Functional Reactive Programming (FRP)

Functional reactive programming (usually referred to as FRP) is a novel, more declarative way of writing reactive systems like user interfaces and games. Essentially, FRP can be used wherever you would normally use an event/observer callback-based style.


I recently did a survey of FRP for one of my CS classes. At the end of the semester, I gave a presentation on the subject. Here are my slides.

The slides are a little terse and cover both the more theoretical and the more practical sides of FRP.


A very simple GUI for John Conway’s Game of Life.

As part of my project, I created a very simple program to illustrate how FRP looks in practice. The goal was to find something simple enough to explain in about 5 minutes but complex enough to be interesting and use different FRP ideas.

For the demo, I managed to shrink the relevant code down to about eight lines. This required some simplifications and departures from the actual code, but all the departures were reasonable. Most of the actual difficulty lies with using an existing graphics toolkit not designed for FRP rather than the FRP code itself.


You can see the whole project up on GitHub, although it might be hard to build now—it was written several years ago. (The wx widgets library is a bit of a pain to work with!)

Even without the simplifications and with a bunch of boilerplate, the program is still only 38 lines long. Here are the relevant bits:

let active  = accumB False $ not <$ pauses
    changes = whenE active (step <$ time) `union`
              (modify <$> clicks)
    life    = accumB (blank 100 100) changes

sink lifePanel [on paint :== renderLife <$> life]
reactimate $ repaint lifePanel <$ changes

let symb b = if b then "❚❚" else "▶"
sink pauseButton [text :== symb <$> active]

There are some ugly parts—the way the grid is drawn is rather awkward. However, this is all the fault of wxWidgets (which, honestly, is not great) and not the fault of Reactive-Banana or FRP in general. Even with the impedence mismatch between wx and FRP, I think this code is very readable and better than any imperative, event-based alternative would be.