Build Up Complex Functionality by Composing Simple Functions in JavaScript

Kyle Shevlin
InstructorKyle Shevlin
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Published 6 years ago
Updated 5 years ago

This lesson teaches you the concept of composition, the building up of complex functionality through the combining of simpler functions. In a sense, composition is the nesting of functions, passing the result of one in as the input into the next. But rather than create an indecipherable amount of nesting, we'll create a higher order function, compose(), that takes all of the functions we want to combine, and returns us a new function to use in our app.

Instructor: [00:00] Composition is the heart and soul of functional programming. It's how we build up complexity in our applications. If you recall from math class you might have seen a function such as this. F that takes an x and returns some formula using X. In this case, we'll use x+2. Then you might have seen a second function, we'll call it G, that also takes an X and returns some other formula using that X. In this case, let's do x*3.

[00:28] Composition is the act of combining these functions so that the output of one becomes the input of the next one. We can see this by nesting them together. We'll start with our function F, we'll nest our function G inside of it, and we'll give it a value. In this case, let's give it the value 5. We'll log this out to the terminal, and see the result. We got 17, which makes sense. 5*3 is 15, 15 is the input into our F function, 15+2 is 17.

[00:58] Our applications typically don't have functions with single letter names, however. This means that nesting them together to make compositions can be really cumbersome. Let me give you an example. Let's make some curried functions that we can use to make a composition. Let's start with a scream function, it will take a string and uppercase it. Next, we'll make an exclaim function, that'll take a string and add an exclamation point.

[01:23] Lastly, we'll make a repeat function that will take a string and double it, adding a space in between. Now we can make a composition similar to the one we made with F and G. In order to make this composition, we have to think from the inside out.

[01:37] The first thing I want to do with my string is scream it, so I'll write the scream function, and I'll give it a string. In this case, I'll say "I love Egghead," because who doesn't? The next thing I want to do has to wrap that. I want to exclaim it. Lastly, I love Egghead so much I want to repeat it. We log this out to the terminal, we should see how our string was transformed. We see that our original string was uppercased, an exclamation point was added to it, and that exclaimed string was repeated.

[02:06] As you can see this can get really lengthy, and kind of hard to read especially if we had even more functions. A better way to do this would be to create a higher-order function that can accept any number of functions as arguments, and create a composition out of them, so let's do that. Our compose function will receive any number of functions as the arguments. We'll use the REST operator.

[02:28] Next, it will return a function that's awaiting its initial value, we'll call it X. From here, we have an array of functions. Notice that the order that we want to call them in, though, goes from right to left. We first call scream, exclaim, and then repeat. In order to do this, we're going to reduceRight method. We take our functions, we use reduceRight. reduceRight accepts an accumulating function as its first argument.

[02:58] The arguments to that function are an accumulator and the current item, which is our function. What we want to return with each iteration, is the result of calling the accumulated value on that current function. The second argument to reduceRight is our initial value, which is our X. We can now use this function to easily create new compositions.

[03:17] Let's create a withExuberance function that will be a composition of our scream, exclaim, and repeat functions. The order of arguments to our compose function go from right to left, so we need to pass as the first argument the last thing that we want to do, and the last argument as the first thing we want to do. The last thing we want to do is repeat our string. The middle thing we'd like to do is exclaim, and the first thing we'd like to do is scream.

[03:49] Now we can use our withExuberance function to log out our "I love Egghead" string and get the same result. For one final and thorough note, I'd like to add that in certain libraries such as Ramda and Lodash/FP, you might come across another way to make compositions.

[04:06] In those libraries, you'll come across the pipe function, which is the same as compose, but the argument order has been reversed. So pipe also takes any number of functions, an initial value, but this time calls reduce with the same functionality. Thus, to make our withExuberance function with pipe, we just change the order of arguments.

[04:27] While a pipe function exists, it's somewhat more common to see the compose function used in functional languages, because it follows the mathematical model of composition.

~ 5 years ago

Great explanation @Kyle.

When you mentioned pipe as an alternative name to compose in some libraries I thought of RxJS which is mainly used for reactive programming using observer/observable pattern but never tried to use its provided pipe function outside that context.

It turns out that pipe in rxjs is just compose. And it just happens that it composes functions that manipulate observable values ! That made my day.

import { pipe } from 'rxjs';

const double = x => x * 2;
const tripple = x => x * 3;

const composition1 = pipe(

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