.NET, F#, Programming

Having fun with F# operators

F# is very exciting and fun language to learn. It contains pipe and composition operators which allows you to write less code with better conciseness. In addition to familiar prefix and postfix operators it also comes with the “infix” operator. The beauty of it is that you can define your own infix operators and succinctly express business logic in your F# code.

Prefix, infix and postfix πŸ‘Ύ

As an example of prefix operators we can define any regular function:

let times n x = x * n 

and call this function with a prefix notation:

times 3 3 // val it : int = 9

In F# vast majority of primitives are functions, just like in pure OOP language everything is an object. So you can also call multiplication operator as a function:

(*) 3 3 // val it : int = 9

which gives the same result as in the previous code snippet.

Postfix operators is not something you often use and mostly comes with built-in keywords:

type maybeAString = string option // built-in postfix keyword
type maybeAString2 = Option<string> // effectively same as this
// Usage
let s:maybeAString = Some "Ninja in the bushes!"
let s2:maybeAString2 = None

But most interesting one is infix operator. As you already could guess, infix operator should be placed between two operands. Everyone did some math in school and wrote something similar to:

3 * 3 // val it : int = 9

Not surprisingly it is something you use without even thinking. Now, let’s define few custom functions:

let (^+^) x y = x ** 2. + y ** 2. // sum of the square of two numbers
let (^^) x y = x ** y // returns x to the power of y

And use it with an infix operator:

3. ^+^ 3. // val it : float = 18.0
3. ^^ 3. // val it : float = 27.0

Note that we can also use it with a prefix notation just as a regular functions:

(^+^) 3. 3. // val it : float = 18.0
(^^) 3. 3. // val it : float = 27.0

Of course infix syntax looks much more succinct in that case.

Pipe, compose and mix πŸ”Œ

The king among F# operators is a pipe operator (|>). It allows you to express function composition in a readable way. Function application is left associative, meaning that evaluating x y z is the same as evaluating (x y) z. If you would like to have right associativity you can use explicit parentheses or pipe operator:

let fun x y z = x (y z)
let fun x y z = y z |> x // forward pipe operator
let fun x y z = x <| y z // backward pipe operator

Okay. As you see there two flavors of pipe operators: forward and backward. Here the definition of forward pipe operator:

let (|>) x f = f x

Just as simple as that: feeding the argument from the left side (x) to function (f). The definition of the backward pipe operator is:

let (<|) x f = x f

You may wonder why it is needed and what is benefit of using it? You will see example later in this post.

So how we can apply pipe operators in practice? Here examples:

let listOfIntegers = [5;6;4;3;1;2]
listOfIntegers |> List.sortBy (fun el -> abs el) // val it : int list = [1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6]
// Same as
List.sortBy (fun el -> abs el) listOfIntegers

It shines when you have long list of functions you need to compose together:

text.Split([|'.'; ' '; '\r'|], StringSplitOptions.RemoveEmptyEntries)
      |> Array.map (fun w -> w.Trim())
      |> Array.filter (fun w -> w.Length > 2)
      |> Array.iter (fun w -> ...

The backward pipe operator could be useful in some cases to make your code looks more English-like:

let myList = []
myList |> List.isEmpty |> not
// Same as above but looks prettier
myList |> (not << List.isEmpty)

Composition operator could also be forward (>>) and backward (<<) and it also used for composing functions. Unlike pipe operator, result of execution compose will be a new function.

Definition of composition operators:

let (>>) f g x = g ( f(x) )
let (<<) f g x = f ( g(x) )

For example:

let add1 x = x + 1
let times2 x = x * 2
let add1Times2 = (>>) add1 times2
add1Times2 3 // val it : int = 8

Which we could re-write like this:

let add x y = x + y
let times n x = x * n
let add1Times2 = add 1 >> times 2
add1Times2 3 // val it : int = 8

In both examples it relies on core concept of partial application, that is when one argument baked-in in functions add1 and times2 but left second argument free so that it will be passed on function invocation by the user.

As long as input and outputs of functions involved in composition match, any kind of value could be used

Same example with backward composition operator gives different result because functions composed in the opposite order:

let add x y = x + y
let times n x = x * n
let times2Add1 = add 1 << times 2
times2Add1 3 // val it : int = 7

Have fun 😝

Now a small exercise for you. What will be outcome of all these expressions? πŸ€” :

3 * 3
(*) 3 3
3 |> (*) 3
3 |> (*) <| 3

What about that one:

let ninjaBy3 = 3 * 3 |> (+)
ninjaBy3 5

Try it yourself. Leave comments and have fun!

.NET, F#, Programming

Sequences and problem solving in F#

Sequences in F# is very similar to the lists: they represent ordered collection of values. However, unlike lists, sequences are lazy evaluated, meaning elements in a sequence computed as they needed. This is very handy for example to represent infinite data structures. Data types, such as lists, arrays, sets, and maps are implicitly sequences because they are enumerable collections. A function that takes a sequence as an argument works with any of the common F# data types, in addition to any .NET data type that implements System.Collections.Generic.IEnumerable<'T>. The type seq<'T> is a type abbreviation for IEnumerable<'T>. This means that any type that implements the generic System.Collections.Generic.IEnumerable<'T>, which includes arrays, lists, sets, and maps in F#, and also most .NET collection types, is compatible with the seq type and can be used wherever a sequence is expected. Sequences contains over than 70 operations which I will not list here. You can follow refences Sequences and F# – Sequences for more details.

In this post I would like to look at the real world example in practice and compare both: C# and F# approaches to solve the same problem. Lets describe it:

Print all working (business) days within specified date range.

To make it more interesting, we would like to support an interval: when specified we return values for each n working day instead of each day.

First, lets look at one of the possible C# implementations:

using System;
using System.Linq;
using System.Collections.Generic;

public class Program {

 public static void Main() {

  var startDate = new DateTime(2020, 06, 01);
  var endDate = new DateTime(2020, 07, 01);
  var interval = 2;
  Func<DateTime, bool> IsWorkingDay = (date) => 
        date.DayOfWeek != DayOfWeek.Saturday && date.DayOfWeek != DayOfWeek.Sunday;

  foreach(var date in GetWorkingDays(startDate, endDate, IsWorkingDay)
                      .Where((d, i) => i % interval == 0)) 

 private static IEnumerable<string> GetWorkingDays(DateTime start, DateTime stop, Func<DateTime, bool> filter) {

  var date = start.AddDays(-1);

  while (date < stop) {
   date = date.AddDays(1);

   if (filter(date)) {
    yield return string.Format("{0:dd-MM-yy dddd}", date);

The code is pretty straightforward: we use IEnumerable<string> to generate a sequence of values which is filtered by business days. Note that enumerable is lazy evaluated. Then we apply LINQ extension:

Where<TSource>(IEnumerable<TSource>, Func<TSource,Int32,Boolean>)

which takes an integer as a second parameter. It selects only values where index is divisible by interval without remainder, hence satisfying requirement of getting each n business days.

Finally, with interval of 2 we will have output similar to this:

01-06-20 Monday
03-06-20 Wednesday
05-06-20 Friday
09-06-20 Tuesday
11-06-20 Thursday
15-06-20 Monday
17-06-20 Wednesday
19-06-20 Friday
23-06-20 Tuesday
25-06-20 Thursday
29-06-20 Monday
01-07-20 Wednesday

Next, I will show you F# implementation.

In F#, generally, solving any problem implies decomposition on granular level of a function and composing these functions in specific order and with a glue in a form of a language constructs.

First, lets define a working day filter:

let IsWorkingDay (day : DateTime) = day.DayOfWeek <> DayOfWeek.Saturday && day.DayOfWeek <> DayOfWeek.Sunday

Now, lets define an infinite sequence of a days following some start date:

let DaysFollowing (start : DateTime) = Seq.initInfinite (fun d -> start.AddDays(float (d)))

Next, we need a function to represent a sequence of working days starting from some start date which is essence a composition of DaysFollowing function with IsWorkingDay filter with a help of a pipeline operator:

let WorkingDaysFollowing start = 
   |> DaysFollowing
   |> Seq.filter IsWorkingDay

Notice the use of Seq.filter operation here. We just provide filtering function with following signature:

where : ('T β†’ bool) β†’ seq<'T> β†’ seq<'T>

This should be familiar to you if you ever used LINQ πŸ™‚ In F#, 'T notation just means generic type.

At this point we would like to have a function which could make use of an interval variable in generation of the next working date. Here it is:

let NextWorkingDayAfter interval start = 
   |> WorkingDaysFollowing
   |> Seq.item interval

And again, we stack one block on top of another which is function composition in action. Seq.item computes the nth element in the collection. First, we get sequence of working days and then we process nth from that sequence:

item : int β†’ seq<'T> β†’ 'T

Finally, we need to define function which will compose all these blocks and return final sequence of dates. We want our resulting sequence to be a string representation of a working dates according to original requirement. That’s how we could achieve that:

let WorkingDays startDate endDate interval = 
   Seq.unfold (fun date -> 
      if date > endDate then None
         let next = date |> NextWorkingDayAfter interval
         let dateString = date.ToString("dd-MMM-yy dddd")
         Some(dateString, next)) startDate

We use unfold function here. It is one of the most complex operations in Seq data type to understand, yet very powerful. There is no direct analogy of it in C#. Put it simple: function returns a sequence that contains the elements generated by the given computation. The signature of that function is:

unfold : ('State β†’ 'T * 'State option) β†’ 'State β†’ seq<'T>

Lets take a closer look at the unfold function. The first parameter is a computation function which takes the current state and transforms it to produce each subsequent element in the sequence. For the first iteration, the value passed in is the initial state parameter, which is the second parameter passed to the unfold function which is start date in the example above. The computation function (or generator) must return an option type of a two element tuple. The first element of the tuple is the item to be yielded and the second element is the state to pass on the generator function in the next iteration. It returns Some when there are results or None when there are no more results. In our case when passed state (date) is less than end date we calculate next working date (taking in consideration interval) and converting it to string. We wrap it in an option tuple where the first value will be added to resulting sequence and the second value is a state which will be passed to next iteration of the unfold.

We invoke it as follows:

WorkingDays (DateTime(2020, 6, 1)) (DateTime(2020, 7, 01)) 2 |> Seq.iter (fun x -> printfn "%s" x)

Which produce the same output as C# version

Put it all together:

open System

let IsWorkingDay (day : DateTime) = day.DayOfWeek <> DayOfWeek.Saturday && day.DayOfWeek <> DayOfWeek.Sunday
let DaysFollowing (start : DateTime) = Seq.initInfinite (fun i -> start.AddDays(float (i)))

let WorkingDaysFollowing start = 
   |> DaysFollowing
   |> Seq.filter IsWorkingDay

let NextWorkingDayAfter interval start = 
   |> WorkingDaysFollowing
   |> Seq.item interval

let WorkingDays startDate endDate interval = 
   Seq.unfold (fun date -> 
      if date > endDate then None
         let next = date |> NextWorkingDayAfter interval
         let dateString = date.ToString("dd-MMM-yy dddd")
         Some(dateString, next)) startDate


In F# function composition plays an important role. You start by splitting complex problem in smallest possible pieces and wrapping it into the functions. This is what known as decomposition. To solve a problem you need to compose these functions in certain way. Very much like LEGO bricks. Side effect which gives you such granular decomposition is re-usability: once defined, function can be applied in different contexts and to make it fit functional languages provides rich set of tools which is out of scope of the article. On the other hand, C# and OOP in general gives you classes and design patterns to solve same problems, often in a much more verbose and error-prone way.