Map (higher-order function)

Map (higher-order function)

In many programming languages, map is the name of a higher-order function that applies a given function to each element of a list, returning a list of results. They are examples of both catamorphisms and anamorphisms. This is often called apply-to-all when considered a functional form.

For example, if we define a function square as follows:

square x = x * x

Then calling map square [1,2,3,4,5] will return [1,4,9,16,25], as map will go through the list, and apply the function square to each element.


Language comparison

The map function originated in functional programming languages but is today supported (or may be defined) in many procedural, object oriented, and multi-paradigm languages as well: In C++'s Standard Template Library, it is called transform, in C# (3.0), it is provided as an extension method called Select. Map is also a frequently used operation in high level languages such as Perl, Python and Ruby; the operation is called map in all three of these languages. A collect alias for map is also provided in Ruby (from Smalltalk). Common Lisp provides a family of map-like functions; the one corresponding to the behavior described here is called mapcar (-car indicating access using the CAR operation). There are also languages with syntactic constructs providing the same functionality as the map function.

Map is sometimes generalized to accept dyadic (2-argument) functions that can apply a user-supplied function to corresponding elements from two lists; some languages use special names for this, such as map2 or zipWith. Languages using explicit variadic functions may have versions of map with variable arity to support variable-arity functions. Map with 2 or more lists encounters the issue of handling when the lists are of different lengths. Various languages differ on this; some raise an exception, some stop after the length of the shortest list and ignore extra items on the other lists; some continue on to the length of the longest list, and for the lists that have already ended, pass some placeholder value to the function indicating no value.

In languages which support first-class functions, map may be partially applied to "lift" functions to element-wise versions; for instance, map square is a Haskell function which squares lists element-wise.

Map in various languages
Language Map Map 2 lists Map n lists Notes Handling lists of different lengths
Haskell map func list zipWith func list1 list2 zipWithn func list1 list2 ... n corresponds to the number of lists; predefined up to zipWith7 stops after the shortest list ends
haXe, func)
J func list list func list func/ list1 , list2 , list3 ,: list4 J's array processing capabilities make operations like map implicit length error if lists not equal
OCaml func list func array
List.map2 func list1 list2 raises Invalid_argument exception
Standard ML map func list func (list1, list2)
ListPair.mapEq func (list1, list2)
For 2-argument map, func takes its arguments in a tuple stops after the shortest list ends, whereas ListPair.mapEq raises UnequalLengths exception
Python map(func, list) map(func, list1, list2) map(func, list1, list2, ...) zip() and map() (3.x) stops after the shortest list ends, whereas map() (2.x) and itertools.zip_longest() (3.x) extends the shorter lists with None items
Ruby enum.collect {block} {block} {block}, ...).map {block}
[enum1, enum2, ...] {block}
enum is an Enumeration stops at the end of the object it is called on (the first list); if any other list is shorter, it is extended with nil items
C++ std::transform(begin, end, result, func) std::transform(begin1, end1, begin2, result, func) in header <algorithm>
begin, end, & result are iterators
result is written starting at result
Perl map block list
map expr, list
In block or expr special variable $_ holds each value from list in turn. N/A
C# 3.0 ienum.Select(func) Select is an extension method
ienum is an IEnumerable
Similarly in all .NET languages
C# 4.0 ienum.Select(func) ienum1.Zip(ienum2, func) Select is an extension method
ienum is an IEnumerable
Similarly in all .NET languages
stops after the shortest list ends
JavaScript 1.6
Common Lisp (mapcar func list) (mapcar func list1 list2) (mapcar func list1 list2 ...) stops after the length of the shortest list
Scheme, Clojure (map func list) (map func list1 list2) (map func list1 list2 ...) Stops after the shortest list ends
Smalltalk aCollection collect: aBlock aCollection1 with: aCollection2 collect: aBlock Fails
Erlang lists:map(Fun, List) lists:zipwith(Fun, List1, List2) zipwith3 also available Lists must be equal length
PHP array_map(callback, array) array_map(callback, array1,array2) array_map(callback, array1,array2, ...) The number of parameters for callback
should match the number of arrays.
extends the shorter lists with NULL items
Prolog maplist(Cont, List1, List2). maplist(Cont, List1, List2, List3). maplist(Cont, List1, ...). List arguments are input, output or both. Subsumes unzip, all Failure
Mathematica func /@ list
Map[func, list]
MapThread[func, {list1, list2}] MapThread[func, {list1, list2, ...}] Lists must be same length
Maxima map(f, expr1, ..., exprn)
maplist(f, expr1, ..., exprn)
map returns an expression whose leading operator is the same as that of the expressions;
maplist returns a list
S/R lapply(list,func) mapply(func,list1,list2) mapply(func,list1,list2,...) Shorter lists are cycled
Scala (list1, list2) (list1, list2,"list3") note: more than 3 not possible. stops after the shorter list ends


The mathematical basis of maps allow for a number of optimizations. If one has (map f . map g) xs ('.' is function composition) then it is the same as the simpler map (f . g) xs; that is, \left( \text{map}\,f \right) \circ \left( \text{map}\,g \right) = \text{map}\,\left( f \circ g \right). This particular optimization eliminates an expensive second map by fusing it with the first map; thus it is a "map fusion"[1].

Map functions can be and often are defined in terms of a fold such as foldr, which means one can do a "map-fold fusion": foldr f z . map g is equivalent to foldr (f . g) z.

The implementation of map above on singly linked lists is not tail-recursive, so may build up a lot of frames on the stack when called with a large list. Many languages alternately provide a "reverse map" function, which is equivalent to reversing a mapped list, but is tail-recursive. Here is an implementation which utilizes the fold-left function.

 rev_map f = foldl (\ys x -> f x : ys) []

Since reversing a singly linked list is also tail-recursive, reverse and reverse-map can be composed to perform normal map in a tail-recursive way.


In the Haskell programming language, the polymorphic map  :: (a -> b) -> ([a] -> [b]) is generalized to a polytypic function called fmap :: Functor f => (a -> b) -> (f a -> f b) which applies to any type in the Functor class.

map is used in Haskell's Prelude to define the list type constructor [] an instance of the Functor class as follows

  instance Functor [] where fmap = map

But trees may belong to Functor too, for example:

 data Tree a = Leaf a | Fork (Tree a) (Tree a)
 instance Functor Tree where  
   fmap f (Leaf x) = Leaf (f x)
   fmap f (Fork l r) = Fork (fmap f l) (fmap f r)

 fmap (1+) (Fork(Fork(Leaf 0)(Leaf 1))(Fork(Leaf 2)(Leaf 3)))

evaluates to:

 Fork (Fork(Leaf 1)(Leaf 2))(Fork(Leaf 3)(Leaf 4))

For every instance of the Functor type class, fmap must be defined such that it obeys the functor laws:

  • fmap id = id -- identity
  • fmap (f . g) = fmap f . fmap g -- composition

Among other uses, this allows defining element-wise operations for other kind of collections.

Moreover, if F and G are two functors, a natural transformation is a function of polymorphic type h: \, \forall T.\, F \, T \rarr G \, T which respects fmap:

h_{Y} \circ (\mathrm{fmap} \, k) = (\mathrm{fmap} \, k) \circ h_{X} for any function k: X \rarr Y.

If the h function is defined by parametric polymorphism as in the type definition above, this specification is always satisfied.


  1. ^ "Map fusion: Making Haskell 225% faster"

See also

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