jOOQ Tuesdays: Mario Fusco Talks About Functional and Declarative Programming

Welcome to the jOOQ Tuesdays series. In this series, we’ll publish an article on the third Tuesday every other month where we interview someone we find exciting in our industry from a jOOQ perspective. This includes people who work with SQL, Java, Open Source, and a variety of other related topics.

mariofusco

I’m very excited to feature today Mario Fusco, author of LambdaJ, working on Red Hat’s drools, a Java Champion and frequent speaker at Java conferences on all topics functional programming.

Mario, a long time ago, I have already stumbled upon your name when looking up the author of Lambdaj – a library that went to the extreme to bring lambdas to Java 5 or earlier. How does it work? And what’s the most peculiar hack you implemented to make it work?

When I started developing Lambdaj in 2007 I thought to it just as a proof-of-concept to check how far I could push Java 5. I never expected that it could become something that somebody else other than myself may actually want to use. In reality, given the limited, or I should say non-existing, capabilities of Java 5 as a functional language, Lambdaj was entirely a big hack. Despite this, people started using and somewhat loving it, and this made me (and possibly somebody else) realize that Java developers, or at least part of them, were tired of the pure imperative paradigm imposed by the language and ready to experiment with something more functional.

The main feature of Lambdaj, and what made its DSL quite nice to use, was the possibility to reference the method of a class in a static and type safe way and pass it to another method. In this way you could for example sort a list of persons by their age doing something like:

sort(persons, on(Person.class).getAge());

As anticipated what happened under the hood was a big hack: the on() method created a proxy of the Person class so you could safely call the getAge() method on it. The proxy didn’t do anything useful other than registering the method call. However it had to return something of the same type of the value returned by the actual method to avoid a ClassCastException. To this purpose it had a mechanism to generate a reasonably unique instance of that type, an int in my example. Before returning that value it also associated it, using a WeakHashMap, to the invoked method. In this way the sort() method was actually invoked with a list and the value generated by my proxy. It then retrieved from the map the Java method associated with that value and invoked it on all the items of the list performing the operation, a sorting in this case, that it was supposed to execute.

That’s crazy :) I’m sure you’re happy that a lot of Lambdaj features are now deprecated. You’re now touring the world with your functional programming talks. What makes you so excited about this topic?

The whole Lambdaj project is now deprecated and abandoned. The new functional features introduced with Java 8 just made it obsolete. Nevertheless it not only had the merit to make developers become curious and interested about functional programming, but also to experiment with new patterns and ideas that in the end also influenced the Java 8 syntax. Take for instance how you can sort a Stream of persons by age using a method reference

persons.sort(Person::getAge)

It looks evident how the method references have been at least inspired by the Lambdaj‘s on() method.

There is a number of things that I love of functional programming:

  1. The readability: a snippet of code written in functional style looks like a story while too often the equivalent code in imperative style resembles a puzzle.
  2. The declarative nature: in functional programming is enough to declare the result that you want to achieve rather than specifying the steps to obtain it. You only care about the what without getting lost in the details of the how.
  3. The possibility of treating data and behaviors uniformly: functional programming allows you to pass to a method both data (the list of persons to be sorted) and computation (the function to be applied to each person in the list). This idea is fundamental for many algorithms like for example the map/reduce: since data and computation are the same thing and the second is typically orders of magnitude smaller you are free to send them to the machine holding the data instead of the opposite.
  4. The higher level of abstraction: the possibility of encapsulating computations in functions and pass them around to other functions allows both a dramatic reduction of code duplication and the design of more generic and expressive API.
  5. Immutability and referential transparency: using immutable values and having side-effects programs makes far easier to reason on your code, test it and ensure its correctness.
  6. The parallelism friendliness: all the features listed above also enable the parallelization of your software in a simpler and more reliable way. It is not coincidence that functional programming started becoming more popular around 10 years ago that is also when multicore CPUs began to be available on commodity hardware.

Our readers love SQL (or at least, they use it frequently). How does functional programming compare to SQL?

The most evident thing that FP and SQL have in common is their declarative paradigm. To some extent SQL, or at least the data selection part, can be seen as a functional language specialized to manipulate data in tabular format.

The data modification part is a totally different story though. The biggest part of SQL users normally change data in a destructive way, overwriting or even deleting the existing data. This is clearly in contrast with the immutability mantra of functional programming. However this is only how SQL is most commonly used, but nothing dictates that it couldn’t be also employed in a non-destructive append-only way. I wish to see SQL used more often in this way in future.

In your day job, you’re working for Red Hat, on drools. Business rules sound enterprisey. How does that get along with your fondness of functional programming?

Under an user point of view a rule engine in general and drools in particular are the extreme form of declarative programming, second only to Prolog. For this reason developers who are only familiar with the imperative paradigm struggle to use it, because they also try to enforce it to work in an imperative way. Conversely programmers more used to think in functional (and then declarative) terms are more often able to use it correctly when they approach it for the first time.

For what regards me, my work as developer of both the core engine and the compiler of drools allows me to experiment every day in both fields of language design and algorithmic invention and optimization. To cut it short it’s a challenging job and there’s lot’s of fun in it: don’t tell this to my employer but I cannot stop being surprised that they allow me to play with this everyday and they also pay me for that.

You’re also on the board of VoxxedDays Ticino, Zurich, and CERN (wow, how geeky is that? A large hadron collider Java conference!). Why is Voxxed such a big success for you?

I must admit that, before being involved in this, I didn’t imagine the amount of work that organizing a conference requires. However this effort is totally rewarded. In particular the great advantage of VoxxedDays is the fact of being local 1-day events made by developers for developers that practically anybody can afford.

I remember that the most common feedback I received after the first VoxxedDays Ticino that we did 2 years ago was some like: “This has been the very first conference I attended in my life and I didn’t imagine it could have been a so amazing experience both under a technical and even more a social point of view. Thanks a lot for that, I eagerly wait to attend even next year”. Can you imagine something more rewarding for a conference organizer?

The other important thing for me is giving the possibility to speakers that aren’t rock stars (yet) to talk in public and share their experience with a competent audience. I know that for at least some of them this is only the first step to let themselves and others discover their capabilities as public speakers and launch them toward bigger conferences like the Devoxx.

Thank you very much Mario

If you want to learn more about Mario’s insights on functional programming, please do visit his interesting talks at Devoxx from the recent past:

Java 8 Friday: Let’s Deprecate Those Legacy Libs

At Data Geekery, we love Java. And as we’re really into jOOQ’s fluent API and query DSL, we’re absolutely thrilled about what Java 8 will bring to our ecosystem.

Java 8 Friday

Every Friday, we’re showing you a couple of nice new tutorial-style Java 8 features, which take advantage of lambda expressions, extension methods, and other great stuff. You’ll find the source code on GitHub.

For the last two Fridays, we’ve been off for our Easter break, but now we’re back with another fun article:

Let’s Deprecate Those Legacy Libs

d8938bef47ea2f62ed0543dd9e35a483Apart from Lambdas and extension methods, the JDK has also been enhanced with a lot of new library code, e.g. the Streams API and much more. This means that we can critically review our stacks and – to the great joy of Doctor Deprecator – throw out all the garbage that we no longer need.

Here are a couple of them, just to name a few:

LINQ-style libraries

There are lots of libraries that try to emulate LINQ (i.e. the LINQ-to-Collections part). We’ve already made our point before, because we now have the awesome Java 8 Streams API. 5 years from today, no Java developer will be missing LINQ any longer, and we’ll all be Streams-masters with Oracle Certified Streams Developer certifications hanging up our walls.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about LINQ or Streams being better. They’re pretty much the same. But since we now have Streams in the JDK, why worry about LINQ? Besides, the SQLesque syntax for collection querying was misleading anyway. SQL itself is much more than Streams will ever be (or needs to be).

So let’s list a couple of LINQesque APIs, which we’ll no longer need:

LambdaJ

This was a fun attempt at emulating closures in Java through arcane and nasty tricks like ThreadLocal. Consider the following code snippet (taken from here):

// This lets you "close over" the
// System.out.println method
Closure println = closure(); { 
  of(System.out).println(var(String.class));
}

// in order to use it like so:
println.apply("one");
println.each("one", "two", "three");

Nice idea, although that semi-colon after closure(); and before that pseudo-closure-implementation block, which is not really a closure body… all of that seems quite quirky ;-)

Now, we’ll write:

Consumer<String> println = System.out::println;

println.accept("one");
Stream.of("one", "two", "three").forEach(println);

No magic here, just plain Java 8.

Let’s hear it one last time for Mario Fusco and Lambdaj.

Linq4j

Apparently, this is still being developed actively… Why? Do note that the roadmap also has a LINQ-to-SQL implementation in it, including:

Parser support. Either modify a Java parser (e.g. OpenJDK), or write a pre-processor. Generate Java code that includes expression trees.

Yes, we’d like to have such a parser for jOOQ as well. It would allow us to truly embed SQL in Java, similar to SQLJ, but typesafe. But if we have the Streams API, why not implement something like Streams-to-SQL?

We cannot say farewell to Julian Hyde‘s Linq4j just yet, as he’s still continuing work. But we believe that he’s investing in the wrong corner.

Coolection

This is a library with a fun name, and it allows for doing things like…

from(animals).where("name", eq("Lion"))
             .and("age", eq(2))
             .all();

from(animals).where("name", eq("Dog"))
             .or("age", eq(5))
             .all();

But why do it this way, when you can write:

animals.stream()
       .filter(a -> a.name.equals("Lion")
                 && a.age == 2)
       .collect(toList());

animals.stream()
       .filter(a -> a.name.equals("Dog")
                 || a.age == 5)
       .collect(toList());

Let’s hear it for Wagner Andrade. And then off to the bin

Half of Guava

Guava has been pretty much a dump for all sorts of logic that should have been in the JDK in the first place. Take com.google.guava.base.Joiner for instance. It is used for string-joining:

Joiner joiner = Joiner.on("; ").skipNulls();
. . .
return joiner.join("Harry", null, "Ron", "Hermione");

No need, any more. We can now write:

Stream.of("Harry", null, "Ron", "Hermione")
      .filter(s -> s != null)
      .collect(joining("; "));

Note also that the skipNulls flag and all sorts of other nice-to-have utilities are no longer necessary as the Streams API along with lambda expressions allows you to decouple the joining task from the filtering task very nicely.

Convinced? No?

What about:

And then, there’s the whole set of Functional stuff that can be thrown to the bin as well:

https://code.google.com/p/guava-libraries/wiki/FunctionalExplained

Of course, once you’ve settled on using Guava throughout your application, you won’t remove its usage quickly. But on the other hand, let’s hope that parts of Guava will be deprecated soon, in favour of an integration with Java 8.

JodaTime

Now, this one is a no-brainer, as the popular JodaTime library got standardised into the java.time packages. This is great news.

Let’s hear it for “Joda” Stephen Colebourne and his great work for the JSR-310.

Apache commons-io

The java.nio packages got even better with new methods that nicely integrate with the Streams API (or not). One of the main reasons why anyone would have ever used Apache Commons IO was the fact that it is horribly tedious to read files prior to Java 7 / 8. I mean, who would’ve enjoyed this piece of code (from here):

try (RandomAccessFile file = 
     new RandomAccessFile(filePath, "r")) {
    byte[] bytes = new byte[size];
    file.read(bytes);
    return new String(bytes); // encoding?? ouch!
}

Over this one?

List<String> lines = FileUtils.readLines(file);

But forget the latter. You can now use the new methods in java.nio.file.Files, e.g.

List<String> lines = Files.readAllLines(path);

No need for third-party libraries any longer!

Serialisation

Throw it all out, for there is JEP 154 deprecating serialisation. Well, it wasn’t accepted, but we could’ve surely removed about 10% of our legacy codebase.

A variety of concurrency APIs and helpers

With JEP 155, there had been a variety of improvements to concurrent APIs, e.g. to ConcurrentHashMaps (we’ve blogged about it before), but also the awesome LongAdders, about which you can read a nice article over at the Takipi blog.

Haven’t I seen a whole com.google.common.util.concurrent package over at Guava, recently? Probably not needed anymore.

JEP 154 (Serialisation) wasn’t real

It was an April Fools’ joke, of course…

Base64 encoders

How could this take so long?? In 2003, we’ve had RFC 3548, specifying Base16, Base32, and Base64 data encodings, which was in fact based upon base 64 encoding specified in RFC 1521, from 1993, or RFC 2045 from 1996, and if we’re willing to dig further into the past, I’m sure we’ll find earlier references to this simple idea of encoding binary data in text form.

Now, in 2014, we finally have JEP 135 as a part of the JavaSE8, and thus (you wouldn’t believe it): java.util.Base64.

Off to the trash can with all of these libraries!

… gee, it seems like everyone and their dog worked around this limitation, prior to the JDK 8…

More?

Provide your suggestions in the comments! We’re curious to hear your thoughts (with examples!)

Conclusion

As any Java major release, there is a lot of new stuff that we have to learn, and that allows us to remove third-party libraries. This is great, because many good concepts have been consolidated into the JDK, available on every JVM without external dependencies.

Disclaimer: Not everything in this article was meant seriously. Many people have created great pieces of work in the past. They have been very useful, even if they are somewhat deprecated now. Keep innovating, guys! :-)

Want to delve more into the many new things Java 8 offers? Go have a look over at the Baeldung blog, where this excellent list of Java 8 resources is featured:

Java 8

… and stay tuned for our next Java 8 Friday blog post, next week!