The factorial function is a simple function that you can define recursively. You can compute the factorial of a number, n, by multiplying all of the numbers up to n. For example:

factorial 5 = 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 120

Try implementing your own factorial function. You can test your implementation in ghci and compare its output to the example:

λ factorial 1
λ factorial 3
λ factorial 5
λ factorial 10
λ factorial 25


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Remember that a recursive function needs both a base case that tells the function to stop calling itself, and a recursive case where the function calls itself with a smaller value.

The base case for your factorial function is when the number you are calculating is less than, or equal to, one.

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In the recursive case of your function, you need to multiply the current number by the next smallest factorial.

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You can solve this problem using either if expressions or guards

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Imagine that we’d use parentheses in the factorial example. We might have written it like this:

factorial 5 = 5 * (4 * (3 * (2 * 1)))

Think about what function would represent the value inside of each set of parentheses.


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You can implement this function using either an if expression or a guard. We’ll look at both solutions, starting with the solution that uses an if expression.

The first thing we need to do is write our function and define our base case. We’ll leave the rest of the function undefined for the moment:

factorial n =
  if n <= 1
  then 1
  else undefined

Technically speaking, factorial is only defined for positive numbers. We haven’t yet learned how to prevent users from passing in negative numbers, so we’ll fall back to defensive programming practices and just check for any number less than or equal to one. If our number is small enough, we’ll return the smallest factorial number: one.

What about for a larger factorial? In that case we need to multiply the current number by the next smallest factorial. What’s the value of the next smallest factorial? We can find it out using the factorial function:

factorial n =
  if n <= 1
  then 1
  else n * factorial (n - 1)

As you can see in this example, the “next smallest factorial” is our recursive call to factorial with the next smallest value, n - 1.

If you prefer guards, you’ll notice that the implementation with them is nearly identical:

factorial n
  | n <= 1 = 1
  | otherwise = n * factorial (n - 1)