Recursion schemes are an abstraction for structured recursion that ensure runtime safety and provide powerful abstractions for recursive datatypes.

The traditional definition of a linked list uses arbitrary recursion.

```
// The generic type parameter is omitted for simplicity
sealed class IntList {
object Nil : IntList()
data class Cons(val head: Int, val tail: IntList) : IntList()
}
```

Here, `Nil`

is the empty list and `Cons`

is an element plus another list. Instances of this can be created
by chaining `Cons`

constructors.

```
import arrow.*
import arrow.core.*
import arrow.typeclasses.*
import arrow.recursion.*
IntList.Cons(3, IntList.Cons(2, IntList.Cons(1, IntList.Nil)))
```

However, it would be nicer to have a function to do this for us. We can use arbitrary recursion to do this.
We’ll call the function `downFrom`

.

```
fun downFrom(i: Int): IntList =
if (i <= 0) IntList.Nil
else IntList.Cons(i, downFrom(i - 1))
downFrom(3)
```

We can also use arbitrary recursion to do computation with this data structure. For example, we might want to multiply every element in the list.

```
fun multiply(list: IntList): Int =
when (list) {
is IntList.Cons -> list.head * multiply(list.tail)
IntList.Nil -> 1
}
multiply(downFrom(3))
```

Both the `downFrom`

and `multiply`

functions are arbitrarily recursive functions; they both call themselves
in their definition. `IntList`

itself is an arbitrarily recursive type for the same reason. However, there
is a problem with arbitrary recursion: it is impossible to guarantee that an arbitrarily recursive function
is stack safe.

`fold`

is a familiar function to most functional programmers, and is used whenever a collection needs to be
collapsed into a single element. The `multiply`

function above can be implemented much more simply using `fold`

.

```
fun <A> fold(list: IntList, onNil: A, onCons: (Int, A) -> A): A =
when (list) {
is IntList.Cons -> onCons(list.head, fold(list.tail, onNil, onCons))
IntList.Nil -> onNil
}
fun multiply(list: IntList): Int = fold(list, 1) { a, b -> a * b }
```

`unfold`

is the less commonly known opposite of fold; it takes in an initial element and generates a
collection (you may recognize it as the `generateT`

functions in the kotlin standard library). The
`downFrom`

function can be implemented much more simply using `unfold`

.

```
fun <A> unfold(init: A, produce: (A) -> Option<Tuple2<Int, A>>): IntList =
produce(init).fold(
{ IntList.Nil },
{ (elem, next) -> IntList.Cons(elem, unfold(next, produce)) }
)
fun downFrom(i: Int): IntList =
unfold(i) { x ->
if (x <= 0) None
else Some(x toT (x - 1))
}
```

The new implementations of `downFrom`

and `multiply`

use structured recursion. Here, `fold`

and `unfold`

are
actually recursion schemes; they abstract out the recursion from the business logic of the function. Though
the implementations above are not stack safe, they can easily be made so (at the cost of some readability),
and any functions implemented with them would also become stack safe.

Lists are not the only data structure that can be folded and unfolded. Binary trees can also use this pattern.

```
sealed class IntTree {
data class Leaf(val value: Int) : IntTree()
data class Node(val left: IntTree, val right: IntTree) : IntTree()
}
```

```
fun <A> fold(tree: IntTree, onLeaf: (Int) -> A, onNode: (A, A) -> A): A =
when (tree) {
is IntTree.Leaf -> onLeaf(tree.value)
is IntTree.Node -> onNode(fold(tree.left, onLeaf, onNode), fold(tree.right, onLeaf, onNode))
}
fun <A> unfold(init: A, produce: (A) -> Either<Int, Tuple2<A, A>>): IntTree =
produce(init).fold(
{ IntTree.Leaf(it) },
{ (left, right) -> IntTree.Node(unfold(left, produce), unfold(right, produce)) }
)
```

In fact, `fold`

and `unfold`

can be implemented for any recursive data structure, even complex ones like
expression trees. However, it requires a lot of boilerplate and creates a lot of complexity. Luckily for us,
Arrow’s recursion schemes allow us to solve this problem.

The solution to this initially seems a bit strange. First, we must define a type’s pattern, where the recursive type is replaced with a type parameter.

```
@higherkind sealed class IntListPattern<out A> : IntListPatternOf<A> {
object NilPattern : IntListPattern<Nothing>()
@higherkind data class ConsPattern<out A>(val head: Int, val tail: A) : IntListPattern<A>()
companion object
}
fun IntListPattern.Companion.functor(): IntListPatternFunctor = object : IntListPatternFunctor{}
```

While this type may look useless at first, it turns out that our original `IntList`

and `IntListPattern<IntList>`

are isomorphic – that is, they can easily be converted from one to another. For that matter, `IntList`

is
also isomorphic to `IntListPattern<IntListPattern<IntList>>`

. In fact, applying `IntListPattern`

to itself
infinitely yields the original `IntList`

type.

```
typealias IntList = IntListPattern<IntListPattern<IntListPattern<...>>>
```

Of course, this is not possible in Kotlin. However, we can use the `Fix`

datatype (a type level recursion scheme)
to emulate this.

```
import arrow.recursion.data.*
typealias IntFixList = Fix<ForIntListPattern>
```

So why do this? We can now define a Functor instance for
`IntListPattern`

, allowing us to traverse into the structure.

```
interface IntListPatternFunctor : Functor<ForIntListPattern> {
override fun <A, B> IntListPatternOf<A>.map(f: (A) -> B): IntListPatternOf<B> {
val lp = fix()
return when (lp) {
is ConsPattern<A> -> IntListPattern.ConsPattern(lp.head, f(lp.tail))
is NilPattern -> IntListPattern.NilPattern
}
}
}
```

This can be used to implement `fold`

and `unfold`

for any `Fix<F>`

, where `F`

is a `Functor`

(and hence
for any recursive data structure) by using `map`

to recursively descend into the structure.

The Recursive typeclass provides `cata`

, and the
Corecursive typeclass provides `ana`

, which are very
similar to fold and unfold.

```
typealias Algebra<F, A> = (Kind<F, A>) -> A // fold
typealias Coalgebra<F, A> = (A) -> Kind<F, A> // unfold
fun <F, A> Functor<F>.cata(f: Fix<F>, alg: Algebra<F, Eval<A>>): A = TODO()
fun <F, A> Functor<F>.ana(a: A, coalg: Coalgebra<F, A>): Fix<F> = TODO()
```

We can use them to rewrite our `multiply`

and `downFrom`

functions.

```
import arrow.recursion.extensions.fix.recursive.*
// We extract these functions out for later use
val multiply: Algebra<ForIntListPattern, Eval<Int>> = { l ->
val list = l.fix()
when (list) {
is ConsPattern<Eval<Int>> -> list.tail.map { it * list.head }
is NilPattern -> Eval.now(1)
}
}
val downFrom: Coalgebra<ForIntListPattern, Int> = { i ->
if (i <= 0) IntListPattern.NilPattern
else (i - 1).let { IntListPattern.ConsPattern(it, it) }
}
fun multiply(list: IntFixList): Int = Fix.recursive().run {
IntListPattern.functor().cata(list, multiply)
}
fun downFrom(i: Int): IntFixList = Fix.recursive().run {
IntListPattern.functor().ana(i, downFrom).fix()
}
```

So far, we’ve generalized `fold`

and `unfold`

into `cata`

and `ana`

which are recursion schemes for
destroying and creating any recursive structure. By combining these, we can create a recursion scheme for
general recursion.

```
fun factorial(i: Int): Int = IntListPattern.functor().hylo(multiply, downFrom, i)
```

Here we use the `IntListPattern`

functor to model recursion which resembles a stack; we unfold a list as
we traverse deeper into the call structure, then fold a list as we evaluate the result. This allows us
to effectively model any recursive computation with recursion schemes, making them consistent and stack
safe.

Tutorial partially adapted from Peeling the Banana: Recursion Schemes from First Principles by Zainab Ali

Contents partially adapted from Katalyst

Do you like Arrow?

✖