A Line of Boxes

Let's start with an example, drawing a line or row of boxes like in the image below.

Five boxes filled with Royal Blue

Let's define a box to begin with.

val aBox = Image.square(20).fillColor(Color.royalBlue)

Then one box in a row is just

val oneBox = aBox

If we want to have two boxes side by side, that is easy enough.

val twoBoxes = aBox.beside(oneBox)

Similarly for three.

val threeBoxes = aBox.beside(twoBoxes)

And so on for as many boxes as we care to create.

You might think this is an unusual way to create these images. Why not just write something like this, for example?

val threeBoxes = aBox.beside(aBox).beside(aBox)

These two definitions are equivalent, as we can see from substitution. We've chosen to write later images in terms of earlier ones to emphasise the structure we're dealing with, which is building up to structural recursion.

Writing images in this way could get very tedious. What we'd really like is some way to tell the computer the number of boxes we'd like. More technically, we would like to abstract over the expressions above. We learned in the previous chapter that methods abstract over expressions, so let's try to write a method to solve this problem.

We'll start by writing a method skeleton that defines, as usual, what goes into the method and what it evaluates to. In this case we supply an Int count, which is the number of boxes we want, and we get back an Image.

def boxes(count: Int): Image =

Now comes the new part, the structural recursion. We noticed that threeBoxes above is defined in terms of twoBoxes, and twoBoxes is itself defined in terms of box. We could even define box in terms of no boxes, like so:

val oneBox = aBox.beside(Image.empty)

Here we used Image.empty to represent no boxes.

Imagine we had already implemented the boxes method. We can say the following properties of boxes always hold, if it is correctly implemented:

The last three properties all have the same general shape. We can describe all of them, and any case for n > 0, with the single property boxes(n) == aBox.beside(boxes(n - 1)). So we're left with two properties

These two properties completely define the behavior of boxes. In fact we can implement boxes by converting these properties into code.

A full implementation of boxes is

def boxes(count: Int): Image =
  count match {
    case 0 => Image.empty
    case n => aBox.beside(boxes(n-1))

Try it and see what results you get! This implementation is only a tiny bit more verbose than the properties we wrote above, and is our first structural recursion over the natural numbers.

At this point we have two questions to answer. Firstly, how does this match expression work? More importantly, is there some general principle we can use to create methods like this on our own? Let's take each question in turn.

Exercise: Stacking Boxes

Even before we get into the details of match expressions you should be able to modify boxes to produce an image like the one below.

At this point we're trying to get used to the syntax of match, so rather than copying and pasting boxes write it all out by hand again to get some practice.

Three stacked boxes filled with Royal Blue

All you to do is change beside to above in boxes.

def stackedBoxes(count: Int): Image =
  count match {
    case 0 => Image.empty
    case n => aBox.beside(stackedBoxes(n-1))