← All posts

Finding functions with given arity with Credo

by Tomasz Kowal


Have you ever started a task thinking it is simple and been surprised that it wasn’t that easy?

I’ve recently tried writing a Credo check that reports usages of functions with specific arity. There are two non-obvious problems with that task.

Let’s say we want to detect all occurrences of Map.get/2 in our credo check and report them. Credo has excellent documentation for Adding Custom Checks. It boils down to implementing run/2 function that will usually call Credo.Code.prewalk/2. The prewalk function will get a custom traverse function as an argument. That traverse is where the magic happens.

The Credo.Code.prewalk function works exactly like Macro.prewalk/3 with reordered arguments. The spec of traverse function looks like this:

traverse(ast, accumulator) :: {new_ast, new_accumulator}

So the first step is to match on an AST of function invocation. We can get a glimpse of how it would look like by quoting the expression in iex

iex(1)> quote do Map.get(map, key) end
{{:., [], [{:__aliases__, [alias: false], [:Map]}, :get]}, [],
   {:map, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir},
   {:key, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir}

Let’s unwrap what we see here. Most AST fragments have a tuple structure: {operation, metadata, arguments}. We can see this pattern twice for function invocation:

{:., [], [{:__aliases__, [alias: false], [:Map]}, :get]}

In this tuple, the operation is . (the colon in :. indicates it is an atom). There is no metadata (because we’ve invoked it in iex), and there are two parameters:

The entire “dot AST” becomes an operation for the outer “function invocation AST”.

{dot_ast, [], [
 {:map, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir},
 {:key, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir}

The operation is now Map.get, then an empty list of metadata and two parameters.

To match Map.get/2, we need to write the pattern match:

defp traverse(
	 {{:., _, [{:__aliases__, meta, [:Map]}, :get]}, _, params} = ast, ...)
	 when length(params) == 2 do

That works with direct invocations of Map.get(map, key), but it won’t catch map |> Map.get(key). Let’s inspect the AST.

iex(2)> quote do map |> Map.get(key) end
{:|>, [context: Elixir, import: Kernel],
   {:map, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir},
   {{:., [], [{:__aliases__, [alias: false], [:Map]}, :get]}, [],
    [{:key, [if_undefined: :apply], Elixir}]}

Again, we can see the three element tuples with {operation, metadata, arguments}. For the pipe operator, we have: {:|>, metadata, [before_pipe, after_pipe]}

The before_pipe is the variable map. The after_pipe looks like a function invocation but with only one parameter! Map.get/1 Our initial solution would miss that.

We will need another pattern match for :|> operator where the second argument is our function invocation. We don’t really care about the first argument.

If we have Map.get/2 in the first argument, Map.get(map, key) |> do_stuff(), we will catch it when descending recursively in the AST.

If we have Map.get/1 in the middle of the pipe chain map |> Map.get(key) |> do_stuff, the AST looks like this.


The pipe operator is right-associative, and pipes are nested in reverse order. That’s good news for us. Our Map.get/1 can only happen in the second param of |> because the first is either regular code or a previous pipe.

Let’s match that in two steps:

  defp traverse({:|>, pipe_meta, [before_pipe, after_pipe]}, ...) do
    case after_pipe do
      {{:., dot_meta, [{:__aliases__, module_meta, [:Map]}, :get]}, function_meta, params} when length(params) == 1 ->

The last problem is if someone used Map.get/3 inside a pipe, the prewalk function would see it as Map.get/2, returning false positives. E.g.

|> Map.get(key, default)

The traverse function would first match on {:|>, _, map, map_get_2}, and we would correctly skip it. But later, it would descend recursively on map_get_2, and at that point, we would have no way of knowing if we were in a pipe or not.

Thankfully, traverse returns {modified_ast, accumulator}. One solution would be to return an AST with a modified module name. When we match inside the pipe on:

{{:., dot_meta, [ {:__aliases__, module_meta, [:Map]}, :get]}, function_meta, params}

we could return modified AST

{{:., dot_meta, [{:__aliases__, module_meta, [:ALREADY_CHECKED]}, :get]}, function_meta, params} 

every time we are in a pipe.

This will prevent matching those modules in recursive calls when we’ve already lost the information if we are in the pipe.

To sum up. We’ve used two tricks to match function invocations with given arity:

  1. Match on pipes where the second parameter is the function with n-1 arity.
  2. Modifying the module’s name to ensure we don’t return false positives when we recursively descend inside the pipe.

If you’ve found it helpful, consider following me on Twitter

Did you like it? Follow me on Mastodon or Twitter (for as long as it lasts)