Intro to Unison datatypes and pattern matching

We've been applying pattern matching to literal values at this point. But pattern matching is frequently done on more complicated types, where we can use the cases of the pattern to decompose the data type into its constituent parts. Here we'll talk about Unison data types in the context of pattern matching.

Your first Unison data type

Let's take a look at a pre-made data type, Either. Either is used to represent situations in which a value can be one type or another.

In Unison, Either is defined in the base library like this (we'll break down what these parts mean shortly):

structural type Either a b
structural type Either a b
  = lib.base.Either.Right b
  | lib.base.Either.Left a

The keyword type indicates that we're looking at a type definition, as opposed to a term definition. Unison types are given a modifier of structural or unique--structural here means that types which share Either's structure are treated as identical to Either and therefore are interchangeable in Unison code, even if they're given a different name. Either is the name we've given to our type, and the two letters a and b are type parameters.

Type parameters in Unison are lowercase by convention. For example:

type Box a
type Box a = languageReference.destructuringBinds.Box.Box a
You can think of a and b as placeholders which represent any type. When we construct a value of type Either, we "fill in" the placeholder.

On the right hand side of the equals are the data constructors of the type. We use data constructors to create a value of the type being described, so to create an Either we have two options: Left or Right. They're separated by pipes |. When you see the pipe think "or."

In summary: you can read the line
structural type Either a b
structural type Either a b
  = lib.base.Either.Right b
  | lib.base.Either.Left a
as Either is a Left containing an a or a Right containing a b. Unison data types are often composed by slotting other Unison types into one data constructor or another. Sometimes those types are not specified, like for a and b in Either, and sometimes they're pinned down to a concrete type.

We'll return to explore more in-depth about data types later.

Decomposing data types with pattern matching

With our whirlwind intro to the parts of a data type behind us, we'll return to how to pattern match on the different data constructors of a given type.

Let's say we wanted a function to tell us which utensils should be paired with a lunch order. We'll use the following types:

type Lunch
type Lunch
  = fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Lunch.Soup Text
  | fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Lunch.Salad Text
  | fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Lunch.Mystery
      Text Boolean
type Utensil
type Utensil
  = fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Utensil.Fork
  | fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Utensil.Knife
  | fundamentals.controlFlow.patternMatching.Utensil.Spoon

Our function should take in a type Lunch as an argument and return a List of type Utensil. We know that there are only three ways to make a value of type Lunch, so we match on the data constructor name followed by the number of fields that the constructor contains.

placeSetting : Lunch -> [Utensil]
placeSetting = cases
  Soup soupName   -> [Spoon]
  Salad saladName -> [Fork, Knife]
  _               -> [Spoon, Fork, Knife]

Pattern matching on the data constructors of the type enables us to inspect and make use of the values they contain. In the example above we don't end up using the variables that are bound to the fields in the data, so we could have also represented them as underscores, like Soup _ -> [Spoon], but we can imagine a function where that would become important:

placeSetting : Lunch -> [Utensil]
placeSetting = cases
  Soup "Hearty Chunky Soup"   -> [Fork, Spoon]
  Soup _                      -> [Spoon]
  Salad _                     -> [Fork, Knife]
  Mystery mysteryMeal isAlive ->
    use Text ==
    if (mysteryMeal == "Giant Squid") && isAlive then [Knife]
    else [Spoon, Fork, Knife]

The first case is an example of how to combine a literal pattern match with a data constructor, and the second and third cases are an example of how to match on any value that Soup or Salad data constructor might enclose. Our last case extracts the values being provided to the Mystery data constructor as pattern match variables for use on the right.

Note, the underscores above represent the fact that the value being provided to the data constructor isn't important for the logic of our expression on the right. The underscores do, however, need to be present. Every parameter to the data constructor needs to be represented in the pattern either by a variable, as in our Mystery case, or by an underscore, otherwise Unison will return a pattern arity mismatch error.