bilby.js & lenses

In JavaScript nearly everything is mutable. This can cause problems in your code when you think you have a new object or variable but instead you are operating on the referenced object. So, we create patterns to alleviate this problem. Or we use libraries like underscore.js or lodash.js which incorporate the functional concepts. Unfortunately they don’t always use immutable objects either.

Bilby.js solves the mutability problem by using lenses. Using the lenses pattern one can access and change one’s objects in a safe and immutable manner.

Let’s say we have the Person object.

function Person(){
   this.name = {first: 'George', last: 'Stanza'}
   this.id = 0
}

We use bilby.js lenses by first creating lens objects.

var nameLens = bilby.objectLens('name')
var firstLens = bilby.objectLens('first')
var lastLens = bilby.objectLens('last')
var idLens = bilby.objectLens('id')

We then can use getters to access the data.

var george = new Person()
// Person {name: {first:'George', last: 'Stanza'}, id: 0}
firstLens.compose(nameLens).run(george).getter
//George
lastLens.compose(nameLens).run(george).getter
//Stanza
idLens.run(george).getter
//0

Or you can create a get function.

var get = function(lens, obj){
   return lens.run(obj).getter
}
// e.g.,
get(firstLens.compose(nameLens), george)
// George

To create a new object with new values from another object.

var susan = firstLens.compose(nameLens).run(george).setter('Susan')
// Object {name: {first:'Susan', last: 'Stanza'}, id: 0}

Update

The below code is strongly discouraged by Mozilla Developer Network. Also, the correct method would be Object.getPrototypeOf(object) and Object.setPrototypeOf(object) instead of __proto__. I’ve since switched to using plain objects with commonjs modules instead.

End Update

Hhhhmmm…there’s a problem there. susan is no longer a Person she’s only an Object. We don’t want to objectify her do we? I worked around this problem by creating my own set function.

var set = function(lens, object, value){
   var newObject = lens.run(object).setter(value)
   return _.isEqual(newObject.__proto__, object.__proto__) 
      ? newObject 
      : (newObject.__proto__ = object.__proto__, newObject)
}
//e.g.,
var fred = set(firstLens.compose(nameLens), george, 'Fred')
// Person {name: {first:'Fred', last: 'Stanza'}, id: 0}

Now we need to remember that these new objects are not deep clones, only shallow clones, which helps with performance but, if we leave our design pattern we could get in trouble, so be careful!

Note that in Fantasy Land lenses the naming convetion is different setter and getter drop the ter and compose is dropped in favor of andThen making it so you can switch the order of your lenses.

var deborah = nameLens.andThen(firstLens).run(george).set('Deborah')
// Object {name: {first: 'Deborah', last: 'Stanza'}, id: 0}

If you want to play around with these concepts in jsFiddle you can use lodash.js’ _.assign method. I’ve set up the jsFiddle here.

Tue Jul 1, 2014 | tags: bilby.js immutability javascript functional programming

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