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Posted on • Originally published at Medium on

Why is there no need for Multicase matching in Elm

As a beginner developer with Elm, I quickly ended up both loving the union types and the _ operator but founded a tad bit irritating the absence of Multicase matching until … Until I saw the light!


Use the following pattern whenever you have some behaviour shared by several constructor of your union types and stay away from the _ operator!

The problem with single case matching

Let's say I want to create a task tracking software. I might end up with this Item type to describe my model:

As you can guess, a lot of operations are gonna require the same treatment for most kind of Item : assigning the item to somebody, changing the start or end date, adding/editing a description, … while there will be some that will differ. So how can we deal with that?

Using the underscore matching

When I encountered this problem my first idea was to use the _ to match all the kind of Item that didn't require a specific treatment for any given case ... of . There are two main problems with that approach: we can't get the properties and it introduce potential BUGS! And by that I mean problems and unexpected behaviour that won't be caught up by the compiler. But first let's see how it looks:

Let's take back the Item example and let's pretend that we want to create a new kind of Item : milestone. Say milestones do not have start date but are just used as deadlines. Say my app is pretty developed and I am doing a lot of things on my Item and use the underscore matching a lot. By adding a new kind of Item in my union type I'd expect the compiler to throw a bunch of errors at my face directly which will not happen in that case: my new kind Milestone would already be matched by the _ so there will not be anything wrong that will be caught by the compiler. Yet I probably don' t want my Milestone items to be dealt with like any other items… So I would have to resolve to looking up for any _ and make sure that I adapt the code manually.

The replacement

Use let … in! (or make another helper function)… It really is as simple as that… instead of making multicase matching, put the common treatment in a function within the let ... in or put it outside if the treatment is consequent and use it afterwards:

And voilà ! It sounds pretty stupid but I hope it helps!

Here is a small "project" showing this… nothing fancy, only one message and one button.

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