You can accumulate an arbitrary, non-zero number of semigroup values to a single value. An article for object-oriented programmers.

This article is part of a series about semigroups. In short, a semigroup is an associative binary operation.

As you've learned in a previous article, you can accumulate an arbitrary number of monoidal values to a single value. A corresponding property holds for semigroups.

Monoid accumulation

When an instance method Op forms a monoid, you can easily write a function that accumulates an arbitrary number of Foo values:

public static Foo Accumulate(IReadOnlyCollection<Foo> foos)
    var acc = Identity;
    foreach (var f in foos)
        acc = acc.Op(f);
    return acc;

Notice how this generally applicable algorithm starts with the Identity value. One implication of this is that when foos is empty, the return value will be Identity. When Op is a semigroup, however, there's no identity, so this doesn't quite work. You need a value to start the accumulation; something you can return if the collection is empty.

Semigroup accumulation

From Haskell you can learn that if you have a semigroup, you can accumulate any non-empty collection:

sconcat :: Semigroup a => NonEmpty a -> a

You can read this as: for any generic type a, when a forms a Semigroup, the sconcat function takes a non-empty list of a values, and reduces them to a single a value. NonEmpty a is a list with at least one element.


You can also define a NotEmptyCollection<T> class in C#:

public class NotEmptyCollection<T> : IReadOnlyCollection<T>
    public NotEmptyCollection(T head, params T[] tail)
        if (head == null)
            throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(head));
        this.Head = head;
        this.Tail = tail;
    public T Head { get; }
    public IReadOnlyCollection<T> Tail { get; }
    public int Count { get => this.Tail.Count + 1; }
    public IEnumerator<T> GetEnumerator()
        yield return this.Head;
        foreach (var item in this.Tail)
            yield return item;
    IEnumerator IEnumerable.GetEnumerator()
        return this.GetEnumerator();

Because of the way the constructor is defined, you must supply at least one element in order to create an instance. You can provide any number of extra elements via the tail array, but one is minimum.

The Count property returns the number of elements in Tail, plus one, because there's always a Head value.

The GetEnumerator method returns an iterator that always starts with the Head value, and proceeds with all the Tail values, if there are any.

Finding the maximum of a non-empty collection

As you've already learned, Math.Max is a semigroup. Although the .NET Base Class Library has built-in methods for this, you can use a generally applicable algorithm to find the maximum value in a non-empty list of integers.

private static int Accumulate(NotEmptyCollection<int> numbers)
    var acc = numbers.Head;
    foreach (var n in numbers.Tail)
        acc = Math.Max(acc, n);
    return acc;

Notice how similar this algorithm is to monoid accumulation! The only difference is that instead of using Identity to get started, you can use Head, and then loop over all elements of Tail.

You can use it like this:

var nec = new NotEmptyCollection<int>(42, 1337, 123);
var max = Accumulate(nec);

Here, max is obviously 1337.

As usual, however, this is much nicer, and more succinct in Haskell:

Prelude Data.Semigroup Data.List.NonEmpty> getMax $ sconcat $ fmap Max $ 42 :| [1337, 123]

That's hardly the idiomatic way of getting a maximum element in Haskell, but it does show how you can 'click together' concepts in order to achieve a goal.


Perhaps the observant reader will, at this point, have recalled to him- or herself that the .NET Base Class Library already includes an Aggregate extension method, with an overload that takes a seed. In general, the simpliest Aggregate method doesn't gracefully handle empty collections, but using the overload that takes a seed is more robust. You can rewrite the above Accumulate method using Aggregate:

private static int Accumulate(NotEmptyCollection<int> numbers)
    return numbers.Tail.Aggregate(
        (x, y) => Math.Max(x, y));

Notice how you can pass Head as the seed, and accumulate the Tail using that starting point. The Aggregate method is more like Haskell's sconcat for semigroups than mconcat for monoids.


A semigroup operation can be used to reduce values to a single value, just like a monoid can. The only difference is that a semigroup operation can't reduce an empty collection, whereas a monoid can.

Next: Quasigroups

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Monday, 11 December 2017 08:28:00 UTC


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