Book Image

Mastering JavaScript Functional Programming - Second Edition

By : Federico Kereki
Book Image

Mastering JavaScript Functional Programming - Second Edition

By: Federico Kereki

Overview of this book

Functional programming is a paradigm for developing software with better performance. It helps you write concise and testable code. To help you take your programming skills to the next level, this comprehensive book will assist you in harnessing the capabilities of functional programming with JavaScript and writing highly maintainable and testable web and server apps using functional JavaScript. This second edition is updated and improved to cover features such as transducers, lenses, prisms and various other concepts to help you write efficient programs. By focusing on functional programming, you’ll not only start to write but also to test pure functions, and reduce side effects. The book also specifically allows you to discover techniques for simplifying code and applying recursion for loopless coding. Gradually, you’ll understand how to achieve immutability, implement design patterns, and work with data types for your application, before going on to learn functional reactive programming to handle complex events in your app. Finally, the book will take you through the design patterns that are relevant to functional programming. By the end of this book, you’ll have developed your JavaScript skills and have gained knowledge of the essential functional programming techniques to program effectively.
Table of Contents (17 chapters)
Technical Requirements

What is functional programming?

If you go back in computer history, you'll find that the second oldest programming language still in use, Lisp, is based on FP. Since then, there have been many more functional languages, and FP has been applied more widely. But even so, if you ask people what FP is, you'll probably get two widely dissimilar answers.

For trivia or history buffs, the oldest language still in use is Fortran, which appeared in 1957, a year before Lisp. Quite shortly after Lisp came another long-lived language, COBOL, for business-oriented programming.

Depending on whom you ask, you'll either learn that it's a modern, advanced, enlightened approach to programming that leaves every other paradigm behind or that it's mainly a theoretical thing, with more complications than benefits, practically impossible to implement in the real world. And, as usual, the real answer is not in the extremes, but somewhere in between. Let's start by looking at the theory versus practice and see how we plan to use FP. 

Theory versus practice

In this book, we won't be going about FP in a theoretical way. Instead, our point is to show you how some of its techniques and tenets can be successfully applied for common, everyday JavaScript programming. But—and this is important—we won't be going about this in a dogmatic fashion, but in a very practical way. We won't dismiss useful JavaScript constructs simply because they don't happen to fulfill the academic expectations of FP. Similarly, we won't avoid practical JavaScript features just to fit the FP paradigm. In fact, we could almost say that we'll be doing Sorta Functional Programming (SFP) because our code will be a mixture of FP features, more classical imperative ones, and object-oriented programming (OOP).

Be careful, though: what we just said doesn't mean that we'll be leaving all the theory by the side. We'll be picky, and just touch the main theoretical points, learn some vocabulary and definitions, and explain core FP concepts, but we'll always be keeping in sight the idea of producing actual, useful JavaScript code, rather than trying to meet some mystical, dogmatic FP criteria.

OOP has been a way to solve the inherent complexity of writing large programs and systems, and developing clean, extensible, scalable application architectures; however, because of the scale of today's web applications, the complexity of all codebases is continuously growing. Also, the newer features of JavaScript make it possible to develop applications that wouldn't even have been possible just a few years ago; think of mobile (hybrid) apps that are made with Ionic, Apache Cordova, or React Native or desktop apps that are made with Electron or NW.js, for example. JavaScript has also migrated to the backend with Node.js, so today, the scope of usage for the language has grown in a serious way that deals with all the added complexity of modern designs.

A different way of thinking

FP is a different way of writing programs, and can sometimes be difficult to learn. In most languages, programming is done in an imperative fashion: a program is a sequence of statements, executed in a prescribed fashion, and the desired result is achieved by creating objects and manipulating them, which usually means modifying the objects themselves. FP is based on producing the desired result by evaluating expressions built out of functions that are composed together. In FP, it's common to pass functions around (such as passing parameters to other functions or returning functions as the result of a calculation), to not use loops (opting for recursion instead), and to skip side effects (such as modifying objects or global variables).

In other words, FP focuses on what should be done, rather than on how. Instead of worrying about loops or arrays, you work at a higher level, considering what you need to be done. After becoming accustomed to this style, you'll find that your code becomes simpler, shorter, and more elegant, and can be easily tested and debugged. However, don't fall into the trap of considering FP as the goal! Think of FP only as a means to an end, as with all software tools. Functional code isn't good just for being functional, and writing bad code is just as possible with FP as with any other technique!

What FP is not

Since we have been saying some things about what FP is, let's also clear up some common misconceptions, and look at what FP is not:

  • FP isn't just an academic ivory tower thing: It is true that the lambda calculus upon which it is based was developed by Alonzo Church in 1936 as a tool to prove an important result in theoretical computer science (which preceded modern computer languages by more than 20 years!); however, FP languages are being used today for all kinds of systems.
  • FP isn't the opposite of object-oriented programming (OOP): It isn't a case of choosing declarative or imperative ways of programming. You can mix and match as best suits you, and we'll be doing this throughout this book, bringing together the best of all worlds. 
  • FP isn't overly complex to learn: Some of the FP languages are rather different from JavaScript, but the differences are mostly syntactic. Once you learn the basic concepts, you'll see that you can get the same results in JavaScript as with FP languages.

It may also be relevant to mention that several modern frameworks, such as the React and Redux combination, include FP ideas.

For example, in React, it's said that the view (whatever the user gets to see at a given moment) is a function of the current state. You use a function to compute what HTML and CSS must be produced at each moment, thinking in a black-box fashion.

Similarly, in Redux you have the concept of actions that are processed by reducers. An action provides some data, and a reducer is a function that produces the new state for the application in a functional way out of the current state and the provided data. 

So, both because of the theoretical advantages (we'll be getting to those in the following section) and the practical ones (such as getting to use the latest frameworks and libraries), it makes sense to consider FP coding. Let's get on with it.