Implement your own Excel 365 in 100 lines of F#!
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Excel 365 in 100ish lines of F#

This is a minimal tutorial showing how to use F#, Fable (F# to JavaScript compiler) and Elmish (a library implementing the model-view-update architecture) to build a simple clone of Excel running as a client-side web application.

Getting started

To run the tutorial, you will need to install Fable pre-requirements and get an F# editor that works well with Fable. The recommended setup is to use VS Code with Ionide.

Following the tutorial

Step #1: Keeping cell state

We start with four cells and cell A1 is always selected, but you cannot actually edit the text in the cell! This is because we do not correctly store the state of the textbox that the user edits.

  1. Open main.fs and go to renderEditor. You can see that we already have an event handler for OnInput which shows a message using window.alert. Change the code to trigger the UpdateValue event using the trigger function (the first parameter of UpdateValue should be the position pos and the second should be the value of the input, i.e.

  2. Open main.fs and go to the update function. This needs to handle the UpdateValue event and calculate a new state. When we get an event UpdateValue(pos, value), we need to create a new state.Cells map and add a mapping from post to value (using Map.add)

  3. Finally, open main.fs and go to the renderCell function. Right now, this passes "!" and "?" to the renderEditor and renderView functions. Find a value for the current cell using Map.tryFind pos state.Cells. You can handle None using Option.defaultValue (just make the default empty) and pass it to renderEditor and renderView.

Now you should be able to edit the value in cell A1!

Step #2: Selecting a cell

Now, we need to allow the user to select another cell. To do this, we will need to track the active cell in our state and add events for selecting another cell.

  1. Find the definition of State in main.fs and add a new field Active of type Position option (this keeps the selected cell position or None if no cell is selected). In the initial function, return None.

  2. To change the selected cell, we need a new type of event. Find the Event type (in main.fs) and add a new case StartEdit that carries a Position value.

  3. Modify update function in main.fs to handle the new StartEdit event. When the event happens with pos as the new position to be selected, return a new state with Active set to Some(pos).

  4. Go to renderCell and modify the condition pos = ('A', 1). Rather than checking that we are rendering cell A1, we need to check whether we are rendering the cell specified in state.Active (note that this is an option type so you need to compare against Some(pos) or use Option.contains).

  5. Finally, we need code that will trigger our new event. Find the renderView function in main.fs. This creates a <td> element with the cell. In the attributes of the element, add a handler for OnClick that triggers (using the trigger function) the StartEdit(pos) event. (The code is similar to OnInput that we already have in renderEditor.)

Now you can click on cells and change their values!

Step #3: Rendering the grid

So far, we only had 4 cells. Those are created by hand in the view function. We want to change the code so that it generates cells dynamically, using the cell and row keys in state.Cols and state.Rows.

To do this, you can either use list comprehensions with [ .. yield .. ] syntax or you can use function. The following steps describe how to use, which is easier if you are new to F# (but if you know F# already, feel free to use list comprehensions!)

  1. You can generate headers using Use state.Cols as the input. In the body of the map function, you can create a header using header (string h). You also need to append the empty cell using empty::headers.

  2. The original view code defines two rows using let cells1 = ... and let cells2 = .... First, modify the body to generate cell for each column in state.Cols (just like for the headers). Next, modify the code to be a function that takes a row numbe n.

  3. Finally, use your new cell function to generate a row for every single row of the spreadsheet specified in state.Rows. If you are using, the argument will need to generate a row using tr [] (cells r).

Step #4: Evaluating equations

Finally, we need to add an evaluator for spreadsheet formulas! The parse function is already implemented (in evaluator.fs) so you need to add the evaluator and put everything together.

  1. In renderCell, when we are handling a cell that is not selected, we want to parse and evaluate the code and pass the result to renderView. First, run parse on the cell value (when it is Some value) and then format the result using string. This way, you should see what the result of parsing looks like.

  2. Next, modify the code to call parse and then evaluate. Since parsing can fail, you'll need or pattern matching to do this. Also, the evalaute function takes all cells too, so you need to call it using evaluate state.Cells parsed.

  3. Finally, the code for evaluate in evaluator.fs just returns 0, 1 or 2. Modify this to actually evaluate the expression! For Number, just return the number; for Binary, recursively evaluate l and r and then apply the binary operator; for Reference, you will need to find the value in cells, parse it and evaluate that recursively. Do not worry about correct error handling. We'll fix that next!

Step #5: Add proper error handling

The evaluator can fail when you reference a cell without a value (it will crash) or when you reference a cell within itself (it will run into an infinite loop), so let's fix that!

  1. Modify the evaluate function in evaluator.fs so that it returns option<int> rather than just int. You will need to return Some in the Number case and propagate the None values correctly - the easiest way to do this is using Option.bind and, but you can also use pattern matching using match.

  2. Once you modify evaluate, you also need to modify renderCell in main.fs so that it calls it correctly. If you pass None to renderView, it will display #ERR in red just like Excel.

  3. Handling recursive references is harder. We currently just get into an infinite loop and get a stack overflow. To handle this, you need to modify the evaluate function so that it has an additional parameter of type Set<Position> that keeps a set with all cells that we are evaluating. Then, when handling Reference, you need to make sure that the referenced cell is not in this set.