Steps to learning Reason OCaml

Myer Nore
Feb 25, 2018 - 5 min read


Variants are case constants for switch statements.

A Variant is a set of mutually exclusive cases to choose from.

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The expression type animal = Dog | Cat | Bird creates a composed type animal which consists of and three new types, Dog, Cat and Bird. The speak function has the type (pet: speakingAnimal): string, so it takes a speakingAnimal concrete type and it produces a string.

This is so common in ReasonML that there is some syntax sugar for making a function that matches based on a single argument, which is appropriately namd fun:

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If you want to know more about this syntax, see Single Argument Match Functions in the Reason docs.

Variant—Like Legos For Types

Variants let you combine types like legos, snapping them together.

The Variants above are constructed with zero parameters; Dog constructs a speakingAnimal type without providing any additional information.

It is also possible to declare Variants with take parameters, which allow for structured information to be conveyed in the type.

Imagine we wanted to capture contact information, and that we had a business rule that a person must have a primary contact and may have a secondary contact, and each contact method could be either verified or unverified, and valid contact types include email and phone. The following example lays out some types that can model this domain:

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In this example, the contactInfo variant has two type constructors. Unlike the Dog type constructor that didn't take any parameters, each contactInfo takes a single string as a parmeter: this means that you can't construct an Email or Phone without providing a string.

The verifiable variant takes a type and returns two types, one which is Verified, and one which is Unverified for that passed type. The verifiable variant doesn't need to know anything about the types it surrounds and conveys information for.

When we set up the user record type, we declare that contact1 must be a verifiableContactable, which is a type alias for either a verified or unverified email or phone.

By using the Single Argument Match Functions, it's easy to construct several render functions that can print all the combinations of users. Try adding some users above with different combinations, or changing the render format.

This example also features the option type, which is quite simple and heavily used. The option type represents either Some(something) or None. By representing an option this way, we can avoid three valued logic and know for sure whether something exists or not.

Variant—Trees of Types

Variants can even point to themselves, to convey a tree-like structure:

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Here are a few links to other sites that have discussed Variants in OCaml. Reminder: if you have reason-tools installed in Chrome, you can automatically convert between OCaml examples you see on the web and ReasonML.

Image Credit: CN Cabin D in Toronto, ON in September 1979 by Marty Bernard on Flickr

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