Variations in F#: Research compiler with Joinads and more!

In this article, I'll write about an experimental extension for F# that I call joinads. If you're following my blog, you may have seen an academic paper that I wrote about it some time ago. Anyway, the motivation for the extension is that there are many useful programming models for reactive, concurrent and parallel programming that would deserve some syntactic support in the programming language.

For example, when programming with futures (the Task<T> type), you may want to implement logical "or" operator for tasks that returns true immediately when the first task completes returning true. When programming with events (the IObservable<T> type), we'd like to wait for the event that happens first. Finally, when programming using agents, we sometimes need to wait only for certain types of messages. All of these problems can be solved, but require the use of (sometimes fairly complicated) functions. Joinads make it possible to solve them directly using the match! syntax. For example, here is the "or" operator for tasks:

1: future {
2:   match! after 100 true, after 1000 false with
3:   | !true, _ -> return true
4:   | _, !true -> return true
5:   | !a, !b -> return a || b }

I'll write more about this example (and the implementation) in a later article. This article focuses on the compiler extension itself. I created a first implementation of the idea above during my internship with Don Syme at MSR Cambridge, but then changed it quite a bit when writing the academic paper mentioned above. However, I never released the source code.

Thanks to the open-source release of F# it is now quite easy to modify the F# compiler and make the modifications available, so I decided I should finally release my F# extensions. I also recently blogged about encoding idioms (also called applicative functors) in C#. I was wondering how to do that in F# and so I also created a simple extension computations based on this abstraction. The support for idioms is just an experiment, but it could be useful, for example, for programming with formlets. You'll find more about it at the end of the article.

You can find the source code on my GitHub (there is also a link compiled binaries at the end of the article). The source code is cloned from an F# Mono repository, which means that it should build on Linux and MacOS too.

val future : FutureBuilder

Full name: JoinadsDemo.future
val after : int -> 'a -> Task<'a>

Full name: JoinadsDemo.after
val a : bool

  type: bool
  implements: IComparable
  implements: IConvertible
  implements: IComparable<bool>
  implements: IEquatable<bool>
  inherits: ValueType
val b : bool

  type: bool
  implements: IComparable
  implements: IConvertible
  implements: IComparable<bool>
  implements: IEquatable<bool>
  inherits: ValueType

Published: Friday, 25 March 2011, 12:04 AM
Tags: research, f#, joinads
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Beyond the Monad fashion (II.): Creating web forms with LINQ

The LINQ query syntax can be used for various things. Aside from writing queries, you can also use it to encode any monads. This has become a fashionable topic, so you can learn more about it at many .NET conferences (for example GOTO 2011). There are also many blog posts on this topic and I explained it in details in Chapter 12 of my book, which is available as a free sample chapter (PDF).

However, you can also use LINQ syntax for writing different types of computations. In a previous blog post, I introduced idioms (also called applicative functors) and I demonstrated how to use the join syntax in LINQ to write computations based on idioms. We looked at a slightly boring, but simple example - zipping of lists - and we also implemented matrix transposition.

In this blog post, we look at a more exciting example. I explain formlets, which is an idiom for building web forms. Formlets give us an elegant functional way to create reusable components that encapsulate both visual aspect (HTML) and behavior (processing of requests). You can think of them as functional ASP.NET controls. Formlets come from the Links project and they are now used in commercial products like WebSharper. In this article, you'll see that we can (mis)use LINQ to get a nicer syntax for writing code using formlets. My C# implementation of formlets is based on a nice F# formlets by Mauricio Scheffer.

Published: Monday, 14 March 2011, 5:14 PM
Tags: c#, research
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Beyond the Monad fashion (I.): Writing idioms in LINQ

Thanks to LINQ and Erik Meier, monads have become a fashionable topic in the C# developer community. Indeed, no serious developer conference on .NET can get away without having a talk on monads. The attractive thing about LINQ and monads is that the SelectMany operator roughly corresponds to the bind function that defines a monad. In practice, LINQ is used for working with collections of data (IEnumerable<T>), but you can also define bind (i.e. SelectMany) for some other data types and use the LINQ syntax for working with other types. You won't be really using the full LINQ syntax. You'll probably use just nested from clauses (for binding) and select at the end to return the result.

However, monads are not the only notion of computation that we can work with. More interestingly, they are also not the only notion of computation that you can encode using LINQ! In this article, I'll briefly introduce idioms (also called applicative functors), which is another useful abstract type of computations. Idioms can be used for a few things that cannot be done using monads.

A provocative summary of this article is: "Everyone who tells you that LINQ is a monad is wrong!"

The truth is that LINQ syntax can be used for encoding queries (obviously), monads (as you were told), but also for idioms as you'll learn today (and quite possibly for other types of computations). In this article, we look at a basic example, but I'll describe a more complex real-world scenario in the next blog post.

Published: Thursday, 10 March 2011, 1:26 PM
Tags: c#, research, functional
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MonoDevelop & Teaching F# & QCon tutorial

Point of sale application from QCon tutorial

It appears that I have been doing a lot more talking than writing in the last two months. I'm hoping to change this direction and I have two articles almost ready, so stay tuned! I was also posting all my interesting F# snippets to, which has grown quite a bit since I announced it in the last blog post. Thanks to everybody who submitted their snippets already and I'm looking forward to more! By the way, you can now run snippets using by clicking at "Load in TryF#" button.

In the meantime, the queue with talk materials that I wanted to post on my blog has grown to 3. I talked about F# in MonoDevelop in the Mono room at FOSDEM in February, then I did an online talk for the Community for F# . Finally, this week, I did a tutorial on F# with Phil Trelford at QCon in London (to fill in for Michael Stal due to unexpected health reasons).

Before I move on to writing about my recent experiments with LINQ, you can find materials from all of the recent talks below...

Published: Wednesday, 9 March 2011, 4:01 PM
Tags: presentations, webcast, functional, links
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