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Cursed curried Elixir

In Curried Elixir, I said this:

We're going to do this by wrapping my_fun in a chain of anonymous functions, each binding exactly one name:

curried_fun =
  fn (a) ->
    fn (b) ->
      fn (c) ->
        my_fun.(a, b, c)

And then went on implementing curry as a recursive function. But what if I actually want my curried function to be a chain of anonymous functions, and get rid of this recursive call?

The obvious thing to do would be to try to implement this as a macro instead. But I think we can do better than this.

First, let's look at the AST for the curried_fun above:

iex> quote do
...>   fn (a) ->
...>     fn (b) ->
...>       fn (c) ->
...>         my_fun.(a, b, c)
...>       end
...>     end
...>   end
...> end
#                ▼ metadata                ▼ nested anonymous function
{:fn, [], [{:->, [], [[{:a, [], Elixir}], {:fn, [], [{:->, ...}]}]}]}
#                      ▲ list of parameters

This might look a bit messy, but there really isn't much going on:

{:fn, [], # The definition with an empty list of metadata
   {:->, [],
      [{:a, [], Elixir}], # Left-hand side of `->`, the head of the anonymous function
      {:fn , [], # Right-hand side of `->`, the body of the anonymous function

Building the AST

Just to get started, let's see if we can write a function that generates this AST for us. We want this function to take as arguments the length of the chain and the body of the innermost function in the chain:

def make_chain(length_, body) do
  Enum.reduce(1..length_, body, fn x, acc ->
    {:fn, [], [{:->, [], [[{:"arg#{x}", [], nil}], acc]}]}

Or better, use Macro.generate_unique_arguments/2 to generate the list of parameters for us:

defmodule Func do
  def make_chain(length_, body) do
    |> Macro.generate_unique_arguments(nil)
    |> Enum.reverse() # Without this, the outermost function would get the last argument, which could make things confusing
    |> Enum.reduce(body, fn arg, acc ->
      {:fn, [], [{:->, [], [[arg], acc]}]}

We can use Macro.to_string/1 to check if this works as expected:

iex> Macro.to_string(make_chain(2, "Foo"))
"fn arg1 -> fn arg2 -> \"Foo\" end end"

Perfect! 🎉

We have one thing left to do before we can start rewriting curry: we need to generate the AST to call fun. This is actually pretty easy:

iex> quote do: fun.(a, b)
{{:., [], [{:fun, [], Elixir}]}, [], [{:a, [], Elixir}, {:b, [], Elixir}]}

All we need is Macro.generate_unique_arguments/2 and to get the arity of fun:

iex> fun = &Map.get/2
iex> {:arity, arity} =, :arity)
iex> params = Macro.generate_unique_arguments(arity, nil)
iex> Macro.to_string({{:., [], [{:fun, [], nil}]}, [], params})
"fun.(arg1, arg2)"

Evaluating the AST

We now know how to generate the AST for our curried function. For the next step, we need to figure out how to use it!

If you're scared of defmacro/2 and unquote/1, don't worry. We don't need any of that. Everyone knows macros are scary.

You know what's not scary? Runtime evaluation!

With Code.eval_quoted/2, we should finally be able to write our curry function:

defmodule Func do
  def curry(fun) do
    {:arity, arity} =, :arity)
    params = Macro.generate_unique_arguments(arity, nil)
    body_ast = {{:., [], [{:fun, [], nil}]}, [], params}

    {curried_fun, _} =
      |> Enum.reverse()
      |> Enum.reduce(body_ast, fn arg, acc ->
        {:fn, [], [{:->, [], [[arg], acc]}]}
      |> Code.eval_quoted(fun: fun)


Does it work?

iex> curried_sum = Func.curry(fn x, y -> x + y end)
iex> curried_sum.(1).(2)
iex> Func.curry(&Map.get/2).(%{foo: "bar"}).(:foo)

It does! 🎉 Who needs macros??