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Basics

Modules are like mini files! They can contain type definitions, let bindings, nested modules, etc.

Creation

To create a module, use the module keyword. The module name must start with a capital letter. Whatever you could place in a .re file, you may place inside a module definition's {} block.

module School = {
  type profession = Teacher | Director;

  let person1 = Teacher;
  let getProfession person =>
    switch person {
    | Teacher => "A teacher"
    | Director => "A director"
    };
};

A module's contents (including types!) can be accessed much like a record's, using the . notation. This demonstrates modules' utility for namespacing.

let anotherPerson: School.profession = School.Teacher;
print_endline (School.getProfession anotherPerson); /* "A teacher" */

Nested modules work too.

module MyModule = {
  module NestedModule = {
     let message = "hello";
  };
};

let message = MyModule.NestedModule.message;

opening a module

Constantly referring to a value/type in a module can be tedious. We can open a module's definition and refer to its contents without prepending them with the module's name. Two ways:

Local open.

let message =
  School.(
    switch person1 {
    | Teacher => "Hello teacher!"
    | Director => "Hello director!"
    }
  );

Global open. Use this sparingly as it allows convenience at the cost of ease of reasoning:

open School;
let anotherPerson: profession = Teacher;
printProfession anotherPerson;

Extending modules

Using include in a module statically "spreads" a module's content into a new one, thus often fulfill the role of "inheritance" or "mixin".

module BaseComponent = {
  let defaultGreeting = "Hello";
  let getAudience ::excited => excited ? "world!" : "world";
};

module ActualComponent = {
  /* the content is copied over */
  include BaseComponent;
  /* overrides BaseComponent.defaultGreeting */
  let defaultGreeting = "Hey";
  let render () => defaultGreeting ^ " " ^ getAudience excited::true;
};

Note: include and open are very different! The former literally copies over definitions into the new module for it to appropriate. The latter simply allows refering to items (values, types, constructors, etc.) in the opened module's scope in an "unqualified" way (aka, foo instead of the qualified MyModule.foo).

Every .re file is a module

An OCaml/Reason file maps to a module; this unlocks some interesting expressivity that'd previously require code generation in other languages. The file react.re implicitly forms a module React, which can be seen by other source files.

/* fileA.re. This typically compiles to module FileA below */
let a = 1;
let b = 2;

/* fileB.re */
/* Maps fileA's implementation to a new API */
let alpha = FileA.a;
let beta = FileA.b;

This contrived snippet expresses "copying" a file:

/* fileA.re. This typically compiles to module FileA below */
let a = 1;
let b = 2;

/* fileB.re */
/* compiles to exactly fileA.re's content with no runtime overhead! */
include FileA;

Signatures

A module's type is called a "signature", and can be written explicitly. If a module is like a .re (implementation) file, then a module's signature is like a .rei (interface) file.

Creation

To create a signature, use the module type keyword. The signature name must start with a capital letter. Whatever you could place in a .rei file, you may place inside a signature definition's {} block.

/* Picking up previous section's example */
module type EstablishmentType = {
  type profession;
  let getProfession: profession => string;
};

A signature defines the list of requirements that a module must satisfy in order for that module to match the signature. Those requirements are of the form:

  • let x: int; requires a let binding named x, of type int.

  • type t = someType; requires a type field t to be equal to someType.

  • type t; requires a type field t, but without imposing any requirements on the actual, concrete type of t. We'd use t in other entries in the signature to describe relationships, e.g. let makePair: t -> (t, t) but we cannot, for example, assume that t is an int. This gives us great, enforced abstraction abilities.

To illustrate the various kinds of type entries, consider the above signature EstablishmentType which requires that a module:

  • Declare a type named profession.
  • Must include a function that takes in a value of the type profession and returns a string.

Note:

Modules of the type EstablishmentType can contain more fields than the signature declares, just like the module School in the previous section (if we choose to assign it the type EstablishmentType. Otherwise, School exposes every field). This effectively makes the person1 field an enforced implementation detail! Outsiders can't access it, since it's not present in the signature; the signature constrained what others can access.

The type EstablishmentType.profession is abstract: it doesn't have a concrete type; it's saying "I don't care what the actual type is, but it's used as input to getProfession". This is useful to fit many modules under the same interface:

module Company: EstablishmentType = {
  type profession = CEO | Designer | Engineer | ...;

  let getProfession person => ...
  let person1 = ...;
  let person2 = ...;
};

It's also useful to hide the underlying type as an implementation detail others can't rely on. If you ask what the type of Company.profession is, instead of exposing the variant, it'll only tell you "it's Company.profession".

Every .rei file is a signature

Similar to how a react.re file implicitly defines a module React, a file react.rei implicitly defines a signature for React. If react.rei isn't provided, the signature of react.re defaults to exposing all the fields of the module. Because they don't contain implementation files, .rei files are used in the ecosystem to also document the public API of their corresponding modules.

/* file react.re (implementation. Compiles to module React) */
type state = int;
let render = fun str => str;
/* file react.rei (interface. Compiles to signature of module React) */
type state = int;
let render: str => str;

Module Functions (functors)

Modules can be passed to functions! It would be the equivalent of passing a file as a first-class item. However, modules are at a different "layer" of the language than other common concepts, so we can't pass them to regular functions. Instead, we pass them to special functions called "functors".

The syntax for defining and using functors is very much like the syntax for defining and using regular functions. The primary differences are:

  • Functors use the module keyword instead of let and the fun keyword designates "functor" rather than "function" in this case.
  • Functors take modules as arguments and return a module.
  • Functors require annotating arguments.
  • Functors must start with a capital letter (just like modules/signatures).

Here's an example MakeSet functor, that takes in a module of the type Comparable and returns a new set that can contain such comparable items.

module type Comparable = {
  type t;
  let equal: t => t => bool;
};

module MakeSet = fun (Item: Comparable) => {
  /* let's use a list as our naive backing data structure */
  type backingType = list Item.t;
  let empty = [];
  let add (currentSet: backingType) (newItem: Item.t) :backingType =>
    /* if item exists */
    if (List.exists (fun x => Item.equal x newItem) currentSet) {
      currentSet /* return the same (immutable) set (a list really) */
    } else {
      [newItem, ...currentSet]; /* prepend to the set and return it */
    }
};

Functors can be applied using function application syntax. In this case, we're creating a set, whose items are pairs of integers.

module IntPair = {
  type t = (int, int);
  let equal (x1, y1) (x2, y2) => x1 == x2 && y1 == y2;
  let create x y => (x, y);
};

/* IntPair abides by the Comparable signature required by MakeSet */
module SetOfIntPairs = MakeSet IntPair;

Module functions types

Like with module types, functor types also act to constrain and hide what we may assume about functors. The syntax for functor types are consistent with those for function types, but with types capitalized to represent the signatures of modules the functor accepts as arguments and return values. In the previous example, we're exposing the backing type of a set; by giving MakeSet a functor signature, we can hide the underlying data structure!

module type Comparable = ...

module type MakeSetType = (Item: Comparable) => {
  type backingType;
  let empty: backingType;
  let add: backingType => Item.t => backingType;
};

module MakeSet: MakeSetType = fun (Item: Comparable) => {
  ...
};

Drawbacks

Modules and functors are at a different "layer" of language than the rest ( functions, let bindings, data structures, etc.). For example, you can't easily pass them into a tuple or record. Use them judiciously! Lots of times, just a record or a function is enough.

module School = {...};

/* this will straight up give you a syntax error! */
let schools = (School, School);