FsSpec.FsCheck 0.2.0-alpha5

This is a prerelease version of FsSpec.FsCheck.
dotnet add package FsSpec.FsCheck --version 0.2.0-alpha5                
NuGet\Install-Package FsSpec.FsCheck -Version 0.2.0-alpha5                
This command is intended to be used within the Package Manager Console in Visual Studio, as it uses the NuGet module's version of Install-Package.
<PackageReference Include="FsSpec.FsCheck" Version="0.2.0-alpha5" />                
For projects that support PackageReference, copy this XML node into the project file to reference the package.
paket add FsSpec.FsCheck --version 0.2.0-alpha5                
#r "nuget: FsSpec.FsCheck, 0.2.0-alpha5"                
#r directive can be used in F# Interactive and Polyglot Notebooks. Copy this into the interactive tool or source code of the script to reference the package.
// Install FsSpec.FsCheck as a Cake Addin
#addin nuget:?package=FsSpec.FsCheck&version=0.2.0-alpha5&prerelease

// Install FsSpec.FsCheck as a Cake Tool
#tool nuget:?package=FsSpec.FsCheck&version=0.2.0-alpha5&prerelease                


CI Build Nuget (with prereleases)

NOTE: Looking for feedback and experiences with the library to smooth it out. Please leave a comment!

What is FsSpec and why would you use it?

Short Motivation

FsSpec represents value constraints as data to reuse one constraint declaration for validation, data generation, error explanation, and more.

It also makes for a concise and consistent Type-Driven approach

open FsSpec
type InventoryCount = private InventoryCount of int
module InventoryCount = 
    let spec = Spec.all [Spec.min 0; Spec.max 1000]
    let tryCreate n =
      Spec.validate spec n 
      |> Result.map InventoryCount

// Generate data
let inventoryAmounts = Gen.fromSpec InventoryCount.spec |> Gen.sample 0 10

Longer Motivation

Type-Driven and/or Domain-Driven systems commonly model data types with constraints. For example,

  • a string that represents an email or phone number (must match format)
  • an inventory amount between 0 and 1000
  • Birthdates (can't be in the future)

We centralize these constraints by wrapping them in a type, such as

type PhoneNumber = private PhoneNumber of string
module PhoneNumber = 
    let tryCreate str =
      if (Regex(@"\d{3}-\d{4}-\d{4}").IsMatch(str))
      then Some (PhoneNumber str)
      else None 

This is great. It prevents defensive programming from leaking around the system and clearly encodes expectations on data. It avoids the downsides of primitive obsession.

However, we're missing out on some power. We're encoding constraints in a way that only gives us pass/fail validation. We have to duplicate constraint information if we want to explain a failed value, generate data, or similar actions.

FsSpec represents these constraints as data so that our programs can understand the constraints on a value.

let inventorySpec = Spec.all [Spec.min 0; Spec.max 1000]

// Validation
Spec.isValid inventorySpec 20

// Explanation: understand what constraints failed (as a data structure)
Spec.explain inventorySpec -1

// Validation Messages
Spec.explain inventorySpec -1 |> Formatters.prefix_allresults // returns: "-1 failed with: and [min 0 (FAIL); max 1000 (OK)]"

// Data Generation (with FsCheck)
Gen.fromSpec inventorySpec |> Gen.sample 0 10  // returns 10 values between 0 and 1000

There are also other possibilities FsSpec doesn't have built-in. For example,

  • Comparing specifications (i.e. is one a more constrained version of the other)
  • Serialize and interpret constraints for use in different UI technologies
  • Automatic generator registration with property testing libraries (e.g. FsCheck)

Spec Composition and Resuse

Specs are just values which can be stored and composed. This opens up opportunity for readable and reusable data constraints.

For example, we can break up complex constraints

let markdown = //could vary in complexity
let sanitizedMarkdown = markdown &&& //whatever sanitization looks like
let recipeIngredientSpec = sanitizedMarkdown &&& notEmpty 

Breaking out sub-constraints improves readability, but also identifies constraints we might reuse, like markdown or maybe FullName, FutureDate, PastDate, NonNegativeInt etc.

Such constraints can be centralized and reused like any other data (e.g. readonly members of a module). They do not have to be associated with a type, making them fairly light weight. There is also no duplication if such cross-cutting constraints change in the future.

Basic Value Type using FsSpec

It's still a good idea to create value types for constrained values. Here's how you might do it with FsSpec

open FsSpec
type InventoryCount = private InventoryCount of int
module InventoryCount = 
    let spec = Spec.all [Spec.min 0; Spec.max 1000]
    let tryCreate n =
      Spec.validate spec n 
      |> Result.map InventoryCount

Supported Constraints

  • Spec.all spec-list: Logical and. Requires all sub-specs to pass
  • Spec.any spec-list: Logical or. Requires at least one sub-spec to pass
  • Spec.min min: Minimum value, inclusive. Works for any IComparable<'a>
  • Spec.max max: Maximum value, inclusive. Works for any IComparable<'a>
  • Spec.regex pattern: String must match the given regex pattern. Only works for strings.
  • Spec.predicate label pred: Any predicate ('a -> bool) and a explanation/label
  • Spec.minLength min: set a minimum length for a string or any IEnumerable derivative
  • Spec.maxLength max: set a maximum length for a string or any IEnumerable derivative
  • Spec.values values: an explicit list of allowed values
  • Spec.notValues values: an explicit list of disallowed values

Generation Limitations

Nuget (with prereleases)

Data generation can't be done efficiently for all specifications. The library recognizes special cases and filters a standard generator of the base type for everything else.

Supported cases

  • Common ranges: most numeric ranges, date ranges
    • Custom scenarios for other IComparable types would be easy to add, if you encounter a type that isn't supported.
  • Regular expressions
  • Logical and/or scenarios
  • String length
  • Collection length: currently support IEnumerable<T>, lists, arrays, and readonly lists and collections.
    • Dictionaries, sets, and other collections are not yet supported but should not be difficult to add if users find they need them.
  • Spec.values, an explicit list of allowed values
    • Spec.notValues works by filtering. This will likely fail if the disallowed values are a significant portion of the total possible values

Predicates have limited generation support. For example,

let spec = Spec.predicate "predicate min/max" (fun i -> 0 < i && i < 5)

The above case will probably not generate. It is filtering a list of randomly generated integers, and it is unlikely many of them will be in the narrow range of 0 to 5. FsSpec can't understand the intent of the predicate to create a smarter generator.

Impossible specs (like all [min 10; max 5]), also cannot produce generators. The library tries to catch impossible specs and thrown an error instead of returning a bad generator.

Complex / Composed Types

FsSpec doesn't currently support composed types like tuples, records, unions, and objects.

The idea is that these types should enforce their expectations through the types they compose. Scott Wlaschin gives a great example as part of his designing with types series.

A short sample here.

Sum types (i.e. unions) represent "OR". Any valid value for any of their cases should be a valid union value. The cases themselves should be of types that enforces any necessary assumptions

type Contact = 
  | Phone of PhoneNumber
  | Email of Email

Product types (records, tuples, objects) should represent "AND". They expect their members to be filled. If a product type doesn't require all of it's members, the members that are not required should be made Options.

type Person = {
  // each field enforces it's own constraints
  Name: FullName 
  Phone: PhoneNumber option // use option for non-required fields
  Email: Email option

Rules involving multiple members should be refactored to a single member of a type that enforces the expectation. A common example is requiring a primary contact method, but allowing multiple contact methods.

type Contact = 
  | Phone of PhoneNumber
  | Email of Email

type Person = {
  Name: FullName 
  PrimaryContactInfo: Contact
  OtherContactInfo: Contact list

See Designing with Types (free blog series) or the fantastic Domain Modeling Made Functional (book) for more detailed examples.


This library is early in development. The goal is to get feedback and test the library in real applications before adding too many features. Please leave a comment with your feedback.

Lines of inquiry include

  • Improve customization: Explore how users most often need to extend or modify existing functionality.
    • add formatting for their custom constraint?
    • mapping custom errors? / interpreting error scenarios?
  • Identifying base set of constraints that should be built into the library
  • Predicate spec meta: Potentially allow meta separate from predicates so instances of a similar custom constraints can leverage case specific info (e.g. if max were implemented as custom, making the max value accessible to custom formatters, comparisons, generators, etc)
  • Not spec: Negate any specification.
    • This is easy to add for validation, but makes normalization for inferring generators more complex. It should be doable, but I have to consider negations of specs (i.e. max becomes min, regex becomes ???) and how that would impact other features like explanation

Project Status

The most foundational features (validation, generation, explanation) are implemented and tested. The library should be reliable, but the public API is subject to change based on feedback.

The main goal right now is to gather feedback, validate usefulness, and determine next steps, if any.


This library borrows inspiriation from many sources

Original Experiments

I previously looked into adding constraints as a more integrated part of the F# type system. Those experiments failed, but are still available to explore.

If you want such a type system, you might checkout F*, Idris, or Dafny.

Product Compatible and additional computed target framework versions.
.NET net5.0 was computed.  net5.0-windows was computed.  net6.0 was computed.  net6.0-android was computed.  net6.0-ios was computed.  net6.0-maccatalyst was computed.  net6.0-macos was computed.  net6.0-tvos was computed.  net6.0-windows was computed.  net7.0 was computed.  net7.0-android was computed.  net7.0-ios was computed.  net7.0-maccatalyst was computed.  net7.0-macos was computed.  net7.0-tvos was computed.  net7.0-windows was computed.  net8.0 was computed.  net8.0-android was computed.  net8.0-browser was computed.  net8.0-ios was computed.  net8.0-maccatalyst was computed.  net8.0-macos was computed.  net8.0-tvos was computed.  net8.0-windows was computed. 
.NET Core netcoreapp2.0 was computed.  netcoreapp2.1 was computed.  netcoreapp2.2 was computed.  netcoreapp3.0 was computed.  netcoreapp3.1 was computed. 
.NET Standard netstandard2.0 is compatible.  netstandard2.1 was computed. 
.NET Framework net461 was computed.  net462 was computed.  net463 was computed.  net47 was computed.  net471 was computed.  net472 was computed.  net48 was computed.  net481 was computed. 
MonoAndroid monoandroid was computed. 
MonoMac monomac was computed. 
MonoTouch monotouch was computed. 
Tizen tizen40 was computed.  tizen60 was computed. 
Xamarin.iOS xamarinios was computed. 
Xamarin.Mac xamarinmac was computed. 
Xamarin.TVOS xamarintvos was computed. 
Xamarin.WatchOS xamarinwatchos was computed. 
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NuGet packages

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Version Downloads Last updated
0.2.0-alpha5 133 7/19/2022
0.1.0-alpha4 110 7/4/2022
0.1.0-alpha3 119 7/4/2022
0.1.0-alpha2 100 6/20/2022
0.1.0-alpha 115 6/20/2022

Breaking Change: `Spec.validate` returns a ValueExplanation on error instead of an Explanation. This allows direct consumption by explanation formatters