F# – Use Discriminated Unions instead of class hierarchies

You can become a serverless blackbelt. Enrol to my 4-week online workshop Production-Ready Serverless and gain hands-on experience building something from scratch using serverless technologies. At the end of the workshop, you should have a broader view of the challenges you will face as your serverless architecture matures and expands. You should also have a firm grasp on when serverless is a good fit for your system as well as common pitfalls you need to avoid. Sign up now and get 15% discount with the code yanprs15!

When you consider the age old problem of representing different shapes (circle, triangle, square, rectangle, etc.) my OO fed developer brain naturally jumps to a class hierarchy along the line of:


This is perfectly fine and legit, but it’s not the only way to approach things. Since I’ve been on a more varied diet of programming paradigms I’m much more open to the idea of using F#’s discriminated unions to represent hierarchical data.

Discriminated union is a fundamental type in function programming, and for C# developers, think of it as an Enum with strongly typed names where the names don’t have to be of the same type. Using discriminated unions, you can rewrite the above code as:


And to test it, let’s create some shapes and workout their respective areas:


Was that more difficult than its C# counterpart? Not at all, in fact, I’ve littered the F# code with comments and still ended up with near half as much code! Check out my solution for project euler problem 54, a working poker hand evaluator in 100 lines of code , pretty sweetSmile

Closing thoughts…

That said, class hierarchies are great at modelling real world entities and they allow you to capture commonalities and shared behaviours, if done correctly they can remove duplicated code and reduce defects.

Discriminated unions on the other hand, are a great fit for hierarchical data structures such as binary tree, and for small hierarchies it requires little overhead in setting them up so it can give you a nice productivity boost.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that you should start converting all your class hierarchies to discriminated unions, I think there is a lot of value in having it in your toolbox nonetheless. The more tools you have at your disposal the better, being able to use the right tool for the right task beats hammering a screw in my opinion!

Liked this article? Support me on Patreon and get direct help from me via a private Slack channel or 1-2-1 mentoring.
Subscribe to my newsletter

Hi, I’m Yan. I’m an AWS Serverless Hero and I help companies go faster for less by adopting serverless technologies successfully.

Are you struggling with serverless or need guidance on best practices? Do you want someone to review your architecture and help you avoid costly mistakes down the line? Whatever the case, I’m here to help.

Hire me.

Skill up your serverless game with this hands-on workshop.

My 4-week Production-Ready Serverless online workshop is back!

This course takes you through building a production-ready serverless web application from testing, deployment, security, all the way through to observability. The motivation for this course is to give you hands-on experience building something with serverless technologies while giving you a broader view of the challenges you will face as the architecture matures and expands.

We will start at the basics and give you a firm introduction to Lambda and all the relevant concepts and service features (including the latest announcements in 2020). And then gradually ramping up and cover a wide array of topics such as API security, testing strategies, CI/CD, secret management, and operational best practices for monitoring and troubleshooting.

If you enrol now you can also get 15% OFF with the promo code “yanprs15”.

Enrol now and SAVE 15%.

Check out my new podcast Real-World Serverless where I talk with engineers who are building amazing things with serverless technologies and discuss the real-world use cases and challenges they face. If you’re interested in what people are actually doing with serverless and what it’s really like to be working with serverless day-to-day, then this is the podcast for you.

Check out my new course, Learn you some Lambda best practice for great good! In this course, you will learn best practices for working with AWS Lambda in terms of performance, cost, security, scalability, resilience and observability. We will also cover latest features from re:Invent 2019 such as Provisioned Concurrency and Lambda Destinations. Enrol now and start learning!

Check out my video course, Complete Guide to AWS Step Functions. In this course, we’ll cover everything you need to know to use AWS Step Functions service effectively. There is something for everyone from beginners to more advanced users looking for design patterns and best practices. Enrol now and start learning!