Kerflyn's Blog

Well… It's a blog!

Posts Tagged ‘Guava

From Optional to Monad with Guava

Guava is a kind of Swiss Army knife API proposed by Google for Java 5 and more. It contains many functionalities that help the developer in its every day life. Guava proposes also a basic functional programming API. You can represent almost statically typed functions with it, map functions on collections, compose them, etc. Since its version 10.0, Guava has added a new class called Optional. It’s an equivalent to the types Option in Scala or Maybe in Haskell. Optional aims to represent the existence of a value or not. In a sense, this class is a generalization of the Null Object pattern.

In this article, we see the Optional class in action through two use cases involving java.util.Map instances. The first use case is a very basic one. It shows how to use the Optional class. The second use case is based on a problem I’ve met in a real project. We’ll see if Optional is helpful in this case.

Optional vs. null

Suppose that you want to get a value from a Map. The value is supposed to be located under the key "a", but you aren’t sure. In the case where the key "a" doesn’t exist, the Map implementation is supposed to return null. But, you want to continue with a default value.

Here, you have two solutions. This one

Integer value = map.get("a");
if (value == null) {
    value = DEFAULT;

And, this one

Integer value = map.get("a");
process(value == null ? DEFAULT : value);

In order to use the Optional class, we need to define a new accessor for Map instances.

public static <K, V> Optional<V> getFrom(Map<K, V> map, K key) {

We notice that you can instantiate Optional by different ways: 1/ by a call to Optional.absent() if there is nothing to return (except the Optional instance), 2/ by of call to Optional.of(value) if you want to return a value. It sounds logical that an accessor to Map returns an Optional, because you aren’t sure that the given key exists in the Map instance.

Below is the same program but using Optional class.

process(getFrom(map, "a").or(DEFAULT));

With this code, we don’t see null anymore.

Going further: Optional to the limit

Now, we suppose that we develop a application based on a set of products differentiated by a unique identifier. The products are organized by product identifier, supplier, city, and country. In order to stock these products, imbricated Map are used: the first level uses the country, the second level uses the city, the third level uses the supplier, and the fourth level uses the product identifier to give access to the product. Here is the code you get with no use of Optional class (please, don’t do this at work! Seriously, don’t do this!)

public Product getProductFrom(
  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCountry,
  String country, String city, String supplier, String code) {

    Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>> productsByCity = productsByCountry.get(country);
    if (productsByCity != null) {
        Map<String, Map<String, Product>> productsBySupplier = productsByCity.get(city);
        if (productsBySupplier != null) {
            Map<String, Product> productsByCode = productsBySupplier.get(supplier);
            if (productsByCode != null) {
                return productByCode.get(code);
    return null;

This doesn’t sounds great, is it?

Now, below is the solution using Optional class.

public Optional<Product> getProductFrom(
  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCountry,
  String country, String city, String supplier, String code) {

    Optional<Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCity
        = getFrom(productsByCountry, country);
    if (productsByCity.isPresent()) {
        Optional<Map<String, Map<String, Product>>> productsBySupplier
            = getFrom(productsByCity.get(), city);
        if (productsBySupplier.isPresent()) {
            Optional<Map<String, Product>> productsByCode
                = getFrom(productsBySupplier.get(), supplier);
            if (productsByCode.isPresent()) {
                return getFrom(productByCode.get(), code);
    return Optional.absent();

It looks ugly too!

In a view to simplified this implementation, I propose to introduce the notion of monad.

Option(al) monad

A monad is a programming structure with two operations: unit and bind. Applied to the Optional class, unit converts a value into an Optional instance and bind applied to an Optional a function from value to Optional. Below, you’ve there definitions in Java:

public class OptionalMonad {
    public static <T> Optional<T> unit(T value) {
        return Optional.of(value);

    public static <T, U> Optional<U> bind(
            Optional<T> value,
            Function<T, Optional<U>> function) {
        if (value.isPresent()) return function.apply(value.get());
        else return Optional.absent();

Notice that bind checks the presence of a value before to apply the function.

Now, to be used by our example in the section above, we need to define a function that will be used as parameter for the bind operator. This function is based on the method getFrom, previously defined, which gives access to a value of a Map from a given key.

public static <K, V> Function<Map<K, V>, Optional<V>> getFromKey(final K key) {
    return new Function<Map<K, V>, Optional<V>>() {
        public Optional<V> apply(Map<K, V> map) {
            return getFrom(map, key);

Here is the new code

public Optional<Product> getProductFrom(
  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCountry,
  String country, String city, String supplier, String code) {

    Optional<Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCity
        = bind(unit(productsByCountry), Maps2.<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>>getFromKey(country));
    Optional<Map<String, Map<String, Product>>> productsBySupplier
        = bind(productsByCity, Maps2.<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>getFromKey(city));
    Optional<Map<String, Product>> productsByCode
        = bind(productsBySupplier, Maps2.<String, Map<String, Product>>getFromKey(supplier));
    Optional<Product> product
        = bind(productsByCode, Maps2.<String, Product>getFromKey(code));

    return product;

Or more directly

public Optional<Product> getProductFrom(
  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCountry,
  String country, String city, String supplier, String code) {

  return bind(bind(bind(bind(unit(productsByCountry),
    Maps2.<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>>getFromKey(country)),
    Maps2.<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>getFromKey(city)),
    Maps2.<String, Map<String, Product>>getFromKey(supplier)),
    Maps2.<String, Product>getFromKey(code));

OK! It’s weird too. We have to ‘fight’ with inline recursive calls of the bind method and also with Java generics. The Java type inference system isn’t sufficiently powerful to guess them. To reduce occurrences of generics in this code, we could have written a specific version of getFromKey method for each part of the given Map: getFromCountry, getFromCity, getFromSupplier, etc. This moves and distributes the complexity of the code in those methods.

  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>>,
  Optional<Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>>
getFromCountry(String country) {
  // type inference system knows what to do here
  return Maps2.getFromKey(country);

// declaration of the other methods here
// ...

public Optional<Product> getProductFrom(
  Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Map<String, Product>>>> productsByCountry,
  String country, String city, String supplier, String code) {

  return bind(

The positive side lies into the fact that the if imbrications have disappeared and the code is linear. Notice that due to the bind operator, if one of those call to getFromKey method returns an Optional.absent(), then all the following call to bind will also return an Optional.absent().

Is there an happy end for this?

It’s difficult to do something better in Java by using the Optional class (unless you have better solution). By considering another JVM language, you’ve below a solution in Scala.

def getProductFrom(products: Map[String, Map[String, Map[String, Map[String, Product]]]],
                   country: String, city: String, supplier: String, code: String): Option[Product] = {
  for (
    cities <- products.get(country);
    suppliers <- cities.get(city);
    codes <- vendors.get(supplier);
    product <- codes.get(code)
  ) yield product

Here, the for structure provides syntactic sugar to do something close to imperative programming. But in fact, each line in this for structure does the same thing as our previous implementations using the bind operator. The get method here acts the same way as our getFrom method by returning an instance of the type Option. The type Option in Sala is equivalent to the type Optional in Guava. So when you call our Scala version of getProductFrom, if all your parameters appears in the Map, it returns a product. But if one of the parameter isn’t present, you get the default value.

In Other JVM languages proposes the safe-navigation or null-safe operator value?.method(), like in Groovy, in Fantom, in Gosu, etc. It checks if the value isn’t null before calling the method.

// get a product or null
product = products?.get(country)?.get(city)?.get(supplier)?.get(code)

For the kind of problems presented in this post, the null-safe operator does a better job than the monad approach. In fact, monads represent a programming structure with a really wider scope. Associated with types other than Optional, you can extend the application field of monads and get the necessary expressivity to explore non-determinism, concurrent programming, handle of errors, etc.


So, we’ve seen the class Optional provided by Guava in two use cases. For the simple case, we’ve seen how Optional helps to make null reference disappears. But for the complex case, we’ve seen that Optional alone provides no real advantage. Optional class can make the approach a little easier if we introduce the notion of Optional monad. Thereby, not only the null references disappear but also the recursive if structure. But, we have to fight with the Java generics. And even after this, the code is still hard to read.

It seems clear that to explore a recursive data structure made of Map with Java, you have to choose between to fight with if statements or to fight with generics. But, Java may be not the good language for this kind of problem. In other hand, you should ask yourself if using such a structure is a judicious choice?

EDIT 2012-02-23: simplified getFrom method + corrected the returned type from getFromCountry method.


Written by fsarradin

2011/12/05 at 00:16

Implementing the Factorial Function Using Java and Guava

What I like with factorial function is that it’s easy to implement by using different approaches. This month, I’ve presented functional programming and some of its main concepts (recursion, tail recursion optimization, list processing) through different ways to code the factorial function. After the presentation, I’ve asked the audience to implement the factorial by using a recursive and a tail recursive approaches, with Java alone, then with Guava’s Function interface.

In this post, we see the solutions of the exercises I’ve proposed and some explanation about the functional programming concepts used.


Here is a reminder of the behavior of the factorial:

The factorial of a given integer n (or n!) is the product of the integers between 1 and n.

In imperative style, you write the factorial like this:

public static int factorial(int n) {
    int result = 1;
    for (int i = 1; i <= n; i++) {
        result *= i;
    return result;

The recursive solution in Java

The previous implementation of factorial is based explicitly on state manipulation: the variable result is changed successively in the for loop at each iteration. The functional approach dislike particularly the explicit manipulation of a state in the body of a function. Usually, functional programming prohibits the use of loops like for, while, repeat, etc., for this reason. The only way to express a loop is to use recursion (ie. a function that calls itself).

In Mathematics, you express the factorial recursively like this:

0! = 1
n! = n . (n – 1), for n > 0

Or in plain English:

The factorial of 0 is 1 and the factorial of n is the product between n and the factorial of the preceding integer.

The implementation in Java of the recursive factorial is closed to the mathematic definition:

public static int factorial(int n) {
    if (n == 0) return 1;
    else return n * factorial(n - 1);

Recursive solution in Guava

Guava proposes a function representation as object. It’s based on the generic interface Function<T, R>. It looks like this very simple implementation:

public interface Function<T, R> {
    R apply(T value);

T is the input type and R the returned type of the function. If you create an instance based on the interface Function, you’ve to defined the method apply(), that represents the body of the function. Here’s the implementation of the recursive version of factorial based on Guava:

Function<Integer, Integer> factorial = new Function<Integer, Integer>() {
    @Override public Integer apply(Integer n) {
        if (n == 0) return 1;
        else return n * apply(n - 1);

If you want to use this function, you’ve to write this:

Integer result = factorial.apply(5);

The Guava approach has this particularity to allow you to declare recursive and anonymous functions:

Integer result = new Function<Integer, Integer>() {
    @Override public Integer apply(Integer n) {
        if (n == 0) return 1;
        else return n * apply(n - 1);

Tail recursion in Java

There’s another way to implement the recursive version of the factorial. This approach consists in having the recursive call executed just before to return from the function. There must have no other instruction to execute between the recursive call and the return instruction. This approach is called tail recursion. The previous implementation isn’t a case of tail recursion, because you have to execute a multiplication between n and the value returned by the recursive call before to exit the function.

In order to implement a tail recursive factorial, we have to introduce a second parameter (named k) to the function. This parameter contains the partial result of the function through the successive recursive calls. Once the stop condition is reached, k contains the final result. Below, you’ve the implementation of the tail recursive factorial:

private static int fact(int n, int k) {
    if (n == 0) return k;
    else return fact(n - 1, n * k);

public static int factorial(int n) {
    return fact(n, 1);

Notice that for the first call, the parameter k is initialized to 1. This relates to the basis case: when n is 0 then the function should return 1.

Motivation behind the tail recursion

There’s an important difference in behavior between the recursive and the tail recursive implementations. These difference is visible through the the call stack. In the recursive case, the result is built as you come back from recursive calls. Here is the different states of the call stack in recursive version when we call factorial(5):

-> factorial(5)  // first call
  -> factorial(4)
    -> factorial(3)
      -> factorial(2)
        -> factorial(1)
          -> factorial(0)  // here, we've reached the stop condition
          <- 1
        <- 1 = 1 * 1  // all remaining multiplications are executed
      <- 2 = 2 * 1
    <- 6 = 3 * 2
  <- 24 = 4 * 6
<- 120 = 5 * 24  // we have computed the result in the last return

Now, you can see the call stack for the tail recursive implementation for the same call:

-> fact(5, 1)  // first call
  -> fact(4, 5)  // result is built through the successive calls
    -> fact(3, 20)
      -> fact(2, 60)
        -> fact(1, 120)
          -> fact(0, 120)  // here, we've reached the stop condition
          <- 120  // the final result is obtained directly in the last recursive call
        <- 120
      <- 120
    <- 120
  <- 120
<- 120

You can notice that when we’re coming back from the recursive calls here, the same value is returned. Thus, we can easily imagine to optimize the tail recursive implementation. In fact, there two possible optimizations at this level. The first one is call trampolining. It consists in generating some small modification where recursive call is marked bounce and return is marked landing. Then an external fonction is used to emulate the recursive calls based on a while loop.

The second optimization uses a deeper transformation of the source code, where the while loop is directly put inside the function body. For the tail recursive implementation of the factorial function, this second optimization would turn our source code into this:

public static int factorial(int n, int k) {
    while (!(n == 0)) {
        k = n * k;
        n = n - 1;
    return k;

These optimizations prevent the deep use of the call stack. Thus, you have no occurrence of stack overflow. But, you might have an infinite loop if you mistype the stop condition. The advantage of the second optimization over the first one and all recursive implementations is that it’s really quick as there’s no use of the call stack. A language like Scala proposes this second optimization by default. A precise look at the produced bytecode shows the transformation of the recursive call into a goto.

These optimizations aren’t present in Java.

Notice that not all recursive functions can be converted to a tail recursive function. This is the case of the function that computes the Fibonnacci series. It based on the jonction of two recursive calls.

public static fib(int n) {
    if (n <= 1) return 1;
    else return fib(n-1) + fib(n-2);

Tail recursion in Guava

We’ve seen that the tail recursive implementation of the factorial needs two parameters. But in Guava, you can only define functions that accept a unique argument! So how do we do to transform a function of one argument into a function of two arguments?

There are two possibilities. The first one consists in creating a class that represents a pair of elements. Thus a function that takes two arguments is equivalent to a function that takes a pair of elements. The second possibility consists in using the curryfication. The curryfication is a use case of the higher order functions. With this, a function that takes many arguments is converted into a function that takes the first argument, and return a function that takes the second argument, and so on till we get the last argument. For example, the addition function (add) is typically a function of two arguments (a and b). You can write add in such a way that add takes a and return a function that waits for b. Once you get b, the function is evaluated. The interest of such an approach isn’t to force you to provide all parameters of a function at the same time. For our add function, you can use add directly to execute an addition: add.apply(1).apply(3) == 4. Or you can use add to define the function add_one just by providing the first parameter only: add_one = add.apply(1). Then, you can provide the second parameter when you want through add_one: add_one.apply(3) == 4.

Below is the implementation of tail recursive factorial based on Guava. The signature of this function is Function<Integer, Function<Integer, Integer>>. Here, you’ve to understand:

factorial is a function that takes a first parameter n and returns another function that takes a second parameter k and returns the factorial of n.

public class FactorialFunction implements Function<Integer, Function<Integer, Integer>> {
    Function<Integer, Integer> apply(final Integer n) {
        return new Function<Integer, Integer>() {
            public Integer apply(Integer k) {
                if (n == 0) return k;
                else return FactorialFunction.this.apply(n - 1).apply(k * n);

FactorialFunction fact = new FactorialFunction();
Integer result = fact.apply(5).apply(1); // factorial of 5

Notice the use of FactorialFunction.this in order to use the outer object in the inner one. You have to reference the outer object in order to set all parameters before the recursive call. This forces you to create a named class to represent your factorial function.

Compare this implementation with the implementation below in Haskell, which is tail recursive and curryfied already. They’re both equivalent:

fact n k = if n == 0
  then k
  else fact (n-1) (n*k)

In fact, there are differences in the Guava implementation: it isn’t optimized and you create a new object for each recursive call.

Written by fsarradin

2011/11/16 at 08:31