Scala Intro

Week 2: HOF

Week 2 Outline: Higher Order Functions

Lecture 2.1: Higher-Order Functions:

FP languages treat functions as first class values

  • function can be passed as a parameter and returned as a result
  • higher order functions take other functions as parameters or return functions as results, as opposed to first order functions

There are many variations of the pattern, $\sum_{x=1}^n f(x)$, and we can generalize this pattern using higher order functions

  • nest the f(x) from above, as a parameter, into a general sum function
  • Function below takes sum of f(x), from a to b
  • Function takes as input: a function, and limits a and b
    def sum(f: Int => Int, a: Int, b:Int): Int = {
        if (a>b) 0 else f(a) + sum(f,a+1, b)}
    def cube(x:Int): Int = {x*x*x}
    def sumCubes(a: Int, b: Int):Int = {
      sum(cube, a, b)

Note the use of function type in the above function, f: A => B

  • Indicates that f takes in a value of type A and returns a value of type B

Anonymous Functions

  • Getting around writing separate auxillary functions to pass as f(x) to a function like sum.

  • Think about passing strings to functions, like print(). We do not need to define a str value prior to passing to print()

  • because strings exist as literals. Analogously, function literals let us write a function without giving it a name

    # anonymous function syntax
    (x: Int) => x*x*x
  • (x:Int), lhs, is the parameter, and x*x*x,rhs, is the body

  • SumInts and SumCubes using anonymous function, using def of sum above:

    def sumInts(a: Int, b:Int)= sum(x=>x, a, b)
    def sumCubes(a: Int, b:Int)= sum(x:Int =>x*x*x, a, b)

Exercise: Write tail recursve version of sum

def sum(f: Int => Int, a: Int, b: Int): Int = {

   def loop(a: Int, acc: Int): Int = {
       if (a>b) acc else loop(a+1, acc+f(a) )
   loop(a, 0)

Lecture 2.2: Currying:

Special form for writing higher-order functions: Currying

  • sum function above: first parameter represents the f(x)
  • a and b get passed unchanged to sum()
def sumInts(a: Int, b: Int) = {
  sum(x => x, a, b)

Functions Returning Functions

-- new implementation of sum: Higher Order Function

def sum(f: Int => Int): (Int, Int) => Int = {
   def sumF(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
       if (a>b) 0
       else f(a) + sum(f)(a + 1, b)

-- directly apply new implementation
sum(x => x*x*x)(1,10)

-- or define new functions to apply later
def sumInts = sum(x => x)
def sumCubes = sum(x => x * x * x)
def sumFactorials = sum(fact)

More concise definition/application: Using Multiple Parameter Lists

  • We can avoid writing the intermediate function, sumCube using multiple parameter groups
  • The function sum() takes in a function and also retuns a funtion
  • the returned function,sumF, applies the given function parameter, f, and sums the results
-- more concise definition of sum 

def sum(f: Int => Int)(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
   if (a>b) 0 else f(a) + sum(f)(a+1,b)
  • The recursive sum is called with two sets of parameter lists
  • the sum function takes in one argument and returns a partial application of itself with f fixed in the closure scope


  • Functions with multiple, n, parameter lists are equivalent to a function with no parameter list, but whose body consists of n nested anonymous functions
  • This style of definition and function application where every function is mapped to an expression consisting of anonymous functions.
  • All curried functions return partial applications, but not all partial applications are the result of curried functions.

Note that functional types associate to the right

  • Int => Int => Int == Int => (Int => Int)

Some resources on 1) Currying, 2) Partial Function Application, and 3) Multiple Parameter Groups

  • Currying
    • “Currying is the process of converting a function with multiple arguments into a sequence of functions that take one argument.Each function returns another function that consumes the following argument”
  • Partially Applied Functions/Currying
  • The Function Environment Problem
    • common issue, like in the sum method, where there is a function which has some additional parameters which need to be fixed before the function can actually be used

Exercise: Write a product function that calculates the product of the values of a function from the points on a given interval

// Not tail recursive!
def product(f: Int => Int)(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
   if (a>b) 1
   else f(a) * product(f)(a+1,b)

Exercise: Write factorial in terms of product()

def fact(n: Int):Int = {
  if (n==1) 1 
  else product(x: Int => x)(1,n)

Exercise: Generalize sum() and product(): mapReduce()

// here, combine is like the reducer
// f is like the map function 

def mapReduce(f: Int => Int, combine: (Int, Int) => Int, zero:Int)(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
   if (a>b) zero
   else combine( f(a),mapReduce(f, combine, zero)(a+1,b))
// Redefine product()
def product(f: Int => Int)(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
   mapReduce(f, (x,y) => x*y, 1)(a,b)
// Redefine sum()
def sum(f: Int => Int)(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
  mapReduce(f, (x,y) => x+1, 0)(a,b)

  • combine parameter defines how values are combined or reduced in the recursive call
  • zero paramter defines what value to return in the degenerate case, when the interval is 0

Lecture 2.3: Finding Fixed Points:

A number x is called a Fixed point of a function if f(x) = x

  • for some functions, we can locate the fixed points by iteratively applying f to a given initial estimate, x
  • x, f(x), f(f(x)),… until the values does not vary anymore, given some epsilon

Iterative Fixed Point Estimate of Square Root Using “Damping”

  • Note the use of currying and higher order functions
val tolerance = 0.0001

def isCloseEnought(x: Double, y: Double) = {
  abs( (x-y)/x ) / x < tolerance

def fixedPoint(f: Double => Double)(firstGuess: Double) = {

  def iterate(guess: Double): Double = {
    val next = f(guess)
    if (isCloseEnough(guess, next)) next 
    else iterate(next)


Previously, we saw that the expressive power of a language increases if we can pass functions as arguments

  • also the case for functions that return functions

Recall square root

  • sqrt(x) is the fixed point of the function, f(y) = x/y == y
    • y => x / y
  • suggests we can calculate sqrt(x) by iteration towards fixed point
    def sqrt(x: Double) = {
      fixedPoint(y => x/y)(1.0)
  • unfortunately, this does not converge
  • one solution: Average Damping –> f(y) => (y + x/y)/2
    • note that the technique of stabalizing by averaging is general enough to be abstracted into its own function
    def averageDamp(f: Double => Double)(x: Double): Double => Double =
    { (x + f(x))/2 }
    • This takes a function as an input, and returns a function as an output

Notes on root finding methods (Fixed point iteration)

Write square root using average damp and fixed point

def sqrt(x: Double) = {

  // fixed point takes two args: 1) function 2) initial guess
  // average damp takes function and returns function

  fixedPoint(averageDamp(y => x /y))(1)


Lecture 2.5: Functions and Data

Ways to use functions to compose and abstract data: introducing objects and classes

Consider a class for rational numbers

// simple class example

class Rational(x: Int, y: Int) {
  def numer = x
  def denom = y

// more complex class, implementing rational arithmetic

class Rational(x: Int, y: Int) {
    require(y != 0, "denominator must be non-zero")

    def this(x: Int) = this(x, 1)

    // automatically simplify fracation upon entry
    private def gcd(a: Int, b: Int): Int = {
        if (b==0) a else gcd(b, a%b)
    private val g = gcd(x,y)

    def numer = x/g
    def denom = y/g

    // method for pretty printing
    override def toString(r: Rational) = {
      r.numer + "/" + r.denom

    // method for adding rationals
    def add(that:Rational) = {
        new Rational(
            numer * that.denom + that.numer * denom, 
            denom * that.denom)

    // alternative for adding, using **symbolic identfier**
    def + (that:Rational) = {
        new Rational(
            numer * that.denom + that.numer * denom, 
            denom * that.denom)

    // method to return the negative of a rational
    def neg(r: Rational) = {
      new Rational(-1*r.numer, r.denom)

    //method to subtract two rationals (add the neg)
    def sub(that:Rational) = {

    // metod to determine if one rational is less than another
    def less(that:Rational) = {
        numer * that.denom < that.numer * denom

    // methiod for finding max between two rationals
    def max(that:Rational) = {
        if (this.less(that)) that else this

This definition introduces Two new entities

  • a new Type called Rational
  • a new constructor called Rational, to create elements of this type
  • note that Scala keeps different names for types and values in different namespaces, no conflict between two definitions of Rational

Notes on Objects

  • a type is a set of values
  • elements of a class type are objects
  • val x = new Rational(1,2) is an object
  • Members of an object:
    • x.numer and x.denom
  • Methods
    • functions that are packaged into classes

Lecture 2.6: More Fun with Rationals

Previous example of Rational class did not have a method to simplify the results from the add method

  • we could call a simplify method after any addition operation

  • a better alternative, because it does not necessitate coupling the add method with a simplify whenever the first is called, is to simplify the representation of the class when object is constructed

  • Note that in the implementation above gcd() is defined as a private method, indicating that clients of class, Rational, will not be able to acess this method.

  • note that on the inside of a class, this represent the object on which the current method is executed.

  • members of a class can also be referenced with this. prefix.

How to prevent users from instantiating irrational numbers, like 1/0

  • note the Require predefined function
  • if not fulfilled, scala will throw IllegalArgumentException
  • besides require there is also assert
    val x = sqrt(y)
  • like require, a failing assert also throws a an exception, a AssertionError
  • difference in intent: require is a precondition, and assert is a check on the code of the function itself.


  • a class implicitly introduces a constructor called the primary constructor, which:
    • takes paramters of class
    • executes all statements in class body

Scala can include multiple constructors for a class

  • note def this(x: Int) = this(x, 1) above
  • This represents an alternative constructor, which is utilitzed when an instance of Rational is constructed with only one argument, x
  • when this used as a function, indicates a new constructor for the class in addition to primary one.
    • notice that the new constructor function calls the primary constructor

Note that if, in the Rational class, rationals are kept unsimplified internally, and only simplified when rationals are converted to strings. Do clients observe the same behavior when interacting?

  • yes, for small sizes of denominators and numerators and small numbers of operations.
  • thus, better to simplify internal values as early as possible to alleviate strain on later computations.

Lecture 2.7: Evaluation and Operators

Previously defined the meaning of a function application using a substitution based computation model, now we extend this model to classes and objects

  • how is an instantiation of the class new C(e1,...,em) evaluated?
  • the expression args, e1,...,em are evaluated first

Given, class, C, and method, f:

class C(x1,...,xm) {
    def f(y1,...,yn = b)

how is new C(v1,...,vm).f(w1,...,wn) evaluated?

  • first, the arguments of f are substituted by the arguments, w1,...,wn
  • then, the arguments of the instantation of C, x1,...,xm, are substituted with v1,...,vm and evaluated
  • finally, the reference, this, in the function call, f, is replaced with the newly instantiated object, new C(v1,...,vn)
  • resulting in the evaluated version of f(w1,...,wm), with any inner references to the class instance attributes also evaluated

note that evaluation happens in the order of:

  • 1) method parameters
  • 2) class arguments
  • 3) class reference in any class methods

Infix Notation

  • Scala supports infix notation
  • Any method with a parameter can be used like an infix operator
  • r add s same as r.add(s)

Relaxed Identifiers

  • Scala supports both alphanumeric and symbolic identifiers (“+?%&” or “counter_++” for example)
  • If we want to replcae the neg method with a - prefix, there is an issue. The prefix operator, -, is different from the infix operator, -, referring to subtraction. Must call it unary minus

Precedence Rules

  • precedence of an operator is determined by its first character
  • a+b^?c?^d less a ==> b |c –> ((a+b)^?(c?^d)) less ((a ==> b) | c)

Assignment 2 This assignment works with a functional representation of sets based on the mathematical notion of characteristic functions.

Miguel Rivera-Lanas
Data Scientist / Engineer

Currently a Data Scientist/Engineer at a hedge fund. Primarily focused on empirical methods to study quantitative and social effects of disinformation propagation, content moderation systems, and computational social science generally.