Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

F#: A day writing a Feedburner graph creator

with 6 comments

I’ve spent a bit of the day writing a little application to take the xml from my Feedburner RSS feed and create a graph showing the daily & weekly average subscribers.

What did I learn?

  • I decided that I wanted to parameterise the feedburner url so that I would be able to run the code for different time periods and against different feeds. In C# we’d probably make use of ‘string.Format()’ which has an equivalent in F# called ‘sprintf’

    My initial thought was that I would be able to do something like this:

    let ShowFeedBurnerStats feed =
        let statsUrl = ",2009-07-11"
        sprintf statsUrl feed |> GetXml
        // more code

    Which actually results in the following compilation error:

    The type 'string' is not compatible with the type 'Printf.StringFormat

    After a bit of searching I found a post by Robert Pickering where he explains that the format string needs to be next to the sprintf function to work as expected:

    let ShowFeedBurnerStats feed =
        let statsUrl = sprintf ",2009-07-11"
        statsUrl feed |> GetXml
        // more code

    ‘statsUrl’ therefore becomes a function taking in a ‘string’ and returning a ‘string’.

  • I’m still trying to work out the best way to decompose the code I write into functions which make sense in terms of the domain I’m working in.

    I often found myself splitting up a function along the boundary of where any I/O interaction was happening so that I could execute the I/O function and save the data before using it in another function which I would execute a lot more frequently (using F# interactive) while I was tweaking it.

  • I still haven’t come up with a completely satisfactory approach to coding these little applications – right now I’m finding that the feedback cycle is significantly quicker if I just write functions and then run them in F# interactive and then tweak anything which isn’t working as expected.

    I didn’t write any unit tests while coding this although I did find myself writing shorter functions than I originally did when writing my little twitter application. The problem of not writing the tests is that I lose the protection against regression that I would otherwise get.

  • I still have a bit of a love hate relationship with tuples – I found myself making use of them early on when I was focused on getting the code to work and I could still understand the code easily.

    Originally I was only storing ‘date’ and ‘circulation’ in the tuple but once I added a third value to the tuple (‘weeklyAverage’) it became too confusing for me to understand so I decided to introduce the ‘FeedBurnerStats’ type to simplify things for myself.

  • I ended up writing a function called ‘Join’ which is quite similar to ‘’ because I wanted to join two sequences together but only join items which had the same date (the ‘string’ value in the tuple).

    Therefore, if I had some data like this:


    "2009-01,07", 200
    "2009-01,08", 222


    "2009-01,07", 300
    "2009-01,08", 322

    I wanted the join of the two sequences to look like this:

    "2009-01,07", 200, 300
    "2009-01,08", 222, 322

    Which wasn’t working as expected when I used ‘’ – the items that were getting matched together seemed to be quite random to me.

    let Join (dailyStats:seq<decimal*string>) (weeklyAverages:seq<decimal*string>) =
        dailyStats |> (fun d -> { Date = d |> snd; 
                                          Circulation = d |> fst;
                                          WeeklyAverage = weeklyAverages |> Seq.find (fun w -> snd d = snd w) |> fst})

I’ve included the code is at the end of the post – there are some areas where I don’t really like the way I’ve solved a problem but I’m not sure of a better way at the moment.

In particular:

  • I wanted to make use of ‘Seq.windowed’ to find the rolling weekly average but I needed it to go back 7 days rather than forward 7 days which meant I needed to reverse the sequence. Right now I’ve done this by converting it to a list and using ‘List.rev’ to do so but this seems like a fairly inefficient way of doing this.

    The alternative seemed to be to write a function to change the order of the items in the sequence but again this doesn’t seem like a great approach.

  • What do you do with functions which are only used by one other areas of the code? For example ‘ConvertToCommaSeparatedString’ is only used by ‘CreateGoogleGraphUri’ so I defined it inside that function – I could then pull it to a function in its own right if other areas of the code need it. I did this to reduce the clutter of functions hanging around but it then makes ‘CreateGoogleGraphUri’ more difficult to read.

I decided to run it against some blogs I follow to see what the graphs, created using Google’s Charts API, would look like:

ShowFeedBurnerStats "scotthanselman" "2009-03-01" "2009-07-11";;
ShowFeedBurnerStats "youdthinkwithallmy" "2009-03-01" "2009-07-11";;
ShowFeedBurnerStats "codinghorror" "2009-03-01" "2009-07-11";;




Interestingly you can actually see the points where feedburner for some reason counted a particular days circulation as being 0.

And here’s the code:

open System.IO
open System.Net
open Microsoft.FSharp.Control
open System.Xml.Linq
open System
let downloadUrl (url:string) = async{
    let request =  HttpWebRequest.Create(url)
    let! response = request.AsyncGetResponse()
    let stream = response.GetResponseStream()
    use reader = new StreamReader(stream)
    return! reader.AsyncReadToEnd() }
let xName value = XName.Get value
let GetDescendants element (xDocument:XDocument)  = xDocument.Descendants(xName element)
let GetAttribute element (xElement:XElement) = xElement.Attribute(xName element)
let GetXml = downloadUrl >> Async.Run >> XDocument.Parse 
let GetDateAndCirculation (document:XDocument) = 
    document |> 
    GetDescendants "entry"  |> (fun element -> GetAttribute "circulation" element, GetAttribute "date" element)  |> (fun attribute -> Decimal.Parse((fst attribute).Value), (snd attribute).Value) 
let CalculateAverage days (feedStats:seq<decimal * string>) =
    let ReverseSequence (sequence:seq<_>) = sequence |> Seq.to_list |> List.rev |> List.to_seq
    feedStats |> 
    ReverseSequence |>
    Seq.windowed days |> (fun x -> x |> (fun y -> y |> fst) |> Array.average, x.[0] |> snd) |>
let CalculateWeeklyAverage (feedStats:seq<decimal * string>) = CalculateAverage 7 feedStats
type FeedBurnerStats = { Date : string; Circulation: decimal; WeeklyAverage: decimal }
let Join (dailyStats:seq<decimal*string>) (weeklyAverages:seq<decimal*string>) =
    dailyStats |> (fun d -> { Date = d |> snd; 
                                      Circulation = d |> fst;
                                      WeeklyAverage = weeklyAverages |> Seq.find (fun w -> snd d = snd w) |> fst})        
let GetFeedBurnerStats feed startDate endDate =
    let statsUrl = sprintf ",%s"
    let allStats = GetDateAndCirculation (statsUrl feed startDate endDate |> GetXml)
    let weeklyAverages = allStats |> CalculateWeeklyAverage
    let dailyStats = allStats |> Seq.filter (fun x -> weeklyAverages |> Seq.exists (fun y -> snd y = snd x)) 
    Join dailyStats weeklyAverages   
let CreateGoogleGraphUri feed (stats:seq<FeedBurnerStats>) =
    let ConvertToCommaSeparatedString (value:seq<string>) =
        let rec convert (innerVal:List<string>) acc =
            match innerVal with
                | [] -> acc
                | hd::[] -> convert [] (acc + hd)
                | hd::tl -> convert tl (acc + hd + ",")          
        convert (Seq.to_list value) ""  
    let graphUrl = sprintf ",FF0000&chdl=WeeklyAverage|Daily&chs=600x240&chds=%s,%s&chd=t:%s|%s"
    let weeklyAverages = stats |> (fun f -> f.WeeklyAverage.ToString("f0")) |> ConvertToCommaSeparatedString 
    let circulation = stats |> (fun f -> f.Circulation.ToString("f0")) |> ConvertToCommaSeparatedString 
    let maximum = stats |> (fun f -> f.Circulation) |> Seq.max
    let minimum = stats |> (fun f -> f.Circulation) |> Seq.min
    new System.Uri(graphUrl feed (minimum.ToString("f0")) (maximum.ToString("f0")) weeklyAverages circulation)      
let ShowFeedBurnerStats feed startDate endDate = CreateGoogleGraphUri feed (GetFeedBurnerStats feed startDate endDate)
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Written by Mark Needham

July 12th, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Posted in F#

Tagged with