Immutable Singly Linked List

The data structure that is employed by practically every functional programming language is singly linked list. Operations defined for the list are pure which makes the list immutable. None of the operations modify the existing list, but always return a new version of it. Structural sharing makes these operations efficient.

The figure below depicts two sequences [1, 2, 3] and [4, 2, 3] which share the same suffix [2, 3].

graph LR A(First = 1) -->|Rest| B(First = 2) B -->|Rest| C(First = 3) C -->|Rest| D[null] E(First = 4) -->|Rest| B

Since this data structure is useful in many algorithms and .NET framework does not provide one out-of-the-box, we define a minimal implementation here. We could use the System.Collections.Immutable Nuget package provided by Microsoft, but it brings with it a long chain of dependencies. So, we will roll our own implementation to limit the dependencies to .NET framework only.

namespace ExtensionCord
	using System;
	using System.Collections;
	using System.Collections.Generic;
	using System.Runtime.CompilerServices;
	using System.Text;

The Seq Class

For brevity, we will call the data structure Seq<T>. The name stands for sequence, an abstraction that represents a stream of data that can be traversed only forward. The class implements IEnumerable which is a similar abstraction, but inherently mutable.

	public class Seq<T> : IEnumerable<T>

First and Rest

The data structure has two parts: the first item (commonly also called as head) and the rest of the sequence (tail). The rest points to another sequence, which makes the data structure recursive. If the rest is null, then we are at the end of the sequence. An empty sequence is represented simply by null.

		public T First { get; private set; }
		public Seq<T> Rest { get; private set; }

		internal Seq (T first, Seq<T> rest)
			First = first;
			Rest = rest;

The | Operator

The pipe | operator constructs a new sequence by prepending a new item at the front. This is a O(1) operation since the rest part of the existing sequence is used as-is. Internally this operation uses the static Cons constructor.

		public static Seq<T> operator |(T first, Seq<T> rest) => 
			new Seq<T> (first, rest);

Constructing from IEnumerable

We cheat a bit when sequence is created from IEnumerable. The sequence is mutated when it is being constructed. This is ok, since we don't return the sequence to the caller until it is ready. So, from the caller's point of view, the sequence is immutable.

		public static Seq<T> FromEnumerable (IEnumerable<T> enumerable)
			Seq<T> prev = null, result = null;
			foreach (var item in enumerable)
				var curr = new Seq<T> (item, null);
				if (prev == null)
					result = curr;
					prev.Rest = curr;
				prev = curr;
			return result;

IEnumerable Implementation

By employing an iterator the IEnumerable implementation becomes trivial.

		public IEnumerator<T> GetEnumerator ()
			for (var node = this; node != null; node = node.Rest)
				yield return node.First;

		IEnumerator IEnumerable.GetEnumerator () => GetEnumerator();

Converting to String

A sequence can be printed as string. The parameters specify how the it is formatted. What opening and closing bracket are used, and what string separates the items.

		public string ToString(string openBracket, string separator, string closeBracket)
			var res = new StringBuilder(openBracket);
			for (var item = this; item != null; item = item.Rest)
				if (item.Rest != null)
			return res.ToString();

		public override string ToString() =>
			ToString("[ ", ", ", " ]");

Static Methods

The static methods are defined in the separate Seq class. This is a normal static class without any type parameters. We do this to avoid having to type the generic parameter when calling the static methods.

	public static class Seq

Is Sequence Empty

The test for empty sequence just checks if the parameter is null.

		public static bool IsEmpty<T> (this Seq<T> seq)
			return seq == null;

Constructing a Sequence

The simplest way to construct a sequence is to give the first item and the rest of the sequence. The second parameter can be omitted to create a sequence with a single item.

		public static Seq<T> Cons<T> (T first, Seq<T> rest = null) => 
			new Seq<T> (first, rest);

The following is a convenience method that extends IEnumerable with a way to convert it to sequence.

		[MethodImpl (MethodImplOptions.AggressiveInlining)]
		public static Seq<T> ToSeq<T> (this IEnumerable<T> enumerable)
			return Seq<T>.FromEnumerable (enumerable);

Removing an Item

Removing an item is not a cheap operation since it requires at least a part of the sequence to be copied. It also uses recursion, so this method should be used only with very short sequences. If you try to use it with a too long sequence, you will get a stack overflow exception.

		public static Seq<T> Remove<T> (this Seq<T> seq, T item)
			if (seq == null)
				throw new ArgumentException ("Item not found in sequence.");
			if (seq.First.Equals (item))
				return seq.Rest;
			return Cons (seq.First, Remove (seq.Rest, item));

Searching for an Item

Searching is also a trivial operation, but O(n) in complexity.

		public static bool Contains<T> (this Seq<T> seq, T item)
			var s = seq;
			while (!(s == null || s.First.Equals (item)))
				s = s.Rest;
			return s != null;