Monadic let-bindings
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README.md

A ppx rewriter for monadic and applicative let bindings, match expressions, and if expressions.

Overview

The aim of this rewriter is to make monadic and applicative code look nicer by writing custom binders the same way that we normally bind variables. In OCaml, the common way to bind the result of a computation to a variable is:

let VAR = EXPR in BODY

ppx_let simply adds two new binders: let%bind and let%map. These are rewritten into calls to the bind and map functions respectively. These functions are expected to have

val map  : 'a t -> f:('a -> 'b)   -> 'b t
val bind : 'a t -> f:('a -> 'b t) -> 'b t

for some type t, as one might expect.

These functions are to be provided by the user, and are generally expected to be part of the signatures of monads and applicatives modules. This is the case for all monads and applicatives defined by the Jane Street's Core suite of libraries. (see the section below on getting the right names into scope).

Parallel bindings

ppx_let understands parallel bindings as well. i.e.:

let%bind VAR1 = EXPR1 and VAR2 = EXPR2 and VAR3 = EXPR3 in BODY

The and keyword is seen as a binding combination operator. To do so it expects the presence of a both function, that lifts the OCaml pair operation to the type t in question:

val both : 'a t -> 'b t -> ('a * 'b) t

Match statements

We found that this form was quite useful for match statements as well. So for convenience ppx_let also accepts %bind and %map on the match keyword. Morally match%bind expr with cases is seen as let%bind x = expr in match x with cases.

If statements

As a further convenience, ppx_let accepts %bind and %map on the if keyword. The expression if%bind expr1 then expr2 else expr3 is morally equivalent to let%bind p = expr1 in if p then expr2 else expr3.

Syntactic forms and actual rewriting

ppx_let adds six syntactic forms

let%bind P = M in E

let%map  P = M in E

match%bind M with P1 -> E1 | P2 -> E2 | ...

match%map  M with P1 -> E1 | P2 -> E2 | ...

if%bind M then E1 else E2

if%map  M then E1 else E2

that expand into

bind M ~f:(fun P -> E)

map  M ~f:(fun P -> E)

bind M ~f:(function P1 -> E1 | P2 -> E2 | ...)

map  M ~f:(function P1 -> E1 | P2 -> E2 | ...)

bind M ~f:(function true -> E1 | false -> E2)

map  M ~f:(function true -> E1 | false -> E2)

respectively.

As with let, let%bind and let%map also support multiple parallel bindings via the and keyword:

let%bind P1 = M1 and P2 = M2 and P3 = M3 and P4 = M4 in E

let%map  P1 = M1 and P2 = M2 and P3 = M3 and P4 = M4 in E

that expand into

let x1 = M1 and x2 = M2 and x3 = M3 and x4 = M4 in
bind
  (both x1 (both x2 (both x3 x4)))
  ~f:(fun (P1, (P2, (P3, P4))) -> E)

let x1 = M1 and x2 = M2 and x3 = M3 and x4 = M4 in
map
  (both x1 (both x2 (both x3 x4)))
  ~f:(fun (P1, (P2, (P3, P4))) -> E)

respectively. (Instead of x1, x2, ... ppx_let uses variable names that are unlikely to clash with other names)

As with let, names introduced by left-hand sides of the let bindings are not available in subsequent right-hand sides of the same sequence.

Getting the right names in scope

The description of how the %bind and %map syntax extensions expand left out the fact that the names bind, map, both, and return are not used directly, but rather qualified by Let_syntax. For example, we use Let_syntax.bind rather than merely bind. This means one just needs to get a properly loaded Let_syntax module in scope to use %bind and %map.

For monads, Core.Monad.Make produces a submodule Let_syntax of the appropriate form.

For applicatives. The convention for these modules is to have a submodule Let_syntax of the form

module Let_syntax : sig
  val return : 'a -> 'a t
  val map    : 'a t -> f:('a -> 'b) -> 'b t
  val both   : 'a t -> 'b t -> ('a * 'b) t
  module Open_on_rhs : << some signature >>
end

The Open_on_rhs submodule is used by variants of %map and %bind called %map_open and %bind_open. It is locally opened on the right hand sides of the rewritten let bindings in %map_open and %bind_open expressions. For match%map_open and match%bind_open expressions, Open_on_rhs is opened for the expression being matched on.

Open_on_rhs is useful when programming with applicatives, which operate in a staged manner where the operators used to construct the applicatives are distinct from the operators used to manipulate the values those applicatives produce. For monads, Open_on_rhs contains return.