Functional thinking: Functional features in Groovy, Part 2

Metaprogramming + Functional Java

With Groovy, metaprogramming and functional programming form a potent combination. See how metaprogramming enables you to add methods to the Integer data type that take advantage of Groovy's built-in functional capabilities. And learn how to use metaprogramming to incorporate the Functional Java™ framework's rich set of functional features seamlessly into Groovy.


Neal Ford, Software Architect / Meme Wrangler, ThoughtWorks Inc.

Neal FordNeal Ford is a software architect and Meme Wrangler at ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy. He also designs and develops applications, instructional materials, magazine articles, courseware, and video/DVD presentations, and he is the author or editor of books spanning a variety of technologies, including the most recent The Productive Programmer. He focuses on designing and building large-scale enterprise applications. He is also an internationally acclaimed speaker at developer conferences worldwide. Check out his Web site.

20 December 2011

Also available in Chinese Russian Japanese

About this series

This series aims to reorient your perspective toward a functional mindset, helping you look at common problems in new ways and find ways to improve your day-to-day coding. It explores functional programming concepts, frameworks that allow functional programming within the Java language, functional programming languages that run on the JVM, and some future-leaning directions of language design. The series is geared toward developers who know Java and how its abstractions work but have little or no experience using a functional language.

In the last installment, I showed some of Groovy's out-of-the-box functional features and how to use Groovy's primitives to build an infinite list. In this installment, I continue my exploration of the intersection of functional programming and Groovy.

Groovy is a multiparadigm language: it supports object orientation, metaprogramming, and functional programming styles, which are mostly orthogonal to one another (see the Orthogonality sidebar). Metaprogramming allows you to add features to a language and its core libraries. By combining metaprogramming with functional programming, you can make your own code more functional or augment third-party functional libraries to make them work better in Groovy. I'll first show how Groovy's ExpandoMetaClass works to augment classes, then how to use this mechanism to weave the Functional Java library (see Resources) into Groovy.

Open classes via ExpandoMetaClass


The definition of orthogonal spans several disciplines, including mathematics and computer science. In math, two vectors that are at right angles to each other are orthogonal, meaning they never intersect. In computer science, orthogonal components don't have any effects (or side-effects) on one another. For example, functional programming and metaprogramming are orthogonal in Groovy because they don't interfere with each other: using metaprogramming doesn't restrict you from using functional constructs, and vice versa. The fact that they are orthogonal doesn't mean that they can't work together, merely that they don't interfere with each other.

One of Groovy's more powerful features is the open class, the ability to reopen an existing class to augment or remove its functionality. This is different from subclassing, whereby a new type is derived from an existing one. Open classes allow you to reopen a class such as String and add new methods to it. Testing libraries use this capability heavily to augment Object with verification methods, so that all classes in an application now have the verification methods.

Groovy has two open-class techniques: categories and ExpandoMetaClass (see Resources). Either will work for this example; I chose ExpandoMetaClass because it is a bit syntactically simpler.

If you've been following this series, you're familiar with my long-running example of number classification. The complete Classifier in Groovy, shown in Listing 1, uses Groovy's own functional constructs:

Listing 1. Complete Classifier in Groovy
class Classifier {
  def static isFactor(number, potential) {
    number % potential == 0;

  def static factorsOf(number) {
    (1..number).findAll { i -> isFactor(number, i) }

  def static sumOfFactors(number) {
    factorsOf(number).inject(0, {i, j -> i + j})

  def static isPerfect(number) {
    sumOfFactors(number) == 2 * number

  def static isAbundant(number) {
    sumOfFactors(number) > 2 * number

  def static isDeficient(number) {
    sumOfFactors(number) < 2 * number

  static def nextPerfectNumberFrom(n) {
    while (!isPerfect(++n));

If you have any questions about how the methods are implemented in this version, you can refer to previous installments (in particular, "Coupling and composition, Part 2" and "Functional features in Groovy, Part 1"). To use the methods of this class, I can call the methods in the "normal" functional way: Classifier.isPerfect(7). However, using metaprogramming, I can "wire" these methods directly into the Integer class, allowing me to "ask" a number what category it's in.

To add these methods to the Integer class, I access the metaClass property of the class — predefined by Groovy for each class — as shown in Listing 2:

Listing 2. Adding classification to Integer
Integer.metaClass.isPerfect = {->

Integer.metaClass.isAbundant = {->

Integer.metaClass.isDeficient = {->

Initializing metaprogramming methods

You must add metaprogramming methods before the first attempt to invoke them. The safest place to initialize them is in the static initializer for the class that uses them (because it's guaranteed to run before other initializers for the class), but this adds complexity when multiple classes need augmented methods. Generally, applications that use a lot of metaprogramming end up with a bootstrap class to ensure that initialization occurs at the appropriate time.

In Listing 2, I add the three Classifier methods to Integer. Now, all integers in Groovy have these methods. (Groovy has no notion of primitive data types; even constants in Groovy use Integer as the underlying data type.) Within the code block defining each method, I have access to the predefined delegate parameter, which represents the value of the object that is invoking the method on the class.

Once I've initialized my metaprogramming methods (see the Initializing metaprogramming methods sidebar), I can "ask" numbers about categories, as shown in Listing 3:

Listing 3. Using metaprogramming to classify numbers
void metaclass_classifiers() {
  def num = 28
  assertTrue num.isPerfect()
  assertTrue 7.isDeficient()
  assertTrue 6.isPerfect()
  assertTrue 12.isAbundant()

Listing 3 illustrates the newly added methods working on both variables and constants. It would now be trivial to add a method to Integer that returns the classification of a particular number, perhaps as an enumeration.

Adding new methods to existing classes isn't in itself particularly "functional," even if the code they call is strongly functional. However, the ability to add methods seamlessly makes it easy to incorporate third-party libraries — such as the Functional Java library — that add significant functional features. I implemented the number classifier using the Functional Java library in the second installment, and I will use it here to create an infinite stream of perfect numbers.

Mapping data types with metaprogramming

Groovy is essentially a dialect of Java, so pulling in third-party libraries such as Functional Java is trivial. However, I can further weave those libraries into Groovy by performing some metaprogramming mapping between data types to make the seams less visible. Groovy has a native closure type (using the Closure class). Functional Java doesn't have the luxury of closures yet (it relies on Java 5 syntax), forcing the authors to use generics and a general F class that contains an f() method. Using the Groovy ExpandoMetaClass, I can resolve the method/closure type differences by creating mapping methods between the two.

The class I want to augment is the Stream class from Functional Java, which provides an abstraction for infinite lists. I want to be able to pass Groovy closures in place of Functional Java F instances, so I add overloaded methods to the Stream class to map closures into F's f() method, as shown in Listing 4:

Listing 4. Mapping data types using ExpandoMetaClass
Stream.metaClass.filter = { c -> delegate.filter(c as fj.F) }
//    Stream.metaClass.filter = { Closure c -> delegate.filter(c as fj.F) }
Stream.metaClass.getAt = { n -> delegate.index(n) }
Stream.metaClass.getAt = { Range r -> r.collect { delegate.index(it) } }

The first line creates a filter() method on Stream that accepts a closure (the c parameter of the code block). The second (commented) line is the same as the first, but with the added type declaration for the Closure; it doesn't affect how Groovy executes the code but might be preferable as documentation. The body of the code block calls Stream's preexisting filter() method, mapping the Groovy closure to the Functional Java fj.F class. I use Groovy's semimagical as operator to perform the mapping.

Groovy's as operator coerces closures into interface definitions, allowing the closure methods to map to methods required by the interface. Consider the code in Listing 5:

Listing 5. Using as to create a lightweight iterator
def h = [hasNext : { println "hasNext called"; return true}, 
         next : {println "next called"}] as Iterator
println "h instanceof Iterator? " + (h instanceof Iterator)

In the example in Listing 5, I create a hash with two name-value pairs. Each of the names is a string (Groovy doesn't require hash keys to be delimited with double quotes, because they are strings by default), and the values are code blocks. The as operator maps this hash to the Iterator interface, which requires both hasNext() and next() methods. Once I've performed the mapping, I can treat the hash as an iterator; the last line of the listing prints true. In cases in which I have a single-method interface or when I want all the methods in the interface to map to a single closure, I can dispense with the hash and use as directly to map a closure onto a function. Referring back to the first line of Listing 4, I map the passed closure to the single-method F class. In Listing 4, I must map both getAt methods (one that accepts a number and another that accepts a Range) because filter needs those methods to operate.

Using this newly augmented Stream, I can play around with an infinite sequence, as shown in Listing 6:

Listing 6. Using infinite Functional Java streams in Groovy
void adding_methods_to_fj_classes() {

  def evens = Stream.range(0).filter { it % 2 == 0 }
  assertTrue(evens.take(5).asList() == [0, 2, 4, 6, 8])
  assertTrue(evens[3..6] == [6, 8, 10, 12])

In Listing 6, I create an infinite list of even integers, starting with 0, by filtering them with a closure block. You can't get all of an infinite sequence at once, so you must take() as many elements as you want. The remainder of Listing 6 shows testing assertions that demonstrate how the stream works.

Infinite streams in Groovy

In the last installment, I showed how to implement a lazy infinite list in Groovy. Rather than create it by hand, why not rely on an infinite sequence from Functional Java?

To create an infinite Stream of perfect numbers, I need two additional Stream method mappings to understand Groovy closures, as shown in Listing 7:

Listing 7. Two additional method mappings for perfect-number stream
Stream.metaClass.asList = { delegate.toCollection().asList() }
Stream.metaClass.static.cons = { head, closure -> delegate.cons(head, closure as fj.P1) }
// Stream.metaClass.static.cons = 
//  { head, Closure c -> delegate.cons(head, ['_1':c] as fj.P1)}

In Listing 7, I create an asList() conversion method to make it easy to convert a Functional Java stream to a list. The other method I implement is an overloaded cons(), which is the method on Stream that constructs a new list. When creating an infinite list, the data structure typically contains a first element and a closure block as the tail of the list, which generates the next element when invoked. For my Groovy stream of perfect numbers, I need Functional Java to understand that cons() can accept a Groovy closure.

If I use as to map a single closure onto an interface that has multiple methods, that closure is executed for any method I call on the interface. That style of simple mapping works in most cases for Functional Java classes. However, a few methods require a fj.P1 method rather than a fj.F method. In some of those cases, I can still get away with a simple mapping because the downstream methods don't rely on any of the other methods of P1. In cases in which more precision is required, I may have to use the more complex mapping shown in the commented line in Listing 7, which must create a hash with the _1() method mapped to the closure. Although that method looks odd, it's a standard method on the fj.P1 class that returns the first element.

Once I have my metaprogrammatically mapped methods on Stream, I can use the Classifier from Listing 1 to create an infinite stream of perfect numbers, as shown in Listing 8:

Listing 8. Infinite stream of perfect numbers using Functional Java and Groovy
import static
import static com.nealford.ft.metafunctionaljava.Classifier.nextPerfectNumberFrom

def perfectNumbers(num) {
  cons(nextPerfectNumberFrom(num), { perfectNumbers(nextPerfectNumberFrom(num))})

void infinite_stream_of_perfect_nums_using_functional_java() {
  assertEquals([6, 28, 496], perfectNumbers(1).take(3).asList())

I use static imports both for cons() from Functional Java and for my own nextPerfectNumberFrom() method from Classifier to make the code less verbose. The perfectNumbers() method returns an infinite sequence of perfect numbers by consing (yes, cons is a verb) the first perfect number after the seed number as the first element and adding a closure block as the second element. The closure block returns the infinite sequence with the next number as the head and the closure to calculate yet another one as the tail. In the test, I generate a stream of perfect numbers starting from 1, taking the next three perfect numbers and asserting that they match the list.


When developers think of metaprogramming, they usually think only of their own code, not of augmenting someone else's. Groovy allows me to add new methods not only to built-in classes like Integer, but also to third-party libraries like Functional Java. Combining metaprogramming and functional programming leads to great power with very little code, creating a seamless link.

Although I can call Functional Java classes directly from Groovy, many of the library's building blocks are clumsy when compared to real closures. By using metaprogramming, I can map the Functional Java methods to allow them to understand convenient Groovy data structures, achieving the best of both worlds. Until Java defines a native closure type, developers frequently need to perform these polyglot mappings between language types: a Groovy closure and a Scala closure aren't the same thing at the bytecode level. Having a standard in Java will push these conversations down to the runtime and eliminate the need for mappings like the ones I've shown here. Until that time, though, this facility makes for clean yet powerful code.

In the next installment, I'll talk about some optimizations that functional programming allows your runtime to make and show examples in Groovy of memoization.



Get products and technologies

  • Functional Java: Download the Functional Java framework.
  • Evaluate IBM products in the way that suits you best: Download a product trial, try a product online, use a product in a cloud environment, or spend a few hours in the SOA Sandbox learning how to implement Service Oriented Architecture efficiently.


  • Get involved in the developerWorks community. Connect with other developerWorks users while exploring the developer-driven blogs, forums, groups, and wikis.


developerWorks: Sign in

Required fields are indicated with an asterisk (*).

Need an IBM ID?
Forgot your IBM ID?

Forgot your password?
Change your password

By clicking Submit, you agree to the developerWorks terms of use.


The first time you sign into developerWorks, a profile is created for you. Information in your profile (your name, country/region, and company name) is displayed to the public and will accompany any content you post, unless you opt to hide your company name. You may update your IBM account at any time.

All information submitted is secure.

Choose your display name

The first time you sign in to developerWorks, a profile is created for you, so you need to choose a display name. Your display name accompanies the content you post on developerWorks.

Please choose a display name between 3-31 characters. Your display name must be unique in the developerWorks community and should not be your email address for privacy reasons.

Required fields are indicated with an asterisk (*).

(Must be between 3 – 31 characters.)

By clicking Submit, you agree to the developerWorks terms of use.


All information submitted is secure.

Dig deeper into Java technology on developerWorks

Zone=Java technology
ArticleTitle=Functional thinking: Functional features in Groovy, Part 2