API Documentation: Applicative

Applicative extends Functor with an ap and pure method.

import cats.Functor

trait Applicative[F[_]] extends Functor[F] {
  def ap[A, B](ff: F[A => B])(fa: F[A]): F[B]

  def pure[A](a: A): F[A]

  def map[A, B](fa: F[A])(f: A => B): F[B] = ap(pure(f))(fa)

pure wraps the value into the type constructor - for Option this could be Some(_), for Future Future.successful, and for List a singleton list.

ap is a bit tricky to explain and motivate, so we'll look at an alternative but equivalent formulation via product.

trait Applicative[F[_]] extends Functor[F] {
  def product[A, B](fa: F[A], fb: F[B]): F[(A, B)]

  def pure[A](a: A): F[A]

// Example implementation for right-biased Either
implicit def applicativeForEither[L]: Applicative[Either[L, *]] = new Applicative[Either[L, *]] {
  def product[A, B](fa: Either[L, A], fb: Either[L, B]): Either[L, (A, B)] = (fa, fb) match {
    case (Right(a), Right(b)) => Right((a, b))
    case (Left(l) , _       ) => Left(l)
    case (_       , Left(l) ) => Left(l)

  def pure[A](a: A): Either[L, A] = Right(a)

  def map[A, B](fa: Either[L, A])(f: A => B): Either[L, B] = fa match {
    case Right(a) => Right(f(a))
    case Left(l)  => Left(l)

Note that in this formulation map is left abstract, whereas in the previous one with ap map could be implemented in terms of ap and pure. This suggests that ap is equivalent to map and product, which is indeed the case.

Such an Applicative must obey three laws:

Applicatives for effect management

If we view Functor as the ability to work with a single effect, Applicative encodes working with multiple independent effects. Between product and map, we can take two separate effectful values and compose them. From there we can generalize to working with any N number of independent effects.

import cats.Applicative

def product3[F[_]: Applicative, A, B, C](fa: F[A], fb: F[B], fc: F[C]): F[(A, B, C)] = {
  val F = Applicative[F]
  val fabc = F.product(F.product(fa, fb), fc) { case ((a, b), c) => (a, b, c) }

What is ap?

Let's see what happens if we try to compose two effectful values with just map.

import cats.syntax.all._

val f: (Int, Char) => Double = (i, c) => (i + c).toDouble

val int: Option[Int] = Some(5)
val char: Option[Char] = Some('a') => (c: Char) => f(i, c)) // what now?
// res1: Option[Char => Double] = Some(value = <function1>)

We have an Option[Char => Double] and an Option[Char] to which we want to apply the function to, but map doesn't give us enough power to do that. Hence, ap.

Applicatives compose

Like Functor, Applicatives compose. If F and G have Applicative instances, then so does F[G[_]].

import cats.syntax.all._
import scala.concurrent.Future

val x: Future[Option[Int]] = Future.successful(Some(5))
val y: Future[Option[Char]] = Future.successful(Some('a'))
val composed = Applicative[Future].compose[Option].map2(x, y)(_ + _)
// composed: Future[Option[Int]] = Future(Success(Some(102)))

val nested = Applicative[Nested[Future, Option, *]].map2(Nested(x), Nested(y))(_ + _)
// nested: Nested[Future, Option, Int] = Nested(
//   value = Future(Success(Some(102)))
// )


The straightforward way to use product and map (or just ap) is to compose n independent effects, where n is a fixed number. In fact there are convenience methods named apN, mapN, and tupleN (replacing N with a number 2 - 22) to make it even easier.

Imagine we have one Option representing a username, one representing a password, and another representing a URL for logging into a database.

import java.sql.Connection

val username: Option[String] = Some("username")
val password: Option[String] = Some("password")
val url: Option[String] = Some("")

// Stub for demonstration purposes
def attemptConnect(username: String, password: String, url: String): Option[Connection] = None

We know statically we have 3 Options, so we can use map3 specifically.

Applicative[Option].map3(username, password, url)(attemptConnect)
// res2: Option[Option[Connection]] = Some(value = None)

Sometimes we don't know how many effects will be in play - perhaps we are receiving a list from user input or getting rows from a database. This implies the need for a function:

def sequenceOption[A](fa: List[Option[A]]): Option[List[A]] = ???

// Alternatively..
def traverseOption[A, B](as: List[A])(f: A => Option[B]): Option[List[B]] = ???

Users of the standard library Future.sequence or Future.traverse will find these names and signatures familiar.

Let's implement traverseOption (you can implement sequenceOption in terms of traverseOption).

def traverseOption[A, B](as: List[A])(f: A => Option[B]): Option[List[B]] =
  as.foldRight(Some(List.empty[B]): Option[List[B]]) { (a: A, acc: Option[List[B]]) =>
    val optB: Option[B] = f(a)
    // optB and acc are independent effects so we can use Applicative to compose
    Applicative[Option].map2(optB, acc)(_ :: _)

traverseOption(List(1, 2, 3))(i => Some(i): Option[Int])

This works...but if we look carefully at the implementation there's nothing Option-specific going on. As another example let's implement the same function but for Either.

import cats.syntax.all._

def traverseEither[E, A, B](as: List[A])(f: A => Either[E, B]): Either[E, List[B]] =
  as.foldRight(Right(List.empty[B]): Either[E, List[B]]) { (a: A, acc: Either[E, List[B]]) =>
    val eitherB: Either[E, B] = f(a)
    Applicative[Either[E, *]].map2(eitherB, acc)(_ :: _)
traverseEither(List(1, 2, 3))(i => if (i % 2 != 0) Left(s"${i} is not even") else Right(i / 2))
// res4: Either[String, List[Int]] = Left(value = "1 is not even")

The implementation of traverseOption and traverseEither are more or less identical, modulo the initial "accumulator" to foldRight. But even that could be made the same by delegating to Applicative#pure! Generalizing Option and Either to any F[_]: Applicative gives us the fully polymorphic version. Existing data types with Applicative instances (Future, Option, Either[E, *], Try) can call it by fixing F appropriately, and new data types need only be concerned with implementing Applicative to do so as well.

def traverse[F[_]: Applicative, A, B](as: List[A])(f: A => F[B]): F[List[B]] =
  as.foldRight(Applicative[F].pure(List.empty[B])) { (a: A, acc: F[List[B]]) =>
    val fb: F[B] = f(a)
    Applicative[F].map2(fb, acc)(_ :: _)

This function is provided by Cats via the Traverse[List] instance and syntax, which is covered in another tutorial.

import cats.syntax.all._
List(1, 2, 3).traverse(i => Some(i): Option[Int])
// res5: Option[List[Int]] = Some(value = List(1, 2, 3))

With this addition of traverse, we can now compose any number of independent effects, statically known or otherwise.

Apply - a weakened Applicative

A closely related type class is Apply which is identical to Applicative, modulo the pure method. Indeed in Cats Applicative is a subclass of Apply with the addition of this method.

trait Apply[F[_]] extends Functor[F] {
  def ap[A, B](ff: F[A => B])(fa: F[A]): F[B]

trait Applicative[F[_]] extends Apply[F] {
  def pure[A](a: A): F[A]

  def map[A, B](fa: F[A])(f: A => B): F[B] = ap(pure(f))(fa)

The laws for Apply are just the laws of Applicative that don't mention pure. In the laws given above, the only law would be associativity.

One of the motivations for Apply's existence is that some types have Apply instances but not Applicative - one example is Map[K, *]. Consider the behavior of pure for Map[K, A]. Given a value of type A, we need to associate some arbitrary K to it but we have no way of doing that.

However, given existing Map[K, A] and Map[K, B] (or Map[K, A => B]), it is straightforward to pair up (or apply functions to) values with the same key. Hence Map[K, *] has an Apply instance.


Syntax for Applicative (or Apply) is available under the cats.implicits._ import. The most interesting syntax is focused on composing independent effects: it works just like the methods for composition we saw above (map3, tuple3, etc.), but achieves a slightly friendlier syntax by enriching Scala's standard tuple types.

For example, we've already seen this code for mapping over three options together:

Applicative[Option].map3(username, password, url)(attemptConnect)
// res6: Option[Option[Connection]] = Some(value = None)

With the applicative syntax, we can change this to the slightly shorter:

import cats.syntax.all._

(username, password, url).mapN(attemptConnect)
// res7: Option[Option[Connection]] = Some(value = None)

We don't have to mention the type or specify the number of values we're composing together, so there's a little less boilerplate here.

Another very useful Apply syntax is tupled, which allows a tuple of effectful values to be composed into a single effectful value containing a tuple.

import cats.syntax.all._

val optPair: Option[(String, String)] = (username, password).tupled
// optPair: Option[(String, String)] = Some(value = ("username", "password"))

See also Parallel variants

Both tupled and mapN have parallel variant operations, named parTupled and parMapN respectively. Regular tupled/mapN evaluate their effects from left to right ("sequentially"), while parTupled/parMapN evaluate in an indeterminate order, or in parallel.

The difference can be understood intuitively when the effect is an executable task, such as IO from Cats Effect. In this case, the parallel variants enable you to compose tuples of tasks into a single task that will run its sub-tasks concurrently.

Further Reading