Towards Scalaz (Part 2)

by Adelbert Chang on Dec 15, 2013


A lot of people see Scalaz as a hard fringe, ivory tower, not suited for real-world applications library, which is unfortunate. The goal of this blog post series is to introduce various components of Scalaz, and hopefully through this allow folks to gain an understanding towards the power of Scalaz.

As a prerequisite, I assume knowledge of type classes as they are implemented and used in Scala, higher kinded types, and sum types (e.g. Option/Some/None, Either/Left/Right).

For a tutorial/review on (higher) kinds, I recommend the following resources:

Part 2: Summations of a Higher Kind

Last time we left off after writing our own generic sum function:

import scalaz.Monoid

def sumGeneric[A](l: List[A])(implicit A: Monoid[A]): A =
  l.foldLeft(, y) => A.append(x, y))

This allowed us to sum a list not only of numeric types like Int, but also others that could be added and had a “zero” such as String via string concatenation and the empty string, as well as List[A] via list concatenation and the empty list.

But, we can do better! Why limit ourselves to List? What if we want to sum over a Vector, or even a tree? We could use Seq and that would allow us to pass in List or Vector, but it still brings up the problem of trees, and any other data structure that may not fit the Seq bill.

What do we want? Folds!

Recall when we “came up with” Semigroup and Monoid last time - what did we do? We simply looked at what operations we needed (add/append and zero) and factored it out into a type class. Let’s try doing the same this time.

So what are we doing with List in our implementation? Nothing much really, we’re just folding over it. If we think about it, we could “fold” over say, a tree as well. Let’s take this operation out into a type class, and aptly name it Foldable.

trait Foldable[F[_]] {
  // Instead of requiring the contents to be monoidal, let's
  // make it flexible by allowing a fold as long as we can convert
  // the contents to a type that has a `Monoid`.
  def foldMap[A, B](fa: F[A])(f: A => B)(implicit B: Monoid[B]): B

And let’s implement instances of this type class for List and our own Tree.

Our tree definition:

sealed trait Tree[A]
case class Node[A](value: A, left: Tree[A], right: Tree[A]) extends Tree[A]
case class Leaf[A]() extends Tree[A]

and our instances:

object Foldable {
  implicit val listIsFoldable: Foldable[List] =
    new Foldable[List] {
      def foldMap[A, B](fa: List[A])(f: A => B)(implicit B: Monoid[B]): B =
        fa.foldLeft(, elem) => B.append(acc, f(elem)))

  implicit val treeIsFoldable: Foldable[Tree] =
    new Foldable[Tree] {
      def foldMap[A, B](fa: Tree[A])(f: A => B)(implicit B: Monoid[B]): B =
        fa match {
          case Leaf() =>
          case Node(value, left, right) =>
            B.append(f(value), B.append(foldMap(left)(f), foldMap(right)(f)))

and finally, our new summing function:

def sumGeneric[F[_], A](fa: F[A])(implicit F: Foldable[F], A: Monoid[A]): A =

Scalaz to the rescue

As with last time, Scalaz defines the Foldable type class for us. However, to really be “foldable”, not only should you define foldMap, but foldRight as well. Some of you may be wondering why foldRight and not foldLeft, or both? The reasons for this decision are that

  • foldLeft can be defined in terms of foldRight (a fun exercise is to try this for yourself)
  • foldLeft fails on infinite lists (think Stream in Scala)

That being said, Scalaz defines instances of Foldable for many of the standard Scala types (List, Vector, Stream, Option), as well as its own (Tree, EphemeralStream). The methods available on the type class not only include foldMap and foldRight which are required to be implemented, but several derived ones as well including fold (foldMap with identity), foldLeft, toList/IndexedSeq/Stream, among others.

So our code with scalaz.Foldable now looks like:

import scalaz.{ Foldable, Monoid }

// Note that this is equivalent to scalaz.Foldable#fold
def sumGeneric[F[_], A](fa: F[A])(implicit F: Foldable[F], A: Monoid[A]): A =

Note that the implementation of the function is rather plain, but that’s a good thing! This shows the level of genericity type classes, folds, and Scalaz is capable of. If you ever find yourself needing to fold something down, look at the methods available on scalaz.Foldable. By simply adding an instance of Foldable to your F[_] by implementing the two methods above, you get “for free” a bunch of derived ones!

An Aside: Taming the Elephant

In recent days, the word “Hadoop” has become synonymous with “big data.” The MapReduce system made popular by Google has made it’s way into several companies looking to glean information from their data.

Why am I mentioning this in a typelevel.scala blog post? Well, think about the reduce phase – what is really happening? For a particular key, we’re given a list of values emitted for that key, and we want to reduce those values into a single value. Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like fold, doesn’t it? Note that not all reductions in MapReduce have to follow monoid laws, but a surprising amount do as demonstrated by Twitter’s Algebird project.

Going back to fold, recall that in order to just fold we need to have something Foldable that contains something that already has a Monoid instance. A more general approach, as taken by scalaz.Foldable, is to also provide a foldMap function which lets us also pass in a function mapping each element of the Foldable to something that is a Monoid, and reduce over that instead.

So. Given something, say a List[A], we want to Map each element of the list to an element of a type that has a Monoid instance, and then we want to Reduce the list down to a single value. What is this? All together now: MapReduce!

Unfortunately, Hadoop MapReduce by itself does not give you anything like a List. Fortunately, our good friends at NICTA have developed and open sourced the wonderful Scoobi project, which abstracts over Hadoop MapReduce by providing a List-like interface, called a DList (distributed list). Users treat the DList very similarly to how they would a regular Scala List, and perform operations on it that get compiled down into MapReduce jobs. Such operations include not only the familiar (and expected) map and reduce combinators, but also our friends foldMap and fold. While DList’s do not have a proper Foldable instance due to the difficulty of implementing foldRight for the MapReduce, I find it to be a great example of the power of abstractions and genericity abstract algebra and Scalaz provides to us as programmers.

Further Reading

Getting Help

If you have any questions/comments/concerns, feel free to hop onto the IRC channel on Freenode at #scalaz.