SqlJuxt – Implementing the builder pattern in F#

As an imperative programmer by trade a pattern that I often like to use is the builder pattern for building objects. This pattern is especially useful for test code.

The reasons the builder pattern is so useful is because:

  • It means you only have to “new” the object up in a single place meaning your test code effectively goes through an API (the builder API) to create the object
  • It makes you code really readable so you can understand exactly what it is doing without having to look into how the code works

In my SqlJuxt project I started by coding it in C#. I wanted a builder to make a table create script. This would mean that in my integration tests I could fluently create a script that would create a table and then I could run it in to a real database and then run the comparison. This makes the tests very readable and easy to write. In C# using the table builder looks like:

    var table = Sql.BuildScript()
                   .WithTableNamed("MyTable", t => t.WithColumns(c => c.NullableVarchar("First", 23)
                                                                       .NullableInt("Second")))

I think that is pretty nice code. You can easily read that code and tell that it will create a table named “MyTable” with a nullable varchar column and a nullable int column.

I wanted to achieve the same thing in F# but the catch is I did not just want to translate the C# in to F# (which is possible) I wanted to write proper functional code. Which means you should not really create classes or mutable types! The whole way the builder pattern works is you store state on the builder and then with each method call you change the state of the builder and then return yourself. When the build method is called at the end you use all of the state to build the object (note an implicit call to the Build method is not needed in the above code as I have overridden the implicit conversion operator).

I hunted around for inspiration and found it in the form of how the TopShelf guys had written their fluent API.

This is how using the table builder looks in F#:

    let table = CreateTable "TestTable"
                    |> WithNullableInt "Column1"
                    |> Build 

I think that is pretty sweet! The trick to making this work is to have a type that represents a database table. Obviously the type is immutable. The CreateTable function takes a name and then returns a new instance of the table type with the name set:

    let CreateTable name =
        {name = name; columns = []}

Then each of the functions to create a column take the table and a name in the case of a nullable int column and then return a new immutable table instance with the column appended to the list of columns. The trick is to take the table type as the last parameter to the function. This means you do not have to implicitly pass it around. As you can see from the CreateTable code above. The Build function then takes the table and translates it in to a sql script ready to be run in to the database.

Here is an example of a complete test to create a table:

    [<Fact>]
    let ``should be able to build a table with a mixture of columns``() =
       CreateTable "MultiColumnTable"
           |> WithVarchar "MyVarchar" 10
           |> WithInt "MyInt"
           |> WithNullableVarchar "NullVarchar" 55
           |> WithNullableInt "NullInt"
           |> Build 
           |> should equal @"CREATE TABLE [dbo].[MultiColumnTable]( [MyVarchar] [varchar](10) NOT NULL, [MyInt] [int] NOT NULL, [NullVarchar] [varchar](55) NULL, [NullInt] [int] NULL )
GO"

I think that test is really readable and explains exactly what it is doing. Which is exactly what a test should do.

If you want to follow along with the project then check out the SqlJuxt GitHub repository.

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