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Revisiting Maybe in Java

Posted on November 16, 2006, in Programming

I posted the link to Maybe in Java to programming.reddit.com and waited a good… hour or so, before giving up and going to bed. Actually, I happened to lose interest in posting it and by-chance, noticed my web browser still hadn’t completed the request on the way to bed. Nevertheless, it seems my HTTP request managed to make it there and when I woke up the next morning, there were all sorts of comments floating around. A few in particular asking something along the lines of, “what exactly has been achieved?”.

I will answer this question with “I have pointed out to Java programmers the concept of a very basic algebraic data type and importantly, in their language”. No mathematics, no type theory, nothing that will scare away your average J2EE Joey Jumper. I have also made a subliminal point of “hey! there are languages that already do this, only better!”. In particular, I have not provided anything that you should all go out and start using on your next WebSphere-fronted, RDBMS-backed, one-trillion-gazillion LOC web application. It seems the following points were missed in my original writing:

To remedy this situation, I have added further to the original Maybe type which was intentionally left incomplete, and it is still not complete. I hope this will help those who haven’t made the leap to do so and those who have made the leap, to understand my objective in this writing.

public abstract class Maybe<t> {
  private Maybe() {
  }

  public abstract <q> Q maybe(JustC<Q, T> jc, NothingC<q> nc);

  public static abstract class Nothing<t> extends Maybe<t> {
    private Nothing() {
    }
  }

  public static abstract class Just<t> extends Maybe<t> {
    private Just() {
    }

    public abstract T just();
  }

  public static <r> Maybe<r> _just(final R r) {
    return new Just<r>() {
      @Override
      public R just() {
        return r;
      }

      @Override
      public <q> Q maybe(final JustC<Q, R> jc, final NothingC<q> nc) {
        return jc.c(r);
      }
    };
  }

  public static <r> Maybe<r> _nothing() {
    return new Nothing<r>() {
      @Override
      public <q> Q maybe(final JustC<Q, R> jc, final NothingC<q> nc) {
        return nc.c();
      }
    };
  }
}

public interface JustC<Q, R> {
  Q c(R r);
}

public interface NothingC<q> {
  Q c();
}

Those of you familiar with the Visitor Design Pattern (or any other GoF design euphemism) will immediately recognise the modification - hence the title of the post :). Please feel free to replace identifiers with your preferred view of the world; continuation, quasi-continuation, visitor, whatever.

For those who insist on returning null or throwing an exception/error, or more so, insist on failing to recognise the distinction, I have yielded to your pressure:

public final class NullNothingC<t> implements NothingC<t> {
  public T c() {
    return null;
  }
}

public final class ErrorNothingC<t> implements NothingC<t> {
  public T c() {
    throw new Error();
  }
}