|Towards the best collection traversal interface
Most programming languages support collections, represented by an in-memory data structure, a file, a database, or a generating function. A programming language system gives us typically one of the two interfaces to systematically access elements of a collection. One traversal API is based on enumerators -- e.g., for-each, map, filter higher-order procedures -- of which the most general is fold. The second approach relies on streams, a.k.a. cursors, lazy lists. Generators such as the ones in Icon, Ruby and Python are a hybrid approach.
It is well-known that given a cursor interface to a collection, we can implement an enumerator. It is less appreciated that given an enumerator interface, we can always derive a cursor -- in an automatic way. We demonstrate that generic procedure for languages with and without first-class continuations.
Now that cursors and enumerators are inter-convertible, an implementor of a collection has a choice: which of the two interfaces to implement natively? We argue that he should offer the enumerator interface as the native one. The paper elaborates that enumerators are superior: in efficiency; in ease of programming; in more predictable resource utilization and avoidance of resource leaks. We present a design of the overall optimal collection traversal interface, which is based on a left-fold-like combinator with premature termination. The design has been implemented and tested in practice.
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