Function Objects

In Advanced C++:Programming Styles And Idioms (Addison-Wesley, 1992), Jim Coplien coins the term functor which is an object whose sole purpose is to encapsulate a function (since “functor” has a meaning in mathematics, in this book I shall use the more explicit term function object). The point is to decouple the choice of function to be called from the site where that function is called.

This term is mentioned but not used in Design Patterns. However, the theme of the function object is repeated in a number of patterns in that book.

Command: Choosing the Operation at Runtime

This is the function object in its purest sense: a method that’s an object. By wrapping a method in an object, you can pass it to other methods or objects as a parameter, to tell them to perform this particular operation in the process of fulfilling your request:

# FunctionObjects/

class Command:
    def execute(self): pass

class Loony(Command):
    def execute(self):
        print("You're a loony.")

class NewBrain(Command):
    def execute(self):
        print("You might even need a new brain.")

class Afford(Command):
    def execute(self):
        print("I couldn't afford a whole new brain.")

# An object that holds commands:
class Macro:
    def __init__(self):
        self.commands = []
    def add(self, command):
    def run(self):
        for c in self.commands:

macro = Macro()

The primary point of Command is to allow you to hand a desired action to a method or object. In the above example, this provides a way to queue a set of actions to be performed collectively. In this case, it allows you to dynamically create new behavior, something you can normally only do by writing new code but in the above example could be done by interpreting a script (see the Interpreter pattern if what you need to do gets very complex).

Design Patterns says that “Commands are an object-oriented replacement for callbacks.” However, I think that the word “back” is an essential part of the concept of callbacks. That is, I think a callback actually reaches back to the creator of the callback. On the other hand, with a Command object you typically just create it and hand it to some method or object, and are not otherwise connected over time to the Command object. That’s my take on it, anyway. Later in this book, I combine a group of design patterns under the heading of “callbacks.”

Strategy: Choosing the Algorithm at Runtime

Strategy appears to be a family of Command classes, all inherited from the same base. But if you look at Command, you’ll see that it has the same structure: a hierarchy of function objects. The difference is in the way this hierarchy is used. As seen in, you use Command to solve a particular problem-in that case, selecting files from a list. The “thing that stays the same” is the body of the method that’s being called, and the part that varies is isolated in the function object. I would hazard to say that Command provides flexibility while you’re writing the program, whereas Strategy‘s flexibility is at run time.

Strategy also adds a “Context” which can be a surrogate class that controls the selection and use of the particular strategy object-just like State! Here’s what it looks like:

# FunctionObjects/

# The strategy interface:
class FindMinima:
    # Line is a sequence of points:
    def algorithm(self, line) : pass

# The various strategies:
class LeastSquares(FindMinima):
    def algorithm(self, line):
        return [ 1.1, 2.2 ] # Dummy

class NewtonsMethod(FindMinima):
    def algorithm(self, line):
        return [ 3.3, 4.4 ]  # Dummy

class Bisection(FindMinima):
    def algorithm(self, line):
        return [ 5.5, 6.6 ] # Dummy

class ConjugateGradient(FindMinima):
    def algorithm(self, line):
        return [ 3.3, 4.4 ] # Dummy

# The "Context" controls the strategy:
class MinimaSolver:
    def __init__(self, strategy):
        self.strategy = strategy

    def minima(self, line):
        return self.strategy.algorithm(line)

    def changeAlgorithm(self, newAlgorithm):
        self.strategy = newAlgorithm

solver = MinimaSolver(LeastSquares())
line = [1.0, 2.0, 1.0, 2.0, -1.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 4.0]

Note similarity with template method - TM claims distinction that it has more than one method to call, does things piecewise. However, it’s not unlikely that strategy object would have more than one method call; consider Shalloway’s order fulfullment system with country information in each strategy.

Strategy example from standard Python: sort( ) takes a second optional argument that acts as a comparator object; this is a strategy.


A better, real world example is numerical integration, shown here:

Chain of Responsibility

Chain of Responsibility might be thought of as a dynamic generalization of recursion using Strategy objects. You make a call, and each Strategy in a linked sequence tries to satisfy the call. The process ends when one of the strategies is successful or the chain ends. In recursion, one method calls itself over and over until a termination condition is reached; with Chain of Responsibility, a method calls itself, which (by moving down the chain of Strategies) calls a different implementation of the method, etc., until a termination condition is reached. The termination condition is either the bottom of the chain is reached (in which case a default object is returned; you may or may not be able to provide a default result so you must be able to determine the success or failure of the chain) or one of the Strategies is successful.

Instead of calling a single method to satisfy a request, multiple methods in the chain have a chance to satisfy the request, so it has the flavor of an expert system. Since the chain is effectively a linked list, it can be dynamically created, so you could also think of it as a more general, dynamically-built switch statement.

In the GoF, there’s a fair amount of Thidiscussion of how to create the chain of responsibility as a linked list. However, when you look at the pattern it really shouldn’t matter how the chain is maintained; that’s an implementation detail. Since GoF was written before the Standard Template Library (STL) was incorporated into most C++ compilers, the reason for this is most likely (1) there was no list and thus they had to create one and (2) data structures are often taught as a fundamental skill in academia, and the idea that data structures should be standard tools available with the programming language may not have occurred to the GoF authors. I maintain that the implementation of Chain of Responsibility as a chain (specifically, a linked list) adds nothing to the solution and can just as easily be implemented using a standard Python list, as shown below. Furthermore, you’ll see that I’ve gone to some effort to separate the chain-management parts of the implementation from the various Strategies, so that the code can be more easily reused.

In, above, what you probably want is to automatically find a solution. Chain of Responsibility provides a way to do this by chaining the Strategy objects together and providing a mechanism for them to automatically recurse through each one in the chain:

# FunctionObjects/

# Carry the information into the strategy:
class Messenger: pass

# The Result object carries the result data and
# whether the strategy was successful:
class Result:
    def __init__(self):
        self.succeeded = 0
    def isSuccessful(self):
        return self.succeeded
    def setSuccessful(self, succeeded):
        self.succeeded = succeeded

class Strategy:
    def __call__(messenger): pass
    def __str__(self):
        return "Trying " + self.__class__.__name__ \
          + " algorithm"

# Manage the movement through the chain and
# find a successful result:
class ChainLink:
    def __init__(self, chain, strategy):
        self.strategy = strategy
        self.chain = chain

    def next(self):
        # Where this link is in the chain:
        location = self.chain.index(self)
        if not self.end():
            return self.chain[location + 1]

    def end(self):
        return (self.chain.index(self) + 1 >=

    def __call__(self, messenger):
        r = self.strategy(messenger)
        if r.isSuccessful() or self.end(): return r

# For this example, the Messenger
# and Result can be the same type:
class LineData(Result, Messenger):
    def __init__(self, data): = data
    def __str__(self): return ``

class LeastSquares(Strategy):
    def __call__(self, messenger):
        linedata = messenger
        # [ Actual test/calculation here ]
        result = LineData([1.1, 2.2]) # Dummy data
        return result

class NewtonsMethod(Strategy):
    def __call__(self, messenger):
        linedata = messenger
        # [ Actual test/calculation here ]
        result = LineData([3.3, 4.4]) # Dummy data
        return result

class Bisection(Strategy):
    def __call__(self, messenger):
        linedata = messenger
        # [ Actual test/calculation here ]
        result = LineData([5.5, 6.6]) # Dummy data
        return result

class ConjugateGradient(Strategy):
    def __call__(self, messenger):
        linedata = messenger
        # [ Actual test/calculation here ]
        result = LineData([7.7, 8.8]) # Dummy data
        return result

solutions = []
ChainLink(solutions, LeastSquares()),
ChainLink(solutions, NewtonsMethod()),
ChainLink(solutions, Bisection()),
ChainLink(solutions, ConjugateGradient())

line = LineData([
  1.0, 2.0, 1.0, 2.0, -1.0,
  3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 4.0



  1. Use Command in Chapter 3, Exercise 1.
  2. Implement Chain of Responsibility to create an “expert system” that solves problems by successively trying one solution after another until one matches. You should be able to dynamically add solutions to the expert system. The test for solution should just be a string match, but when a solution fits, the expert system should return the appropriate type of ProblemSolver object. What other pattern/patterns show up here?


[1]In Python, all functions are already objects and so the Command pattern is often redundant.
[2]Design Patterns, Page 235.