Monday, September 2, 2013

4.2.1: A Trivial Iterator - Take three

Iterators are about movement across data, and what differentiates one class of iterators from another is the type of movement it allows. The Upto iterator is essentially a Forward iterator, it provides a way to move forward, to get the value at the current location, and a way to check if we have reached the end of the data.

type upto struct {
    m, n int

func Upto(m, n int) *upto {
    return &upto{m: m, n: n}

func (i *upto) Next() {

func (i *upto) AtEnd() bool {
    return i.m >= i.n

func (i *upto) Value() int {
    return i.m

As before, we use a struct to capture the state of the iterator. Three methods provide the functionality of the iterator: Value() gives us the value at the current location, Next() moves the iterator to the next location, and AtEnd() allows us to check if we've reached EOS. At the cost of a bit more of boilerplate, we now have an iterator with a well defined interface and no hidden behaviours.

func main() {
    for i := Upto(3, 5); !i.AtEnd(); i.Next() {

This design fits very well in the initialization, check, increment design of the standard for loop. Get the source at GitHub.

Formal design of iterators

Going forward this is the design that I will use, and I want to formalize it a bit more, especially with respect to types of iterators. These are all external iterators classified according to the movements they provide and how they define the boundaries of the data sets they provide access too.

Iterator interface {
    Value() interface{}
    Error() error

The basic interface is the Iterator. It simply provides two idempotent ways to access the value and last error raised.

Forward interface {
    Next() error
    AtEnd() bool

The Forward is a extension of the Iterator. It provides previously seen Next() method and AtEnd() method. This is a iterator to provide access to any lazily evaluated, potentially infinite stream of data. The stream must have a way to move forward, but whether it has any end at all is unanswered.

BiDirectional interface {
    Prev() error
    AtStart() bool

The BiDirectional is a Forward that allows us to move back in the stream with Prev() and check if we reached the start of the stream with AtStart(). AtStart() should be idempotent.

BoundedAtStart interface {
    First() error

BoundedAtStart is a Forward iterator that has a well defined beginning that it can be reset to in an efficient manner.

Bounded interface {
    First() error
    Last() error

Bounded is a BiDirectional with the ability to jump to the end of the data set quickly. This is e.g. a file on disk where we can quickly seek to the end of the file.

RandomAccess interface {
    Goto(int) error
    Len() int

The last class of iterators is the RandomAccess. It is a Bounded iterator with two more functions. Goto() provides a quick way to jump into any point in the dataset while Len() gives us a quick count of distinct elements in the data set.

To understand the difference between Bounded and RandomAccess think of a text file on the disk. If we want to iterate over the individual bytes in the file, RandomAccess will provide us all the tools needed with acceptable performance. If we want to iterate over the individual lines in the file, we have to do with a Bounded, since there is no efficient way to either count the individual lines or position them in the file.

This is the design I will use moving forward and to that end I've set up a new project on GitHub. Right now it only contains the definitions of iterator interfaces and a RandomAccess version of the Upto iterator, now named Range, but I will add more higher order algorithms and iterators to it as I progress through the chapter.