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Lambda Tutorial

Introduction#

A lambda is like a function in a variable. It is an alternative way to define a certain kind of anonymous class to help make your code a lot shorter, cleaner, and easier to understand. You can create a lambda for a type which meets the following criteria:

  1. The type must be an interface.
  2. The interface must have exactly one abstract method.

For example, the following can never be expressed as a lambda:

class CannotBeALambdaBecauseAClass {
}
interface CannotBeALambdaBecauseNoAbstractMethod {
default void printHelloWorld() {
System.out.println("Hello World");
}
}
interface CannotBeALambdaBecauseTooManyAbstractMethods {
void printHelloWorld();
int returnAnswerToTheUniverse();
}

However, the following can be expressed as a lambda:

interface CanBeALambda {
void printHelloWorld();
}
interface CanBeALambda {
void printHelloWorld();
default int returnAnswerToTheUniverse() {
return 42;
}
}

To guarantee that a type can be expressed as a lambda, you may optionally annotate it with @FunctionalInterface. A "functional interface" is an interface that meets the requirements defined and demonstrated above. Some built-in functional interfaces in the JDK are Runnable, Callable, and Comparator. You can find many other useful interfaces in the java.util.function package.

Syntax and Usage#

Let's assume the following method which uses Function:

String process(Function<Integer, String> f) {
return f.apply(42);
}

Let's walk through this. We have a method, process, which accepts a Function as a parameter and returns a String. The parameter, f, is itself a function which accepts an Integer as a parameter and returns a String. A function which accepts another function as a parameter is sometimes called "higher order" (i.e., process is a higher order function). We'll see a lot of these in the future.

All the process method does is call the function f with a constant parameter 42. Although it is not valid syntax, you can think of this as being f(42).

Before Java 8, this method would have to be called like so:

process(new Function<Integer, String>() {
@Override
public String apply(Integer t) {
return t == 42 ? "The Universe" : "Doesn't matter!";
}
});

However, since Java 8, this method can be called with a statement lambda like so:

process(t -> {
return t == 42 ? "The Universe" : "Doesn't matter!"
});

The t is the input parameter, same as the t in the previous example. Since the Function defined in our example allows for a String return, we just simply make sure our statement return a String. Since in our current example our lambda only contains 1 statement, it can be shortened to an expression lambda:

process(t -> t == 42 ? "The Universe" : "Doesn't matter!");

If our process method required multiple parameters, we'd add to the t like (t, anotherParameter) -> and if there were no parameters, we'd use () -> instead.

Now, assume we had another method defined somewhere that looked like this:

String processInteger(Integer t) {
return t == 42 ? "The Universe" : "Doesn't matter!";
}

We can now call our process method with a "method reference" like so:

process(this::processInteger);

Functional Programming Lite#

As mentioned earlier, lambdas can be seen as a way to store functions in variables. For example, the following is valid:

Runnable runnable = () -> System.out.println("Hello World");

The runnable variable can now be passed and then called anywhere. The variable itself doesn't do anything, instead it defines how to do something. This idea of storing functions and passing them around is the starting block for functional programming which will be utilized a lot in moving forward with Discord4J.