Kotlin Christmas

Creating domain-specific languages

A 4 minute read written by
Nicklas Utgaard
16.12.2020

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Kotlin introduces a lot of new language features for us developers. Those features allows us to create code that is type-safe, easy to write and easy to reason about. A good example of this are the type-safe builders a.k.a DSLs, and in this article we're taking a look at how we can create our own DSLs.

First things first, lets talk about what we mean by domain specific language (DSL). In alot of ways we can think of it as a mini-language, or an API specifically designed to solve a very specific problem. Looking around the internet you'll find example of DSLs being used to instantiate complex datastructures, configuring the build-system, configuring webserver, building layouts for android app, and a whole lot more.

In this article however we're taking a crack at retrofitting a DSL to kotlinpoet. Those of you who have read "Kotlin metaprogramming with kotlinpoet " have gotten a small introduction. But to recap, kotlinpoet is Java/Kotlin API for generating .kt source files. And as we'll see it comes with a "java-ish" API, but maybe we can make it feel a bit more like kotlin-happiness. The article ended with an example of generating a simple class containing a single property and a single function.

val packageName = "com.christmas.kotlin"
val className = "Code"

val cls = TypeSpec.classBuilder(className)
        .addProperty(PropertySpec
                .builder("statements", MUTABLE_LIST.parameterizedBy(STRING))
                .initializer("mutableListOf()")
                .build()
        )
        .addFunction(FunSpec
                .builder("addStatement")
                .returns(ClassName(packageName, className))
                .addParameter("statement", STRING)
                .addStatement("this.statements += statement")
                .addStatement("return this")
                .build()
        )

val file = FileSpec.get(packageName, cls.build())

println(file.toString())

Whichs prints;

package com.christmas.kotlin

import kotlin.String
import kotlin.collections.MutableList

public class Code {
  public val statements: MutableList<String> = mutableListOf()

  public fun addStatement(statement: String): Code {
    this.statements += statement
    return this
  }
}

At this point we know the output we want, and we pretty much know how to achieve it using kotlintpoet's API. The thing we need to figure out is how our custom kotlin-kotlinpoet-dsl is going to work. And this, to me, shows off one of the best features of the kotlin language; its flexibility. Prettymuch regardless of how we want our DSL to work, look and feel, it would be possible to create it. So lets start with the dream scenario;

file("com.christmas.kotlin", "Code.kt") {
  class("Code") {
    property("statements" as MUTABLE_LIST.parameterizedBy(STRING)) {
      initializer("mutableListOf()")
    }
    function("addStatement", "statement" as STRING, returns = class("Code")) {
      body {
        "this.stements += statement"
        "return this"
      }
    }
  }
}

Our idealized code does however have some major flaws. Most notably using the keywords class and as in a way that the compiler really disapproves of. Renaming class -> clazz and as -> withType, we do however reach a point at which it is actually possible to implement a working example.

We'll start by implementing the major function file, class, property and function, as these are pretty similar to each other.

fun file(packageName: String, fileName: String, block: FileSpec.Builder.() -> Unit = {}): FileSpec {
    val builder = FileSpec.builder(packageName, fileName)
    builder.apply(block)
    return builder.build()
}

fun FileSpec.Builder.clazz(className: String, block: TypeSpec.Builder.() -> Unit) {
    val builder = TypeSpec.classBuilder(className)
    builder.apply(block)
    this.addType(builder.build())
}

fun TypeSpec.Builder.property(prop: Pair<String, TypeName>, block: PropertySpec.Builder.() -> Unit) {
    val builder = PropertySpec.builder(prop.first, prop.second)
    builder.apply(block)
    this.addProperty(builder.build())
}

fun TypeSpec.Builder.function(name: String, vararg parameters: Pair<String, TypeName>, returns: TypeName, block: FunSpec.Builder.() -> Unit) {
    val builder = FunSpec.builder(name)
    parameters.forEach { (name, type) -> builder.addParameter(name, type) }
    builder.returns(returns)
    builder.apply(block)
    this.addFunction(builder.build())
}

These four function work in a very similar way, by the fact that they all first create a Builder, then applies the customization, and lastly either returns the built type or adds it to the parent context. Whenever we want to add the type to a parent context we need access to that context, and that is why clazz, property and function are implemented as extention functions on their respective parent context.

In order to support writing "statement" withType STRING we need need to add another function to our codebase.

infix fun String.withType(that: TypeName) = Pair(this, that)

This is a specialization of kotlin's predefined to function. But we add withType simply to help readability in this case.

The last thing we'll look at is the body. Since BodySpec isn't something kotlinpoet provides we'll create our own abstraction in this case;

class BodySpecBuilder(val funSpec: FunSpec.Builder) {
    operator fun String.unaryPlus() {
        funSpec.addStatement(this)
    }
}
fun FunSpec.Builder.body(block: BodySpecBuilder.() -> Unit) {
    val builder = BodySpecBuilder(this)
    builder.apply(block)
}

Here we add BodySpecBuider as a stand in for the original FunSpec.Builder in order to add an easy way of defining the function body. We also borrow the concept of using String.unaryPlus from kotlinx.html. This is needed to turn the simple string statements into function call expressions.

And by now our final code looks something like this;

file("com.christmas.kotlin", "Code.kt") {
    clazz("Code") {
        property("statements" withType MUTABLE_LIST.parameterizedBy(STRING)) {
            initializer("mutableListOf()")
        }
        function("addStatement", "statement" withType STRING, returns = clazz("Code")) {
            body {
                +"this.stements += statement"
                +"return this"
            }
        }
    }
}

In this article we've used extensions functions, lambdas with receivers, and infix functions to implement our DSL. All of which are really cool features of the Kotlin language. They enables us to write expressive and readable code in a new way, and we've seen how we can use these to features to change how we interact with already predefined APIs.

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