Clojure Kata Two: Karate Chop (Pt. 3)

March 25, 2010

This is my third Clojure-based solution to the Karate Chop kata detailed at http://codekata.pragprog.com/2007/01/kata_two_karate.html

The write up is going to be a little shorter than before, because I’m pretty tired as I type this. As always, source code to the solution is available from BitBucket at http://bitbucket.org/metaljoe/metaljoe_codekata/ under the MIT license and feedback is definitely always welcome.

For this solution, the aim was to produce a concurrent version of the code. Surprisingly, this proved to be quite tricky to write compared to implementing an equivalent concurrent solution in a language like Python or Erlang. The main problem was that the “Programming Clojure” book apparently missed a few important details about Agents (Agents can’t call Agents, shutdown-agents needs to be called for cleaning up). I got rather frustrated with the documentation and examples available, with the code raising assorted semi-cryptic Agent-related exceptions that weren’t adequately explained anywhere.

After a considerable amount of time on Google, and a drastic scaling back of my intended implementation, I finally created a working solution this evening.

The original aim was to keep dividing the list in two, spawning a new Agent/thread to investigate each new list by repeating the splits. This would continue until a match was found or an empty list reached. Not very efficient or elegant, but a way to incorporate an element of concurrency into the kata.

Since Agents can’t call Agents, the first major hurdle I had, I ended up running just two Agents: one to check the left half of the initial list, the other to check the right. The spawning of further Agents was eliminated in favour of an inefficient recursive check of each half of these lists, and so on. I opted to keep this style of checking, to “simulate” what my original implementation would have operated like.

This worked well, but the script would not quit until killed with Control-C. After another search through the book and docs, I found a reference to calling shutdown-agents. This only worked when called at the end of the script, not within the function calling the agents for various reasons.

I also took the opportunity to try and make a little more legible approach, as well as try out the split-at function.

Now I need sleep.

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