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Manual Reference Pages  -  CLASS::TANGRAM::CONTAINERS (3)

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Class::Tangram::Containers - information on the new container methods



The way that Class::Tangram accessors work for ‘collection’ types changed radically since the last CPAN release.

They can now all respond to the same signals, regardless of whether they are being implemented by a Set::Object, array or a hash in the data schema. Being able to hide the characteristics of the underlying data structure is generally considered a Good Thing(tm), so the features have stuck.


These features were, believe it or not, partially inspired by a short PHP job I did last year.

You see, one thing that PHP does very well is associative arrays. They behave very much like Tie::ixHash ordered hashes; a single associative array can be accessed numerically OR with a key, with sensible default behaviour when you change the way you access it ‘mid-flight’.

It is actually a fairly rare condition where you actually need an ordered hash. But pragmatically, not having to care whether you were passing a hash or an array around really started to become handy. I found myself using it more often than I thought I would, and this subtle linguistic difference in PHP paying off handsomely here and there.

There I was thinking that I had been blind not to realise that PHP could have been a much more sensible language for most things - until I actually started to use it, and I started to come across the many nasty bodges at the language design level that PHP is infested with. Languages without a decent convention or method of encapsulation suck, which is just one of the many reasons why PHP sucks. But don’t get me started on that.

Actually, encapsulation was my primary motivation for writing Class::Tangram in the first place, to avoid the breaking of it I saw all the way through the Tangram guided tour (which obviously Jean-Louis did for the sake of brevity, not because he likes flaunts OO principles).

But back to the main point; PHP took two similar types of collections - indexed arrays and associative arrays - and coaxed them into equivalence.

So, I’m attempting to apply a similar principle with associations with Class::Tangram.

    Associations, ordering, and multiplicity

An ‘association’ is some kind of relationship between two things. In Class::Tangram terms, this means a reference, set, array or hash to another object.

The ‘multiplicity’ of a relationship describes the number of items that exist on either end of the relationship.

The ‘ordering’ of a relationship describes what, if any, <B>indicesB> apply to the elements in the collection.

To summarise the available types in Class::Tangram and Tangram;

   1. reference, an unordered * to 1 association
   2. set,       an unordered * to * association
   3. iset,      an unordered 1 to * association
   4. array,     an   ordered * to * association
   5. iarray,    an   ordered 1 to * association
   6. hash,       a   keyed   * to * association
   7. ihash,      a   keyed   1 to * association

(note: Tangram 2.07.1 or later required for storage of ihash)

    Defining a common message set

So how do we go about making Sets, References, Arrays and Hashes manipulextrous?

Jean-Louis’ Set::Object class defines the operations applicable to unordered collections - where each object may only exist once in the collection (if objects could exist in it twice, it would be called a bag, but personally I’ve never wanted to use this type of collection where an ordered collection like an array would not suffice).

Those operations are:


[All the other methods of Set::Object do not affect the invocant Set::Object, so I’m not concerned with them.]

In Class::Tangram version 1.04 (? I think - somewhere like that :)), the keen eyed/clairvoyant Class::Tangram user may have noticed that I added corresponding $instance->attribute_foo() functions, where foo is a function from the above list. All in the name of encapsulation.

So you’d replace

   $obj->{set}->insert(@objs) with $obj->set_insert(@objs);
   $obj->{set}->includes(@x)  with $obj->set_includes(@x);
   $obj->{set}->members()     with ($obj->set)
   $obj->{set}->size()        with $obj->set_size();
   $obj->{set}->remove(@objs) with $obj->set_remove(@objs);
   $obj->{set}->clear()       with $obj->set_clear()

You may notice that the ‘members’ method is conspicuously absent from the Class::Tangram auto-defined functions; I decided that array vs scalar context was explicit enough. In scalar context, you still get the container back, if you need it.

My primary motivation for this was that I wasn’t happy with dealing with the container objects in my application logic. It seemed to be a kind of implicit violation of encapsulation, to assume that an attribute of an object was a set, and could therefore have all these ->insert() etc methods called on it.

Just think - if you changed a set attribute to an array, you would have to do something really hairy with overloading or tie to present an array as a set, or face re-writing the code that uses it.

However, using the Class::Tangram autogenerated methods, you could just write the $obj->attribute_insert(), $obj->attribute_includes, etc functions to remain backwards compatibility with an unknown quantity of application logic that assumed that the attribute was a set. Of course, it would not help going the other way. This still perplexed me.

At about the same time, I made ‘array’ and ‘hash’ attribute types do something similar;

   @{$obj->{array}}       would become ($obj->array)
   $obj->{array}->[7]     would become $obj->array(7)
   @{$obj->{array}}[7,42] would become ($obj->array(7,42))

Of course, in scalar context it still returned the ARRAY reference, so these would also work, if it suited you:

   @{$obj->{array}}       could also become @{$obj->array}
   $obj->{array}->[7]     could also become $obj->array->[7]
   @{$obj->{array}}[7,42] could also become @{$obj->array}[7,42]

Similarly with HASH collections;

  %{$obj->{hash}}        would become ($obj->hash)
  $obj->{hash}->{$key}   would become $obj->hash($key)
  @{$obj->{hash}}{@keys} would become ($obj->hash(@keys))

[note: the second of those probably didn’t even work due to a
scalar/list context bug, fixed in this release]

So, in some sense this is already blurring the distinction between hash and array attributes - in list context, you’re getting back a list of objects, and fetching them by ID (be it numerical or textual) is performed in the same way. But how do we make them really, really fantastically identical?

Well, make them all conform to the same ‘interface’, of course. Unfortunately interface definitions are absent from a Perl programmer’s lexical toolset.

The nicest way to solve this problem would be to make a generic ‘‘Container’’ class, that Set::Object, Ref::Object, Array::Object and Hash::Object derive from. This would provide a nice class structure to overload all of the collection manipulation operations, and us OO purists could go nuts. (note: to my knowledge, only Set::Object has actually been written, the builtin types generally serving the required functions).

Then, we could safely use $object->collection->insert(Foo) and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, Perl’s inbuilt Classes for RV’s (Reference Values - the type of scalar that ‘ref($scalar)’ returns a true value to), hashes and arrays are not subject to manipulation using OO terms. Heritable::Types goes some of the way, but cannot apply to unblessed structures.

For now I’ve taken what seems to be the easy way out, and am defining $object->collection_insert(), $object->collection_clear(), etc functions for all the collection types. These can easily be emulated with wrappers calling $object->collection->insert() once the above module is finished.

    Available methods for collections

So, now the following functions are recommended for general use; these collectively form the Class::Tangram collection interface definition.
<B>Inserting into a collectionB>

  $object->foo_insert([$key => ] $value)

  instead of push @{$object->foo}

          or @{$object->foo} =
                 ( @{$object->foo}[0 .. $key-1],
                   @{$object->foo}[$key .. $#{$object->foo}] )
           [these four lines of nonsense are just inserting into an
            array, of course]

          or $object->foo->{$key} = $value
          or $object->set->insert($value)
          or $object->set_foo($value)

A key is detected in the passed parameters by virtue of being a flat value rather than a reference. Keys provided for (non-keyed) Set::Object and reference containers are silently ignored. If a string key is provided for an array type, then it is silently converted to a PUSH to the end of the array. If a numeric key is provided for a hash key, then it is treated as a string.

Inserting an object into a reference collection - which can only contain one element - is a different matter. This generates a run time warning that your container has overflowed. If necessary, the object which is ‘pushed out’ is ‘told’ of the fact - see the later section on COMPANION CLASSES.

<B>Replacing an existing value in a collectionB>

  $object->foo_replace([$key =>] $value)

  instead of $object->foo->[$key] = $value    # i?array
          or $object->foo->{$key} = $value    # i?hash
          or $object->{foo}       = $value    # ref
          or $object->foo->insert($value)     # i?set

Keys used in non-keyed sets are ignored. A key is detected in the passed parameters by virtue of being a scalar.

Note that for unordered sets, this function is exactly equivalent to $object->foo_insert($value)

<B>Removing an object from a collectionB>

  $object->foo_remove($key | $value);

<B>Testing for the presence of an item in a collectionB>

  $object->foo_includes($key | $value);

<B>Testing for the number of items in a collectionB>


<B>Emptying a collectionB>


<B>Setting a collection to consist of only a single objectB>


Companion associations

Right. Now you’ve got all that, the first application of it; companion associations.

If you add the special keyword ‘companion’ to an attribute definition, the ‘set_attribute’ function will do something special; on every update of the attribute, it will compare the members of the collection before and after.

Objects that are new will have their ‘companion_insert’ method called. Objects that are gone will have their ‘companion_remove’ method called.

See the test script t/04-containers.t for a few examples of what this does.


Class::Tangram, Tangram
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perl v5.20.3 CLASS::TANGRAM::CONTAINERS (3) 2005-11-29

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