C# – Recursive List Flattening

.netc++recursion

I could probably write this myself, but the specific way I'm trying to accomplish it is throwing me off. I'm trying to write a generic extension method similar to the others introduced in .NET 3.5 that will take a nested IEnumerable of IEnumerables (and so on) and flatten it into one IEnumerable. Anyone have any ideas?

Specifically, I'm having trouble with the syntax of the extension method itself so that I can work on a flattening algorithm.

Best Solution

Here's an extension that might help. It will traverse all nodes in your hierarchy of objects and pick out the ones that match a criteria. It assumes that each object in your hierarchy has a collection property that holds its child objects.

Here's the extension:

/// Traverses an object hierarchy and return a flattened list of elements
/// based on a predicate.
/// 
/// TSource: The type of object in your collection.</typeparam>
/// source: The collection of your topmost TSource objects.</param>
/// selectorFunction: A predicate for choosing the objects you want.
/// getChildrenFunction: A function that fetches the child collection from an object.
/// returns: A flattened list of objects which meet the criteria in selectorFunction.
public static IEnumerable<TSource> Map<TSource>(
  this IEnumerable<TSource> source,
  Func<TSource, bool> selectorFunction,
  Func<TSource, IEnumerable<TSource>> getChildrenFunction)
{
  // Add what we have to the stack
  var flattenedList = source.Where(selectorFunction);

  // Go through the input enumerable looking for children,
  // and add those if we have them
  foreach (TSource element in source)
  {
    flattenedList = flattenedList.Concat(
      getChildrenFunction(element).Map(selectorFunction,
                                       getChildrenFunction)
    );
  }
  return flattenedList;
}

Examples (Unit Tests):

First we need an object and a nested object hierarchy.

A simple node class

class Node
{
  public int NodeId { get; set; }
  public int LevelId { get; set; }
  public IEnumerable<Node> Children { get; set; }

  public override string ToString()
  {
    return String.Format("Node {0}, Level {1}", this.NodeId, this.LevelId);
  }
}

And a method to get a 3-level deep hierarchy of nodes

private IEnumerable<Node> GetNodes()
{
  // Create a 3-level deep hierarchy of nodes
  Node[] nodes = new Node[]
    {
      new Node 
      { 
        NodeId = 1, 
        LevelId = 1, 
        Children = new Node[]
        {
          new Node { NodeId = 2, LevelId = 2, Children = new Node[] {} },
          new Node
          {
            NodeId = 3,
            LevelId = 2,
            Children = new Node[]
            {
              new Node { NodeId = 4, LevelId = 3, Children = new Node[] {} },
              new Node { NodeId = 5, LevelId = 3, Children = new Node[] {} }
            }
          }
        }
      },
      new Node { NodeId = 6, LevelId = 1, Children = new Node[] {} }
    };
  return nodes;
}

First Test: flatten the hierarchy, no filtering

[Test]
public void Flatten_Nested_Heirachy()
{
  IEnumerable<Node> nodes = GetNodes();
  var flattenedNodes = nodes.Map(
    p => true, 
    (Node n) => { return n.Children; }
  );
  foreach (Node flatNode in flattenedNodes)
  {
    Console.WriteLine(flatNode.ToString());
  }

  // Make sure we only end up with 6 nodes
  Assert.AreEqual(6, flattenedNodes.Count());
}

This will show:

Node 1, Level 1
Node 6, Level 1
Node 2, Level 2
Node 3, Level 2
Node 4, Level 3
Node 5, Level 3

Second Test: Get a list of nodes that have an even-numbered NodeId

[Test]
public void Only_Return_Nodes_With_Even_Numbered_Node_IDs()
{
  IEnumerable<Node> nodes = GetNodes();
  var flattenedNodes = nodes.Map(
    p => (p.NodeId % 2) == 0, 
    (Node n) => { return n.Children; }
  );
  foreach (Node flatNode in flattenedNodes)
  {
    Console.WriteLine(flatNode.ToString());
  }
  // Make sure we only end up with 3 nodes
  Assert.AreEqual(3, flattenedNodes.Count());
}

This will show:

Node 6, Level 1
Node 2, Level 2
Node 4, Level 3