metacall()()()™ API and application architecture pattern


metacall means “call of calls”

I am one of those people who think that JavaScript should not be changed. No new keywords should be added. If anything, some should be removed, like ‘new’ for example. But there is one concept and one keyword which is missing: interface. And without interface API is very difficult to make simple.

Originally published 2010 Mar 05

Class inheritance is evil. Interface inheritance is a “good thing”.

That is the key concept which delivers high degree of decoupling and encapsulation. Two corner stones, in the foundations of  application Architecture concepts. To actually implement them , interfaces are necessary. And by this I do not mean classes pretending to be interfaces.I mean pure interfaces.

I like JavaScript prototypical nature. The concept of “class” is unnecessary to write great code. Keep that in mind. Generic programming and interfaces is all that is needed. Maybe you did not know that, but even C++, does not enforces classes onto you. Standard C++ library (aka “STL”) is prime example what narrow and precise interfaces + generic programming can do. JavaScript is much “poorer” language, than C++, but still extremely expressive. I am using it a lot, and I always miss interface concept, implemented directly in a JavaScript language.

So, I suppose this new JavaScript pattern, I am toying with, might be important. This is closest I ever come to having interfaces in JavaScript. It is delivering an decoupled communication, or  “interfacing”, with some state “in the back”. Simply by providing a mechanism for creating a stream of function calls, “anchored” and conceptualized as one call.

It is important so I shall emphasize it : this is not an Interface, that is missing from JavaScript. Rather this is communication mechanism that I propose to be used ubiquitously, to achieve the highest degree of decoupling between implementations and their callers. The interface here is in the mechanisms and communication kind used which is: messaging. I propose non-trivial JavaScript programs to be entirely composed in this way.

I have very high hopes for this mechanism and communication pattern, and I shell describe it here, step-by-step. Let’s perform an “deep plunge” first :

That is it. The pattern I am describing here I shall call: “metacall”. It is presented here as an JavaScript mechanism. In its simplest and purest form. Just a concept, described in code. A very simple coding idiom. A function whose call, returns that same function itself.

With the snippet and function above we can write this most exciting, piece of javascript.


Besides the fact that above code is useless, it actually is legal JavaScript and it works. We can write an endless “stream of calls” , just by calling this crazy “metacall” first. We can compose the chain of calls, starting with this one call first. Hence the name “metacall”. Of course, we can pass any number of any kind of arguments to any of these calls. As naturally as any other JavaScript code does.


Remember. All of this call’s the same function: metacall(). So we can collect the arguments and do something with them, before next call comes in.


Above call_handler(), is an gateway to anything. Anything that can do something with some arguments passed to the metacall(). Different metacalls can be made just by using different call_handler’s.

I think that by now I can prove that metacall pattern decouples interface from implementation. It delivers the interface as a separate entity. And. it provides interface with no methods.
It is a kind-of-a interface. And very flexible one indeed. Specific metacall needs almost never be changed. It is very resilient to change in the underlying state to which it passes arguments. It does not want to know anything about arguments. It just want’s to pass them.

I think here I have an pattern with well defined, narrow and single purpose of existence. To allow metacalling (aka chaining), and nothing else. Nice. Perhaps. Still a bit useless. How do we make this useful? Maybe by finding an very good “counter” example? jQuery call chaining perhaps?

These days “call chaining” is very popular and fashionable JavaScript sport. jQuery crowd can’t have enough of call chaining. Perhaps I can use my metacall to devise some new and “awesome” call chaining mechanism, better than jQuery does? Although jQuery uses what some might call “simpler” and more “normal looking” form :

Function $() returns an object ,where each public method of that object returns, again the same object. Above chain calling syntax is actually very efficient and leads to smaller and more efficient code. It is also logical. Because all calls in a chain, naturally are working on the same underlying state (dom nodes) , which is defined by the first call to the jQuery itself. After seeing this for the first time, and an initial “JavaScript cultural shock” it is easy to understand that jQuery chain deals with the same instance of an jQuery object. As defined with the first call, which has selected some dom node set.
Ok, but how is “metacall” performing when compared to this “traditional call chaining”? This is how. Imagine jQuery version which is based on “metacall” , and let us try and repeat the chain above, shall we ?

What do I see above? First of all everything becomes much more flexible. How so? Simple: there is no ‘.’ (dot) operator. Functions used can come from anywhere. Functions used can be changed in a totally free manner. They are not attached to jQuery. “find”, “attr” and “css” might be jQuery “aware” functions or they might be any other functions which “know” how to achieve the required result. They are “truly functional”! therefore they can be 100% re-usable. They might work on two, or more , similar , but different “metacalls”. It is just a question of “contract” they have to oblige to. These functions can even be used at run-time, on several wildly different instances of metacalls. They can become “Stream Visitors”. Generic Functions re-used (aka “called”) on many different metacall instances. Example is due.

Function “logger” above is a “StreamVisitor”. Without any change, one single generic function is used to send logs from any jQuery instance. The “StreamVisitor” requirements are in the “contract”. They need not follow any dependancy on some another functions or objects. And all of that without any extra “plugin” mechanism. Every function in this stream of calls is a “plugin”.

And this is the second “good thing” about this pattern. No methods. Every function capable of operating on the hidden state of the metacall is a stand alone function. It is not a method. There are no methods. Just functions. No special “plugin” mechanism is needed. Everything that can be used as a StreamVisitor is a “plugin” in a traditional meaning of the term “plugin”.

But wait, there is more ?! And this makes me dizzy I think. We can go one step further in this decoupling “jamboree”. We can write a metacall so that we even do not use function objects. We can aim for OO “nirvana”: just objects and messages. We can encapsulate everything inside metacall. Let me show you this form of metacall on the example above.

metacall does not prescribe anything about types of arguments, of course. The form above would give us even more freedom and flexibility. Above is almost an “jQuery mini language”. Just strings. jQuery commands, vs functions (StreamVisitors) or methods on jQuery Meta Caller object.

This is the third good thing. metacall allows for total encapsulation of operations on some state. Combined with stream of calls. And still in a controlled manner. metacall actually does not have any state, it does not know nor it does care what call_handler does. Consider an (imaginary) SVG encapsulation :

No functions. Just a “language” like API. In this case we use a well defined , exsiting SVG syntax, plus metacall, to deliver an non obtrusive javascript syntax which allows the user to concetrate on the SVG but still stay inside the javascript code. Minus, tiresome SVG XML syntax of course.

Here I have made a bit more realistic example and introduced one more attribute of this pattern : an metacall Conctructor. Which is kind-of-a interface constructor. With the same purpose as any other classical “constructor” : to provide initialization opportunity. An initial input to aid object creation and preparation. To do the above in a traditional way, we would need to have some traditional “object with methods” :



Perhaps I could formalize this meta-pattern in its (for the time being) final JavaScript shape.

metacall meta-pattern (mechanism) gives us additional degree of flexibility in composing concrete patterns and designs. By basing designs on this meta-pattern and concepts, we are comprehensively decoupled from “no-interface” issues, while still handling the underlying state effectively. metacall is simply encapsulating pure interfacing activity. An simple yet powerful mediator concept, that decouples users from implementations.

Also, it delivers method for brokering the calls between user and underlying state handler. In a totally decoupled manner. Opposite of this, in every traditional objects-and-methods universe, interfacing mechanism and implementation is unfortunately interlaced with actual implementation of the logic of handling the object state.

Let me repeat once more : metacall pattern decouples user from interface interface from implementation. It delivers the interface as a separate mediating entity. And. It provides an message based interface, with no methods ;)

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