# Injecting side effects into chained Sequence operations

1. Nov 12, 2017
Changed the title. The previous title was "Injecting forEach into chained method calls".

And it [forEach] really shines as part of a sequence of chained operations. For instance, imagine you’ve chained several calls to map and filter in a single statement, and during debugging you want to log the intermediate values somewhere in the middle of the chain. Inserting a forEach step at the desired position is probably the quickest way to do this.

I imagine there was a lot of wishful thinking at play when we wrote this because it sounds like a truly useful feature1 (and it’s something you can’t do with a for-in loop). Alas, it’s completely wrong — you can’t use forEach in the middle of a chain like this!

# How I’d like it to work

To illustrate the idea with a code sample, let’s say we have chained a number of operations on a sequence:

let numbers = 1...10
let sumOfSquaredEvenNumbers = numbers
.filter { \$0 % 2 == 0}
.map { \$0 * \$0 }
.reduce(0, +)
// → 220

Now suppose we wanted to check that each of the operations in the chain does what we expect. It’d be really neat if we could insert a call like .forEach { print(\$0) } somewhere in the middle of that chain to inspect the elements that come out of the filter and/or map operations.

Why doesn’t forEach support this? To appear in the middle of the chain, it would have to return some kind of Sequence such that the next operation in the chain has something to operate. Because the return type of forEach is (), it can only appear at the end of the chain.

# A forEach variant that returns Self

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to add this functionality. All we need is a method on Sequence that calls the passed-in function once for each element (like forEach) and then returns itself so that the chain can continue as if nothing happened. In other words, the method’s return type should be Self. I chose to call it forEachPerform to avoid ambiguities between it and the original forEach during type checking:

extension Sequence {
/// Perform a side effect for each element in `self`.
func forEachPerform(_ body: (Element) throws -> ())
rethrows -> Self
{
try forEach(body)
return self
}
}

Unlike forEach, we can insert this method into the chain like so:

let sumOfSquaredEvenNumbers = numbers
.filter { \$0 % 2 == 0}
.forEachPerform { print(\$0) }
.map { \$0 * \$0 }
.reduce(0, +)
/* Prints:
2
4
6
8
10
*/

I also found it useful to add a second method, which calls its function argument only once for the entire sequence and not once per element:

extension Sequence {
/// Perform a side effect.
func perform(_ body: (Self) throws -> ())
rethrows -> Self
{
try body(self)
return self
}
}

This is perfect for logging each intermediate result:

let sumOfSquaredEvenNumbers = numbers
.filter { \$0 % 2 == 0}
.perform { print("After filter: \(\$0)") }
.map { \$0 * \$0 }
.perform { print("After map: \(\$0)") }
.reduce(0, +)
/* Prints:
After filter: [2, 4, 6, 8, 10]
After map: [4, 16, 36, 64, 100]
*/

# Self-consuming sequences

The new methods return self unchanged, so inserting them into a chain should be totally transparent. But note that the Sequence protocol makes no guarantees that implementations produce the same sequence of elements when iterated repeatedly.

Most conforming types obviously do guarantee this (like Array), but suppose you have a Sequence that represents an incoming byte stream from a network socket: calling forEachPerform or perform on it will consume the sequence, leaving no bytes to process for subsequent operations.

If that’s a problem for you, you could either have the methods return an Array<Element> (thereby implicitly turning destructive sequences into repeatable ones) or to add the new methods on Collection (which does guarantee non-destructive iteration).

# Making it lazy

Another not-quite-transparent side effect of forEachPerform is that it doesn’t work well with lazy sequences.

The idea of a lazy sequence is that it should defer all work to produce the next element until the last possible moment, i.e. when an operation further down the chain actually requests that element. By looping over each element in the implementation of forEachPerform, we destroy any laziness the incoming sequence may have had.

To preserve the laziness, we can define our own lazy iterator and sequence types, named LazyForEachIterator and LazyForEachSequence. These work exactly like similar types in the standard library: instead of executing the side effect function immediately, they store the function and the incoming sequence, and then they wait until someone requests the next element. Only then will they in turn ask the base sequence for its next element and process it.

The code looks like this:

struct LazyForEachIterator<Base: IteratorProtocol>
: IteratorProtocol
{
mutating func next() -> Base.Element? {
guard let nextElement = base.next() else {
return nil
}
perform(nextElement)
return nextElement
}
var base: Base
let perform: (Base.Element) -> ()
}

struct LazyForEachSequence<Base: Sequence>
: LazySequenceProtocol
{
func makeIterator()
-> LazyForEachIterator<Base.Iterator>
{
return LazyForEachIterator(
base: base.makeIterator(),
perform: perform)
}
let base: Base
let perform: (Base.Element) -> ()
}

Notice that our sequence type conforms to LazySequenceProtocol. This protocol inherits from Sequence. Its purpose is to provide lazy implementations of normally-eager operations.

When you call a method like map on a value that conforms to LazySequenceProtocol, the compiler will favor the lazy variant of map over the non-lazy version because one of Swift’s type inference rules is to pick the most specific overload that works under the given constraints.

To achieve the same effect for our method, we can extend LazySequenceProtocol with a variant of forEachPerform that returns a lazy sequence:

extension LazySequenceProtocol {
func forEachPerform(_ body: @escaping (Element) -> ())
-> LazyForEachSequence<Self>
{
return LazyForEachSequence(base: self,
perform: body)
}
}

This method differs in several aspects from the non-lazy version:

• The function parameter must be @escaping because we’re storing it.
• It doesn’t support throwing functions because that wouldn’t work with lazy evaluation.
• The return value is not marked as discardable because a lazy operation that no one ever executes later doesn’t make any sense.

But the most important charateristic is what we discussed above: the method doesn’t perform any work except storing the base sequence and the function for later.

With this in place, forEachPerform will preserve the laziness of a sequence (notice the .lazy call):

.lazy
.filter { \$0 >= 5 }
.forEachPerform { print("After filter: \(\$0)") }
.map { \$0 * \$0 }
// Prints nothing

Note: Actually, this exact code produces a compile error in Swift 4.0: “ambiguous use of ‘forEachPerform’”. It only works as shown here if I change the return type of Sequence.forEachPerform from Self to [Element]. I’m not quite sure why that is. As a workaround, you could give LazySequenceProtocol.forEachPerform a unique name.

Only when we access elements from the lazy sequence will the side effects for those elements be printed:

// Access the first two elements
/* Prints:
After filter: 5
After filter: 6
*/
// → [25, 36]

# Conclusion

I really like being able to inject side effects into method chains, even if I almost never use this for anything other than debugging. And although print-based debugging is arguably anachronistic, I still use it all the time.

Perhaps you find this useful too.

PS: Chris and I wrote the last words for the Swift 4 edition of Advanced Swift a few days ago. There’s still some final production work to do, but the book will be out real soon now™.

1. RxSwift has a similar operator called debug↩︎