When dealing with collections, I frequently find myself filtering and mapping a collection to extract the results I need. Elixir’s Enum library has a great filter_map/3 function to simplify this…

The general concept of filter_map is pretty straight forward, but the first time I came across it I didn’t quite grok it straight away. I thought it may help others to explain in a bit more detail how to use it.


Here’s the definition from hexdocs:

filter_map(enumerable, filter, mapper)

Filters the enumerable and maps its elements in one pass

And the example:

iex> Enum.filter_map([1, 2, 3], fn(x) -> rem(x, 2) == 0 end, &(&1 * 2))


The example uses the & shorthand for an anonymous function, but when you’re new to the language it can be a little confusing. Let’s re-write it without the shorthand:

  [1, 2, 3],                                    # enumerable
  fn(value) -> rem(value, 2) == 0 end,          # filter
  fn(filtered_value) -> filtered_value * 2 end  # mapper

Here’s what’s happening:

1. enumerable

This is our enumerable collection that we begin with, in this case it’s [1,2,3].

2. filter

This is a function defining how we want to filter the values. The filter function should return a truthy/non-truthy (everything is truthy except nil and false) result for each value. Only values that return a truthy value for the filter function will pass through.

In this case we want values from the collection that are divisible by 2. This function will be applied to each value in our enumerable.

fn(value) -> rem(value, 2) == 0 end

The only value in our enumerable that will return true for this function is 2, so our filter returns [2].

3. mapper

This is a function that will be applied to each value of the filter results, and returns the results in a list.

fn(filtered_value) -> filtered_value * 2 end

This function just multiples each value by 2, so it transforms the filter results [2] to return [4].

Further example

Here’s a slightly more complicated example. We’ve got a list of Structs containing user information:”

  users = [
    %{ id: 1, full_name: "John Doe", username: "jdoe", email: "[email protected]"},
    %{ id: 2, full_name: "Mary Doe", email: "[email protected]"},
    %{ id: 3, username: "dfaker", email: "[email protected]"},
    %{ id: 4, email: "[email protected]"}

Let’s say we want a list of tuples in the form {id, name} from our list of users, and we’ve got the following business logic:

  • name can be the users full_name or username - if they have both, prioritize the full_name
  • we want the names in uppercase
  • if a user has no full_name or username we return nothing for that user

There many different ways we to do this, but one way, using Enum.filter_map could look like this:

defmodule FilterMapExample do
  def filter_users(users) do
      fn(user) -> has_name?(user) end,
      fn(user) -> filterd_data(user) end

  defp has_name?(%{full_name: full_name}), do: true
  defp has_name?(%{username: username}), do: true
  defp has_name?(_), do: nil

  defp filterd_data(%{id: id, full_name: name}), do: {id, String.upcase(name)}
  defp filterd_data(%{id: id, username: name}), do: {id, String.upcase(name)}

We’ve pulled out our filter and mapper functions into private methods has_name? and filtered_data and use pattern matching to return the correct result from these private methods.

Using the example to filter the users collection we get a list of tuples containing only users with a full_name/username in uppercase:

iex> FilterMapExample.filer_users(users)
[{1, "JOHN DOE"}, {2, "MARY DOE"}, {3, "DFAKER"}]

Simplifying filter_user

Using the & shorthand and |>, the filter_users methods could be simplified:

def filter_users(users) do
  |> Enum.filter_map(&(has_name?(&1)), &(filterd_data(&1)))

It’s a handy method for working with collections. Hopefully this helps you understand how to use filter_map a little better!