Tree Reducers

Many operations on trees can be expressed as recursive algorithms on trees. It is however desirable to separate the traversal of the tree from the function applied to a node. This can be done by defining two functions.

A function r, that is applied to a node, n, and the results of applying r to the children of n. The function r can be used to calculate a property of n based on the values of the property for the children of n.

A function a that is applied to a node the function r. The function a provides the post-order traversal of the tree and applies r.

Consider a simple way to calculate the height of a tree. It uses the recursive application of the function to traverse the tree.

height(node) = max(height(node.left), height(node.right)) + 1

From this a function can be extracted that calculates the height of a node from the height of its children.

heightReducer(node, leftHeight, rightHeight) = max(leftHeight, rightHeight) + 1

Another function can be used to apply the heightReducer to every descendant of a node.

reducerApplier(node, reducer) = reducer(node, reducerApplier(node.left, reducer), reducerApplier(node.right, reducer))

The height of a tree can then be calculated by

height = reducerApplier(node, heightReducer)

Reducing functions can be used as a generic way to evaluate a property of a node based on the properties of its children.

Partial reduction

Some functions such as a predicate to test if a tree is balanced may not need to fully traverse the tree. Once an unbalanced subtree has been found the entire tree must be unbalanced, any untraversed parts of the tree do not need to be visited.

To support this a partial reduction can be performed. A partial reduction function returns a tuple of the result and if the reduction should continue. If the reduction should continue the applier passes the result into the reduction of the parent node. If the reduction should stop the applier returns the result as the result of the partial tree reduction. This more complex contract allows only some of the tree to be traversed to evaluate a function.


The implementation in tree-root uses the iterative method of post-order tree traversal to apply reducing functions. This keeps the call stack flat and ensures the simple halting of traversal for partial reductions. A total reduction delegates to a partial reduction that always continues to reduce code duplication.