybe> catMaybes [Just 6, Just 7, Nothing, Just 8, Nothing, Just 9]

Is Maybe a good container for the following case? What if we need to propage details about the error in the communication (unknown recipient, timeout, bad metadata, etc.)?

-- Communicator interface
data Message = Message { msgSender    :: String
                       , msgRecipient :: String
                       , msgMetadata  :: [(String, String)]
                       , msgBody      :: String

sendAndReceive :: Communicator -> Message -> Maybe Message
sendAndReceive comm msg = sendSync comm msg  -- some library "magic", various errors

printReceivedMessage :: Maybe Message -> String
printReceivedMessage Nothing    = "Unknown error occured during communication."
printReceivedMessage (Just msg) = msgSender msg ++ ": " ++ msgBody msg

myCommunicator = printReceivedMessage . sendAndReceive comm


Maybe is also used to signal two types of results: an error (Nothing) and a success (Just value). However, it does not tell what is the error in case of Nothing. There is a standard type for such use cases, and it is called Either:

data Either a b = Left a | Right b

The Left variant holds an error value (such as a message) and the Right variant holds the success result value. There are again several utility functions available (see Data.Either):

Prelude Data.Either> :type Left 7
Left 7 :: Num a => Either a b
Prelude Data.Either> :type Right "Message"
Right "Message" :: Either a [Char]
Prelude Data.Either> lefts [Left 7, Right "Msg1", Left 8, Right "Msg2"]
Prelude Data.Either> rights [Left 7, Right "Msg1", Left 8, Right "Msg2"]
Prelude Data.Either> partitionEithers [Left 7, Right "Msg1", Left 8, Right "Msg2"]
-- Communicator interface
data Message = Message { msgSender    :: String
                       , msgRecipient :: String
                       , msgMetadata  :: [(String, String)]
                       , msgBody      :: String

data CommError = Timeout
               | Disconnected
               | UnkownRecipient
               | IncorrectMetadata
               | GeneralError String
               deriving Show

sendAndReceive :: Communicator -> Message -> Either CommError Message
sendAndReceive comm msg = sendSync comm msg  -- some library "magic"

printReceivedMessage :: Either CommError Message -> String
printReceivedMessage (Left  err) = "Error occured during communication: " ++ show err
printReceivedMessage (Right msg) = msgSender msg ++ ": " ++ msgBody msg

myCommunicator = printReceivedMessage . sendAndReceive comm


Although we said there is no null, nil or None, we still have one dummy value/type called “Unit” and it is designated as an empty tuple ().

Prelude> :info ()
data () = ()    -- Defined in ‘GHC.Tuple’
Prelude> :type ()
() :: ()

It is semantically more similar to void from other languages and you can use it wherever you don’t want to use an actual type. For example, using Either to simulate Maybe, you could do Either a (). For more about unit type, read wikipedia.

Other containers

As in other programming languages or programming theory, there are various types of containers - data types/structures, whose instances are collections of other objects. As for collections with an arbitrary number of elements, we talked about lists, which are simple to use and have a nice syntactic-sugar notation in Haskell. However, there are also other versatile types of containers available in the package containers and others, such as array, vector, and more (use Hoogle or Hackage).


The Seq a is a type from Data.Sequence that represents a finite sequence of values of type a. Sequences are very similar to lists, working with sequences is not so different, but some operations are more efficient - constant-time access to both the front and the rear and Logarithmic-time concatenation, splitting, and access to any element. But in other cases, it can be slower than lists because of overhead created for making operations efficient. The size of a Seq must not exceed maxBound::Int!

Prelude> import Data.Sequence
Prelude Data.Sequence> seq1 = 1 <| 2 <| 15 <| 7 <| empty
Prelude Data.Sequence> seq1
fromList [1,2,15,7]
Prelude Data.Sequence> :type seq1
seq1 :: Num a => Seq a
Prelude Data.Sequence> 3 <| seq1
fromList [3,1,2,15,7]
Prelude Data.Sequence> seq1 |> 3
fromList [1,2,15,7,3]
Prelude Data.Sequence> seq1 >< (fromList [2, 3, 4])
fromList [1,2,15,7,2,3,4]
Prelude Data.Sequence> sort seq1
fromList [1,2,7,15]


The Set e type represents a set of elements of type e. Most operations require that e be an instance of the Ord class. A Set is strict in its elements. If you know what is set in math and/or programming, you can be very powerful with them.

Prelude> import Data.Set
Prelude Data.Set> set1 = insert 4 $ insert 2 $ insert 0 $ singleton 2
Prelude Data.Set> set1
fromList [0,2,4]
Prelude Data.Set> delete 2 set1
fromList [0,4]
Prelude Data.Set> delete 3 set1
fromList [0,2,4]
Prelude Data.Set> mem
member  mempty
Prelude Data.Set> member 4 set1
Prelude Data.Set> member (-6) set1
Prelude Data.Set> Data.Set.filter (>3) set1
fromList [4]
Prelude Data.Set> set2 = insert 5 (insert 3 (singleton 2))
Prelude Data.Set> set2
fromList [2,3,5]
Prelude Data.Set> set1
fromList [0,2,4]
Prelude Data.Set> intersection set1 set2
fromList [2]
Prelude Data.Set> union set1 set2
fromList [0,2,3,4,5]

There is an efficient implementation of integer sets, which uses big-endian Patricia trees (works better mainly with union and intersection). Use qualified import like import qualified Data.IntSet as IntSet to work with it.


The Map k v type represents a finite map (sometimes called a dictionary) from keys of type k to values of type v. A Map is strict in its keys but lazy in its values (by default we use Data.Map.Lazy. You may use Data.Map.Strict instead if you will eventually need all the values stored and/or the stored values are not so complicated to compute (no big advantage of laziness).

Prelude> import Data.Map
Prelude Data.Map> map1 = insert "suchama4" "Marek Suchanek" (singleton "perglr" "Robert Pergl")
Prelude Data.Map> map1 ! "suchama4"
"Marek Suchanek"
Prelude Data.Map> map1 ! "suchamar"
"*** Exception: Map.!: given key is not an element in the map
CallStack (from HasCallStack):
  error, called at ./Data/Map/Internal.hs:610:17 in containers-
Prelude Data.Map> map1 !? "suchamar"
Prelude Data.Map> map1 !? "suchama4"
Just "Marek Suchanek"
Prelude Data.Map> size map1
Prelude Data.Map> delete "suchama4" map1
fromList [("perglr","Robert Pergl")]
Prelude Data.Map> delete "suchamar" map1
fromList [("perglr","Robert Pergl"),("suchama4","Marek Suchanek")]
Prelude Data.Map> map2 = insert "suchama4" "Marek Suchanek" (singleton "stengvac" "Vaclav Stengl")
Prelude Data.Map> map2 = insert "suchama4" "Marek Sushi Suchanek" (singleton "stengvac" "Vaclav Stengl")
Prelude Data.Map> union map1 map2
fromList [("perglr","Robert Pergl"),("stengvac","Vaclav Stengl"),("suchama4","Marek Suchanek")]
Prelude Data.Map> union map2 map1
fromList [("perglr","Robert Pergl"),("stengvac","Vaclav Stengl"),("suchama4","Marek Sushi Suchanek")]
Prelude Data.Map> intersection map1 map2
fromList [("suchama4","Marek Suchanek")]

Again, there is an efficient implementation of maps, where the keys are of Int. It uses same mechanisms as Data.IntSet - use import qualified Data.IntMap as IntMap.

Graph and Tree

Finally, containers specify also Data.Tree and Data.Graph, both in a very generic manner. If you ever need to work with trees or graphs, it is convenient to use those instead of reinventing the wheel yourself.

More about functions

Creating new own functions or using the predefined ones from libraries is common in most programming languages. However, in a pure functional language, first-class functions enable to do much more. Generally, we architecture the programme by composing functions and other “tricks”.


When we talk about “currying”, in Haskell it has (almost) nothing to do with dishes or spices. A famous mathematician and logician Haskell Curry (the language is named after him) developed with others technique called currying: translating the evaluation of a function that takes multiple arguments (or a tuple of arguments) into evaluating a sequence of functions, each with a single argument. Technically, the original author of this is Moses Schönfinkel, so sometimes you may even come across a very nice name “Schönfinkelization”.

Currying can be achieved in all functional programming languages, but Haskell is special in that all functions are curried by default, similarly to pure lambda calculus. Let’s se how we parenthesize function types:

myFunc1 :: a ->  b -> c
myFunc1 :: a -> (b -> c)

This means that the type annotation is right-associative. We can read that myFunc1 takes value of a and returns a function that takes value of b and result is a value of c. It is possible to apply value of a and “store” the function b -> c for later application or reuse:

Prelude> let myFunc x y z = x * y + z
Prelude> :type myFunc
myFunc :: Num a => a -> a -> a -> a
Prelude> :type (myFunc 8)
(myFunc 8) :: Num a => a -> a -> a
Prelude> :type (myFunc 8 7)
(myFunc 8 7) :: Num a => a -> a
Prelude> :type (myFunc 8 7 1)
(myFunc 8 7 1) :: Num a => a
Prelude> myFunc 8 7 1
Prelude> myFunc2 = myFunc 8 7
Prelude> myFunc2 1
Prelude> myFunc2 2

So what is currying useful for? It enables a very powerful abstraction technique called partial application. Without going into a detail, partial application is currying + taking care of the context (closure) enabling us to achieve reification (a more concrete behaviour).

Imagine this situation of a polygon library:

type Size = Double
type NoVertices = Word
newtype Polygon = Polygon [(Double, Double)]

computeRegularPolygonPoints :: (Double, Double) -> NoVertices -> Size -> [(Double, Double)]
computeRegularPolygonPoints (cX, cY) nVertices r = [ (x i, y i) |  i <- map fromIntegral [0..(nVertices-1)] ]
  where n = fromIntegral nVertices
        x i = cX + r * cos(2 * pi * i / n)
        y i = cY + r * sin(2 * pi * i / n)

mkPolygon :: NoVertices -> Size -> Polygon
mkPolygon = computeRegularPolygonPoints (0, 0)

mkHexagon :: PSize -> Polygon
mkHexagon = mkPolygon 6

mkRectangle :: PSize -> Polygon
mkRectangle = mkPolygon 4


Here we create specialized versions of polygon constructor functions by providing the Size parameter. As functions can be parameters, as well, we can reify the behaviour, as well:

genericSort :: Ord a => (a -> a -> Ordering) -> [a] -> [a]
genericSort orderingFn numbers = undefined -- use the orderingFn to sort the numbers

fastOrderingFn :: Ord a => a -> a -> Ordering
fastOrderingFn = undefined -- a fast, but not too reliable ordering algorithm

slowOrderingFn :: Ord a => a -> a -> Ordering
slowOrderingFn = undefined -- a slow, but precise ordering algorithm

fastSort :: Ord a => [a] -> [a]
fastSort = genericSort fastOrderingFn

goodSort :: Ord a => [a] -> [a]
goodSort = genericSort slowOrderingFn

This technique is very elegant, DRY and it is a basis of a good purely functional style. Its object-oriented relatives are the Template Method design pattern brother married with the Factory Method design pattern – quite some fat, bloated relatives, aren’t they?

As you can see, the “parametrising” parameters must come first, so we can make a curried version of the constructor function. At the same time, the order of parameters can be switched using the flip function that takes its (first) two arguments in the reverse order of f:

flip :: (a -> b -> c) -> b -> a -> c

Then we can have:

data Something = SomethingRecord { complexFields :: () }

genericSort :: [Something] -> (Something -> Something -> Ordering) -> [Int]
genericSort numbers orderingFn = -- use the orderingFn to sort the numbers

fastOrderingFn :: Something -> Something -> Ordering
fastOrderingFn = -- a fast, but not too reliable ordering algorithm

slowOrderingFn :: Something -> Something -> Ordering
slowOrderingFn = -- a slow, but precise ordering algorithm

fastSort :: [Something] -> [Something]
fastSort = (flip generalSort) fastOrderingFn

goodSort :: [Something] -> [Something]
goodSort = (flip generalSort) slowOrderingFn

which is of course equivalent (but bloated and not idiomatic!) to:

fastSort :: [Something] -> [Something]
fastSort numbers = generalSort numbers fastOrderingFn

As we said, all functions in Haskell are curried. In case you want to make them not curried, you can use tuples to “glue” parameters together:

notCurried :: (a, b) -> (c, d) -> e

However, we do this just in case they are inherently bound together like key-value pairs.

There are also curry and uncurry functions available to do such transformations:

Prelude> :type curry
curry :: ((a, b) -> c) -> a -> b -> c
Prelude> let myFunc (x, y) = x + y
Prelude> :type myFunc
myFunc :: Num a => (a, a) -> a
Prelude> myFunc (1, 5)
Prelude> (curry myFunc) 1 5
Prelude> :type (curry myFunc)
(curry myFunc) :: Num c => c -> c -> c
Prelude> :type uncurry
uncurry :: (a -> b -> c) -> (a, b) -> c
Prelude> let myFunc x y = x + y
Prelude> :type (uncurry myFunc)
(uncurry myFunc) :: Num c => (c, c) -> c

If you like math, then it is the same difference as between f: ℝ → ℝ → ℝ and g: ℝ × ℝ → ℝ.

In most other functional languages, like Lisp (Clojure) and Javascript, the situation is the opposite to Haskell: the functions are by default not curried and there are functions (usually called curry), which enable partial function application – see e.g. this post.

Function composition

As stated in the beginning, function composition is the main means of devising an architecture of a functional programme. It works similarly to function composition in math: Having two functions, one with type a -> b and second with type b -> c you can create a composed one with type a -> c. In Haskell, a composition is done using the dot (.) operator:

Prelude> :type (5+)
(5+) :: Num a => a -> a
Prelude> :type (5*)
(5*) :: Num a => a -> a
Prelude> :type show
show :: Show a => a -> String
Prelude> show ( (5+) ( (5*) 5 ) )
Prelude> (show . (5+) . (5*)) 5

Or using the earlier introduced ($) application:

Prelude> show . (5+) . (5*) $ 5

Again, like in math, f: A → B and g: B → C, then (fg): A → C.

The “pointfree” style

It is very common in FP to write functions as a composition of other functions without mentioning the actual arguments they will be applied to. Consider the following two examples and notice that although the result is the same, the first one is a way more declarative, concise and readable.

sumA = foldr (+) 0
sumB xs = foldr (+) 0 xs

Those are very simple examples but you can build more complex ones with function composition (.) and partially applied or plain functions.

myFunc :: Int -> String
myFunc = show . (5+) . (5*)

Now you might ask why we call this a “pointfree” style, when there are actually more points. The confusion comes from the origin of the term, which is (again) math: it is a function that does not explicitly mention the points (values) of the space on which the function acts.

Fixity and precedence

You might wonder how it works in Haskell that the following expression is evaluated in the correct order you would expect without using brackets:

Prelude> 5 + 2^3 - 4 + 2 * 2
Prelude> 5 * sin pi - 3 * cos pi + 2

The first basic rule is that a function application binds the most. For example, in foo 5 + 4 it will first evaluate foo 5 and then add 4 (foo 5 + 4 is the same as (+) (foo 5) 4. If you want to avoid that, you need to use brackets foo (5 + 4) or a function application operator foo $ 5 + 4 (or strict $!).

For infix operators (+, **, /, ==, etc.) and functions (with backticks: div, rem, quot, mod, etc.), there is a special infix specification with one of three keywords:

  • infix = Non-associative operator (for example, comparison operators)
  • infixl = Left associative operator (for example, +, -, or !!)
  • infixr = Right associative operator (for example, ^, **, ., or &&)

Each of them should be followed by precedence (0 binds least tightly, and level 9 binds most tightly, default is 9) followed by the function/operator name. To see it in action, you can use :info to discover this specification for existing well-known operators and infix functions:

Prelude> :info (+)
infixl 6 +
Prelude> :info (&&)
infixr 3 &&
Prelude> :info div
infixl 7 `div`

You can also check Table 4.1 of The Haskell 2010 Language: Chapter 4 - Declarations and Bindings.

Own operators

You already know that operators are just functions and that you can switch always between prefix and infix:

Prelude> (+) 5 7
Prelude> 7 `div` 2
Prelude> foo x y z = x * (y + z)
Prelude> (5 `foo` 3) 12

You can define own operator as you would do it with function:

Prelude> (><) xs ys = reverse xs ++ reverse ys
Prelude> (><) "abc" "xyz"
Prelude> "abc" >< "xyz"
Prelude> :info (><)
(><) :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]

By default, its asociativity is left, as you can observe:

Prelude> "abc" >< "xyz" >< "klm"
Prelude> ("abc" >< "xyz") >< "klm"
Prelude> "abc" >< ("xyz" >< "klm")

By default, its precedence level is 9. We can observe that by constructing expression with (++) which has level 5 and the right associativity.

Prelude> "abc" >< "xyz" ++ "klm"
Prelude> "klm" ++ "abc" >< "xyz"

You can easily change that and if the new precedence is lower, than (++) will be done first. If the precedence is the same, then it is applied in “natural” order (thus, it must have the same associativity, otherwise you get an error).

infixl 5 ><
(><) :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]
(><) xs ys = reverse xs ++ reverse ys

infixl 2 >-<
(>-<) :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]
xs >-< ys = reverse xs ++ reverse ys

foo :: Int -> Int -> Int
x `foo` y = 2*x + y
*Main> :info (><)
(><) :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]       -- Defined at test01.hs:3:1
infixl 5 ><
*Main> "abc" >< "xyz" ++ "klm"

<interactive>:6:1: error:
    Precedence parsing error
        cannot mix `><' [infixl 5] and `++' [infixr 5] in the same infix expression
*Main> ("abc" >< "xyz") ++ "klm"
*Main> :info (>-<)
(>-<) :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]      -- Defined at test01.hs:7:1
infixl 2 >-<
*Main> "abc" >-< "xyz" ++ "klm"

<interactive>:12:1: error: lexical error at character '\ESC'
*Main> "klm" ++ "abc" >-< "xyz"

For operators you can use symbol characters as being any of !#$%&*+./<=>[email protected]\^|-~: or “any non-ascii Unicode symbol or punctuation”. But, an operator symbol starting with a colon : is a constructor.

Infix and operator-like data constructors

Data constructors can be treated just as functions. You can pass them to a function as a parameter, return them from a function as a result and also use them in infix:

Prelude> data MyTuple a b = MyTupleConstr a b deriving Show
Prelude> :type MyTupleConstr
MyTupleConstr :: a -> b -> MyTuple a b
Prelude> MyTupleConstr 5 "Hi"
MyTupleConstr 5 "Hi"
Prelude> 5 `MyTupleConstr` "Hi"
MyTupleConstr 5 "Hi"

As we said, for constructors you may create operator starting with a colon (and optionally specify also infix, infixl, or infixr).

Prelude> data MyTuple2 a b = a :@ b deriving Show
Prelude> :type (:@)
(:@) :: a -> b -> MyTuple2 a b
Prelude> 5 :@ "Hi"
5 :@ "Hi"
Prelude> (:@) 5 "Hi"
5 :@ "Hi"

You can try that using operator which doesn’t start with a colon is not possible. But you can always make a synonym and then your code more readable:

Prelude> data MyTuple3 a b = a @@ b deriving Show

<interactive>:15:17: error: Not a data constructor `a'
Prelude> (@@) = (:@)
Prelude> :type (@@)
(@@) :: a -> b -> MyTuple2 a b
Prelude> 5 @@ "Hi"
5 :@ "Hi"

Another fine feature is, that operators :@ and @@ can be specified with different associativity and precedence!

GHC has an extension of Generalized Algebraic Data Types (GADTs), where the idea of unifying function and data types is pushed even further. However, as they are a more advanced topic, we leave them to your interest.

Anonymous functions

An anonymous function is a function without a name. It is a Lambda abstraction and might look like this: \x -> x + 1. Sometimes, it is more convenient to use a lambda expression rather than giving a function a name. You should use anonymous functions only for very simple functions because it decreases readability of the code.

myFunc1 x y z = x * y + z               -- <= just syntactic sugar!
myFunc2 = (\x y z -> x * y + z)         -- <= still syntactic sugar!
myFunc3 = (\x -> \y -> \z -> x * y + z) -- <= desugarized function
mapFunc1 = map myFunc1
mapAFunc1 = map (\x y z -> x * y + z)

Anonymous functions are one of the corner-stones of functional programming and you will meet them in all languages that claim to be at least a little bit “functional”.

Higher-order functions

Higher order function is a function that takes a function as an argument and/or returns a function as a result. We already saw some of them: (.), curry, uncurry, map, etc. Higher-order functions are a very important concept in functional programming. Learning them and using them properly leads to readable, declarative, concise and safe code. They are used especially in manipulating lists, where they are preferred over traditional recursion today.

Map and filter

Two widely used functions well-known in the most of functional (but others as well) programming languages are map and filter. In the Prelude module, they are defined for lists, but they work in the same way for other data structures (Data.Sequence, Data.Set, etc., see the previous lecture). When you need to transform a list by applying a function to its every element, then you can use map. If you have a list and you need to make a sublist based on some property of its elements, use filter. The best for understanding is to look at its possible implementation:

myMap :: (a -> b) -> [a] -> [b]
myMap _ []     = []
myMap f (x:xs) = f x : myMap xs

myFilter :: (a -> Bool) -> [a] -> [a]
myFilter _ []     = []
myFilter p (x:xs)
      | p x       = x : myFilter p xs
      | otherwise = myFilter p xs

That’s it. Let us have some examples:

Prelude> :type map
map :: (a -> b) -> [a] -> [b]
Prelude> map show [1..5]
Prelude> map (5*) [1..5]
Prelude> map (length . show . abs) [135, (-15), 0, 153151]
Prelude> :type filter
filter :: (a -> Bool) -> [a] -> [a]
Prelude> filter (\x -> x `mod` 7 == 0) [1..50]

Soon we will get into a generalized function called fmap while discussing the term functor.

Folds and scans

Maybe you’ve heard about Map/Reduce… We know map, but there is no reduce! Actually, there is, but it is called fold (it is practically a synonym in functional programming). Folds are higher-order functions that process a data structure in some order and build a return value. It (as everything in Haskell) has foundations in math - concretely in Catamorphism of the Category Theory.

So map takes a list a produces another list of the same length, while fold takes a list and produces a single value.

To get into folds in practice, let’s try to implement sum and product functions (if you want to practice on your own, try it with and and or).

mySum :: Num a => [a] -> a
mySum []     = 0
mySum (x:xs) = x + mySum xs

myProduct :: Num a => [a] -> a
myProduct []     = 1
myProduct (x:xs) = x * myProduct xs

Obviously, there are some similarities:

  1. initial value for an empty list (0 for sum and 1 in the case of product),
  2. use a function and apply it to an element and recursive call to the rest of the list.

Let’s make a generalized higher-order function that also takes an initial value and a function for processing:

process :: (a -> a -> a) -> a -> [a] -> a
process _ initValue    []  = initValue
process f initValue (x:xs) = f x (process f initValue xs)

mySum = process (+) 0
myProduct = process (*) 1

But here we are getting into a problem. Both (+) and (*) use operands and result of the same type - if we want to convert a number to string and join it in one go with process, it is not possible!

*Main> process (\x str -> show x ++ str) "" [1,2,3,4]

<interactive>:18:39: error:
    • No instance for (Num [Char]) arising from the literal ‘1’
    • In the expression: 1
      In the third argument of ‘process’, namely ‘[1, 2, 3, 4]’
      In the expression:
        process (\ x str -> show x ++ str) "" [1, 2, 3, 4]

The type of the initial value must be the same as the type which is returned by given function. Now we get this:

process :: (a -> b -> b) -> b -> [a] -> b
process _ initValue    []  = initValue
process f initValue (x:xs) = f x (process f initValue xs)

mySum = process (+) 0
myProduct = process (*) 1

myToStrJoin :: (Show a) => [a] -> String
myToStrJoin = process (\x str -> show x ++ str) ""

Now problem is that both (+) and (*) are commutative, but (\x str -> show x ++ str) is not, even type of x and str can be different. What if we need to apply the function in a different order? Now we have to create two variants.

processr :: (a -> b -> b) -> b -> [a] -> b   -- "accumulates" in the RIGHT operand
processr _ initValue    []  = initValue
processr f initValue (x:xs) = f x (processr f initValue xs)

processl :: (b -> a -> b) -> b -> [a] -> b   -- "accumulates" in the LEFT operand
processl _ initValue    []  = initValue
processl f initValue (x:xs) = f (processl f initValue xs) x

mySum = processl (+) 0
myProduct = processl (*) 1

myToStrJoinR :: (Show a) => [a] -> String
myToStrJoinR = processr (\x str -> show x ++ str) ""
myToStrJoinL :: (Show a) => [a] -> String
myToStrJoinL = processl (\str x -> show x ++ str) ""

This is something so generally useful, that it is prepared for you and not just for lists but for every instance of typeclass Foldable - two basic folds foldl/foldr and related scanl/scanr, which capture intermediate values in a list:

Prelude> :type foldl
foldl :: Foldable t => (b -> a -> b) -> b -> t a -> b
Prelude> :type foldr
foldr :: Foldable t => (a -> b -> b) -> b -> t a -> b
Prelude> foldl (-) 0 [1..10]
Prelude> ((((((((((0-1)-2)-3)-4)-5)-6)-7)-8)-9)-10)
Prelude> scanl (-) 0 [1..10]
Prelude> foldr (-) 0 [1..10]
Prelude> (1-(2-(3-(4-(5-(6-(7-(8-(9-(10-0))))))))))
Prelude> scanr (-) 0 [1..10]

There are some special variants:

Prelude> foldr1 (+) [1..10]
Prelude> foldl1 (*) [1..10]
Prelude> foldr1 (+) []
Prelude> foldl1 (*) []

Prelude> foldl' (*) 0 [1..10]  -- strict evaluation before reduction
Prelude> foldl'1 (*) [1..10]

Prelude> minimum [1,2,63,12,5,201,2]
Prelude> maximum [1,2,63,12,5,201,2]

As an exercise, try to implement foldl by using foldr (spoiler: solution).

FP in other languages

Functional programming concepts that you learn in a pure functional language may be more or less applicable in other languages, as well, according to the concepts supported and how well they are implemented. Also, some languages provide serious functional constructs, but they are quite cumbersome syntactically, which repels their common usage (yes, we point to you, JavaScript ;-)


C++ is a general purpose object-oriented programming language based on C, which is an imperative procedural language. In both, it is possible to create functions (and procedures). There is no control if a function is pure or not (i.e. making side effects). And in C/C++ you need to deal with mutability, pointers and working with memory on low level (de/allocation). Typing is strict and you can make higher-order functions with “function pointer” types.

int calculate(int(*binOperation)(const int, const int), const int operandA, const int operandB){
    return binOperation(operandA, operandB);

If you are a normal person and not a bighead, you will most probably use typedef to name the type of such functions so the code is more readable and understandable. In newer versions of C++, there are also anonymous functions, combinators (for_each, transform, filter, …), functors. Then you can of course use simpler functional concepts such as closures or recursion.

typedef int(*binOperation)(const int, const int);  /* I am not a bighead */

int calculate(binOperation bo, const int operandA, const int operandB){
    return bo(operandA, operandB);



Smalltalk and Ruby

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