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Specializing Functions with Curryingby FoxtrotUniform (Prior)
|on Aug 06, 2004 at 00:42 UTC
Let's pretend: we're writing a markup-translation backend. The front end has taken the input text and transformed it into a bunch of paragraphs, each one a list of (style, content) pairs. For instance, a paragraph might look like
Our task is to generate HTML from these paragraphs.
One obvious WTDI is to build a dispatch table of translation functions:
That's all well and good, but those wrap_with_foo_tags functions are all going to be variations on a theme. That's going to suck if we ever want to extend them (to allow for CSS classes, for instance). What we'd like to be able to do is something like
but of course that won't work. Will it?
Enter currying. Currying is basically partial application of a function: instead of supplying all of a function's arguments and getting a result back, you supply part of a function's arguments and get a function back. When you apply that curried function to the rest of the arguments, you get the result you expected.
educated_foo has a pretty clever currying implementation here, but for my purposes this should be sufficient:
It's not pretty, nor is it especially safe, but it works.
Now we can have our cake and eat it, too: a pleasantly general wrap_with_html function, a dispatch table full of specialized functions (which, I might add, we can generate from a config file if we so desire), a distinct lack of superfluous wrapper code, and a bunch of coderefs to confuse the newbies. (Okay, that last is a bug, not a feature. That's the major drawback to currying: it's not easy to understand from a procedural point of view.) Our full code looks like this:
I should point out that this is a bit of a toy example: it might be better to use qred regexes in a lookup table instead, for instance. I didn't want to clutter the code with more complexity than I needed; but the nice thing about this approach is that if you ever have to make wrap_with_html more complex, you don't really have to change anything else.