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Optionals allow focusing on elements that may not be present. This includes nullable values and elements on indexed collections such as List or Map.

In a rush?
  • Optionals represent potentially missing values.
  • Prisms extend optionals to represent class hierarchies.
  • To access the value, use getOrNull.
  • To modify the value (only if present), use set and modify.

Indexed collections

To exemplify why optionals are helpful, let's introduce a few domain classes that model a small in-memory database mapping person names to the city in which they live.

import arrow.optics.*
import arrow.optics.dsl.*
import arrow.optics.typeclasses.*

@optics data class Db(val cities: Map<String, City>) {
companion object
@optics data class City(val name: String, val country: String) {
companion object

There's a notion of elements within a map, which we refer to by their key. However, we cannot model them as lenses because we don't know whether a particular key is present in the map. Optionals come to the rescue: they are optics whose focus may not exist for a specific value.

As a result, the get operation is replaced by getOrNull, where null indicates that the value is not present. The following code snippet provides an example of that behavior using the index provided by Arrow Optics.

val db = Db(mapOf(
"Alejandro" to City("Hilversum", "Netherlands"),
"Ambrosio" to City("Ciudad Real", "Spain")

fun example() {
Db.cities.index(, "Alejandro").country.getOrNull(db) shouldBe "Netherlands"
Db.cities.index(, "Jack").country.getOrNull(db) shouldBe null

One important (and sometimes surprising) behavior of optionals is that using set or modify only transforms the value if it is already present. That means that we cannot use index to add elements to the database, only to modify those already present.

fun example() {
val dbWithJack = Db.cities.index(, "Jack").set(db, City("London", "UK"))
// Jack was not really added to the database
("Jack" in dbWithJack.cities) shouldBe false

If you want to perform a change over the collection, use modify over the lens that corresponds to that field.

fun example() {
val dbWithJack = Db.cities.modify(db) { it + ("Jack" to City("London", "UK")) }
// now Jack is finally in the database
("Jack" in dbWithJack.cities) shouldBe true
More indexed collections

The first parameter to the index optional represents the type of collection you are accessing. Currently, this argument can be Index.list,, Index.sequence, or Index.string. The choice defines the type of keys and values expected by each operation.

Nullable types

Breaking change in Arrow 2.x

The Arrow Optics plug-in in Arrow 1.x creates optionals for fields with nullable types. This has sometimes led to surprises because, with an optional, you cannot modify that value if it's null. In Arrow 2.x, every field gives rise to a lens instead. The old behavior is available via the notNull extension function.

Kotlin supports the notion of nullable types, which clearly specify when a value may be absent. The compiler prevents you from calling a method or function that requires a non-null value with a potentially absent one. These checks are also in place when working with Arrow Optics; if you have a nickname: Lens<Person, String?>, you must account for nullability in each potential modification.

It's also possible to turn a lens over a nullable type into an optional of the unwrapped type using notNull. In the example above, nickname.notNull has the type Optional<Person, String> (notice the lack of ? at the end of the second type parameter). However, you should be aware that, in the same way as with indexed collections where you could not add or remove elements, with notNull, you cannot change whether the value is null or not; only modify it if it's already not null.