Friday, January 7, 2011

Transmutation of Scala closures into SAM instances

Okay, it's not actually alchemy. But it is pretty cool nonetheless.

A brief refresher on terminology: a single abstract method (or SAM) interface or abstract method contains exactly one method that concrete implementations must define. Java includes a number of interfaces that satisfy this property, including Runnable, Callable and Comparable.

The basic idea at play here is that a closure or anonymous function (either will do here) can be used in place of a SAM implementation if the parameters and return type of the closure match up to those of the method. That assumes your language cares about such things, of course; duck typing makes this less of an issue (as we'll see).

JRuby automatically performs this operation via closure conversion (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Stuart Sierra has recently published a macro for doing something similar in Clojure. Even Java is considering including this feature in an eventual closure implementation (see Brian Goetz's writeup for details). Why should Scala miss out on all the fun?

Let's take a look at some code to make this discussion more tangible. A simple example of closure conversion in JRuby can be found here. This is where duck typing helps us out; the only real requirement on our closure is that we actually return something (in order to clearly distinguish between Runnable and Callable). Our objective is to implement a Scala unit test that does something similar. Any such approach will be built around Scala's support for implicit conversion of types, but in this case a bit of care and feeding is required to line up the parameters and return types of the closure with that of the contents of the SAM interface. The basic approach works as follows:

  1. The implicit conversion accepts a function with the same parameter list and return value as the lone method in the SAM interface

  2. The conversion then returns a new concrete instance of the SAM interface. The implementation of the method doesn't need to be anything other than invoking apply() on the input function

The resulting ScalaTest class can be found here.

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