This is Understanding Combine, written by Matt Neuburg. It is a work in progress. Corrections and suggestions are greatly appreciated (you can comment here). So are donations; please consider keeping me going by funding this work at http://www.paypal.me/mattneub. Or buy my books: the current editions are iOS 13 Programming Fundamentals with Swift and Programming iOS 13. Thank you!


Value Publishers

The term value publisher is something I’ve made up to cover several publishers provided by the Combine framework. In my categorization, a value publisher is a simple publisher that publishes a hard-coded value — that is, the value to be published is baked into the publisher itself.

Here are the publishers that I categorize in this way:

Just
Just is a publisher initialized with a value. It publishes that value and stops. For example, Just(10) publishes the integer 10 (followed by a .finished completion). The Failure type is Never.
Optional
Optional.Publisher is a publisher initialized with an Optional value. It publishes the value wrapped by that Optional and stops. If the Optional is nil, the publisher does nothing. For example, Optional.Publisher(Optional(10)) publishes 10 (followed by a .finished completion). But Optional.Publisher(Optional<Int>.none) just sends the .finished completion. That is an important difference from Just, which always sends a value before its .finished completion. The Failure type is Never.
Result
A Result vends a publisher (Result.Publisher) through its publisher property. A Result has an Error type, so unlike Just and Optional, the Failure type doesn’t have to be Never. If the Result is .success, the publisher publishes the associated value. If the Result is .failure, the publisher sends a failure message with the associated Error value. For example, Result.success(10).publisher publishes 10 (followed by a .finished completion).
Sequence
A Sequence vends a publisher (Publishers.Sequence) through its publisher property. The publisher publishes all elements of the sequence. For example, [1,2,3].publisher publishes 1, then 2, then 3 (followed by a .finished completion). The Failure type is Never.
Empty
Empty is a publisher that does nothing. It is initialized with a completeImmediately parameter; if this parameter is true, then the publisher emits a .finished completion, but if it is false, it emits nothing whatever.
Fail
Fail is a publisher that emits a .failure completion. It is initialized with an error parameter expressing the associated value of the .failure.

You might wonder what’s the good of these publishers, as they are all extremely simple and their output is hard-coded. Well, for one thing, they are useful for testing a pipeline, to see what comes down the pipeline with this publisher at its start. But they also have a use you might not think of at first: they are valuable in the middle of a pipeline.

To understand why, you need to know about the .flatMap operator. It takes a map function that accepts a value from upstream and returns a publisher — which then publishes to the next subscriber downstream. In other words, the output from .flatMap is the output from the publisher that its map function produces.

Thus, inside the .flatMap operator’s map function, we can create a publisher based on what value came to us from upstream. So, for example, even though the value published by a Just is hard-coded to the value with which the Just is initialized, that value itself doesn’t need to be hard-coded (a literal); it can be the value we received from upstream.

To illustrate, I’ll create an artifical toy example; this is probably not the way you’d do this in real life, but it demonstrates how value publishers can pop up in the middle of a pipeline:

enum MyError : Error { case tooBig }
(1...10).publisher
    .setFailureType(to: Error.self)
    .flatMap { (i:Int) -> AnyPublisher<Int,Error> in
        if i < 5 {
            return Just(i).setFailureType(to: Error.self)
                .eraseToAnyPublisher()
        } else {
            return Fail<Int,Error>(error: MyError.tooBig)
                .eraseToAnyPublisher()
        }
}.sink(receiveCompletion: {print($0)}, receiveValue: {print($0)})
.store(in:&self.storage)

We start with a publisher that emits the sequence of Ints 1 thru 10. We want to pass these values down the pipeline as they arrive, but after we’ve received 4 we want to pass an error instead. A Sequence publisher’s error type is Never, so we start by using .setFailureType to change the downstream pipeline’s Failure type to Error. Now we’re ready for .flatMap.

In the map function, we receive an Int, which we call i. Our plan is to produce a publisher — either a publisher that repeats the value of i, or a publisher that signals a failure. Those will be a Just and a Fail:

    if i < 5 {
        // produce a Just(i)
    } else {
        // produce a Fail
    }

Everything else is simply a matter of getting our code to compile. First, Just and Fail are two different kinds of publisher, so we need to erase the difference between them with .eraseToAnyPublisher, so that both wings of the condition produce the same type, namely an AnyPublisher<Int,Error>:

    if i < 5 {
        // produce Just(i).eraseToAnyPublisher()
    } else {
        // produce a Fail.eraseToAnyPublisher()
    }

But our code still doesn’t compile, because we need the AnyPublishers produced by the two wings to be parameterized on the same Output and Failure types; the Output will obviously be Int, and we’ve already decided the Failure type will be Error. Configuring the Fail is easy: we just declare that it is a Fail<Int,Error>. But our Just’s types are <Int, Never>; a Just’s Failure type is always Never. So we use .setFailureType again to change the Failure type to Error again. Now our code compiles!

And the result is exactly as we hoped:

1
2
3
4
failure(MyError.tooBig)

As I’ve said, that example is artificial; in real life, if you wanted to do that sort of thing, you’d use .tryMap, not .flatMap. Nevertheless, this use of value publishers, injecting them into the pipeline and causing them to publish, is highly characteristic of Combine framework techniques.


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