An Optional is an optic that allows seeing into a structure and getting, setting, or modifying an optional focus. It combines the properties of a Lens (getting, setting, and modifying) with the properties of a Prism (an optional focus).

Optional combines their weakest functions: set and getOrModify.

  • set: (S, A) -> S, meaning we can look into S, set a value for an optional focus A, and obtain the modified source.
  • getOrModify: (S) -> Either<S, A>, meaning we can get the focus OR return the original value.

For a structure List<Int>, we can create an Optional to focus an optional head Int.

import arrow.core.*
import arrow.optics.*

val optionalHead: Optional<List<Int>, Int> = Optional(
    getOption = { list -> list.firstOrNull().toOption() },
    set = { list, int -> list.mapIndexed { index, value -> if (index == 0) int else value } }

Our optionalHead allows us to operate on the head of List<Int> without having to worry if it is available. You can find optionalHead in the optics library: ListK.head<Int>().

import arrow.optics.*

POptional.listHead<Int>().set(listOf(1, 3, 6), 5)
POptional.listHead<Int>().modify(listOf(1, 3, 6)) { head -> head * 5 }

We can also lift such functions.

val lifted = POptional.listHead<Int>().lift { head -> head * 5 }

An Optional instance can be manually constructed from any default or custom Iso, Lens, or Prism instance by calling their asOptional() or by creating a custom Optional instance as shown above.


We can compose Optionals to build telescopes with an optional focus. Imagine we try to retrieve a User’s email from a backend. The result of our call is Option<User>. So, we first want to look into Option, which optionally could be a Some. And then we want to look into User, which optionally filled in his email.

data class Participant(val name: String, val email: String?)

val participantEmail: Optional<Participant, String> = Optional(
        getOrModify = { participant -> participant.email?.right() ?: participant.left() },
        set = { participant, email -> participant.copy(email = email) }

val optEmail: Optional<Option<Participant>, String> = PPrism.some<Participant>() compose participantEmail

optEmail.getOrNull(Some(Participant("test", "email")))
optEmail.getOrNull(Some(Participant("test", null)))

Optional can be composed with all optics, resulting in the following optics:

  Iso Lens Prism Optional Getter Setter Fold Traversal
Optional Optional Optional Optional Optional Fold Setter Fold Traversal

Generating optional

To avoid boilerplate, optionals can be generated for A?, and Option<A> fields for a data class. The Optionals will be generated as extension properties on the companion object val T.Companion.paramName.

@optics data class Person(val age: Int?, val address: Option<Address>) {
  companion object
val optionalAge: Optional<Person, Int> = Person.age
val optionalAddress: Optional<Person, Address> = Person.address

Polymorphic optional

A POptional is very similar to PLens and PPrism. So let’s see if we can combine both examples shown in their documentation.

Given a PPrism with a focus into Some of Option<Pair<Int, String>> that can polymorphically change its content to Pair<String, String> and a PLens with a focus into the Pair<Int, String> that can morph the first parameter from Int to String, we can compose them together building an Optional that can look into Option and morph the first type of the Pair within.

val pprism = PPrism.pSome<Pair<Int, String>, Pair<String, String>>()
val plens = PLens.pairPFirst<Int, String, String>()

val somePair: POptional<Option<Pair<Int, String>>, Option<Pair<String, String>>, Int, String> =
    pprism compose plens

val lifted: (Option<Pair<Int, String>>) -> Option<Pair<String, String>> = somePair.lift { _ -> "Hello, " }


Arrow provides OptionalLaws in the form of test cases for internal verification of lawful instances and third party apps creating their own optionals.

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