[SOLVED] Java tagged union / sum types – Stack Overflow

Issue

This Content is from Stack Overflow. Question asked by Zoey Hewll

Is there any way to define a sum type in Java? Java seems to naturally support product types directly, and I thought enums might allow it to support sum types, and inheritance looks like maybe it could do it, but there is at least one case I can’t resolve.
To elaborate, a sum type is a type which can have exactly one of a set of different types, like a tagged union in C.
In my case, I’m trying to implement haskell’s Either type in Java:

data Either a b = Left a | Right b

but at the base level I’m having to implement it as a product type, and just ignore one of its fields:

public class Either<L,R>
{
    private L left = null;
    private R right = null;

    public static <L,R> Either<L,R> right(R right)
    {
        return new Either<>(null, right);
    }

    public static <L,R> Either<L,R> left(L left)
    {
        return new Either<>(left, null);
    }

    private Either(L left, R right) throws IllegalArgumentException
    {
        this.left = left;
        this.right = right;
        if (left != null && right != null)
        {
            throw new IllegalArgumentException("An Either cannot be created with two values");
        }
        if (left == right)
        {
            throw new IllegalArgumentException("An Either cannot be created without a value");
        }
    }

    .
    .
    .
}

I tried implementing this with inheritance, but I have to use a wildcard type parameter, or equivalent, which Java generics won’t allow:

public class Left<L> extends Either<L,?>

I haven’t used Java’s Enums much, but while they seem the next best candidate, I’m not hopeful.
At this point, I think this might only be possible by type-casting Object values, which I would hope to avoid entirely, unless there’s a way to do it once, safely, and be able to use that for all sum types.



Solution

Make Either an abstract class with no fields and only one constructor (private, no-args, empty) and nest your “data constructors” (left and right static factory methods) inside the class so that they can see the private constructor but nothing else can, effectively sealing the type.

Use an abstract method either to simulate exhaustive pattern matching, overriding appropriately in the concrete types returned by the static factory methods. Implement convenience methods (like fromLeft, fromRight, bimap, first, second) in terms of either.

import java.util.Optional;
import java.util.function.Function;

public abstract class Either<A, B> {
    private Either() {}

    public abstract <C> C either(Function<? super A, ? extends C> left,
                                 Function<? super B, ? extends C> right);

    public static <A, B> Either<A, B> left(A value) {
        return new Either<A, B>() {
            @Override
            public <C> C either(Function<? super A, ? extends C> left,
                                Function<? super B, ? extends C> right) {
                return left.apply(value);
            }
        };
    }

    public static <A, B> Either<A, B> right(B value) {
        return new Either<A, B>() {
            @Override
            public <C> C either(Function<? super A, ? extends C> left,
                                Function<? super B, ? extends C> right) {
                return right.apply(value);
            }
        };
    }

    public Optional<A> fromLeft() {
        return this.either(Optional::of, value -> Optional.empty());
    }
}

Pleasant and safe! No way to screw it up. Because the type is effectively sealed, you can rest assured that there will only ever be two cases, and every operation ultimately must be defined in terms of the either method, which forces the caller to handle both of those cases.

Regarding the problem you had trying to do class Left<L> extends Either<L,?>, consider the signature <A, B> Either<A, B> left(A value). The type parameter B doesn’t appear in the parameter list. So, given a value of some type A, you can get an Either<A, B> for any type B.


This Question was asked in StackOverflow by Zoey Hewll and Answered by gdejohn It is licensed under the terms of CC BY-SA 2.5. - CC BY-SA 3.0. - CC BY-SA 4.0.

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