Edd Mann Developer

Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) in Scala

Continuing on with my exploration of the Scala language I decided to solve the widely documented problem of evaluating a mathematical Reverse Polish notation string. Popularised by its use in the HP-10C series of calculators from the 1980’s, the notation requires that every operator follow its operands (otherwise called postfix notation).

For simplification both discussed solutions use the partially-applied ‘parse’ function below, which simply is an alias to Java’s ‘parseDouble’ method.

def parse = java.lang.Double.parseDouble _

Mutable Stack

A typical solution to this problem is to use a mutable stack, which based on the current token, either pushes the parsed number or operator result back onto the stack. Once you have iterated over each of the split string tokens, you will be left with a single item which is your result. Though this solution uses mutability (a big functional no-no), I was able to take advantage of Scala’s first-class function support for the operator map. As addition and multiplication operations both have the symmetric property, I was able to ignore the stacks last-in-first-out (LIFO) nature in this case. However, in regard to the minus and divide operations, I was required to swap the parameter values around before evaluating and returning the result.

def rpn(str: String) = {

    val ops = Map(
        "+" -> ((_: Double) + (_: Double)),
        "*" -> ((_: Double) * (_: Double)),
        "-" -> ((x: Double, y: Double) => y - x),
        "/" -> ((x: Double, y: Double) => y / x)

    val stack = new scala.collection.mutable.Stack[Double]

    str.split(' ').foreach(token =>
            if (ops.contains(token)) ops(token)(stack.pop, stack.pop)
            else parse(token)




Following on from the above mutable approach I was able to implement a solution that followed the side-effect free functional paradigm. In this instance I am instead doing a left-fold over the split string, then using pattern matching to evaluate each token and the current state of the stack (list). By this use of pattern matching I am similarly, in effect ‘popping’ off the last two operands when I encounter a operator token.

def rpn(str: String) = {

    str.split(' ').toList.foldLeft(List[Double]())(
        (list, token) => (list, token) match {
            case (x :: y :: zs, "*") => (y * x) :: zs
            case (x :: y :: zs, "+") => (y + x) :: zs
            case (x :: y :: zs, "-") => (y - x) :: zs
            case (x :: y :: zs, "/") => (y / x) :: zs
            case (_, _) => parse(token) :: list


Finally, both implementations when run with the following RPN string argument will return a double value result of 8.0.

rpn("4 2 * 8 + 2 /") // 8.0