Following a TDD training that could have gone better, I started to read the Test Driven Development: by example book (by Kent Beck). It offers a perspective on TDD that is far from being dogmatic. It is a really good back and I highly encourage you to read it.
But this post is not about TDD. There are plenty of blog posts already available online for this. This post is about the main example used by Kent Beck in this book, the Money class.
In this post, we will look at this Money class implementation and compare it with the other approaches available in the literature, such as the one of Martin Fowler. Through this study, we will:
- Discuss the approach provided in PEAA and some related implementation
- Unveil the hidden defect behind the implementation of TDD: by example
- Provide a different implementation of the same idea which fixes this defect
- Show how dependent typing and Idris provide new ways to design the Money class
Our goal is to explore the trade-offs behind each of these 4 approaches. This journey will lead us to discuss about the hole in our mainstream type systems and how dependent typing solves it.
Disclaimer: The post features C++, Haskell and Idris. The post is written such that the knowledge of these languages is not a prerequisite, but you will likely learn a bit about these languages. Similarly, the discussion is not exclusive to these languages and is easily generalisable.
The Money class is one of these popular class that appears almost everywhere you look. Martin Fowler talks about it in PEAA, it is the main example of Test Driven Development: by example and is often taken as example in a lot of Domain Driven Design talks.
The goal is to design a type that encapsulate an amount together with its currency. We want to provide a safe way to do arithmetic on amounts, and avoid the kind of bug that arise when summing double values with different units (such as EUR and USD) and get angry customers.
Unlike units in the metric system though, the conversion rates are constantly changing and depend on external sources (such as rate curves on the stock exchange). Converting EUR in USD is therefore not as easy as converting kilometres in meters.
Given these constraints, how can we implement a class that represents an amount of money with its currency? Interestingly, the literature provides different solutions on it.
Martin Fowler’s Money class
Our first candidate for a Money class is the one proposed by Martin Fowler in his book, Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture. To keep things short, we will focus on the safe arithmetic part and ignore the allocate part of his design.
How it works
We group a currency and an amount inside the same class / structure. We create methods to add moneys together, multiply them by a constant, and compare them for equality.
- Equality is easy: two Money instances are equal if both their amount and currency are equal
- Multiplying by a constant is easy: we multiply the amount by the provided constant
- Adding Money instances is tricky: we have to deal with the possibility of different currencies
The solution proposed in PEAA by Martin Fowler is to assert that the two currencies are equal inside the implementation of the addition. The literature also contains variations on the same scheme (*).
In short, adding currencies of different currencies is forbidden by the API. It becomes a precondition of calling the add method, and so the client is responsible:
- To check that the currencies are equal before calling add
- To convert the amounts to the same currency if needed
The type system will not help the client. Performing these checks in on the client, and forgetting about them will result in a runtime error, hopefully caught at testing time.
(*) For instance, the book Patterns, Principles and Practices of Domain-Driven Design encourages to throw an exception if the currencies are different (instead of an assertion).
Here is a possible implementation of this Money class design in Haskell.
We start by defining of the data structure Money. It contains two fields, currency and amount, and a default implementation of the == operator:
We then write a function to add two Money instances together. If you are not familiar with Haskell, the prototype of the function below says “take two instances of Money and return a Money instance”:
We can then complete the definition of the function. The implementation throws an exception when the currencies of the two Money instances m1 and m2 are different:
For reference, and if you are unfamiliar with Haskell and more accustomed to OOP, the following C++ implementation is the equivalent implementation.
The pattern is quite simple and allows to group together a value and its currency (its unit). The complete pattern also uses a dedicated Amount type (like a big Decimal, instead of doubles, for better precision). As it stands, this pattern is already quite an improvement over using doubles (without unit) as money amounts (*).
Quite an improvement already, but it is not perfect.
The main critic on this design is the poor declarative nature of the error handling. The type signature of add does not indicate it can fail. The polymorphic nature of the operation is hidden too. As a result, the client of the API is left the burden of the checking the precondition manually, with no help from the type system.
The exception-based implementation can also be criticized for using exceptions to deal with a non-exceptional situation: adding currencies of different currencies is the most common case. It might lead to the client code catching the exceptions to implement its control flow: basically, as glorified gotos.
Overall, this implementation of Money encapsulates some of the concerns associated to the representation of amounts, but lets one concern leaks away: the safety of operations such as add.
(*) Using doubles to represent amounts of money is still unfortunately found pretty much in the wild, especially in legacy applications, in which it becomes really hard to refactor.
Improvements using optional
We can make the error handling more explicit by making it appear in the type signature of add. We can even force the client code to do a check of validity of the operation.
Nowadays, most languages define an optional type that encodes the presence of absence of something. In C++, this type is called std::optional. In Scala, it is called Option. In Haskell, it is called Maybe.
We can use it to return an optional Money from add:
Now, the type signature correctly indicates that add may fail to return a new Money instance. Better yet, the client has to verify the return value and check whether the operation went gracefully or not.
Finally, we now avoid to use exceptions to deal with what is a non-exceptional situation, making it an explicit part of our domain logic.
Still room left for improvement
Despite the improvements we did, the Money class as it stands still has some annoying defects.
Our add operation is now asymmetric. It returns an optional Money instance. In some languages such as Haskell, it means we cannot use the operator +.
Another annoying issue is that the checks of validity of the add operations occur after add has been called. It would be more intuitive to force the verification of the precondition before calling the function.
We will see how to address these issues in the last section of this post.
Kent Beck’s Money class
We will now look at the different design of the Money class, which comes directly from Test Driven Development: by example (written by Kent Beck). This design takes a rather different stance than the previous design: instead of forbidding cross-currency addition, it embraces it.
How it works
The simple yet powerful idea (*) that lies behind the design exposed by Kent Beck is to separate the specification of the addition from its evaluation. Adding money instance with different currencies does not sum them immediately: it builds an expression that represents the sum.
Building something that represents the sum is in fact the only reasonable way to proceed. Indeed, adding the two amounts eagerly by forcing a currency conversion would be terrible:
- We would have to arbitrarily choose a currency to convert into
- We would have to arbitrarily choose a rate curve (on which a market?) to get the rates
- We would introduce a side-effect is what looks to be a pure computation
- It would destroy information: 3 EUR + 5 USD is a different information than 9.15 USD (**)
Instead, in the design of Kent Beck, adding two amounts results in building an expression that represents the sum of the two amounts. For instance, adding 3 EUR and 5 USD results in the following abstract syntax tree (AST):
(+) / \ 3 EUR 5 USD
To evaluate the AST in any destination currency we want, we build an evaluator that needs to have access to a source of data that provides the conversion rates between the different currencies involved. The evaluation is decoupled from the specification. So much decoupled in fact, that it can be performed later, or never, or even several times, with different rate curves, etc.
(*) “Simple yet powerful” might seem like a contradiction, but it is not. In fact, truly powerful ideas are simple in their very essence as they touch to the core of the concepts we try to model.
(**) Summing the amounts early has for effect to collapse the information at a given point in time. Delaying the addition keeps the information independent of time, allowing several evaluations at different points in time.
Our Haskell implementation will distinguish between two notions:
- Money expression: an un-realized abstract syntax tree (MoneyExpr in the code)
- Money: a known amount with a known currency, the result of the evaluation of a MoneyExpr
We will keep our Money data structure from the previous implementation:
We then create a MoneyExpr type for a money expression, which defines our AST.
For those unfamiliar with Haskell, the pipe operator (|) represents a disjunction (OR). The code below says that a MoneyExpr is either an known amount (KnownAmount), or an addition of several sub-expression (MoneyAdd) or a multiplication of a sub-expression (MoneyMult).
We then implement our function such that they build the AST. Adding will create a new MoneyAdd node. Multiplying by a constant factor, will create a MoneyMult node.
For instance, the code below illustrates the creation of an AST from simple calls to add and multiply:
Graphically, the resulting AST of the code above would look like this:
(+) / \ (+) 1000 JPY / \ 30 USD (*2) | 25 EUR
The only missing piece now is the evaluator.
The MoneyExpr represents a sum of money amounts expressed in different currencies. At some point though, the client code will be interested in converting all the amounts in a target currency (for instance to compare it with another amount in this currency). This is the job of the evaluator.
The evaluator will need a way to access conversion rates from a source of data (such as a rate curve on a given market). We can abstract this behind a function that returns a rates from a currency conversion:
The evaluator will also need as input the money expression to evaluate and the target currency to convert into. This gives us the following prototype for our evaluator, which we name of evalMoneyIn:
Here is how the function can be used, where findRate represents the function that gives access to the rates, and moneyExpr is a money expression:
The implementation details of the evaluator would require going too deep into Haskell core abstractions, and is outside the scope of this post, but is provided as reference in this GitHub Gist.
It is important to notice that this design encapsulates more concerns than the previous design did. It handles cross currency addition and also handles the conversions between currencies in a declarative way.
As a functional programming enthusiast and a Lisp lover, this design has a lot of appeal for me. If you ever implemented a small Lisp interpreter, I bet you like this design as much as I do.
Unfortunately, this design is flawed. The equality operator is broken. Depending on the way you assemble the expressions, two equivalent expressions may have very different AST:
Graphically, these two equivalent expression will have the following AST:
(+) (+) / \ / \ (+) 1000 JPY 30 USD (+) / \ / \ 30 USD (*2) (*2) 1000 JPY | | 25 EUR 25 EUR
The problem with this implementation is that it keeps too much information about the initial expression. So much that it becomes sensible to factors such as operator precedence. We will fix this in the next section.
Fixing the Money expression
Separating the specification from the evaluation of an addition of Money allowed us to support cross-currency addition, quite an interesting feature. But our previous implementation is broken with regards to equality. In this section, we will fix this defect, and go back to the old idea of Money Bag from Ward Cunningham.
How it works
This implementation keeps the Kent Beck’s design we presented in the previous section. We keep the decoupling between the specification of an addition and its evaluation. We keep the evaluator.
The only difference is the data representation of a money expression. We drop the AST (which captured too much information as we have seen) and use an associative container (a map) instead. This map associates each currency to its corresponding amount.
Now, adding money expressions is a simple matter of merging their associated map. And multiplying a money expression consists in multiplying the amount of each currency.
Use associative contains correctly fixes our previous defect with equality: two money expressions are equal if their keys are the same and if each keys is associated to the same value.
The API remains mostly unchanged. The implementation details are quite different though. We will look at the main changes.
First, we drop the AST in favor of a map. We also rename the Money expression into MoneyBag, in honor of Ward Cunningham, but also because it is closer to what it now is:
Adding two money bags is implemented as the union of two maps:
Multiplying a money bag with a constant consists in mapping over each amount:
The evaluator is quite simple too (3 lines of code). It consists in collapsing the map into a one that only contains a single currency key, the one we want to convert too. Again, this is outside the scope of this post, but the implementation is nevertheless provided as reference in this GitHub Gist.
This design has basically the same advantages than the Kent Beck’s design. It also handles cross currency addition and handles the conversions between currencies in a declarative way.
But now it works with equality. It also offers a more compact data representation in most cases (same currencies are collapsed). The only drawback is that multiplication has to scan over all the currencies (*).
Compared to the Martin Fowler’s design, it remains heavier. It consumes more memory and more CPU, at the price of managing addition in a truly encapsulated way. This is a trade-off.
(*) This could be fixed by adding the factor as a separate field, delaying its application until the very moment it is needed (evaluation time and merging of money bags)
Improving on Martin Fowler’s Money class with Idris
In the original Money class design of Martin Fowler, the client code is expected to check that both amounts have the same currency before calling add on them.
The main problem in this design is that the type system does not offer any help. It does not enforce this constraint and failing to check the precondition is not caught at compile time. The probability of error is high and the client is left without support.
Let us see how Idris and its dependent typing feature might help us provide a type safe version of the Martin Fowler’s Money class, such that failing to check the precondition will not compile.
The hole in our mainstream type systems
The type system of most mainstream languages is unable to express relations and constraints between several arguments. Even in Haskell, it is hard to express a precondition that involves several arguments with a type, such that the compiler might verify it for us.
Idris is not bound to the same limitation. Its type system allows to build types that express relations between several values, or several arguments of the same function. For instance, we can write a type that represents the fact that two money instances have the same currency.
Put differently, we can express preconditions on our functions as types, allowing the compiler to verify for us that these preconditions are satisfied before calling the function.
Translating Haskell to Idris
Let us go back to our initial implementation of add in Haskell and translate it into Idris. Idris being pretty close to Haskell syntax, this is a rather simple task:
Now, this implementation is incorrect if the two money instances we try to sum together, m1 and m2, have different currencies. Indeed, the new Money instance is constructed from the currency of m1.
Preconditions as types
To fix this, we can enrich the prototype of the function add to ask for a proof (the argument prf below) that the money arguments have the same currency:
SameCurrency m1 m2 is a type which represents a constraint between the arguments m1 and m2 of the function. Being able to instantiate this type is equivalent to proving that the constraint is satisfied.
The auto keyword tells Idris to look for implicit proofs in the neighborhood of the function. Thanks to this, the following code will compile just fine, and does not require us to provide a proof of its correctness:
The following code will correctly be rejected at compile time, Idris being unable to find a proof that the two currencies “EUR” and “USD” are equal:
It is important to observe the distinguishing characteristic of Idris there: a type can refer to the other arguments that appear in the prototype of a function.
Note: you can refer to my previous article on building a type safe Bowling Kata for more detailed information on how to write proofs in Idris.
In our previous examples, Idris is able to find an implicit proof that two currencies are either equal or not equal by looking at their values at compile time. For values that are only known at runtime though, Idris cannot do miracles.
We have to provide in our API a function to construct a proof that two money instances known at runtime satisfy the precondition on their currency:
We will not go in details into what Dec means, but you can think of it as something that either returns Yes and here is the proof or No, and here is a contradiction. The implementation of this function is outside the scope of this post, but is provided as reference in this GitHub Gist.
What matters is that the client code is now forced to call sameCurrency before being able to call add. In fact, the it will only be able to call add if sameCurrency returns YES. Indeed, add requires a SameCurrency m1 m2 instance to be available in its environment of evaluation. This is only possible if either:
- Idris can find an implicit proof that it holds (for values known at compile time)
- The proof is constructed successfully by sameCurrency (upon returning YES)
This sounds like magic, but this is no fairy tale. Type systems such as the one of Idris allow to ensure that our if statements are correct at compile time.
This last design shares some important characteristics with the one proposed by Martin Fowler in PEAA. It is lightweight, and does not support adding amounts with different currencies. It basically shares the same pros and cons as the one from Martin Fowler.
The main difference is type-safety: the client code is now ensured to do the appropriate precondition checks before adding amounts. Failing to do the appropriate checks will result in a compilation error.
The design space of a common class such as Money is surprisingly large. There does not seem to be a single best answer for all situations.
Depending on the required capabilities, such as being able to sum amounts of different currencies, an the performance constraints, it might be more advantageous to chose either the Money or the MoneyBag implementation.
As an opening, we also saw how new type systems with a support for dependent typing, such as the one of Idris, can offer yet more design choices and more compile time guarantees.
EDIT: I published a new blog post to explain why lifting currencies as type parameters of the Money class would not bring the same benefits as the Idris solution in here.