Lazy Variables for Dart



Minimizing CPU and memory usage are two important goals of software optimization. If sufficient memory is available, costly operations (such as sorting a large list) can be avoided by storing the result and reusing it as long as the relevant input (e.g. the unsorted list) has not changed. The technique of storing the result of function calls was coined memoization.

A different strategy to minimize CPU usage is to delay the initialization of variables. Lazy initialization is a common concept and is particularly useful in event driven scenarios where there is no definite execution path and a certain variable might never be used.

The package lazy_memo provides generic classes that can be used to define lazy variables and memoized functions.


To use this library include lazy_memo as a dependency in your pubspec.yaml file. The package uses null-safety features and requires Dart SDK version >=2.12.0.

Lazy Variables

  1. Lazy variables are declared using the constructor of the generic class Lazy<T>.
  2. The constructor requires a callback ObjectFactory that returns an object of type T.
  3. To access the cached object, the lazy variable is called like a function (see example below).
  4. The optional parameter updateCache can be used to request an update of the cached object. If updateCache is true, the object is re-initialized using the (current version) of the callback ObjectFactory.
import 'package:lazy/lazy.dart';

void main() {
  print('Running lazy_example.dart.\n');

  final random = Random();
  final mean = 4.0;

  // Generating a random sample following an exponential distribution.
  print('Generating random sample ...');
  final sample = List<double>.generate(
      100, (_) => -mean * log(1.0 - random.nextDouble()));

  // Initializing lazy variables
  final sampleSum = Lazy<double>(
    () => sample.reduce((sum, current) => sum += current),
  final sampleMean =
      Lazy<double>(() => sampleSum(updateCache: true) / sample.length);

  print('Initial value of sampleSum: ${sampleSum()}');
  print('Initial value of sampleMean: ${sampleMean()}\n');

  // Adding outliers
  print('Adding outliers:');
  sample.addAll([100.0, 120.0]);

  print('Updated value of sampleMean: '
      '${sampleMean(updateCache: true)}');
  print('Updated value of sampleSum: ${sampleSum()}');
Click to show console output.
 $ dart example/bin/lazy_example.dart
 Running lazy_example.dart.

 Generating random sample ...
 Initial value of sampleSum: 415.9556128306705
 Initial value of sampleMean: 4.159556128306705

 Adding outliers:
 Updated value of sampleMean: 6.234858949320299
 Updated value of sampleSum: 635.9556128306705

Dependent Lazy Variables

It is possible to declare dependent lazy variables by using an expression containing one lazy variable to declare another lazy variable. In the example above, sampleMean depends on sampleSum since the callback passed to the constructor of sampleMean references sampleSum.

The optional parameter updateCache can be used strategically to trigger an update of cached variables along the dependency tree. In the example above, the expression x(updateCache: true) is called every time sampleMean is updated. Therefore, an update of sampleMean triggers an update of sampleSum.

Note: An update of a lazy variable can also be requested by calling the method: updateCache().

Lazy Collections

Lazy variables can be used to cache objects of type List, Set, Map, etc. However, as the example below demonstrates, the cached object can be modified.

final lazyList = Lazy<List<int>>(() => [1, 2, 3]);
final list = lazyList();
list.add(4); // lazyList() now returns: [1, 2, 3, 4]

In order to prevent users from (inadvertently) modifying the cached object one may use the classes LazyList<T>, LazySet<T>, and LazyMap<K, V>. These classes return a copy of the cached object.

final lazyList = LazyList<int>(() => [1, 2, 3]);
final list = lazyList();
print(lazyList()); // Prints: [1, 2, 3].

Memoized Functions

Memoized functions maintain a lookup table of previously calculated results. When called, a memoized function checks if it was called previously with the same set of arguments. If that is the case it will return a cached result.

Memoizing a function comes at the cost of additional indirections, higher memory usage, and the complexity of having to maintain a function table. For this reason, memoization should be only used for computationally expensive functions that are likely to be called repeatedly with the same set of input arguments. Examples include: repeatedly accessing statistics of a large data sample, calculating the factorial of an integer, repeatedly evaluating higher degree polynomials.

The example below demonstrates how to define the memoized functions factorial and polynomial.

Click to show souce code.
  import 'package:lazy_memo/lazy_memo.dart';

  // Computationally expensive function:
  int _factorial(int x) => (x == 0 || x == 1) ? 1 : x * _factorial(x - 1);

  /// Returns the value of the polynomial:
  /// `c.first + c[1]*x + ... + c.last* pow(x, c.length)`,
  /// where the entries of `c` represent the polynomial coefficients.
  num _polynomial(num x, Iterable<num> c) {
    if (c.isEmpty) {
      return 0;
    } else if (c.length == 1) {
      return c.first;
    } else {
      return c.first + x * _polynomial(x, c.skip(1));

  // To run this program navigate to
  // root folder of you local copy of the package lazy_memo
  // in use the command:
  // # dart example/bin/lazy_function_example.dart
  // followed by enter.
  void main() {
    print('Running lazy_function_example.dart.\n');

    // Memoized function
    final factorial = MemoizedFunction<int, int>((x) => _factorial(x));

    print('-------- Factorial ------------');
    print('Calculates and stores the result');
    print('factorial(12) = ${factorial(12)}\n');

    // The current function table
    print('Function table:');

    // Returning a cached result.
    print('Cached result:');
    print('factorial(12) = {factorial(12)}');

    // Memoized function with two arguments
    final polynomial = MemoizedFunction2(_polynomial);
    print('\n-------- Polynomial ------------');
    print('Calculates and stores the result of: ');

    print('polynomial(2, [2, -9, 10, 11, 15]): ${polynomial(2, [

    print('The current function table');

    print('Returns a cached result.');
    print(polynomial(2, [2, -9, 10, 11, 15]));
Click to show console output.
 $ dart example/bin/memoized_function_example.dart
 Running lazy_function_example.dart.

 -------- Factorial ------------
 Calculates and stores the result
 factorial(12) = 479001600

 Function table:
 {12: 479001600}

 Cached result:
 factorial(12) = 479001600

 -------- Polynomial ------------
 Calculates and stores the result of:
 polynomial(2, [2, -9, 10, 11, 15]): 352

 The current function table
 {2: {[2, -9, 10, 11, 15]: 352}}

 Returns a cached result.


The source code listed above is available in folder example.

Features and bugs

Please file feature requests and bugs at the issue tracker.


Provides helper classes for the creation of lazy variables and memoized functions.