As Justin Wick pointed out on Reg Braithwaite's blog announcing Object#andand, andand can be viewed as a special case of the Maybe Monad. I've been hearing about how useful monads are for a few years, but until recently I hadn't occasion to use them directly. Would a monad formulation of andand be simpler and clearer to read? Would it be easier to understand, if not for everyone then at least for readers who are already familiar with the monad formalism? Here was an opportunity to find out.

For those who are totally unfamiliar with monads: they're a means of accommodating side-effects within the functional paradigm. By structuring input, output, exceptions, etc. with monads, you can restore referential transparency to functions that make use of these kinds of features. Monads are surprisingly versatile. You can build lists and arrays from monads, and in the case of arrays the use of monads makes it easy to use the type system to guarantee that client code fulfills a contract on which an efficient implementation of arrays depends. The famous applications of all the functional goodies in LINQ, such as data access and data-parallel computation, are organized around monads.

So, I refreshed my memory with Monads for Functional Programming and Confessions of a Used Programming Language Salesman followed some of their references: Comprehending Monads, Guarded Recursive Datatype Constructors, and Generalized Algebraic Data Types and Object-Oriented Programming. Thus fortified, I was ready to write some tests:

public class TestMonad<M> where M : MonadImpl<M>, new() {

[Test]

public void leftUnit() {

var a = new Object();

Assert.AreEqual(a, Monad.Star(Monad.Unit<Object, M>(() => a), b => Monad.Unit<Object, M>(() => b)).Just());

}

[Test]

public void rightUnit() {

var a = new Object();

var m = Monad.Unit<Object, M>(() => a);

Assert.AreEqual(

Monad.Just(m),

Monad.Just(

Monad.Star(m, b => Monad.Unit<Object, M>(() => b))));

}

public Monad<String, M> an(Object o) {

return Monad.Unit<String, M>(() => o.ToString());

}

public Monad<Int32, M> bo(Object o) {

return Monad.Unit<Int32, M>(() => o.GetHashCode());

}

[Test]

public void associative() {

var m = Monad.Unit<Object, M>(() => new Object());

Assert.AreEqual(

Monad.Just(

Monad.Star(

m,

a => Monad.Star(an(a), b => bo((String)b)))),

Monad.Just(

Monad.Star(

Monad.Star(m, a => an(a)),

b => bo(b))));

}

}

I'm following the definitions from Monads for Functional Programming here: a Monad is a triple <M, Unit, ★> where M is a type constructor (generic type), Unit is a function from computations of type a to M a, and ★ applies a function to a monad.

My use of the name "Just" here is regrettable. The Maybe monad's type constructor is conventionally defined as a simple union:

Maybe a = Nothing | Just a. So, by convention,

Just atakes a computation of arbitrary type

ato a monad representing that computation. My function "Just" is the inverse, taking a Monad to the computation it represents. I gather that the primitive monad operators are normally encapsulated so that control of side-effects is well localized/modularized. Usually, function composition on monad values is accomplished by ★, so it's not often necessary to explicitly extract raw computations from monads. Finally, monads seem to be most popular within the Haskell community, and pattern-matching is a pretty ubiquitous in Haskell programs. I think these reasons explain why (as far as I know) there's not much use and no standard name for the operation I call "Just" in my code.

Having translated the mathematical and Haskell definitions of monad into C#, I was ready to check that my translation could extend to an example application shown elsewhere:

[TestFixture]

public class TestMaybeMonad : TestMonad<MaybeMonadImpl> {

private Monad<String, MaybeMonadImpl> lookup(string name, Dictionary<String, Monad<String, MaybeMonadImpl>> db) {

Monad<String, MaybeMonadImpl> result;

db.TryGetValue(name, out result);

return result;

}

[Test]

public void MailSystem() {

//based very loosely on haskell.org's example

// (I don't understand why their mplus is relevant)

var fullnamedb = new Dictionary<String, Monad<String, MaybeMonadImpl>>();

var nicknamedb = new Dictionary<String, Monad<String, MaybeMonadImpl>>();

fullnamedb.Add("nicholas", Monad.Unit<String, MaybeMonadImpl>("n@m.com"));

nicknamedb.Add("nick", Monad.Unit<String, MaybeMonadImpl>("nicholas"));

var mnick = Monad.Unit<String, MaybeMonadImpl>("nick");

Assert.AreEqual(

"n@m.com",

Monad.Star(

Monad.Star(mnick, nick => lookup(nick, nicknamedb)),

name => lookup(name, fullnamedb)).Just());

}

And finally, I can restate andand in terms of monads:

private class D {}

private class C {

public D d;

}

private class B {

public C c;

}

private class A {

public B b;

}

[Test]

public void andand() {

A nil = null;

A a = new A();

A ab = new A() { b = new B() };

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand<A>(() => null));

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => (A)null));

Assert.AreEqual(a, MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => a));

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => a.b));

Assert.AreEqual(ab.b, MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => ab.b));

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => ab.b.c));

Func<Object> x = null;

Func<Func<Object>> y = null;

y = () => null;

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => y()()));

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => a.b.c));

Assert.IsNull(MaybeMonad<D>.Andand(() => a.b.c.d));

}

OK then, let's see how this is implemented:

public class MonadImpl<M> where M : MonadImpl<M>, new() {

public virtual Monad<B, M> Star<A, B>(Monad<A, M> ma, Func<A, Monad<B, M>> f) {

return f(ma.Just());

}

}

public class Monad<T, M> where M : MonadImpl<M>, new() {

public M impl = new M();

public T Just() {

return a();

}

internal protected Func<T> a;

public Monad<B, M> Star<B>(Func<T, Monad<B, M>> f) {

return impl.Star<T, B>(this, f);

}

public static Monad<A, M> Unit<A>(A a) {

return new Monad<A, M>() { a = () => a };

}

}

A monad represents a computation of arbitrary type and some sort of side-effect whose control motivates the use of monads. Wrapping and unwrapping the computation associated with the monad is a straightforward example of parametric polymorphism. Slightly more interesting is recursive nature of the Monad type, whose method signatures involve the type on which they are defined. Simple parametric polymorphism permits us to define methods that behave uniformly on values of any type. If we want to make use of non-universal structure on those values we can restrict the values to a range of types that share the structure we need. Often, in a recursively-defined type, we want this range of types to itself involve a type parameter. For example, in this case we want Star to take a Monad and to return a Monad of a similar type. This requires f-bounded polymorphism, which is supported in .NET's generics; c#'s where clause not only binds type parameters, but can (re)use those parameters in the bounds.

Managing the side-effects is less straightforward. Here we want uniform packing/unpacking behavior across all computations, but side-effect management behavior that is peculiar to the kind of side-effect captured by the monad. We've had some support for behavioral refinement that follows subtyping relationships since the beginning of .NET, with virtual methods. But the Star function takes a monad (with behavior b and computation c) and a function from c to d and returns a monad with behavior b and computation d. It builds a value whose type is merely related and not identical to any of its type arguments. This is characteristic of Guarded Recursive Datatype Constructors. These g.r. datatypes, also known as Generalized Algebraic Data Types (GADTs), are not yet well-supported in .NET. Fortunately, the work-around shown above is sufficient for seeing the connection between monads and andand.

The Maybe Monad represents "just" a computation, or "nothing." The monad structure makes it easy and convenient to treat Maybes in a uniform way, regardless of whether a particular Maybe represents "nothing" or a non-nothing computation. If you're familiar with the Null Object pattern, you'll recognize the benefit of this uniformity and you'll see that Maybe monad is a more general alternative to Null Object in many contexts.

So finally we're ready to see andand, implemented in terms of the MaybeMonad:

public class MaybeMonadImpl : MaybeMonadImpl<MaybeMonadImpl> {}

public class MaybeMonad<T> : Monad<T, MaybeMonadImpl> {

private static Expression andandifyme(MemberExpression me) {

var objectParameter = Expression.Parameter(me.Expression.Type, "target");

var parameters = new ParameterExpression [] {objectParameter};

//TODO: simplify by using the parameter f rather than by duplicating

// the subexpression: andandify(me.Expression) in slotValue and

// in the Just of Star of Unit below (the subexpression could occur

// solely in slotValue, and then its value could be used by

// dereferencing f in the Just of Star of Unit.

var slotValue =

andandifyinr(

Expression.Invoke(

Expression.Lambda(

Expression.MakeMemberAccess(

objectParameter,

me.Member),

parameters),

andandify(me.Expression)));

var f = Expression.Parameter(me.Expression.Type, "f");

return

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Just",

new Type [] { me.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Star",

new Type [] { me.Expression.Type, me.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Unit",

new Type [] { me.Expression.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

andandify(me.Expression)),

Expression.Lambda(

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Unit",

new Type [] { me.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

slotValue),

f)));

}

private static Expression andandifyi(InvocationExpression i) {

return

andandifyinr(

Expression.Invoke(

andandify(i.Expression),

i.Arguments));

}

private static Expression andandifyinr(InvocationExpression i) {

var l = i.Expression;

var f = Expression.Parameter(l.Type, "f");

return

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Just",

new Type [] { i.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Star",

new Type [] { l.Type, i.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Unit",

new Type [] { l.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

l),

Expression.Lambda(

Expression.Call(

typeof(Monad),

"Unit",

new Type [] { i.Type, typeof(MaybeMonadImpl) },

i),

f)));

}

private static LambdaExpression andandifyl(LambdaExpression l) {

return

Expression.Lambda(

andandify(l.Body),

Enumerable.Select(

l.Parameters,

p => (ParameterExpression)andandify(p)).ToArray());

}

private static Expression andandify(Expression expr) {

var me = expr as MemberExpression;

if (me != null) {

return andandifyme(me);

}

var i = expr as InvocationExpression;

if (i != null) {

return andandifyi(i);

}

var l = expr as LambdaExpression;

if (l != null) {

return andandifyl(l);

}

return expr;

}

public static U Andand<U>(Expression<Func<U>> expr) {

var aexpr = (Expression<Func<U>>)andandify(expr);

try {

return (U)aexpr.Compile().DynamicInvoke();

}

catch (Exception e) {

throw new Exception(

String.Format(

"trouble evaluating {0}",

aexpr),

e);

}

}

}

By conflating null and Maybe's Nothing, we preserve the simple approach Identity monad can use for Star: just unwrap the computation from the input monad and wrap it in the output monad. This approach doesn't work in general, because there might be state associated with the monads that we'd need to migrate.

Now, comparing the direct implementation to the monadic implementation, you might be ready to decide that monads might be theoretically interesting but are impractical. I think that on one hand, the more stateful monads benefit more fully from the paradigm than the Maybe monad; on the other hand, C# exaggerates the ceremony of monad implementation relative to Haskell. Microsoft hasn't highlighted their use of monads in LINQ or EF or PLINQ, and they haven't exposed any analog to my Monad<T, M> type, so I couldn't share that implementation for andand. In summary, I don't think the monadic implementation of andand carries its weight, but if I saw an opportunity to benefit from other kinds of monads in my program, the benefits might easily outweigh the amortized costs of monads.

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