Essay: SRFI-41 Streams

January 29, 2013

We have today our third essay: SRFI-41 Streams. An essay isn’t an exercise; it doesn’t present a task for you to perform, but instead provides extended discussion and complete source code. Though essays may be based on exercises, the idea is that an essay can delve more deeply into a topic than is possible in the limited space and time of an exercise.

Today’s essay describes a data structure that is fundamental to functional programming languages. Streams, also known as lazy lists, are a sequential data structure containing elements computed only on demand. A stream is either null or is a pair with a stream in its cdr. Since elements of a stream are computed only when accessed, streams can be infinite. Once computed, the value of a stream element is cached in case it is needed again. Streams without memoization were first described by Peter Landin in 1965. Memoization became accepted as an essential feature of streams about a decade later. Today, streams are the signature data type of functional programming languages such as Haskell.

Please read the essay, and feel free to comment on it below; comments on the essay itself are closed. Let me know if you see any errors. And feel free to link to the essay on the internet if you know of places where it is appropriate.

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