The Problem

Examples of this problem are easier to explain than providing an initial definition:

  • a way to track a player's position in a maze and efficiently update this position to a new valid position. Updating the position to an invalid position should be illegal.
  • a way to navigate through a computer's file system by changing directories, one directory at a time. Moreover, we should be able to rename a directory efficiently.

In other words, one needs to be able to do a few things:

  • store the current "position"
  • modify the current "position"
  • change the current "position" to some other "position" by following some "path"
  • do this efficiently and with an API that prevents invalid positions.

The Solution

This solution is called the Zipper.

There are libraries the implement this for variuos types. Reading through the code can help you understand it pretty quickly:


For an non-code explanation on this concept, see these links:


Cursors are one such application of this concept. See this post that clearly explains the problem and solution it solves.

Then, see my conclusion to an exploration of defining a cursor-based data structure that supports multiple carets/selections here with the full exploration here