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Currying JavaScript 🍛

March 27, 2017

Currying is the useful technique of transforming a function that takes multiple arguments into a sequence of functions that all take a single argument.

Have a look at this simple function that returns the slice of an Array:

function slice(from, to, xs) {
  return xs.slice(from, to);
}

slice(0, 2, [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);
// => [0, 1]

A curried version could look like this:

function sliceCurried(from) {
  return function(to) {
    return function(xs) {
      return xs.slice(from, to);
    };
  };
}

slice(0)(2)([0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);
// => [0, 1]

Let's write it more succinctly using arrow functions:

const sliceCurried = from => to => xs => xs.slice(from, to);

As you can see, the function has been transformed into taking its arguments one by one and returning a new function until the end result is reached.

It first takes the from argument, then returns a function that expects the to argument, then a function that expects the xs argument.

When to add Curry 🥄

The motivations for currying functions vary. One reason is the ability to pass a function some of its arguments at one point, and then pass the rest later. This can e.g. lead to reusability by being able to preset a function. Another reason is the ability to write expressive code.

Consider this example of using the curried function to implement a whole new take function:

const take = sliceCurried(0);

take(2)([0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);
// => [0, 1]

take(2)(['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e']);
// => ['a', 'b']

Or even more specific and expressive, a takeTwo function:

const takeTwo = take(2);

takeTwo([0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);
// => [0, 1]

takeTwo(['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e']);
// => ['a', 'b']

The fact that a function can easily be repurposed in an expressive way is a powerful feature. Remember, code is for humans to read. It's merely a side effect if the computers understand it too.

Jokes aside, which one is easiest to read an reason about?

slice(0, 2, [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);

takeTwo([0, 1, 2, 3, 4]);

I'd go for the latter of the two anytime.

Implementing a curry function 🔨

In reality it's impractical and unnecessary to pre-curry each function manually. It's often more suitable to use a utility function to curry functions when needed. Both lodash, Ramda and my own library bukk provide functions like this.

It turns out, it is not too difficult to implement a simple curry function. The one in bukk looks like this:

const curry = (f, recieved = [], arity = f.length) =>
  arity <= 0
    ? f.apply(undefined, recieved)
    : (...args) => curry(f, [...recieved, ...args], arity - args.length);

And is used like this:

const sliceCurried = B.curry(slice);

The implementation utilizes recursion to gradually collect the passed arguments until the function's arity reaches zero. At that point it terminates the recursion and applies the arguments to the function.

Notice that the implementation also allows for using the function in an uncurried way or in a partially curried way:

const add3 = (a, b, c) => a + b + c;
const add3Curried = B.curry(add3);

add3Curried(1)(3)(7);
// => 11

add3Curried(1, 3)(7);
// => 11

add3Curried(1)(3, 7);
// => 11

add3Curried(1, 3, 7);
// => 11

A note on argument order 🔀

One of the reasons our curried slice function is particularly reusable is that is "data last", e.i. the data that the function transforms is passed as the last argument.

It would not have been possible to implement a generic takeTwo function if the Array was passed as the first argument:

const sliceCurried = xs => from => to => xs.slice(from, to);

This website is authored by Christian. His full name is Christian Hamburger Grøngaard (that's right - Hamburger.)

Christian at Aurlandsfjellet
This is Christian on Aurlandsfjellet

Currently he works as a front-end developer at Escenic AS where he fights complexity in large applications for newsrooms. He's been developing for the Web on and off since the early 2000s, got a good eye for design and UX and used to pursue a more design-oriented career.

When Christian isn't glued to a screen he enjoys singing and playing the guitar, hiking and skiing as well as spending time with his family in the wonderful city of Oslo, Norway.

Christian's online presence includes a Flickr profile, a GitHub profile, a Last.fm profile, a LinkedIn profile and a Twitter profile.

Copyright © 2019 Christian Hamburger Grøngaard{src}RSS

Other Writings

  1. Conversations in Code
  2. Git (and how we Commit)
  3. Immutable JavaScript
  4. Hashes and Salts
  5. Currying JavaScript 🍛
  6. Choosing Redux