Validating and transforming data


The API is designed around the concept of Rule. A Rule[I, O] defines a way to validate and coerce data, from type I to type O. It's basically a function I => Validated[O], where I is the type of the input to validate, and O is the expected output type.

A simple example

Let's say you want to coerce a String into an Float. All you need to do is to define a Rule from String to Float:

import jto.validation._
def isFloat: Rule[String, Float] = ???

When a String is parsed into an Float, two scenarios are possible, either:

  • The String can be parsed as a Float.
  • The String can NOT be parsed as a Float

In a typical Scala application, you would use Float.parseFloat to parse a String. On an "invalid" value, this method throws a NumberFormatException.

When validating data, we'd certainly prefer to avoid exceptions, as the failure case is expected to happen quite often.

Furthermore, your application should handle it properly, for example by sending a nice error message to the end user. The execution flow of the application should not be altered by a parsing failure, but rather be part of the process. Exceptions are definitely not the appropriate tool for the job.

Back, to our Rule. For now we'll not implement isFloat, actually, the validation API comes with a number of built-in Rules, including the Float parsing Rule[String, Float].

All you have to do is import the default Rules.

import jto.validation._
object Rules extends GenericRules with ParsingRules

Let's now test it against different String values:

scala> Rules.floatR.validate("1")
res1: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Valid(1.0)

scala> Rules.floatR.validate("-13.7")
res2: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Valid(-13.7)

scala> Rules.floatR.validate("abc")
res3: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.number),WrappedArray(Float))))))

Rule is typesafe. You can't apply a Rule on an unsupported type, the compiler won't let you:

scala> Rules.floatR.validate(Seq(32))
<console>:20: error: type mismatch;
 found   : Seq[Int]
 required: String

"abc" is not a valid Float but no exception was thrown. Instead of relying on exceptions, validate is returning an object of type Validated (here VA is just a fancy alias for a special kind of validation).

Validated represents possible outcomes of Rule application, it can be either :

  • A Valid, holding the value being validated When we use Rule.float on "1", since "1" is a valid representation of a Float, it returns Valid(1.0)
  • A Invalid, containing all the errors. When we use Rule.float on "abc", since "abc" is not a valid representation of a Float, it returns Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(validation.type-mismatch,WrappedArray(Float)))))). That Invalid tells us all there is to know: it give us a nice message explaining what has failed, and even gives us a parameter "Float", indicating which type the Rule expected to find.

Note that Validated is a parameterized type. Just like Rule, it keeps track of the input and output types. The method validate of a Rule[I, O] always return a VA[I, O]

Defining your own Rules

Creating a new Rule is almost as simple as creating a new function. All there is to do is to pass a function I => Validated[I, O] to Rule.fromMapping.

This example creates a new Rule trying to get the first element of a List[Int]. In case of an empty List[Int], the rule should return a Invalid.

val headInt: Rule[List[Int], Int] = Rule.fromMapping {
  case Nil => Invalid(Seq(ValidationError("error.emptyList")))
  case head :: _ => Valid(head)
scala> headInt.validate(List(1, 2, 3, 4, 5))
res5: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Valid(1)

scala> headInt.validate(Nil)
res6: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.emptyList),WrappedArray())))))

We can make this rule a bit more generic:

def head[T]: Rule[List[T], T] = Rule.fromMapping {
  case Nil => Invalid(Seq(ValidationError("error.emptyList")))
  case head :: _ => Valid(head)
scala> head.validate(List('a', 'b', 'c', 'd'))
res7: jto.validation.VA[Char] = Valid(a)

scala> head.validate(List[Char]())
res8: jto.validation.VA[Char] = Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.emptyList),WrappedArray())))))

Composing Rules

Rules composition is very important in this API. Rule composition means that given two Rule a and b, we can easily create a new Rule c.

There two different types of composition

"Sequential" composition

Sequential composition means that given two rules a: Rule[I, J] and b: Rule[J, O], we can create a new rule c: Rule[I, O].

Consider the following example: We want to write a Rule that given a List[String], takes the first String in that List, and try to parse it as a Float.

We already have defined:

  1. head: Rule[List[T], T] returns the first element of a List
  2. float: Rule[String, Float] parses a String into a Float

We've done almost all the work already. We just have to create a new Rule the applies the first Rule and if it returns a Valid, apply the second Rule.

It would be fairly easy to create such a Rule "manually", but we don't have to. A method doing just that is already available:

val firstFloat: Rule[List[String], Float] = head.andThen(Rules.floatR)
scala> firstFloat.validate(List("1", "2"))
res9: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Valid(1.0)

scala> firstFloat.validate(List("1.2", "foo"))
res10: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Valid(1.2)

If the list is empty, we get the error from head

scala> firstFloat.validate(List())
res11: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.emptyList),WrappedArray())))))

If the first element is not parseable, we get the error from Rules.float.

scala> firstFloat.validate(List("foo", "2"))
res12: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Invalid(List((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.number),WrappedArray(Float))))))

Of course everything is still typesafe:

scala> firstFloat.validate(List(1, 2, 3))
<console>:22: error: type mismatch;
 found   : Int(1)
 required: String
       firstFloat.validate(List(1, 2, 3))
<console>:22: error: type mismatch;
 found   : Int(2)
 required: String
       firstFloat.validate(List(1, 2, 3))
<console>:22: error: type mismatch;
 found   : Int(3)
 required: String
       firstFloat.validate(List(1, 2, 3))

Improving reporting.

All is fine with our new Rule but the error reporting when we parse an element is not perfect yet. When a parsing error happens, the Invalid does not tell us that it happened on the first element of the List.

To fix that, we can pass an additionnal parameter to andThen:

val firstFloat2: Rule[List[String],Float] = head.andThen(Path \ 0)(Rules.floatR)
scala> firstFloat2.validate(List("foo", "2"))
res14: jto.validation.VA[Float] = Invalid(List(([0],List(ValidationError(List(error.number),WrappedArray(Float))))))

"Parallel" composition

Parallel composition means that given two rules a: Rule[I, O] and b: Rule[I, O], we can create a new rule c: Rule[I, O].

This form of composition is almost exclusively used for the particular case of rules that are purely constraints, that is, a Rule[I, I] checking a value of type I satisfies a predicate, but does not transform that value.

Consider the following example: We want to write a Rule that given an Int, check that this Int is positive and even. The validation API already provides Rules.min, we have to define even ourselves:

val positive: Rule[Int,Int] = Rules.min(0)
val even: Rule[Int,Int] = Rules.validateWith[Int]("error.even"){ _ % 2 == 0 }

Now we can compose those rules using |+|

val positiveAndEven: Rule[Int,Int] = positive |+| even

Let's test our new Rule:

scala> positiveAndEven.validate(12)
res15: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Valid(12)

scala> positiveAndEven.validate(-12)
res16: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Invalid(ArrayBuffer((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.min),WrappedArray(0))))))

scala> positiveAndEven.validate(13)
res17: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Invalid(ArrayBuffer((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.even),WrappedArray())))))

scala> positiveAndEven.validate(-13)
res18: jto.validation.VA[Int] = Invalid(ArrayBuffer((/,List(ValidationError(List(error.min),WrappedArray(0)), ValidationError(List(error.even),WrappedArray())))))

Note that both rules are applied. If both fail, we get two ValidationError.

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