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1. Fast Immutable Collections

This package is brought to you by Philippe Fanaro, and myself, Marcelo Glasberg. The below documentation is very detailed. For an overview, go to my Medium story. You may also check Philippe's article.

1.1. Introduction

This package, called FIC for short, provides:

  • IList, an immutable list
  • ISet, an immutable set
  • IMap, an immutable map
  • IMapOfSets, an immutable map of sets (a multimap)
  • Lock and unlock extensions, so you can easily transform mutable collections into immutable ones, and vice-versa. For example: [1, 2].lock
  • Global and local configurations that alter how your immutable collections behave with respect to equality, sorting, caching, and flushing.
  • Optional deep equalities and cached hashCodes, which let you treat your collections as value-objects
  • Mixins for you to build your own immutable collections or objects
  • View wrappers, so that you can work with immutable collection as if they were mutable

Other valuable features are:

  • ListSet, a very efficient fixed-size mutable collection which is at the same time an ordered Set and a List.

  • ListMap is a mutable, fixed-sized, and ordered map which has some very efficient List methods, like sort and shuffle, and lets you efficiently read its information by index.

  • General purpose extensions to the native collections: List, Set, Map. See classes FicListExtension, FicSetExtension, and FicMapExtension. For example: [1, 2, 1].removeDuplicates()

  • Other extensions: FicIterableExtension, FicIteratorExtension, FicMapIteratorExtension, FicComparatorExtension, FicComparableExtension and FicBooleanExtension. For example: false.compareTo(true)

  • Comparators and related helpers to be used with native or immutable collections, or any sort algorithms, such as compareObject, sortBy, sortLike, if0, in sort.dart.


Fast Immutable Collections is a competitor to the excellent built_collection and kt_dart packages, but it's much easier to use than the former, and orders of magnitude faster than the latter.

The reason it's easier than built_collection is that there is no need for manual mutable/immutable cycles. You just create your immutable collections and use them directly.

The reason it's faster than kt_dart is that it creates immutable collections by internally saving only the difference between each collection, instead of copying the whole collection each time. This is transparent to the developer, who doesn't need to know about these implementation details. Later in this document, we provide benchmarks so that you can compare speeds — and you can also run the benchmarks yourself.

Benckmarks GIF

The benchmark_app compares FIC's performance to other packages — you might need to run it with flutter run --no-sound-null-safety since some of its dependencies haven't yet transitioned into NNBD.



Table of Contents


2. IList

An IList is an immutable list, meaning once it's created it cannot be modified. You can create an IList by passing an iterable to its constructor, or you can simply "lock" a regular list. Other iterables (which are not lists) can also be locked as lists:

/// Ways to build an IList

// Using the IList constructor                                                                      
IList<String> ilist = IList([1, 2]);
                              
// Locking a regular list
IList<String> ilist = [1, 2].lock;
                          
// Locking a set as list
IList<String> ilist = {1, 2}.toIList();

To create a regular List from an IList, you can use List.of, or simply "unlock" an immutable list:

/// Going back from IList to List
                 
var ilist = [1, 2].lock;
                                    
// Using List.of                                  
List<String> list = List.of(ilist);                               
                                  
// Is the same as unlocking the IList
List<String> list = ilist.unlock; 

An IList is an Iterable, so you can iterate over it:

var ilist = [1, 2, 3, 4].lock;
                                                            
// Prints 1 2 3 4
for (int value in ilist) print(value);  

IList methods to add and remove items return a new IList, instead of modifying the original one. For example:

var ilist1 = [1, 2].lock;
                                                  
// Results in: 1, 2, 3
var ilist2 = ilist1.add(3);
                                             
// Results in: 1, 3
var ilist3 = ilist2.remove(2);             
               
// Still: 1, 2
print(ilist1); 

Because of that, you can easily chain methods:

// Results in: 1, 3, 4.
var ilist = [1, 2, 3].lock.add(4).remove(2);

Since IList methods always return a new IList, it is a mistake to call a method on it and then discard the result:

var ilist = [1, 2].lock;
                                                  
// Wrong
ilist.add(3);              
print(ilist); // 1, 2

// Also wrong
ilist = ilist..add(3);              
print(ilist); // 1, 2

// Right!
ilist = ilist.add(3);              
print(ilist); // 1, 2, 3                        

IList has all the methods of List, plus some other new and useful ones. Those List methods that return iterables also return iterables for the IList. You can turn an Iterable into a List by calling .toList(), and into an IList by calling .toIList(). For example:

IList<int> ilist = ['Bob', 'Alice', 'Dominic', 'Carl'].lock   
   .sort() // Alice, Bob, Carl, Dominic
   .map((name) => name.length) // 5, 3, 4, 7
   .take(3) // 5, 3, 4
   .toIList()
   .sort() // 3, 4, 5
   .toggle(4) // 3, 5,
   .toggle(2); // 3, 5, 2;

The replace method is the equivalent of operator []= for the IList. For example:

IList<int> ilist = ['Bob', 'Alice', 'Dominic'].lock;

// Results in ['Bob', 'John', 'Dominic'] 
ilist = ilist.replace(1, 'John');     

2.1. IList Equality

By default, ILists are equal if they have the same items in the same order.

var ilist1 = [1, 2, 3].lock;
var ilist2 = [1, 2, 3].lock;
                                    
// False!
print(identical(ilist1 == ilist2));
                         
// True!
print(ilist1 == ilist2);

This is in sharp contrast to regular Lists, which are compared by identity:

var list1 = [1, 2, 3];
var list2 = [1, 2, 3];
                      
// Regular Lists compare by identity:
print(identical(ilist1 == ilist2)); // False!
print(list1 == list2); // False!

// While ILists compare by deep equals:
print(list1.lock == list2.lock); // True!

This also means ILists can be used as map keys, which is a very useful property in itself, but can also help when implementing some other interesting data structures. For example, to implement ** caches**:

Map<IList, int> sumResult = {};

String getSum(int a, int b) {
   var keys = [a, b].lock;
   var sum = sumResult[keys];

   if (sum != null) {
     return "Got from cache: $a + $b = $sum";
   } else {
     sum = a + b;
     sumResult[keys] = sum;
     return "Newly calculated: $a + $b = $sum";
   }
}

print(getSum(5, 3)); // Newly calculated: 5 + 3 = 8
print(getSum(8, 9)); // Newly calculated: 8 + 9 = 17                     
print(getSum(5, 3)); // Got from cache: 5 + 3 = 8

However, ILists are configurable, and you can actually create ILists which compare their internals by identity or deep equals, as desired. There are 3 main ways to do it:

  1. You can use getters withIdentityEquals and withDeepEquals:

     var ilist = [1, 2].lock;
    
     var ilist1 = [1, 2].lock;              // By default use deep equals.
     var ilist2 = ilist.withIdentityEquals; // Change it to identity equals.
     var ilist3 = ilist2.withDeepEquals;    // Change it back to deep equals.
    
     print(ilist == ilist1); // True!
     print(ilist == ilist2); // False!
     print(ilist == ilist3); // True!
    
  2. You can also use the withConfig method and the ConfigList class to change the configuration:

     var list = [1, 2];
     var ilist1 = list.lock.withConfig(ConfigList(isDeepEquals: true));
     var ilist2 = list.lock.withConfig(ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false));
    
     print(list.lock == ilist1); // True!
     print(list.lock == ilist2); // False!
    
  3. Or you can use the withConfig constructor to explicitly create the IList already with your desired configuration:

     var list = [1, 2];
     var ilist1 = IList.withConfig(list, ConfigList(isDeepEquals: true));
     var ilist2 = IList.withConfig(list, ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false));
    
     print(list.lock == ilist1); // True!
     print(list.lock == ilist2); // False!
    

The above described configurations affect how the == operator works, but you can also choose how to compare lists by using the following IList methods:

  • equalItems will return true only if the IList items are equal to the iterable items, and in the same order. This may be slow for very large lists, since it compares each item, one by one. You can compare the list with ordered sets, but unordered sets will throw an error.

  • unorderedEqualItems will return true only if the IList and the iterable items have the same number of elements, and the elements of the IList can be paired with the elements of the iterable, so that each pair is equal. This may be slow for very large lists, since it compares each item, one by one.

  • equalItemsAndConfig will return true only if the list items are equal and in the same order, and the list configurations are equal. This may be slow for very large lists, since it compares each item, one by one.

  • same will return true only if the lists internals are the same instances (comparing by identity). This will be fast even for very large lists, since it doesn't compare each item. Note: This is not the same as identical(list1, list2) since it doesn't compare the lists themselves, but their internal state. Comparing the internal state is better, because it will return true more often.

2.1.1 Cached HashCode

By default, the hashCode of IList and the other immutable collections is cached once calculated.

This not only speeds up the use of these collections inside of sets and maps, but it also speeds up their deep equals. The reason is simple: Two equal objects always have the same hashCode. So, if the cashed hashCode of two immutable collections are not the same, we know the collections are different, and there is no need to check each collection item, one by one.

However, this only works if the collections are really immutable, and not simply unmodifiable. If you put modifiable objects into an IList and then later modify those objects, this breaks the immutability of the IList, which then becomes simply unmodifiable.

In other words, even if you can't change which objects the list contains, if the objects themselves will be changed, then the hashCode must not be cached. Therefore, if you intend on using the IList to hold modifiable objects, you should think about turning off the hashCode cache. For example:

var ilist1 = [1, 2].lock.withConfig(ConfigList(cacheHashCode: false));
var ilist2 = IList.withConfig([1, 2], ConfigList(cacheHashCode: false));

Note: Modifying mutable objects in a collection could only make sense for lists anyway, since lists don't rely on the equality and hashCode of their items to structure themselves. If objects are modified after you put them into both mutable or immutable sets and maps, this most likely breaks the sets/maps they belong to.

2.2. Global IList Configuration

As explained above, the default configuration of the IList is that:

  • It compares by deep equality: They are equal if they have the same items in the same order.
  • The hashCode cache is turned on.

You can globally change this default if you want, by using the defaultConfig setter:

var list = [1, 2];

/// The default is deep-equals.
var ilistA1 = IList(list);
var ilistA2 = IList(list);
print(ilistA1 == ilistA2); // True!

/// Now we change the default to identity-equals, and hashCode cache off. 
/// This will affect lists created from now on.
defaultConfig = ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false, cacheHashCode: false);
var ilistB1 = IList(list);
var ilistB2 = IList(list);
print(ilistB1 == ilistB2); // False!

/// Configuration changes don't affect existing lists.
print(ilistA1 == ilistA2); // True!

Important note:

The global configuration is meant to be decided during your app's initialization, and then not changed again. We strongly suggest that you prohibit further changes to the global configuration by calling ImmutableCollection.lockConfig(); after you set your desired configuration.

2.3. Usage in tests

An IList is not a List, so this is false:

[1, 2] == [1, 2].lock // False!

However, when you are writing tests, the expect method actually compares all Iterables by comparing their items. Since List and IList are iterables, you can write the following tests:

/// All these tests pass:

expect([1, 2], [1, 2]); // List with List, same order.
expect([1, 2].lock, [1, 2]); // IList with List, same order.
expect([1, 2], [1, 2].lock); // List with IList, same order.
expect([1, 2].lock, [1, 2].lock); // IList with IList, same order.

expect([2, 1], isNot([1, 2])); // List with List, wrong order.
expect([2, 1].lock, isNot([1, 2])); // IList with List, wrong order.
expect([2, 1], isNot([1, 2].lock)); // List with IList, wrong order.
expect([2, 1].lock, isNot([1, 2].lock)); // IList with IList, wrong order.

So, for comparing List with IList and vice-versa this is fine.

However, expect treats Sets differently, resulting that expect(a, b) may be different from expect(b, a). For example:

expect([1, 2], {2, 1}); // This test passes.
expect({2, 1}, [1, 2]); // This test does NOT pass.

If you ask me, this is all very confusing. A good rule of thumb to avoid all these expect complexities is only comparing lists to lists, sets to sets, etc.

2.4. IList reuse by composition

Classes FromIListMixin and FromIterableIListMixin let you easily create your own immutable classes based on the IList. This helps you create more strongly typed collections, and add your own methods to them.

For example, suppose you have a Student class:

class Student implements Comparable<Student>{
  final String name;

  Student(this.name);

  String toString() => name; 

  bool operator ==(Object other) => identical(this, other) || other is Student && runtimeType == other.runtimeType && name == other.name;  

  int get hashCode => name.hashCode;

  @override
  int compareTo(Student other) => name.compareTo(other.name);
}

And suppose you want to create a Students class which is an immutable collection of Students.

You can easily implement it using the FromIListMixin:

class Students with FromIListMixin<Student, Students> {

  /// This is the boilerplate to create the collection:
  final IList<Student> _students;

  Students([Iterable<Student> students]) : _students = IList(students);

  Students newInstance(IList<Student> ilist) => Students(ilist);

  IList<Student> get ilist => _students;   
                                                        
  /// And then you can add your own specific methods:
  String greetings() => "Hello ${_students.join(", ")}.";
}

And then use it like this:

var james = Student("James");
var sara = Student("Sara");
var lucy = Student("Lucy");
              
// Most IList methods are available:
var students = Students().add(james).addAll([sara, lucy]);

expect(students, [james, sara, lucy]);
                             
// Prints: "Hello James, Sara, Lucy."
print(students.greetings()); 

There are a few aspects of native Dart collection mixins which I don't like, so I've tried to improve on those here.

  • First is that some Dart mixins let you create inefficient methods (like fore example, a length getter which has to iterate through all items to yield a result). All mixins within FIC are as efficient as the underlying immutable collection, so you don't need to worry about this problem.

  • Second is that the native Dart mixins implement their respective collections. For example, a ListMixin implements List. I don't think this is desirable. For example, should a Students class be an IList by default? I don't think so. For this reason, the FromIListMixin is not called IListMixin, and it does not implement IList nor Iterable.

  • Third, unfortunately, the expect method in tests compares iterables by comparing their items. So, if the Students class were to implement Iterable, the expect method would completely ignore its operator ==, which probably is not what you want.

Note, you can still iterate through the Students class in the example by calling .iter on it:

for (Student student in students.iter) { ... }

And also, if you really do want it to implement Iterable, you can do so by explicitly declaring it:

class Students with FromIListMixin<Student, Students> implements Iterable<Student> { ... }

class Students with FromIterableIListMixin<Student> implements Iterable<Student> { ... }

Please refer to the FromIListMixin's and FromIterableIListMixin's own documentation to learn how to use these mixins in detail.

2.5. Advanced usage

There are a few ways to lock and unlock a list, which will have different results in speed and safety.

IList<int> ilist = [1, 2, 3].lock;       // Safe
IList<int> ilist = [1, 2, 3].lockUnsafe; // Unsafe, fast

List<int> list = ilist.unlock;           // Safe and mutable
List<int> list = ilist.unlockView;       // Safe, fast and immutable
List<int> list = ilist.unlockLazy;       // Safe, fast and mutable

Suppose you have a List. These are your options to create an IList from it:

  • Getter lock will create an internal defensive copy of the original list, which will be used to back the IList. This is the same as doing: IList(list).

  • Getter lockUnsafe is fast, since it makes no defensive copies of the list. However, you should only use this with a new list you've created yourself, when you are sure no external copies exist. If the original list is modified, it will break the IList and any other derived lists in unpredictable ways. Use this at your own peril. This is the same as doing: IList.unsafe(list). Note you can optionally disallow unsafe constructors in the global configuration by doing: disallowUnsafeConstructors = true — and then optionally prevent further configuration changes by calling ImmutableCollection.lockConfig().

These are your options to obtain a regular List back from an IList:

  • Getter unlock unlocks the list, returning a regular (mutable, growable) List. This returned list is "safe", in the sense that is newly created, independent of the original IList or any other lists.

  • Getter unlockView unlocks the list, returning a safe, unmodifiable (immutable) List view. The word "view" means the list is backed by the original IList. This is very fast, since it makes no copies of the IList items. However, if you try to use methods that modify the list, like add, it will throw an UnsupportedError. It is also very fast to lock this list back into an IList.

  • Getter unlockLazy unlocks the list, returning a safe, modifiable (mutable) List. Using this is very fast at first, since it makes no copies of the IList items. However, if (and only if) you use a method that mutates the list, like add, it will unlock it internally (make a copy of all IList items). This is transparent to you, and will happen at most only once. In other words, it will unlock the IList lazily, only if necessary. If you never mutate the list, it will be very fast to lock this list back into an IList.

2.6. Iterables to create IList fields

If you have a class that has an IList field, you may be tempted to accept an IList in its constructor:

class Students {
   final IList<String> names;   
   Students(this.names);
}

However, it's more flexible if you allow for any Iterable in the constructor:

class Students {
   final IList<String> names;   
   Students(Iterable<String> names) : names = IList(names);
}

Note, this constructor is very fast, because IList(names) will return the same names instance if names is already an IList.

Forcing non-default configurations

This can also be used to enforce custom configurations. For example:

class Students {
   static const config = ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false);  
   final IList<String> names;
      
   Students(Iterable<String> names) : 
      names = IList.withConfig(names, config);
}

The above code guarantees the names field will have the desired ConfigList configuration. Note, this constructor is still very fast, because IList(names) will return the same names instance if names is already an IList with the correct configuration. It will only create a new IList if names is not an IList or if it is but the configuration is different.

copyWith

The IList.orNull() factory is useful if you want your copyWith() method to accept Iterables. For example :

class Students {
   static const config = ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false);  
   final IList<String> names;
      
   Students(Iterable<String>? names) : 
      names = IList.withConfig(names, config);
   
   Students copyWith({Iterable<String>? names}) => 
      Students(names: IList.orNull(names) ?? this.names);
}

Nullable fields

In case your names field is a nullable IList, you can use the IList.orNull() factory in your class constructor:

class Students {
   static const config = ConfigList(isDeepEquals: false);  
   final IList<String>? names;
      
   Students(Iterable<String>? names) : 
      names = IList.orNull(names, config);
}

3. ISet

An ISet is an immutable set, meaning once it's created it cannot be modified. An ISet may keep the insertion order, or it may be sorted, depending on its configuration.

You can create an ISet by passing an iterable to its constructor, or you can simply "lock" a regular set. Other iterables (which are not sets) can also be locked as sets:

/// Ways to build an ISet

// Using the ISet constructor                                                                      
ISet<String> iset = ISet({1, 2});
                              
// Locking a regular set
ISet<String> iset = {1, 2}.lock;
                          
// Locking a list as set
ISet<String> iset = [1, 2].toISet();

To create a regular Set from an ISet, you can use Set.of, or simply "unlock" an immutable set:

/// Going back from ISet to Set
                 
var iset = {1, 2}.lock;
                                    
// Using Set.of                                  
Set<String> set = Set.of(iset);                               
                                  
// Is the same as unlocking the ISet
Set<String> set = iset.unlock; 

3.1. Similarities and Differences to the IList

Since I don't want to repeat myself, all the topics below are explained in much less detail here than for IList. Please read the IList explanation first, before trying to understand ISet.

  • An ISet is an Iterable, so you can iterate over it.

  • ISet has all the methods of Set, plus some other new and useful ones. ISet methods to add or remove items return a new ISet, instead of modifying the original one. Because of that, you can easily chain methods. But since ISet methods return a new ISet, it is an error to call a method on it and then discard the result.

  • ISets with "deep equals" configuration are equal if they have the same items in any order. They can be used as map keys, which is a very useful property in itself, but can also help when implementing some other interesting data structures.

  • However, ISets are configurable, and you can actually create ISets which compare their internals by identity or deep equals, as desired.

  • To choose a configuration, you can use getters withIdentityEquals and withDeepEquals; or else use the withConfig method and the ConfigSet class to change the configuration; or else use the withConfig constructor to explicitly create the ISet with your desired configuration.

  • The configuration affects how the == operator works, but you can also choose how to compare sets by using the following ISet methods: equalItems, equalItemsAndConfig and same. Note, however, there is no unorderedEqualItems like in the IList, because since ISets are unordered the equalItems method already disregards the order.

  • Classes FromISetMixin and FromIterableISetMixin let you easily create your own immutable classes based on the ISet. This helps you create more strongly typed collections, and add your own methods to them.

  • You can flush an ISet by using the getter .flush. Note flush just optimizes the set ** internally**, and no external difference will be visible. Depending on the global configuration, the ISets will flush automatically for you.

  • There are a few ways to lock and unlock a set, which will have different results in speed and safety. Getter lock will create an internal defensive copy of the original set. Getter lockUnsafe is fast, since it makes no defensive copies of the set. Getter unlock unlocks the set, returning a regular (mutable, growable) set. Getter unlockView unlocks the set, returning a safe, unmodifiable (immutable) set view. And getter unlockLazy unlocks the set, returning a safe, modifiable (mutable) set.

      ISet<int> iset = {1, 2, 3}.lock;       // Safe, immutable
      ISet<int> iset = {1, 2, 3}.lockUnsafe; // Unsafe, fast
      Set<int> set = iset.unlock;            // Safe, mutable, defensive copy
      Set<int> set = iset.unlockView;        // Safe, fast and immutable
      Set<int> set = iset.unlockLazy;        // Safe, fast and mutable
    

3.2. Global ISet Configuration

The default configuration of the ISet is ConfigSet(isDeepEquals: true, sort: false, cacheHashCode: true):

  1. isDeepEquals: true compares by deep equality: They are equal if they have the same items in the same order.

  2. sort: false means it keeps insertion order. But sort: true means it will iterate in sorted order.

  3. cacheHashCode: true means the hashCode is cached. It's not recommended turning this cache off for sets.

You can globally change this default if you want, by using the defaultConfig setter: defaultConfig = ConfigSet(isDeepEquals: false, sort: true, cacheHashCode: false);.

Note that ConfigSet is similar to ConfigList, but it has the extra parameter sort:

/// The default is to use insertion order. Prints: "2,4,1,9,3"
var iset = {2, 4, 1, 9, 3}.lock;  
print(iset.join(","));

/// Prints sorted: "1,2,3,4,9"
var iset = {2, 4, 1, 9, 3}.lock.withConfig(ConfigSet(sort: true));  
print(iset.join(","));

As previously discussed with the IList, the global configuration is meant to be decided during your app's initialization, and then not changed ever again. We strongly suggest you prohibit further changes to the global configuration by calling ImmutableCollection.lockConfig(); after you set your desired configuration.

4. IMap

An IMap is an immutable map, meaning once it's created it cannot be modified. An IMap may keep the insertion order, or it may be sorted, depending on its configuration.

You can create an IMap by passing a regular map to its constructor, or you can simply "lock" a regular map. There are also a few other specialized constructors:

/// Ways to build an IMap

// Using the IMap constructor                                                                      
IMap<String, int> imap = IMap({"a": 1, "b": 2});
                              
// Locking a regular map
IMap<String, int> imap = {"a": 1, "b": 2}.lock;
                          
// From map entries
IMap<String, int> imap = IMap.fromEntries([MapEntry("a", 1), MapEntry("b", 2)]);

// From keys and a value-mapper
// This results in {"Jim": 3, "David": 5}
IMap<String, int> imap = 
    IMap.fromKeys(keys: ["Jim", "David"], 
                  valueMapper: (name) => name.length);

// From a key-mapper and values          
// This results in {3: "Jim", 5: "David"}
IMap<int, String> imap = 
    IMap.fromValues(keyMapper: (name) => name.length, 
                    values: ["Jim", "David"]);

// From an Iterable and key/value mappers          
// This results in {"JIM": 3, "DAVID": 5}
IMap<int, String> imap = 
    IMap.fromIterable(["Jim", "David"], 
                      keyMapper: (name) => name.toUppercase(),
                      valueMapper: (name) => name.length);

// From key and value Iterables          
// This results in {"a": 1, "b": 2}
IMap<int, String> imap = IMap.fromIterables(["a", "b"], [1, 2]);                      

To create a regular Map from an IMap, you can "unlock" an immutable map:

/// Going back from IMap to Map
                 
IMap<String, int> imap = {"a": 1, "b": 2}.lock;
Map<String, int> map = imap.unlock; 

4.1. Similarities and Differences to IList/ISet

Since I don't want to repeat myself, all the topics below are explained in much less detail here than for IList. Please read the IList explanation first, before trying to understand IMap.

  • Just like a regular map, an IMap is not an Iterable. However, you can iterate over its entries, keys and values:

      /// To Iterable (lazy)
      Iterable<MapEntry<K, V>> get entries;  
      Iterable<K> get keys;
      Iterable<V> get values;
    
      /// To IList
      IList<MapEntry<K, V>> toEntryIList();
      IList<K> toKeyIList();
      IList<V> toValueIList();                       
    
      /// To ISet
      ISet<MapEntry<K, V>> toEntryISet();
      ISet<K> toKeyISet();
      ISet<V> toValueISet();
    
      /// To List
      List<MapEntry<K, V>> toEntryList();
      List<K> toKeyList();
      List<V> toValueList();
    
      /// To Set
      Set<MapEntry<K, V>> toEntrySet();
      Set<K> toKeySet();
      Set<V> toValueSet();
    
      /// To Iterator
      Iterator<MapEntry<K, V>> get iterator;                     
    
  • IMap has all the methods of Map, plus some other new and useful ones. IMap methods to add and remove entries return a new IMap, instead of modifying the original one. Because of that, you can easily chain methods. But since IMap methods return a new IMap, it is an error to call some method and then discard the result.

  • IMaps with "deep equals" configuration are equal if they have the same entries in any order. These maps can be used as map keys themselves.

  • However, IMaps are configurable, and you can actually create IMaps which compare their internals by identity or deep equals, as desired.

  • To choose a configuration, you can use getters withIdentityEquals and withDeepEquals; or else use the withConfig method and the ConfigMap class to change the configuration; or else use the withConfig constructor to explicitly create the IMap with your desired configuration.

  • The configuration affects how the == operator works, but you can also choose how to compare sets by using the following IMap methods: equalItems, equalItemsAndConfig, unorderedEqualItems, equalItemsToIMap and same.

  • You can flush an IMap by using the getter .flush. Note flush just optimizes the map ** internally**, and no external difference will be visible. Depending on the global configuration, the IMaps will flush automatically for you.

  • There are a few ways to lock and unlock a map, which will have different results in speed and safety. Getter lock will create an internal defensive copy of the original map. Getter lockUnsafe is fast, since it makes no defensive copies of the map. Getter unlock unlocks the map, returning a regular (mutable, growable) set. Getter unlockView unlocks the map, returning a safe, unmodifiable (immutable) map view. And getter unlockLazy unlocks the map, returning a safe, modifiable (mutable) map.

      IMap<String, int> imap = {"a": 1, "b": 2}.lock;        // Safe
      IMap<String, int> imap = {"a": 1, "b": 2}.lockUnsafe;  // Unsafe and fast
    
      Map<String, int> set = imap.unlock;                    // Safe, mutable and unordered
      Map<String, int> set = imap.unlockSorted;              // Safe, mutable and ordered 
      Map<String, int> set = imap.unlockView;                // Safe, fast and immutable
      Map<String, int> set = imap.unlockLazy;                // Safe, fast and mutable
    

4.2. Global IMap Configuration

The default configuration of the IMap is ConfigMap(isDeepEquals: true, sort: false, cacheHashCode: true):

  1. isDeepEquals: true compares by deep equality: They are equal if they have the same entries in the same order.

  2. sort: false means it keeps insertion order, while sort: true means it will sort by keys.

  3. cacheHashCode: true means the hashCode is cached. It's not recommended turning this cache off for maps.

You can globally change this default if you want, by using the defaultConfig setter: defaultConfig = ConfigMap(isDeepEquals: false, sort: true, cacheHashCode: false);

/// Prints sorted: "1,2,4,9"
var imap = {2: "a", 4: "x", 1: "z", 9: "k"}.lock;  
print(imap.keyList.join(","));

/// Prints in any order: "2,4,1,9"
var imap = {2: "a", 4: "x", 1: "z", 9: "k"}.lock.withConfig(ConfigMap(sort: false));  
print(imap.keyList.join(","));

As previously discussed with IList and ISet, the global configuration is meant to be decided during your app's initialization, and then not changed again. We strongly suggest that you prohibit further changes to the global configuration by calling ImmutableCollection.lockConfig(); after you set your desired configuration.

5. IMapOfSets

When you lock a Map<K, V> it turns into an IMap<K, V>.

However, a locked Map<K, Set<V>> turns into an IMapOfSets<K, V>.

/// Map to IMap
IMap<K, V> map = {'a': 1, 'b': 2}.lock;

/// Map to IMapOfSets
IMapOfSets<K, V> map = {'a': {1, 2}, 'b': {3, 4}}.lock;

A "map of sets" is a type of multimap. The IMapOfSets lets you add and remove values, without having to think about the sets that contain them. For example:

IMapOfSets<K, V> map = {'a': {1, 2}, 'b': {3, 4}}.lock;

// Prints {'a': {1, 2, 3}, 'b': {3, 4}}
print(map.add('a', 3)); 

Suppose you want to create an immutable structure that lets you arrange Students into Courses. Each student can be enrolled into one or more courses.

This can be modeled by a map where the keys are the courses, and the values are sets of students.

Implementing structures that nest immutable collections like this can be quite tricky and error-prone. That's where an IMapOfSets comes handy:

class StudentsPerCourse {
  final IMapOfSets<Course
  , Student> imap;

  StudentsPerCourse([Map<Course, Set<Student>> studentsPerCourse])
      : imap = (studentsPerCourse ?? {}).lock;

  StudentsPerCourse._(this.imap);

  ISet<Course> courses() => imap.keysAsSet;

  ISet<Student> students() => imap.valuesAsSet;

  IMapOfSets<Student, Course> getCoursesPerStudent() => imap.invertKeysAndValues();

  IList<Student> studentsInAlphabeticOrder() =>
      imap.valuesAsSet.toIList(compare: (s1, s2) => s1.name.compareTo(s2.name));

  IList<String> studentNamesInAlphabeticOrder() => imap.valuesAsSet.map((s) => s.name).toIList();

  StudentsPerCourse addStudentToCourse(Student student, Course course) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.add(course, student));

  StudentsPerCourse addStudentToCourses(Student student, Iterable<Course> courses) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.addValuesToKeys(courses, [student]));

  StudentsPerCourse addStudentsToCourse(Iterable<Student> students, Course course) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.addValues(course, students));

  StudentsPerCourse addStudentsToCourses(Map<Course, Set<Student>> studentsPerCourse) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.addMap(studentsPerCourse));

  StudentsPerCourse removeStudentFromCourse(Student student, Course course) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.remove(course, student));

  StudentsPerCourse removeStudentFromAllCourses(Student student) =>
      StudentsPerCourse._(imap.removeValues([student]));

  StudentsPerCourse removeCourse(Course course) => StudentsPerCourse._(imap.removeSet(course));

  Map<Course, Set<Student>> toMap() => imap.unlock;

  int get numberOfCourses => imap.lengthOfKeys;

  int get numberOfStudents => imap.lengthOfNonRepeatingValues;
}

Note: The IMapOfSets configuration ConfigMapOfSets.removeEmptySets lets you choose if empty sets should be automatically removed or not. In the above example, this would mean removing the course automatically when the last student leaves, or else allowing courses with no students.

/// Using the default configuration: Empty sets are removed.
StudentsPerCourse([Map<Course, Set<Student>> studentsPerCourse])
   : imap = (studentsPerCourse ?? {}).lock;   

/// Specifying that a course can be empty (have no students).
StudentsPerCourse([Map<Course, Set<Student>> studentsPerCourse])
   : imap = (studentsPerCourse ?? {}).lock   
       .withConfig(ConfigMapOfSets(removeEmptySets: false));

Note: The IMapOfSets is an immutable multimap. If you need a mutable one, check the Quiver package.

6. ListSet

A ListSet is, at the same time:

  1. A mutable, fixed-sized, ordered, Set.
  2. A mutable, fixed-sized, List, in which values can't repeat.
ListSet<int> listSet = ListSet.of([1, 2, 3]);
expect(listSet[2], 3);
expect(listSet.contains(2), isTrue);

List<int> list = listSet;
Set<int> set = listSet;

expect(list[2], 3);
expect(set.contains(2), isTrue);

When viewed as a Set and compared to a LinkedHashSet, a ListSet is also ordered and has a similar performance. But a ListSet takes less memory and can be sorted or otherwise rearranged, just like a list. Also, you can directly get its items by index, very efficiently (constant time).

The disadvantage, of course, is that ListSet has a fixed size, while a LinkedHashSet does not. The ListSet is efficient both as a List and as a Set. So, for example, it has an efficient sort method, while a LinkedHashSet would force you to turn it into a List, then sort it, then turn it back into a Set.

7. ListMap

A ListMap is a mutable, fixed-sized, and ordered map.

Compared to a LinkedHashMap, a ListMap is also ordered, has a slightly worse performance, but uses less memory. It is not a List, but has some very efficient list methods, like sort and shuffle.

Also, you can efficiently read its information by index, by using the entryAt, keyAt and valueAt methods. The disadvantage, of course, is that ListMap has a fixed size, while a LinkedHashMap does not.

8. Extensions and helpers

These are some of the provided helpers and extensions:

8.1 Iterable helpers and extensions

  • whereNotNull is similar to .where((x) => x != null), but the returned iterable has a non-nullable type.

  • mapNotNull is similar to map, but the returned iterable has a non-nullable type.

  • combineIterables is a top-level function that combines two iterables into one, by applying a combine function.

  • Iterable.isNullOrEmpty, Iterable.isNotNullNotEmpty and Iterable.isEmptyNotNull.

  • Iterable.deepEquals compare all items, in order, using operator ==.

  • Iterable.deepEqualsByIdentity compare all items, in order, using identical.

  • Iterable.findDuplicates finds duplicates and then returns a set with the duplicated elements.

  • Iterable.everyIs returns true if all items are equal to some value.

  • Iterable.anyIs returns true if any item is equal to some value.

  • Iterable.removeNulls removes nulls from the iterable.

  • Iterable.removeDuplicates removes all duplicates. Optionally, you can provide an by function to compare the items. If you pass removeNulls true, it will also remove the nulls.

  • Iterable.sortedLike returns a list, sorted according to the order specified by the ordering iterable. Items which don't appear in the ordering iterable will be included in the end.

  • updateById returns a new list where new items are added or updated, by their id.

  • isFirst, isNotFirst, isLast and isNotLast return true if the given item is the same (by identity) as the first/last/not-first/not-last of the items. This is useful for non-indexed loops where you need to know when you have the given item.

8.2 List extensions

  • List.sortOrdered is similar to sort, but uses a merge sort algorithm. Contrary to sort, orderedSort is stable, meaning distinct objects that compare as equal end up in the same order as they started in.

  • List.sortLike sorts this list according to the order specified by an ordering iterable. Items which don't appear in ordering will be included in the end, in no particular order.

  • List.moveToTheFront moves the first occurrence of the item to the start of the list.

  • List.moveToTheEnd moves the first occurrence of the item to the end of the list.

  • List.whereMoveToTheFront moves all items that satisfy the provided test to the start of the list.

  • List.whereMoveToTheEnd moves all items that satisfy the provided test to the end of the list.

  • List.toggle If the item does not exist in the list, add it and return true. If it already exists, remove the first instance of it and return false.

  • List.compareAsSets returns true if the lists contain the same items (in any order). Ignores repeated items.

  • List.mapIndexed maps each element of the list. The map function gets both the original item and its index.

  • List.splitList splits a list, according to a predicate, removing the list item that satisfies the predicate.

  • List.divideList Search a list for items that satisfy a test predicate (matching items), and then divide that list into parts, such as each part contains one matching item. Except maybe for the first matching item, it will keep the matching items as the first item in each part.

  • List.divideListAsMap searches a list for items that satisfy a test predicate (matching items), and then divide that list into a map of parts, such as each part contains one matching item, and the keys are given by the key function.

  • List.addBetween return a new list, adding a separator between the original list items.

  • List.concat returns an efficient concatenation of up to 5 lists

  • List.splitByLength cuts the original list into one or more lists with at most length items.

  • List.update returns a list where new items are added or updated, by their id.

  • List.distinct removes all duplicates, leaving only the distinct items.

  • List.reversedView returns a list of the objects in this list, in reverse order.

8.2 List extensions

  • Set.toggle If the item doesn't exist in the set, add it and return true. Otherwise, if the item already exists in the set, remove it and return false.

8.3 Iterator extensions

  • toIterable, toList, toSet, toIList, and toISet convert the iterator into an Iterable, List, Set, IList, and ISet, respectively.

8.4 Boolean extensions

  • compareTo makes true > false.

9. Comparators

To help you sort collections (from FIC or any other), we provide the global comparator functions compareObject, sortBy and sortLike, as well as the compareObjectTo and if0 extensions. These make it easy for you to create other complex comparators, as described below.

9.1. CompareObject function

The compareObject function lets you easily compare a and b, as follows:

  • If a or b is null, the null one will come later (the default), unless the nullsBefore parameter is true, in which case the null one will come before.

  • If a and b are both of type Comparable, it compares them with their natural comparator.

  • If a and b are map-entries, it compares their keys first, and then, if necessary, their values.

  • If a and b are booleans, it compares them such as true > false.

  • If all the above can't distinguish them, it will return 0 (which means unordered).

You can use the comparator in sorts:


// Results in: [1, 2, null]
[1, 2, null, 3].sort(compareObject);

// Results in: [null, 1, 2]
[1, 2, null, 3].sort((a, b) => compareObject(a, b, nullsBefore: true));

9.2. CompareObjectTo extension

Besides the compareObject function above, you can also use the compareObjectTo extension.

For example:


// Results in: [1, 2, null]
[1, 2, null, 3].sort((a, b) => a.compareObjectTo(b));

// Results in: [null, 1, 2]
[1, 2, null, 3].sort((a, b) => a.compareObjectTo(b, nullsBefore: true));

9.3. SortBy function

The sortBy function lets you define a rule, and then possibly nest it with other rules with lower priority. For example, suppose you have a list of numbers which you want to sort according to the following rules:

  1. If present, number 14 is always the first, followed by number 15.
  2. Otherwise, odd numbers come before even ones.
  3. Otherwise, come numbers which are multiples of 3,
  4. Otherwise, come numbers which are multiples of 5,
  5. Otherwise, numbers come in their natural order.

You start by creating the first rule: sortBy((x) => x == 15) and then nesting the next rule in the then parameter: sortBy((x) => x == 15, then: sortBy((x) => x % 2 == 1).

After all the rules are in place you have this:


int Function(int, int) compareTo = sortBy((x) => x == 14, then: sortBy((x) => x == 15, then:
sortBy((x) => x % 2 == 1, then: sortBy((x) => x % 3 == 0, then: sortBy((x) => x % 5 == 0, then: (int
a, int b) => a.compareTo(b),
)))));

9.4. SortLike function

The sortLike function lets you define a list with the desired sort order. For example, if you want to sort numbers in this order: [7, 3, 4, 21, 2] you can do it like this: sortLike([7, 3, 4, 21, 2]).

You can also nest other comparators, including mixing sortBy and sortLike. For example, to implement the following rules:

  1. Order should be [7, 3, 4, 21, 2] when these values appear.
  2. Otherwise, odd numbers come before even ones.
  3. Otherwise, numbers come in their natural order.

int Function(int, int) compareTo = sortLike([7, 3, 4, 21, 2], then: sortBy((x) => x % 2 == 1,
then: (int a, int b) => a.compareTo(b),
));

Important: When nested comparators are used, make sure you don't create inconsistencies. For example, a rule that states a < b then a > c then b < c may result in different orders for the same items depending on their initial position. This also means inconsistent rules may not be followed precisely.

Please note, your order list may be of a different type than the values you are sorting. If this is the case, you can provide a mapper function, to convert the values into the order type. See the sort_test.dart file for more information and runnable examples.

9.5. if0 extension

The if0 function lets you nest comparators.

You can think of if0 as a "then", so that these two comparators are equivalent:


/// This:
var compareTo = (String a, String b)
=> a.length.compareTo(b.length).if0(a.compareTo(b));

/// Is the same as this:
var compareTo = (String a, String b) { int result = a.length.compareTo(b.length); if (result == 0)
result = a.compareTo(b); return result; }

Examples:


var list = ["aaa", "ccc", "b", "c", "bbb", "a", "aa", "bb", "cc"];

/// Example 1. /// String come in their natural order. var compareTo = (String a, String b) =>
a.compareTo(b); list.sort(compareTo); expect(
list, ["a", "aa", "aaa", "b", "bb", "bbb", "c", "cc", "ccc"]);

/// Example 2. /// Strings are ordered according to their length. /// Otherwise, they come in their
natural order. compareTo = (String a, String b) => a.length.compareTo(b.length).if0(a.compareTo(b));
list.sort(compareTo); expect(list, ["a", "b", "c", "aa", "bb", "cc", "aaa", "bbb", "ccc"]);

/// Example 3. /// Strings are ordered according to their length. /// Otherwise, they come in their
natural order, inverted. compareTo = (String a, String b) => a.length.compareTo(b.length).if0(
-a.compareTo(b)); list.sort(compareTo); expect(
list, ["c", "b", "a", "cc", "bb", "aa", "ccc", "bbb", "aaa"]);

10. Flushing

As explained above, FIC is fast because it creates a new collection by internally "composing" the source collection with some other information, saving only the difference between the source and destination collections, instead of copying the whole collection each time.

After a lot of modifications, these composed collections may end up with lots of information to coordinate the composition, and may become slower than a regular mutable collection.

The loss of speed depends on the type of collection. For example, IList doesn't suffer much from deep compositions, while ISet and IMap will take more of a hit.

If you call flush on an immutable collection, it will internally remove all the composition, making sure it is perfectly optimized again. For example:


var ilist = [1.2].lock.add([3, 4]).add(5); ilist.flush;

Please note, flush is a getter which returns the exact same instance, just so you can chain other methods on it, if you wish. But it does NOT create a new list. It actually just optimizes the current list, internally.

If you flush a list which is already flushed, nothing will happen, and it won't take any time to flush the list again. So you don't need to worry about flushing the list more than once.

Also, note that flushing just optimizes the list internally, and no external difference will be visible. So, for all intents and purposes, you may consider that flush doesn't mutate the list.

10.1. Auto-flush

Usually you don't need to flush your collections manually. Depending on the global configuration, the collections will flush automatically for you. The global configuration default is to have auto-flush on. It's easy to disable it though:


ImmutableCollection.autoFlush = false;

// You can also lock further changes to the global configuration, if
desired:                                              
ImmutableCollection.lockConfig();

If you leave it on, you can configure auto-flush to happen after you use a collection a few times. And you can also configure it to flush at most once per asynchronous gap.

Auto-flush is an advanced topic, and you don't need to read the following detailed explanation at all to use the immutable collections. However, in case you want to tweak the auto-flush configuration, here it goes...

10.2. Sync Auto-flush

If your auto-flush is set to occur synchronously:

Each collection keeps a counter variable which starts at 0 and is incremented each time some collection methods are called. As soon as this counter reaches a certain value called the flushFactor, the collection is flushed.

10.3. Async Auto-flush

If your auto-flush is set to occur asynchronously:

If you take a collection and add or remove a lot of items synchronously, no flushing will take place.

Each collection still keeps a counter variable which starts at 0, but it will be incremented during method calls only while counter >= 0. As soon as this counter reaches a certain value called the flushFactor, the collection is marked for flushing.

But after the asynchronous gap, as soon as you try to get, add or remove an item from it, it will flush automatically.

There is also a global counter called an asyncCounter, which starts at 1. When a collection is marked for flushing, it first creates a future to increment the asyncCounter. Then, the collection's own counter is set to be -asyncCounter. Having a negative value means the collection's counter will not be incremented anymore. However, when counter is negative and different from -asyncCounter it means we are one async gap after the collection was marked for flushing.

At this point, the collection will be flushed and its counter will return to zero.

An example:

1. The flushFactor is 3. The asyncCounter is 1.
 
2. IList is created. Its counter is 0, smaller than the flushFactor.

3. IList is used. Its counter is now 1, smaller than the flushFactor.
 
4. IList is used. Its counter is now 2, smaller than the flushFactor.

5. IList is used. Its counter is now 3, equal to the flushFactor.
   For this reason, the list counter is set at negative asyncCounter (-1), 
   and the asyncCounter is set to increment in the future.    

6. IList is used. Since its counter is negative, it's not incremented.
   Since the counter is negative and equal to negative asyncCounter, it is not flushed.  
  
7. Here comes the async gap. The asyncCounter was set to increment, so it now becomes 2.

8. IList is used. Since its counter is negative, it is not incremented.
   Since the counter is negative and different than negative asyncCounter, the list is flushed.
   Also, its counter reverts to 0.                                   

The auto-flush process is a heuristic only. However, note the process is very fast, using only simple integer operations and a few bytes of memory. It guarantees that, if a collection is being used a lot, it will flush more often than one which is not being used that often. It also guarantees a collection will not auto-flush in the middle of sync operations. Finally, it saves no references to the collections, so it doesn't prevent them from being garbage-collected.

If you think about the update/publish cycle of the built_collections package, it has an intermediate state (the builder) which is not a valid collection, and then you publish it manually. In contrast, FIC does have a valid intermediate state (unflushed) which you can use as a valid collection, and then it publishes automatically (flushes) after the async gap (when so configured).

As discussed, the default is to have auto-flush turned on, but you can turn it off. If you leave it on, you can tweak the flushFactor for lists, sets and maps, separately. Usually, lists should have a higher flushFactor because they are generally still very efficient when unflushed.

The minimum flushFactor you can choose is 1, which means the collections will always flush in the next async gap after they are touched.

IList.flushFactor = 150;
ISet.flushFactor = 15;
IMap.flushFactor = 15;

// Lock further changes, if desired:                                              
ImmutableCollection.lockConfig();

11. Json support

With some help from Martin Kamleithner and Remi Rousselet, now most FIC collections convert to and from Json, through .fromJson() and .toJson().

This means those FIC collections can be used with json_serializable in classes annotated with @JsonSerializable.

For example:

@JsonSerializable()
class MyClass {
  final IList<String> myList;
  MyClass(this.myList);
  factory MyClass.fromJson(Map<String, dynamic> json) => _$MyClassFromJson(json);
  Map<String, dynamic> toJson() => _$MyClassToJson(this);
}

11. Benchmarks

Having benchmarks for this project is necessary for justifying its existence. The benchmark package — and its companion app benchmark_app — demonstrates that FIC immutable collections perform similarly to even its mutable counterparts in many operations.

You can either run the benchmarks:

  • With pure Dart, through, for example:
      dart benchmark/lib/src/benchmarks.dart
    
  • Or with Flutter, by running the benchmark_app.

You can find more info on the benchmarks, by reading its documentation.

Note: The benchmarks cover what we have done so far, which are the most common operations. There are many collection operations within FIC which are not yet made as efficient as they can. Most of these corresponding methods are marked with // TODO: Still needs to implement efficiently and will be updated in future versions.


Benchmarks Results

Run the benchmarks preferably in release mode, and a green message on the snackbar will then appear:

11.1. List Benchmarks

11.1.1. List Add



If you wish to use larger parameters, you can modify them in the benchmark_app project.



11.1.2. List AddAll

11.1.3. List Contains

11.1.4. List Empty

11.1.5. List Insert

Note: We haven't implemented the fast code for list inserts yet. When we do, it will become faster than the mutable List insert.

11.1.6. List Read

11.1.7. List Remove

11.2. Map Benchmarks

11.2.1. Map Add

11.2.2. Map AddAll

11.2.3. Map ContainsValue

11.2.4. Map Empty

11.2.5. Map Read

11.2.5. Map Remove

11.3. Set Benchmarks

11.2.5. Set Add

11.2.6. Set AddAll

11.2.6. Set Contains

11.2.6. Set Empty

11.2.6. Set Remove


12. Immutable Objects

Immutable objects are those that cannot be changed once created. A Dart String is a typical example of a commonly used immutable object.

To create an immutable object in Dart you must follow these 5 rules:

  1. Make all immutable fields final or private, so that they cannot be changed.

  2. Make all mutable fields private, so that direct access is not allowed.

  3. Create defensive copies of all mutable fields passed to the constructor, so that they cannot be changed from the outside.

  4. Don’t provide any methods that give external access to internal mutable fields.

  5. Don’t provide any methods that change any fields, except if you make absolutely sure those changes have no external effects (this may be useful for lazy initialization, caching and improving performance).

Note: There should also be a 6th rule stating that the class should be final (in the Java sense) , but in Dart it's impossible to prevent a class from being subclassed. The problem is that one can always subclass an otherwise immutable class and then add mutable fields to it, as well as override public methods to return changed values according to those mutable fields. This means that in Dart it's impossible to create strictly immutable classes. However, you can make it as close as possible to the real thing by at least not invoking overridable methods from the constructor (which in Dart means not invoking public non-static methods).


Immutable objects have a very compelling list of positive qualities. Without question, they are among the simplest and most robust kinds of classes you can possibly build. When you create immutable classes, entire categories of problems simply disappear.

In Effective Java, Joshua Bloch makes this recommendation:

Classes should be immutable unless there's a very good reason to make them mutable. If a class cannot be made immutable, limit its mutability as much as possible.

The reason for this is that mutability imposes no design constraints on developers, meaning they are free to sculpt mutable imperative programs how they see fit. While mutability does not prevent us to achieve good designs, it also doesn't guide us there like immutability does.

Mutable state increases the complexity of our applications. The more parts can change within a component, the less sure we are of its state at any point in time, and the more unit tests we need to write to be confident that it works. Once mutable components integrate with other mutable components, we get a combinatorial effect on complexity, and an application that is challenging to reason about and fully test.

Flutter's reactive model encourages you to think differently about how data flows through your application. Of course, immutable objects are mandatory for some Flutter state management solutions like Redux — and I have developed this package mainly to use it with my own Async Redux. But the co-author of the present package, Philippe Fanaro likes using BLoC with immutable state. All state management solutions in Flutter can benefit from making your state immutable. Your widgets subscribe to data objects throughout your application. If those objects are mutable, and if your widgets mutate them, this creates opportunities for areas of your application to get out of sync with each other. If those objects are immutable, since they can't change, subscribing to changes throughout the model is a dead-end, and new data can only ever be passed from above. In other words, immutability can be used to enforce boundaries between layers of abstractions. Typically, on the bottom-most layer of your application, where you will find data-value objects, as long as the object exists, its data is permanent and should not be changed.


12.1. What's the difference between Unmodifiable and Immutable?

Doesn't List.unmodifiable() create an immutable list?

It is a misconception that immutability is just the absence of something: take a list, remove the mutating code, and you've got an immutable list. But that's not how it works. If we simply remove mutating methods from List, we end up with a list that is read-only. Or, as we can call it, an ** unmodifiable list**. It can still change under you, it's just that you won't be the one changing it. Immutability, as a feature, is not an absence of mutation, it's a guarantee that there won't be mutation. A feature isn't necessarily something you can use to do good, it may also be the promise that something bad won't happen.

In Dart's List.unmodifiable() case, it actually creates a defensive copy, so the resulting list is in fact immutable, though performance will be bad. However, it does have the mutating methods, only that they will throw an error if used. Ideally you don't want mutable methods to appear in front of the programmer if the object is supposed to * not* change, it will inevitably result in more confusion and debugging. All in all, this constructor is basically an unfortunate workaround when it comes to the language design.

If you pass around an unmodifiable list, other code that accepts a List can't assume it's immutable. There are now, in fact, more ways to fail, because calling any mutating method of an unmodifiable list will throw an error. So it makes it harder to reason about the code, not easier. For clean-code reasons what is needed is a different type, one that guarantees the object can't be mutated. That's why IList does not extend List.

12.2. Clean-code

Late in the evening, exhausted and frustrated you find out that the people who implemented

int computeLength(Map<String, dynamic> responseMap)

got the great idea, that, instead of just computing the response length, they also mutated responseMap in some tricky way (say, doing some kind of sanitization of responseMap). Even if this is mentioned in the documentation and even if the method name was different, that's spaghetti code.

On the contrary, when you pass an immutable object to a method, you know the method can't modify it. This makes it much easier to reason about your code. By using an IMap:

int computeLength(IMap<String, dynamic> responseMap)

Now, both the caller and the callee know the responseMap won't be changed. Reasoning about code is simpler when the underlying data does not change. It also serves as documentation: if a method takes an immutable collection interface, you know it isn't going to modify that collection. If a method returns an immutable collection, you know you can't modify it.

A more subtle clean-code benefit is what Joshua Bloch calls "failure atomicity". If an immutable object throws an exception, it's never left in an undesirable or indeterminate state. That's why some people consider exception handling harmful, and immutable objects solve this problem for free. They have their class invariant established once upon construction, and it never needs to be checked again.


13. Performance and Memory Savings

Let's start off by stating the obvious. Most mutable collection operations are generally faster than their immutable counterparts. That's a basic fact of life. Consider a hash table for example. A mutable hash map can simply replace a value in an internal array in response to an add() call, while an immutable one has to create a number of new objects to build a new version of the map reflecting the change.

So, yes, mutable collections are generally faster. But sometimes they can be slower. A few examples:

  • Suppose you have an array-list with a million items, and you want to add an extra item to its start. The array-list maintains a single large array of values, so whenever inserts and deletes are done in the middle of the array, values have to be shifted left or right. In contrast, an immutable list may just record the change that some item should be considered to be at index 0. Unlike the array-list, the immutable list doesn't have any preference for where values are added. Inserting a value in the middle of it is no more expensive than inserting one at the beginning or end.

  • Another notable example is doing a "deep copy". If you want to deep copy (or clone) a regular List, you have to copy all its item references. However, for an immutable list a deep copy is instantaneous, because you actually don't need to copy anything. You just have to pass a reference to the original list. It's like doing deep copy in O(1). Also, because a reference is much smaller than the object itself, you'll save memory if you need to keep many references to an immutable collection instead of keeping many defensive copies in memory.

  • Yet another example is comparing two collections. Comparing with value equality may require considering every item in each collection, on an O(N) time complexity. For large collections of values, this could become a costly operation, though if the two are not equal and hardly similar, the inequality is determined very quickly. In contrast, when comparing two collections with ** reference equality**, only the references to memory need to be compared, which has an O(1) time complexity.

    In Flutter, as soon as you pass a collection of objects, typically a List<Widget>, to some widget, conceptually you are giving up write ownership to that list. In other words, you should consider the list read-only. It is a common mistake to pass a list, mutate it, then expect Flutter to update the UI correctly. Nothing in the type system of collections prevents this mistake, and it is a very natural one to make when you are coming from a non-functional world.

    Think about it: Suppose you have a list with a million widgets and you pass it to a ListView to display it on screen. If you add some widget to the middle of it, how is Flutter supposed to know about it and rebuild the ListView? If Flutter was simply repainting the list for every frame, it would display any changes instantly. But in reality Flutter must know something changed before repainting, to save resources. So, again, if you pass a list and then mutate it, how is Flutter supposed to know it changed? It has a reference to the original list, now mutated. There is no way to know that the referenced list mutated since the last frame was displayed.

    By using mutable lists, Flutter only works if you create a new list:

     // This will not work. Wrong operation with mutable list:
     onTap: () {
        setState(() { list.add(newItem); });
     }
    
     // Correct but slow operation with mutable list:
     onTap: () {
        setState(() { list = List.of(list)..add(newItem); });
     }   
    
     // Correct and fast operation with immutable list:
     onTap: () {
        setState(() { ilist = ilist.add(newItem); });
     }   
    
  • When some code accepts a mutable list but needs to make sure it's not mutated, it must make a defensive copy. This requirement is quite common, and you may entertain the idea of all the code running on millions of computers all over the world, around the clock, making safety copies of collections that are being returned by functions, and then garbage-collecting them milliseconds after their creation. Using immutable collections this is not necessary.

  • If you want to use collections as map keys, or add them to sets, you must be able to calculate their hashCode. If a collection is immutable, you can calculate its hashCode lazily and only if needed, and then cache it. Note: If a collection is mutable you can also cache its hashCode, but you must discard the cached value as soon as a mutating method is called. Also, once you have cached hashCodes you can use them to speed up equality comparisons, since (by the hashCode's definition) two collections with different hashCodes are always different.

  • In Flutter, when deciding if you should rebuild a widget or not, there are performance tradeoffs between value equality and identity equality. For example, if you use an immutable collection and it has not been mutated, then it is equal by identity (which is a very cheap comparison). On the other hand, when it's not equal by identity this does not rule out the possibility that they may be value-equal. But in practice, when possible, FIC avoids creating new objects for updates where no change in value occurred. For this reason, if some state and its next state are immutable collections not equal by identity, they are almost certainly NOT value-equal, otherwise why would you have mutated the collection to begin with? If you are ok with doing some rare unnecessary rebuilds, you can decide whether or not to rebuild the widget without having to compare each item of the collections.

  • Caching can speed things up significantly. But how do you cache results of a function?

    List findSuspiciousEntries(List<Map> entries)
    

    One possible workaround would be to JSONize entries to String and use such string as a hashing key. However, it's much more elegant, safe, performant and memory-wise with immutable structures. If the function parameters are all immutable and equal by identity (which is a very cheap comparison) you can return the cached value.

14. The above text has about 10% of original content. The rest is shamelessly copied from the following pages. Please, visit them:

15. Should I use this package?

The performance differences discussed above are nearly always dwarfed by bigger concerns like I/O, memory leaks, algorithms of the wrong Big-O complexity, sheer coding errors, failure to properly reuse data once obtained (using a cache) etc.

If you really do have an extremely CPU-intensive critical section of code, and it really has been identified as one of your main performance bottlenecks, then if you want to decide if you should use mutable or immutable collections, you want to do some real profiling of your own, which means running your actual application in actual real-world usage. Unless you do that, and even when you do it, it's difficult to decide, and effectively impossible to really know for sure. Immutable collections might be faster than native mutable collections for you, but slower for someone else. They might be good today and bad tomorrow. Even native code will execute on top of many layers of abstraction that cause its performance to appear nondeterministic; with Dart, the situation is much worse because it will also depend on the target platform.

In the old days, studying the performance of code was more like physics or chemistry. You could perform controlled experiments and get predictable results. But nowadays, that stack of all those various bits of genius that sit between your Dart code and the bare metal more closely resemble a biological system. Asking whether code A or code B will run faster is similar to asking whether patient A or patient B will have a heart attack tomorrow. If we were omniscient, it may be theoretically possible to know this, but as it is, all the variables involved (which we can't always control or even observe) can overwhelm our predictive capability.

Our benchmarks try to give a first approximation on the speed of our collections, but as discussed those results may not be as meaningful to you under all circumstances. That said, we're trying to do it anyway. One thing is for sure, though: in terms of architecture, immutability beats mutability any day of the week. Even if few people will try to convince you to switch to the immutable collections for the performance gains, the main reason to use them is readability, maintainability, and general sanity. It will remove distractions and leave you more energy for creativity and problem-solving. And for that you need a package, since it offers you a low-cost way of using immutability at the bottom-most layer of your program: it's not always easy to create immutable data structures by hand in a compact, maintainable ways.

The immutable collections in FIC all use the simple approach of recording changes, while periodically "flushing" them internally into regular mutable Dart collections and hiding their mutability. This approach works well, and the benchmarks seem to indicate they improve performance by an order of magnitude. However, the best possible approach would be to implement hash array mapped tries (HAMTs), which are dedicated immutable structures that are not built on top of regular mutable collections. The reason we did not use HAMTs is that it would be much more work, and also because I am unsure if the results would be as good as expected. The reason is that regular Dart collections use "external" code which is very fast, while HAMTs would be a completely separate implementation. So I believe HAMT implementations should be created by the Dart team natively, in an effort to complement the native Dart collections. In any case, there are discussions to integrate immutability into Dart itself, which could be used to improve our collections or create more efficient ones. In any case, if and when better immutable collections arise, we'll run the benchmarks again, and if necessary switch the implementation so that the collections in this package keep performing as well as possible.

16. Implementation details

I haven't been able to check the source code of the native Dart collections, but I am assuming here they work similarly to their corresponding Java collections of the same name. A HashMap has no fixed order of elements. To add order to it, an internal linked list is used, thus creating a LinkedHashMap. In other words, a LinkedHashMap has both a HashMap and a linked-list, internally. In fact, even though we just iterate the map in ascending order, it has to maintain a DOUBLY-linked list, so that elements can be removed from it.

Note a linked-list is only necessary because the LinkedHashMap can change size. For an immutable map, we could keep its order by maintaining a HashMap and a regular List with fixed size (an array-list). This not only saves a lot of memory, but it also lets us access items by index.

Regarding a LinkedHashSet, it is just basically a LinkedHashMap whose value is ignored (the set items are stored as the map keys).

With the goal of allowing the ISet to be both sorted and insertion-ordered (depending on its configuration), we have developed the ListSet class in this package, which has both a HashMap and an array-list, internally (not a linked-list). The ListSet is used internally by the ISet. An analogous data structure for maps was also created, called ListMap.


17. Bibliography

17.1. Projects

17.1.1. Dart

  1. persistent

    • They've implemented operators for all the objects, something which converges to the assumption that immutable objects should be treated just like values.
    • It depends on Dart >=0.8.10+6 <2.0.0. It's old enough so that typing is very weak throughout the package. So a major refactor would be necessary in order to use it with more recent versions of Dart, which would be very costly, given the complexity of the package.
  2. kt.dart

    • Follows Kotlin conventions.
    • Doesn't use a persistent data structure.
    • Not that many worries about speed.
    • Features interesting annotations, though some will become unnecessary after NNBD.
  3. built_collection

    • Each of the core SDK collections is split into two: a mutable builder class and an immutable " built" class. Builders are for computation, "built" classes are for safely sharing with no need of a defensive copy.
    • Uses the Builder Pattern, which simplifies the creation of objects, and even allows for lazy optimizations.
    • Uses (deep) hash codes.
    • (...) do not make a copy, but return a copy-on-write wrapper.
  4. Rémi Rousselet's Example Gist of Performance Testing in Dart

  5. Make it easy/efficient to create immutable collections via literals

    • Nice overview of the different types of "immutable" definitions.
    • Good idea to simplify the use of unmodifiable data types.
  6. Dart should provide a — standard — way of combining hashes

    • Nice discussion on the — very surprising — absence of basic good hashing methods inside Dart's basic packages.
  7. Dart's Immutable Collections' Feature Specification

    • Dart apparently already has plans of incorporating immutable objects. The question is how long will they take to make it happen?

17.1.2. Java

  1. Dexx

    • Port of Scala's immutable, persistent collections to Java and Kotlin.
    • Class Hierarchy
    • Interesting feature: Explore annotating methods that return a new collection with @CheckReturnValue to allow static verification of collection usage.
  2. Paguro

    • Immutable Collections and Functional Transformations for the JVM.
    • Inspired by Clojure — which is built on top of the Java platform.
    • Is based on the question-discussion — mentioned in the next section —: Why doesn't Java 8 include immutable collections?
  3. Brian Burton's Java Immutable Collections

    • Comparative Performance of Java Immutable Collections
      • The real questions are: how much faster are mutable collections and will you really notice the difference? Based on benchmark runs a JImmutableHashMap is about 2-3 times slower than a HashMap but is about 1.5x faster than a TreeMap. Unless your application spends most of its time CPU bound updating collections you generally won't notice much of a difference using an immutable collection.
    • List Tutorial
      • The current implementation uses a balanced binary tree with leaf nodes containing up to 64 values each which provides O(log2(n)) performance for all operations.

17.1.3. JS

  1. immutable-js

    • Immutable data cannot be changed once created, leading to much simpler application development, no defensive copying, and enabling advanced memoization and change detection techniques with simple logic. Persistent data presents a mutative API which does not update the data in-place, but instead always yields new updated data.
    • Alan Kay: The last thing you wanted any programmer to do is mess with internal state even if presented figuratively. It is unfortunate that much of what is called "object-oriented programming" today is simply old style programming with fancier constructs.
    • These data structures are highly efficient on modern JavaScript VMs by using structural sharing via hash maps tries and vector tries as popularized by Clojure and Scala, minimizing the need to copy or cache data.
    • Immutable collections should be treated as values rather than objects. While objects represent something which could change over time, a value represents the state of that thing at a particular instance of time. This principle is most important to understanding the appropriate use of immutable data. In order to treat Immutable.js collections as values, it's important to use the Immutable.is() function or .equals() method to determine value equality instead of the === operator which determines object reference identity.
    • If an object is immutable, it can be "copied" simply by making another reference to it instead of copying the entire object. Because a reference is much smaller than the object itself, this results in memory savings and a potential boost in execution speed for programs which rely on copies (such as an undo-stack).

17.2. Articles

  1. Discussion on the Performance of Immutable Collections

    • Kevin Bourrillion: "Raw CPU speed? To a first order of approximation, the performance is the same. Heck, to a second order of approximation, it's the same, too. These kinds of performance differences are nearly always absolutely dwarfed by bigger concerns — I/O, lock contention, memory leaks, algorithms of the wrong big-O complexity, sheer coding errors, failure to properly reuse data once obtained (which may be solved by "caching" or simply by structuring the code better), etc. etc. etc."
    • If you measure your isolated component and it performs better than competitors, then it is better in isolation. If it doesn't perform as expected in the system, it's because its design doesn't fit, the specifications are probably wrong.
      • Systems are bigger than the sum of its components, but they are finite and can have their external interactions abstracted away, so I kind of disagree with Bourrillion's answer.
  2. Why doesn't Java 8 include immutable collections?

    • The difference between readable, read-only and * immutable* collections.
    • Basically, the UnmodifiableListMixin also exists in Java. For more, check Arkanon's answer.
    • I enjoy entertaining the idea that of all the code written in Java and running on millions of computers all over the world, every day, around the clock, about half the total clock cycles must be wasted doing nothing but making safety copies of collections that are being returned by functions. (And garbage-collecting these collections milliseconds after their creation.)
      • From Mike Nakis' answer.
      • Now, an interface like Collection which would be missing the add(), remove() and clear() methods would not be an ImmutableCollection interface; it would be an UnmodifiableCollection interface. As a matter of fact, there could never be an ImmutableCollection interface, because immutability is a nature of an implementation, not a characteristic of an interface. I know, that's not very clear; let me explain.
    • Ben Rayfield on recursiveness
  3. Question on the behavior of List.unmodifiable

    • List.unmodifiable does create a new list. And it's O(N).
  4. Immutable Collections In Java – Not Now, Not Ever

    • Originally, unmodifiable marked an instance that offered no mutability (by throwing UnsupportedOperationException on mutating methods) but may be changed in other ways (maybe because it was just a wrapper around a mutable collection).
    • An immutable collection of secret agents might sound an awful lot like an immutable collection of immutable secret agents, but the two are not the same. The immutable collection may not be editable by adding/removing/clearing/etc, but, if secret agents are mutable (although the lack of character development in spy movies seems to suggest otherwise), that doesn’t mean the collection of agents as a whole is immutable.
    • Immutability is not an absence of mutation, it’s a guarantee there won’t be mutation.
    • Converting old code to a new immutability hierarchy may be source-incompatible.
  5. Faster Purely Functional Data Structures for Java

  6. How can List be faster than native arrays?

    • Structural sharing makes an immutable list be faster than a native array in JS.
    • List is an implementation of an immutable data-structure called relaxed radix balanced trees.
    • Not all operations are faster...
    • List on Github

17.3. Other Resources

  1. Is Dart Compiled or Interpreted?

    • Both. It ultimately depends onto which platform you're deploying.
  2. Introduction to the Dart VM

  3. What does external mean in Dart?

    • Basically that the method is implemented elsewhere, probably by a subclass. It's kind of like an abstract method but not in an abstract class.
  4. An example of how to graph benchmarks.


18. Final Note

This package is very complex and still fairly new. I am using it myself in important projects of mine, so you can say I trust it, but bugs are still possible. Philippe Fanaro was responsible for creating the tests, so if you find any bugs it's his fault! 😂 — I am only half kidding 😐.


The Flutter packages I've authored:

My Medium Articles:

My article in the official Flutter documentation:


Marcelo Glasberg:

github.com/marcglasberg
twitter.com/glasbergmarcelo
_ stackoverflow.com/users/3411681/marcg_
medium.com/@marcglasberg

Libraries

Collections, Immutable, Flutter

fast_immutable_collections Collections, Immutable, Flutter
Data objects for working with immutable collections in Dart and Flutter.