Traversing data structures - A Groovy Visitor Implementation

I have been using Groovy for a while now, having come from a solid Java/J2EE/Spring/ORM background where patterns and solid OO is a mainstay.  Although it took me a bit to get in to the swing of the Groovy stuff, I have now really taken to it (in no small part, encouraged having taken the Coursera FP class) - The simplicity and ease to use the built in functional stuff like .each{}, .findAll{}, .collect{} is really neat, and once you get started with them there really is no stopping!

As Groovy is dynamically typed (not weakly typed though!) you do end up using a lot less POJO classes and a lot more Maps, Lists of Maps, etc (also Groovy makes it really easy to work with these guys) and I find myself fairly often needing to traverse complex, dynamically typed data structures to do some kind of data processing.  Normally, in my Java OO background, when frequently processing tree type structures (a nested Map of Lists/Maps/Simple elements can really be thought of taking this form) I would fall back to the Visitor patter (if you aren't familiar with the GoF Visitor pattern, see here, here, etc for details), but if you have a dynamically typed complex data structures, and you don't really want to have each potential node in your structure to have to implement a set interface with a visit() method on it, then I use the following approach.

(disclaimer: yes, it feels as though it is a hacky, dodgy approach of the pattern - but it works well with Groovy and has been working well for me. If you have ideas on how to improve etc I would love to hear thoughts in the comments!  As such, I like to refer to it as "The Unwelcome Visitor Pattern").

First, I create an iterator class - this basically has the code to iterate through a nested, complex structure - I see this as boiler plate code that is a pain to re-write and will be used by all code that wants to traverse a complex data structure (Map with n-level deep nested Lists/Maps)



As you can see, its just a basic re-cursive piece of code to traverse List/Maps - you will note that it expects a visitor class to be passed in to it as an argument on first calling that has a visitMap() and visitList() methods.  In normal Java, this would need to be a class that implements a particular Interface/Abstract class that has implementations of the required methods. However, as Groovy is a little more dynamic we can do some pretty nice on the fly stuff (yes, I know, if you are performing some really common stuff, you may still want to have the traditional Java interface/explicit class approach as well, but that's not why we are here!).  The code below is an example of doing some on-the-fly processing of a dynamically typed complex data structure (in this case, we are just converting all Date objects to Strings, but this is just an example for funsies)



As you can see, in the above we are using Groovy's ability to create Interface implementations as Maps and just defining a simple closure for each of the visitMap() visitList() methods.


It may not be the most graceful solution, but it works simply and allows easy definition of closures that can process Maps/Lists easily (could also be used in the same way fo rtraversing JSON structures etc)

rob hinds

I'm on to the next one, on to the next one..

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