An anonymous function is a function without a name. It is a Lambda abstraction and might look like this:
\x -> x + 1. (That backslash is Haskell's way of expressing a λ and is supposed to look like a Lambda.)
That is a nameless function which increments its parameter, x. So in Hugs or GHCi, I might say:
Prompt> (\x -> x + 1) 4 5 :: Integer
Or I could make a nameless function of two parameters, x and y:
\x y -> x + y, which could be applied like so:
Prompt> (\x y -> x + y) 3 5 8 :: Integer
You could also name a lambda expression if you wanted to for some reason:
addOne = \x -> x + 1
Of course, there are a variety of better ways to write that in Haskell, but you get the idea.
But why bother?
Sometimes it is more convenient to use a lambda expression rather than giving a function a name. This is often the case when using
foldl / foldr. So if I wanted to add one to each element of a list, here's one way to do it (without anonymous functions):
addOneList lst = map addOne' lst where addOne' x = x + 1
But here's another way, where we pass the anonymous function into map rather than any named function.
addOneList' lst = map (\x -> x + 1) lst
For completeness it's worth mentioning that this could be better written using a section, in pointfree style:
addOneList'' = map (+1)
- Section 3.1 in the Haskell tutorial.
- Lambda calculus
- Beta reduction
- Lambda functions in math and programming