Homomorphic Transducers

posted 5 years ago

Sorry for the dense title. The article is about reducing a series of values independent of data type.


The basic operation is given a result and input, calculate a new result. For example to sum a series of values you add them.

// reducer: result, input -> result

const add = (result, input) => result + input

The function reduce takes a reducer, an initial result, an interator, and returns the reduced result. Anything that's iterable in javascript could be used as a series of values.

let result = reduce(add, 0, [ 1, 2, 3 ])
// result = 6

Addition isn't very exciting, it's an example. You can calculate whatever you want. The only rule is that the input result and output result are the same type.

const uniq = function (set, item) {
  return set

let result = reduce(uniq, new Set(), [ 1, 1, 1, 2 ])
// result = new Set([ 1, 2 ])


Clojure popularized transducers, which are generic transforms that can be applied to many types of iterators.

// transducer: reducer -> reducer

Usually the map function would take an iterator and a function, and return an array. For example:

const arraymap = function (f, iterator) {
  let output = []
  for (let input of iterator) {
  return output

However you force the output of arraymap to be an array. You need to rewrite the function for each output type. Imagine you'd like to map over a set.

const setmap = function (f, iterator) {
  let output = new Set()
  for (let input of iterator) {
  return output

Sweet it works! Except now you want one for key-value objects. You could write another map function, but this is getting repetitive. Instead, write a generic transducer map.

const map = function (f) {
  return function (r) {
    return function (result, input) {
      return r(result, f(input))

Instead of assuming which output type, transducers let the calling function choose how to reduce output values into a result.

const arrayreducer = function (array, input) {
  return array

const arraymap = function (f, iterator) {
  return reduce(map(f)(arrayreducer), [], iterator)

Still with me? Instead of writing out arraymap and other typed methods, we can transduce.

const transduce = function (transducer, reducer, result, iterator) {
  return reduce(transducer(reducer), result, iterator)

We can rewrite the typed map functions to use transduce. There's little reason to use typed functions, the point is to show how it works.

const arraymap = function (f, iterator) {
  return transduce(map(f), arrayreducer, [], iterator)

const setreducer = function (set, input) {
  return set

const setmap = function (f, iterator) {
  return transduce(map(f), setreducer, new Set(), iterator)

So far the gain has been one map definition instead of one per type.

Compose Transforms

Anytime you have a function that has the same type of input as output, you can compose them together.

// compose: (a -> a), (a -> a) -> (a -> a)

const compose = function () {
  let transforms = [].slice.call(arguments).reverse()
  return function (reducer) {
    return reduce((t, r) => t(r), reducer, transforms)

For example you can map and then filter.

let t = compose(
  map(x => x + 1),
  filter(x => x % 2 == 0)

transduce(t, add, 0, values)

// same as

values.map(x => x + 1)
  .filter(x => x % 2 == 0)
  .reduce(add, 0)

One advantage is that you don't need to create intermediate collections, which can save memory. The main point is to separate output from transformation.

transduce(t, setreducer, new Set(), values)

Another advantage is that you can take values from an infinite generator without knowing in advance how many to calculate.

let t = compose(filter(x => x > 5), take(2))
let infinite = function *() {
  let n = 0
  while (true) {
    yield n++
transduce(t, arrayreducer, [], infinite())

You also only need to write higher order transducers instead of lower order collection functions per type.

Homomorphic Target

The idea comes from Haskel Monoids to remove the final piece of duplication using homomorphic targets. Instead of specifying both the reducer and the initial value, let the target (initial value) reduce itself.

class Sum {
  constructor () {
    this.value = 0

  next (input) {
    this.value += input
    return this

  done () {
    return this.value

Given a target with next and done methods, you can reduce any iterator.

const into = function (target, t, iterator) {
  let reducer = (result, input) => result.next(input)
  let result = transduce(t, reducer, target, iterator)
  return result.done()

For example to sum a number of values, convert the iterator through the transform, and then reduce it using a homomorphic target.

let result = into(new Sum(), map(x => -x), [ 1, 2, 3 ])
// result = -6

I like transducers, even if not entirely useful. You can find me on twitter @aj0strow.