F Sharp Programming/Events

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F# : Events


Events allow objects to communicate with one another through a kind of synchronous message passing. Events are simply hooks to other functions: objects register callback functions to an event, and these callbacks will be executed when (and if) the event is triggered by some object.

For example, let's say we have a clickable button which exposed an event called Click. We can register a block of code, something like fun () -> printfn "I've been clicked!", to the button's click event. When the click event is triggered, it will execute the block of code we've registered. If we wanted to, we could register an indefinite number of callback functions to the click event -- the button doesn't care what code is trigged by the callbacks or how many callback functions are registered to its click event, it blindly executes whatever functions are hooked to its click event.

Event-driven programming is natural in GUI code, as GUIs tend to consist of controls which react and respond to user input. Events are, of course, useful in non-GUI applications as well. For example, if we have an object with mutable properties, we may want to notify another object when those properties change.

Defining Events[edit]

Events are created and used though F#'s Event class. To create an event, use the Event constructor as follows:

type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanged = new Event<string>()
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) = _name <- value


To allow listeners to hook onto our event, we need to expose the nameChanged field as a public member using the event's Publish property:

type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanged = new Event<unit>() (* creates event *)
 
    member this.NameChanged = nameChanged.Publish (* exposed event handler *)
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) =
            _name <- value
            nameChanged.Trigger() (* invokes event handler *)

Now, any object can listen to the changes on the person method. By convention and Microsoft's recommendation, events are usually named Verb or VerbPhrase, as well as adding tenses like Verbed and Verbing to indicate pre- and post-events.

Adding Callbacks to Event Handlers[edit]

Its very easy to add callbacks to event handlers. Each event handler has the type IEvent<'T> which exposes several methods:

val Add : event:('T -> unit) -> unit

Connect a listener function to the event. The listener will be invoked when the event is fired.

val AddHandler : 'del -> unit

Connect a handler delegate object to the event. A handler can be later removed using RemoveHandler. The listener will be invoked when the event is fired.

val RemoveHandler : 'del -> unit

Remove a listener delegate from an event listener store.

Here's an example program:

type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanged = new Event<unit>() (* creates event *)
 
    member this.NameChanged = nameChanged.Publish (* exposed event handler *)
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) =
            _name <- value
            nameChanged.Trigger() (* invokes event handler *)
 
let p = new Person("Bob")
p.NameChanged.Add(fun () -> printfn "-- Name changed! New name: %s" p.Name)
 
printfn "Event handling is easy"
p.Name <- "Joe"
 
printfn "It handily decouples objects from one another"
p.Name <- "Moe"
 
p.NameChanged.Add(fun () -> printfn "-- Another handler attached to NameChanged!")
 
printfn "It's also causes programs behave non-deterministically."
p.Name <- "Bo"
 
printfn "The function NameChanged is invoked effortlessly."

This program outputs the following:

Event handling is easy
-- Name changed! New name: Joe
It handily decouples objects from one another
-- Name changed! New name: Moe
It's also causes programs behave non-deterministically.
-- Name changed! New name: Bo
-- Another handler attached to NameChanged!
The function NameChanged is invoked effortlessly.
Note: When multiple callbacks are connected to a single event, they are executed in the order they are added. However, in practice, you should not write code with the expectation that events will trigger in a particular order, as doing so can introduce complex dependencies between functions. Event-driven programming is often non-deterministic and fundamentally stateful, which can occasionally be at odds with the spirit of functional programming. Its best to write callback functions which do not modify state, and do not depend on the invocation of any prior events.

Working with EventHandlers Explicitly[edit]

Adding and Removing Event Handlers[edit]

The code above demonstrates how to use the IEvent<'T>.add method. However, occasionally we need to remove callbacks. To do so, we need to work with the IEvent<'T>.AddHandler and IEvent<'T>.RemoveHandler methods, as well as .NET's built-in System.Delegate type.

The function person.NameChanged.AddHandler has the type val AddHandler : Handler<'T> -> unit, where Handler<'T> inherits from System.Delegate. We can create an instance of Handler as follows:

type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanged = new Event<unit>() (* creates event *)
 
    member this.NameChanged = nameChanged.Publish (* exposed event handler *)
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) =
            _name <- value
            nameChanged.Trigger() (* invokes event handler *)
 
 
let p = new Person("Bob")
 
let person_NameChanged =
    new Handler<unit>(fun sender eventargs -> printfn "-- Name changed! New name: %s" p.Name)
 
p.NameChanged.AddHandler(person_NameChanged)
 
printfn "Event handling is easy"
p.Name <- "Joe"
 
printfn "It handily decouples objects from one another"
p.Name <- "Moe"
 
p.NameChanged.RemoveHandler(person_NameChanged)
p.NameChanged.Add(fun () -> printfn "-- Another handler attached to NameChanged!")
 
printfn "It's also causes programs behave non-deterministically."
p.Name <- "Bo"
 
printfn "The function NameChanged is invoked effortlessly."

This program outputs the following:

Event handling is easy
-- Name changed! New name: Joe
It handily decouples objects from one another
-- Name changed! New name: Moe
It's also causes programs behave non-deterministically.
-- Another handler attached to NameChanged!
The function NameChanged is invoked effortlessly.

Defining New Delegate Types[edit]

F#'s event handling model is a little different from the rest of .NET. If we want to expose F# events to different languages like C# or VB.NET, we can define a custom delegate type which compiles to a .NET delegate using the delegate keyword, for example:

type NameChangingEventArgs(oldName : string, newName : string) =
    inherit System.EventArgs()
 
    member this.OldName = oldName
    member this.NewName = newName
 
type NameChangingDelegate = delegate of obj * NameChangingEventArgs -> unit

The convention obj * NameChangingEventArgs corresponds to the .NET naming guidelines which recommend that all events have the type val eventName : (sender : obj * e : #EventArgs) -> unit.

Use existing .NET WPF Event and Delegate Types[edit]

Try using existing .NET WPF Event and Delegate, example, ClickEvent and RoutedEventHandler. Create F# Windows Application .NET project with referring these libraries (PresentationCore PresentationFramework System.Xaml WindowsBase). The program will display a button in a window. Clicking the button will display the button's content as string.

open System.Windows
open System.Windows.Controls
open System.Windows.Input 
open System
[<EntryPoint>] [<STAThread>]              // STAThread is Single-Threading-Apartment which is required by WPF
let main argv = 
    let b = new Button(Content="Button")  // b is a Button with "Button" as content
    let f(sender:obj)(e:RoutedEventArgs) = // (#3) f is a fun going to handle the Button.ClickEvent
                                           //   f signature must be curried, not tuple as govened by Delegate-RoutedEventHandler.
                                           //   that means f(sender:obj,e:RoutedEventArgs) will not work.
        let b = sender:?>Button            // sender will have Button-type.  Convert it to Button into b.
        MessageBox.Show(b.Content:?>string) // Retrieve the content of b which is obj.  
                                            //    Convert it to string and display by <code>Messagebox.Show</code>
            |> ignore                       // ignore the return because f-signature requires: obj->RoutedEventArgs->unit
 
 
    let d = new RoutedEventHandler(f)       // (#2) d will have type-RoutedEventHandler, 
                                            //      RoutedEventHandler is a kind of delegate to handle Button.ClickEvent.  
                                            //      The f must have signature governed by RoutedEventHandler.
    b.AddHandler(Button.ClickEvent,d)       // (#1) attach a RountedEventHandler-d for Button.ClickEvent
    let w = new Window(Visibility=Visibility.Visible,Content=b)  // create a window-w have a Button-b 
                                                                 // which will show the content of b when clicked
    (new Application()).Run(w)      // create new Application() running the Window-w.
  • (#1) To attach a handler to a control for an event: b.AddHandler(Button.ClickEvent,d)
  • (#2) Create a delegate/handler using a function: let d = new RoutedEventHandler(f)
  • (#3) Create a function with specific signature defined by the delegate: let f(sender:obj)(e:RoutedEventArgs) = ....
  • b is the control.
  • AddHandler is attach.
  • Button.ClickEvent is the event.
  • d is delegate/handler. It is a layer to make sure the signature is correct
  • f is the real function/program provided to the delegate.
  • Rule#1: b must have this event Button.ClickEvent: b is type-Button-object. ClickEvent is a static property of type-ButtonBase which is inherited by type-Button. So Button-type will also have this static property ClickEvent.
  • Rule#2: d must be the handler of ClickEvent: ClickEvent is type-RoutedEvent. RoutedEvent's handler is RoutedEventHandler, just adding Handler at end. RoutedEventHandler is a defined delegate in .NET library. To create d, just let d = new RoutedEventHandler(f), where f is function.
  • Rule#3: f must have signature obeying delegate-d's definition: Check .NET library, RoutedEventHandler is a delegate of C#-signature: void RoutedEventHandler(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e). So f must have same signature. Present the signature in F# is (obj * RountedEventHandler) -> unit

Passing State To Callbacks[edit]

Events can pass state to callbacks with minimal effort. Here is a simple program which reads a file in blocks of characters:

open System
 
type SuperFileReader() =
    let progressChanged = new Event<int>()
 
    member this.ProgressChanged = progressChanged.Publish
 
    member this.OpenFile (filename : string, charsPerBlock) =
        use sr = new System.IO.StreamReader(filename)
        let streamLength = int64 sr.BaseStream.Length
        let sb = new System.Text.StringBuilder(int streamLength)
        let charBuffer = Array.zeroCreate<char> charsPerBlock
 
        let mutable oldProgress = 0
        let mutable totalCharsRead = 0
        progressChanged.Trigger(0)
        while not sr.EndOfStream do
            (* sr.ReadBlock returns number of characters read from stream *)
            let charsRead = sr.ReadBlock(charBuffer, 0, charBuffer.Length)
            totalCharsRead <- totalCharsRead + charsRead
 
            (* appending chars read from buffer *)
            sb.Append(charBuffer, 0, charsRead) |> ignore
 
            let newProgress = int(decimal totalCharsRead / decimal streamLength * 100m)
            if newProgress > oldProgress then
                progressChanged.Trigger(newProgress) // passes newProgress as state to callbacks
                oldProgress <- newProgress
 
        sb.ToString()
 
let fileReader = new SuperFileReader()
fileReader.ProgressChanged.Add(fun percent ->
    printfn "%i percent done..." percent)
 
let x = fileReader.OpenFile(@"C:\Test.txt", 50)
printfn "%s[...]" x.[0 .. if x.Length <= 100 then x.Length - 1 else 100]

This program has the following types:

type SuperFileReader =
  class
    new : unit -> SuperFileReader
    member OpenFile : filename:string * charsToRead:int -> string
    member ProgressChanged : IEvent<int>
  end
val fileReader : SuperFileReader
val x : string

Since our event has the type IEvent<int>, we can pass int data as state to listening callbacks. This program outputs the following:

0 percent done...
4 percent done...
9 percent done...
14 percent done...
19 percent done...
24 percent done...
29 percent done...
34 percent done...
39 percent done...
44 percent done...
49 percent done...
53 percent done...
58 percent done...
63 percent done...
68 percent done...
73 percent done...
78 percent done...
83 percent done...
88 percent done...
93 percent done...
98 percent done...
100 percent done...
In computer programming, event-driven programming or event-based programming is a programming paradig[...]

Retrieving State from Callers[edit]

A common idiom in event-driven programming is pre- and post-event handling, as well as the ability to cancel events. Cancellation requires two-way communication between an event handler and a listener, which we can easily accomplish through the use of ref cells or mutable members:

type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanging = new Event<string * bool ref>()
    let nameChanged = new Event<unit>()
 
    member this.NameChanging = nameChanging.Publish
    member this.NameChanged = nameChanged.Publish
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) =
            let cancelChange = ref false
            nameChanging.Trigger(value, cancelChange)
 
            if not !cancelChange then
                _name <- value
                nameChanged.Trigger()
 
let p = new Person("Bob")
 
p.NameChanging.Add(fun (name, cancel) ->
    let exboyfriends = ["Steve"; "Mike"; "Jon"; "Seth"]
    if List.exists (fun forbiddenName -> forbiddenName = name) exboyfriends then
        printfn "-- No %s's allowed!" name
        cancel := true
    else
        printfn "-- Name allowed")
 
p.NameChanged.Add(fun () ->
    printfn "-- Name changed to %s" p.Name)
 
let tryChangeName newName =
    printfn "Attempting to change name to '%s'" newName
    p.Name <- newName
 
tryChangeName "Joe"
tryChangeName "Moe"
tryChangeName "Jon"
tryChangeName "Thor"

This program has the following types:

type Person =
  class
    new : name:string -> Person
    member Name : string
    member NameChanged : IEvent<unit>
    member NameChanging : IEvent<string * bool ref>
    member Name : string with set
  end
val p : Person
val tryChangeName : string -> unit

This program outputs the following:

Attempting to change name to 'Joe'
-- Name allowed
-- Name changed to Joe
Attempting to change name to 'Moe'
-- Name allowed
-- Name changed to Moe
Attempting to change name to 'Jon'
-- No Jon's allowed!
Attempting to change name to 'Thor'
-- Name allowed
-- Name changed to Thor

If we need to pass a significant amount of state to listeners, then its recommended to wrap the state in an object as follows:

type NameChangingEventArgs(newName : string) =
    inherit System.EventArgs()
 
    let mutable cancel = false
    member this.NewName = newName
    member this.Cancel
        with get() = cancel
        and set(value) = cancel <- value
 
type Person(name : string) =
    let mutable _name = name;
    let nameChanging = new Event<NameChangingEventArgs>()
    let nameChanged = new Event<unit>()
 
    member this.NameChanging = nameChanging.Publish
    member this.NameChanged = nameChanged.Publish
 
    member this.Name
        with get() = _name
        and set(value) =
            let eventArgs = new NameChangingEventArgs(value)
            nameChanging.Trigger(eventArgs)
 
            if not eventArgs.Cancel then
                _name <- value
                nameChanged.Trigger()
 
let p = new Person("Bob")
 
p.NameChanging.Add(fun e ->
    let exboyfriends = ["Steve"; "Mike"; "Jon"; "Seth"]
    if List.exists (fun forbiddenName -> forbiddenName = e.NewName) exboyfriends then
        printfn "-- No %s's allowed!" e.NewName
        e.Cancel <- true
    else
        printfn "-- Name allowed")
 
(* ... rest of program ... *)

By convention, custom event parameters should inherit from System.EventArgs, and should have the suffix EventArgs.

Using the Event Module[edit]

F# allows users to pass event handlers around as first-class values in fundamentally the same way as all other functions. The Event module has a variety of functions for working with event handlers:

val choose : ('T -> 'U option) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'U> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event which fires on a selection of messages from the original event. The selection function takes an original message to an optional new message.

val filter : ('T -> bool) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'T> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event that listens to the original event and triggers the resulting event only when the argument to the event passes the given function.

val listen : ('T -> unit) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> unit (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Run the given function each time the given event is triggered.

val map : ('T -> 'U) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'U> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event which fires on a selection of messages from the original event. The selection function takes an original message to an optional new message.

val merge : IEvent<'del1,'T> -> IEvent<'del2,'T> -> IEvent<'T> (requires delegate and 'del1 :> Delegate and delegate and 'del2 :> Delegate)

Fire the output event when either of the input events fire.

val pairwise : IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'T * 'T> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event that triggers on the second and subsequent triggerings of the input event. The Nth triggering of the input event passes the arguments from the N-1th and Nth triggering as a pair. The argument passed to the N-1th triggering is held in hidden internal state until the Nth triggering occurs. You should ensure that the contents of the values being sent down the event are not mutable. Note that many EventArgs types are mutable, e.g. MouseEventArgs, and each firing of an event using this argument type may reuse the same physical argument obejct with different values. In this case you should extract the necessary information from the argument before using this combinator.

val partition : ('T -> bool) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'T> * IEvent<'T> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate

Return a new event that listens to the original event and triggers the first resulting event if the application of the predicate to the event arguments returned true, and the second event if it returned false.

val scan : ('U -> 'T -> 'U) -> 'U -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'U> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event consisting of the results of applying the given accumulating function to successive values triggered on the input event. An item of internal state records the current value of the state parameter. The internal state is not locked during the execution of the accumulation function, so care should be taken that the input IEvent not triggered by multiple threads simultaneously.

val split : ('T -> Choice<'U1,'U2>) -> IEvent<'del,'T> -> IEvent<'U1> * IEvent<'U2> (requires delegate and 'del :> Delegate)

Return a new event that listens to the original event and triggers the first resulting event if the application of the function to the event arguments returned a Choice2Of1, and the second event if it returns a Choice2Of2.

Take the following snippet:

p.NameChanging.Add(fun (e : NameChangingEventArgs) ->
    let exboyfriends = ["Steve"; "Mike"; "Jon"; "Seth"]
    if List.exists (fun forbiddenName -> forbiddenName = e.NewName) exboyfriends then
        printfn "-- No %s's allowed!" e.NewName
        e.Cancel <- true)

We can rewrite this in a more functional style as follows:

p.NameChanging
    |> Event.filter (fun (e : NameChangingEventArgs) ->  
        let exboyfriends = ["Steve"; "Mike"; "Jon"; "Seth"]
        List.exists (fun forbiddenName ->forbiddenName = e.NewName) exboyfriends )
    |> Event.listen (fun e ->
        printfn "-- No %s's allowed!" e.NewName
        e.Cancel <- true)
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