[Scala MOOC II] Lec4 - Timely Effects

this week: discuss how to handle events in user-interface — MVC, functional reactive programming.

Lecture 4.1 - Imperative Event Handling: The Observer Pattern

Traditional way of handling events: observer Pattern (MVC). Used when views need to react to change in a model.

MVC: model-view-controller for user interface

  • Views can announce themselves to a model (called "substribe")
  • Models can "publish" new informations to views
trait Publisher{ 
    private var subscribers: Set[Subscriber] = Set() 
    def subscribe(subscriber: Subscriber): Unit 
    def unsubscribe(subscriber: Subscriber): Unit 
    def publish(): Unit = subscribers.foreach(_.handler(this)) 
trait Substriber{ 
    def handler(pub: Publisher)  

make the BankAccount a Publisher:

create a Consolidator that displays bank accounts:

Advantages of MVC:

  • decouples views from stat
  • have varying number of views of a given state
  • simple to set up


  • forces imperative style since handlers are of Unit type
  • many moving parts that need to be coordinated
  • concurrency will be more complicated (ex. 2 models update one view at the same time)
  • Views are tightly bound to one state, view updates immediately

Lecture 4.2 - Functional Reactive Programming


  • reactive programming: react to seq of events that happen in time.
  • functional view: aggregate an event sequence to a signal.

In our simple API, the most important concept is Signal.


  • is a vlaue that changes over time
  • represented as a function mapping time to value domain
  • define new signals from existing ones (instead of having mutable state)

example: move mouse positions

event-based view:
whenever mouse moves, an event MouseMoved(toPos: Position) is fired

FRP view:
use a signal(function): mousePosition: Signal[Position] , which at any point represents a current mouse position

Signal opeartions

2 fundamental ops on signals:

  • obtain value of signal at current time (the apply function): mousePosition()
  • define a signal in term of another signal (constructor Signal(expr))

example: from the mouse curve signal, define a new signal indicating whether the curve is inside the rectangle or not.

def inReactangle(LL: Position, UR: Position): Signal[Boolean] =  
    Signal{val pos = mousePosition() // the mouse pos signal 
    LL<= pos && pos <= UR} 

use Signal(_value) to define a constant signal:

val sig = Signal(3) // constant signal

then define a subclass Var of Signal for changable signals, which has an update operation to redefine the value of a signal.

val sig = Var(3) 
sig.update(5) // update  

⇒ In scala, update is also a special function: assignments like a(e1,...en)=e are translated to a.update(e1...en, e). (Here the n could be 0, i.e. no arguments in the assignment expression).

→ So sig.update(5) can be re-written as sig()=5. The () is like dereferencing a varable.

Difference between Vars and mutable vars: we can map over signals, i.e. maintain a relation between 2 signals forever in the future, whereas using mutable vars have to propagate all updates manually.

example: bank account

add a signal balance to BankAccounts, define a function consolidated which takes sum of all balances of accounts in list.

class BankAccount { 
  val balance = Var(0) // a Var signal 
  def deposit(amount: Int): Unit = if(amount>0){ 
      val b = balance() 
      balance() = b + amount // otherwise cyclic definition of `balance` 
  def withdraw(amount: Int):Unit = 
    if(0<amount && amount<=balance()){ 
      val b = balance() 
      balance() = b - amount 
    }else throw new Error("insufficient balance") 

def consolidated(accts: List[BankAccount]):Signal[Int] = 

// similarly, define exange rate signals 
def xchange = Signal(246.0) 
def inDollar = Signal(c()*xchange) 

note the difference between var assignment and signal update:

  • v = v+1: the new value is old value + 1
  • s() = s() + 1: the s is a function that is always 1 larger than itself (cyclic definitions)

Lecture 4.3 - A Simple FRP Implementation

implementation of Singal and Var.

class API:

class Signal[T](expr: =>T){ 
  def apply(): T = ??? // s() give cur value 

object Signal{ 
  def apply[T](expr: =>T) = new Signal(expr) // construct new signal 

class Var[T](expr: =>T) extends Signal[T](expr){ 
  def update(expr: =>T):Unit = ??? // s()=expr for update 

object Var{ 
  def apply[T](expr: =>T) = new Var(expr) 

or more convientently:

  • use sig() get the signal's (current) value
  • use sig() = {new_expr} to update the signal's expression

implemention idea


each sig: Signal[T] maintains:

  • its *current value *

    private var myValue: T

  • its *current expression *

    private var myexpr: () => T

  • set of observers : other signals (callersigs) that depend on this.myValue — if this.myValue changes, all signals in this.observers should be re-evaluated

    private var observers: Set[Signal[_]]

  • protected function to re-evaluate value

protected def computeValue(): Unit

  • protected function to change expression

protected def update(expr: => T): Unit

How to record dependencies:

  • when evaluating a Signal, need to know which callersig gets defined by this
  • So we should add the caller to this.observers when apply is called (like: sig()).
  • if this.myValue changes (when calling computeValue()), all caller signals in this.observers are re-evaluated (callersig.computeValue()); and this.observers is cleared(!! see next item).
  • when callersigs re-evaluate their expression, the apply() method will add the callersig again to this.observers


How to find out who is calling so that a signal is evaluated ? simplistic way: maintain a global data structure (stack-fashion) referring to current caller: StackableVariable[Signal[T]].

caller is a global "stack" of callersigs that get poped/pushed.

The API of the StackableVariable[Signal[T]] class:

  • caller.value: Signal[T]:

get the callersig on top of stack, which depends on currently evaluating signal (this), and so should be added to this.observers.

  • caller.withValue(sig:Signal[T])(expr: () => [T]):

first add sig to the top of stack; then evaluate expr; finally pop sig off the stack.

Here is the implementation of the caller :

  • So whenever sig want to know who depends on it, it just use caller.value;

thus, in the apply method of Signals, we write like this:

def apply() = { 
  observers += caller.value // caller.value=top of stack, it depends on currenlty-evaluating value (this), so it should be added to this.observers 
  assert(!caller.value.observers.contains(this), "cyclic signal definition") 
  • And if sig want to depend on other signals, in order to write the expression(which includes other signals that sig depends on), it use: caller.withValue(this){expr...}

so in computeValue(), as this.myExpr may contain other signals that this depend on, we should write:

protected def computeValue(): Unit = {
    for (sig <- observed)
      sig.observers -= this
    observed = Nil
    val newValue = caller.withValue(this)(myExpr()) // withValue will add this to the top of stack, so when eval other signals, they know that it's this signal that depends on them
    if (myValue != newValue) { // re-evaluate all callersigs that depends on this
      myValue = newValue
      val obs = observers
      observers = Set() // clear observers for this: the callersigs may be added back in apply()
      obs.foreach(_.computeValue()) // here this.observers might be added with calersigs

problem: global stack is not good... especially for concurrency ⇒ replace global state by thread-local state.

Or use implicit parameteres: pass current value of the thread-local variable into a signal expr as implicit parameter.

Lecture 4.4/4.5 - Latency as an Effect

(I didn't quite get the point from this lecture on...)

when computation takes a lot of time: register a callback when computation terminates (either success or failure).

Future[T]: a monad that handles both exceptions and latency

trait Future[T] { 
def onComplete(callback: Try[T] =>Unit): Unit 

The callback use pattern matching:

ts match{ 
    case Success(t) => onNext(t) 
    case Failure(e) => onError(e) 

another option: give 2 callbacks, one for success, one for failure.

def onCompelet(success: T=>Unit, failed: Throwable => Unit): Unit

Lecture 4.6/4.7/4.8/4.9/4.10 - Combinators on Futures/Composing Futures

higher-order funcitons on Futures: map/filter/flatMap/...

recover/recoverWith for Error case ⇔ map/flatMap for Future.


retry: deal with failure...

turn recursion to foldleft/foldright...


  • lazy evaluation: infinite data structure
  • distinction between computations and values: random/signal are computations
  • monads: abstract over properties of computations, encapsulate mutations, ...

mix FP and mutable state

  • laziness
  • FRP
  • monads

exercice: calculator

Use Function Reactive Programming (FRP), with the Signal[A] class that you have seen in the lectures, to implement a spreadsheet-like calculator. In this calculator, cells can depend on the value of other cells, and are recomputed automatically when the latter change.


comments powered by Disqus