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# Power of mathematics Reasoning about functional types One of the most amazing aspects of mathematics is that it applies to such a wide range of areas. The same mathematical rules can be applied to completely different objects (say, forces in physics or markets in economics) and they work exactly the same way.

In this article, we'll look at one such fascinating use of mathematics - we'll use elementary school algebra to reason about functional data types.

In functional programming, the best way to start solving a problem is to think about the data types that are needed to represent the data that you will be working with. This gives you a simple starting point and a great tool to communicate and develop your ideas. I call this approach Type-First Development and I wrote about it earlier, so I won't repeat that here.

The two most elementary types in functional languages are tuples (also called pairs or product types) and discriminated unions (also called algebraic data types, case classes or sum types). It turns out that these two types are closely related to multiplication and addition in algebra.

## What do we know about types?

During a recent F# training in New York, I talked about modelling European stock options (a version of this example is also available in Try F#). The idea is that we want to model stock options - a stock option is either a primitive put or call option (meaning that we have a contract to buy or sell a commodity) and a combination of the two.

As we talked about the problem, we tried a number of approaches and tried to find the most natural representation. Among others, we looked at the following two models:

 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6:  // Model #1: A stock option is either 'Put' or 'Call' // or it is a combination of two other options type OptionPCC = | Put of float | Call of float | Combine of OptionPCC * OptionPCC 
 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6:  // Model #2: A stock option is either primitive European // option (which is either put or call) or a combination type OptionKind = Put | Call type OptionEC = | European of OptionKind * float | Combine of OptionEC * OptionEC 

Discussing which one is better (or easier to process) is one topic, but there is a more fundamental question. Do they represent the same thing, or does each of the types model slightly different domain? (You can probably look at the two types and think that they model, in fact, the same structure, but how do you know that?) I'll answer this question soon, but I first need to say a bit more about tuples and discriminated unions.

## Product types and sum types

### Tuples aka product types

I mentioned that the two types are also called product and sum types, so let's look why. A tuple (product) is simply a type that groups together two or more values of (possibly) different types. In F#, we can define a type alias to give a name to a tuple:

 1:  type Point = byte * byte 

For simplicity, a point is simply a pair of bytes. Why is the type written using *? This should be easy to see with points - a byte here represents one axis from 0 to 256. A pair of bytes thus represents a 2D area of size 256*256. This means that the number of values that Point can have is the number of values byte can have squared. In other words, if b is the number of values: ### Unions aka sum types

Next, let's take a look at the second type. A discriminated union can be used to represent a choice between several options (a bit like enumeration). Let's say we need a type that can represent two cases - one case is that we have a byte value and the other is that the value is not set. In F# this can be done using the option type (Maybe in Haskell). A simplified version for bytes looks like this:

 1: 2: 3:  type ByteOption = | Some of byte | None 

How many possible values does ByteOption have? This is quite easy to count - for every value b of type byte, there is one value Some(b), which gives us 256 possible values. In addition, there is one special value None, so we get 256+1 possible values altogether. In other words: In general, a sum type corresponds to the sum of the individual components. To relate this to the earlier geometrical analogy, you can think of a type that can represent 256 positive byte values and 256 negative byte values (that is, 512 possible values altogether). This would be defined simply as:

 1: 2: 3:  type TwoRangeByte = | Positive of byte | Negative of byte 

I'll extend the analogy between types and the number of values that a type can have a bit further. In F#, the unit type is a type that only has one possible value, written (). This means that it corresponds to 1 in mathematics. It also means that None case of ByteOption (that I discussed earlier) could also be written as None of unit.

And a one brief side-note: A tuple consisting of n values of type T corresponds to the nth power of T. This encourages us to view unit as a tuple of zero elements, because zeroth power of any type is 1.

## Representing stock options

The correspondence between types and algebraic operations gives us a powerful way to reason about data types. Let's look how we can use it on our two representations of stock options starting with the latter version:

 1:  type OptionKind = Put | Call 

The OptionKind type is simply a choice between two alternatives (both can be seen as values of type unit, because they both have exactly one value). This means we can write them as: The OptionEC type then contains OptionKind combined with float or two options:

 1: 2: 3:  type OptionEC = | European of OptionKind * float | Combine of OptionEC * OptionEC 

This means that OptionEC is a choice (using the + operator) between two alternatives, one consisting of the kind and a floating-point value that I'll simply write as f and another, containing two options: The first line directly corresponds to the OptionEC type. The second line simply expands the definition of kind shown earlier. Now, let's look at the second type:

 1: 2: 3: 4:  type OptionPCC = | Put of float | Call of float | Combine of OptionPCC * OptionPCC 

This is simply a choice (that is + operation) between two floating-point values and a combination consisting of product of two options. In the language of mathematics: Now comes the important step. We have two equations that describe the two different types. The key thing is that fundamental algebraic laws (that hold about numbers) also hold about functional data types. We can use the distributivity law to show the following: And that's all we need to show that the two representations of stock options represent, in fact, the same domain (and so we can freely choose which one to use, based on which we find more natural or easier to process - the key fact is that the choice does not matter for the program logic): ## Representing contact details

Let's look at one more example - this time, we look at two possible representations of contact information. The example is inspired by the excellent F# for Fun and Profit article.

A type representing contact details may contain a phone number (for simplicity, represented as int) and an address (stored as string). One way to represent such information is to assume that both of the details are optional and use a record storing two option types:

 1: 2: 3:  type Contact1 = { Address : string option Number : int option } 

The second representation we can use is a discriminated union that lists a number of options explicitly - a contact can have both address and phone number, or just one of these two:

 1: 2: 3: 4:  type Contact2 = | AddressAndNumber of string * int | Address of string | Number of int 

A record type is simply a tuple with named elements and so it also corresponds to multiplication (we could have used (string option) * (int option), but I wanted to keep the sample more idiomatic). Recall our discussion about option types earlier - we said that this is just like adding one to the original type. Now, the second representation is simply a choice between three options, meaning that we will represent it using + over the three cases. Altogether, this means that the two types can be mathematically described as: Now we can apply some more elementary school algebra on the first equation and expand the multiplication. This way we get the following (just like in mathematics 1 * 1 = 1 when we talk about types): Looking at the resulting equation, we can very clearly see that the two types are different. Moreover, the inequality also explains how they are different: On the left-hand side, we have essentially a choice with four cases while on the right-hand side, we only have three cases. The cases are the same, so the only difference is additional 1 case on the left. This corresponds to the situation when none of the contact details are provided - this is something that we can represent only using the Contact1 type (by writing { Address=None; Number=None}).

If we wanted to add this possibility to Contact2, we can do that quite easily - just add a case NoContact with no attributes, or use Contact2 option (because this also builds c2 + 1).

## Summary

I think that the main takeaway message from this article is that reasoning about functional types is easy. Most of the calculations that I showed in this blog post are easy to do in your head, without even writing any mathematics. But I wanted to make them explicit to show how they work in details.

All of the standard algebraic laws such as associativity, distributivity and commutativity correspond to simple operations that you can apply to your types when building a domain model. This gives you simple set of basic refactorings that work on types and help you design an easier to use model.

I will stop here and limit myself to just basic laws and basic types, but one can go much further. The function type T1 -> T2 can be mathematically modelled as an exponentiation T2T1. The interesting consequence of this is that (ignoring side-effects) unit -> T is equivalent to just T (because T1=T) and that T1 + T2 -> T is equivalent to (T1 -> T) * (T2 -> T) (using the exponent laws).

A bit more esoteric extension (that I reference mainly just for fun) is that you can also differentiate data types. There is a fairly readable introduction, but if you want to see the full details, check out this academic paper (PDF).

union case OptionPCC.Put: float -> OptionPCC
Multiple items
val float : value:'T -> float (requires member op_Explicit)

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.Operators.float

--------------------
type float = System.Double

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.float

--------------------
type float<'Measure> = float

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.float<_>
union case OptionPCC.Call: float -> OptionPCC
union case OptionPCC.Combine: OptionPCC * OptionPCC -> OptionPCC
type OptionPCC =
| Put of float
| Call of float
| Combine of OptionPCC * OptionPCC

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.OptionPCC
type OptionKind =
| Put
| Call

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.OptionKind
union case OptionKind.Put: OptionKind
union case OptionKind.Call: OptionKind
type OptionEC =
| European of OptionKind * float
| Combine of OptionEC * OptionEC

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.OptionEC
union case OptionEC.European: OptionKind * float -> OptionEC
union case OptionEC.Combine: OptionEC * OptionEC -> OptionEC
type Point = byte * byte

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.Point
Multiple items
val byte : value:'T -> byte (requires member op_Explicit)

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.Operators.byte

--------------------
type byte = System.Byte

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.byte
type ByteOption =
| Some of byte
| None

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.ByteOption
union case ByteOption.Some: byte -> ByteOption
union case ByteOption.None: ByteOption
type TwoRangeByte =
| Positive of byte
| Negative of byte

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.TwoRangeByte
union case TwoRangeByte.Positive: byte -> TwoRangeByte
union case TwoRangeByte.Negative: byte -> TwoRangeByte
type Contact1 =
Number: int option;}

Full name: Types-and-math.aspx.Contact1
Multiple items
val string : value:'T -> string

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.Operators.string

--------------------
type string = System.String

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.string
type 'T option = Option<'T>

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.option<_>
Contact1.Number: int option
Multiple items
val int : value:'T -> int (requires member op_Explicit)

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.Operators.int

--------------------
type int = int32

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.int

--------------------
type int<'Measure> = int

Full name: Microsoft.FSharp.Core.int<_>
type Contact2 =
| AddressAndNumber of string * int