I want to split a list (as if splitting a string by a delimiter), ideally in a functional style, and was surprised how hard it seems to be. Or maybe my code is just unnecessarily complicated?

fun <ElemType : Comparable<ElemType>> Iterable<ElemType>.split(delim: ElemType): 
List<List<ElemType>> {
    return this.fold(emptyList<List<ElemType>>()) { 
        acc: List<List<ElemType>>, elem: ElemType ->
        if (elem == delim) 
            acc + listOf(emptyList<ElemType>())
        else if (acc.isEmpty()) 
            acc.take(acc.size - 1) + listOf(acc.last() + elem)

fun main() {
    val l = listOf("1", "", "2", "3", "", "", "4")
    val l2 = listOf(1, 0, 2, 3, 0, 0, 4)

The result for both cases is [[1], [2, 3], [], [4]].

Kotlin Playground

  • \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity, why "ideally in a functionally style"? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Because I can write procedural code in a lot of languages, but am learning functional idioms in Kotlin. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well you chose a tough assignment to learn functional idioms with xD But possibly if you would have handled it list-by-list by searching for the delimiters instead of element-by-element it might have been easier. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


It's complicated because you are making it unnecessarily complicated.

I wouldn't use .fold to accomplish this.

Think about how many list operations this line does: acc.take(acc.size - 1) + listOf(acc.last() + elem)

  • acc.take(acc.size - 1) copies the current list of sublists except the last.
  • listOf(acc.last() + elem) (I believe this could be just acc.last() + elem?) creates a new list with one element appended to the last list.

We know that once we've seen a delimiter, we don't need to touch any previous lists, we can just continue looking at what's ahead of us.

This makes it a perfect choice for a sequence builder.

fun <ElemType> Iterable<ElemType>.split(delim: ElemType): List<List<ElemType>> {
    return sequence {
        val currentList = mutableListOf<ElemType>()
        for (elem in this@split) {
            if (elem == delim) {
            } else {

Other notes: Your function requires ElemType to extend Comparable<ElemType>. I do not see any reason for this. You can remove that restriction.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I thought I needed Comparable for elem == delim, but I now realize that equals is defined for all objects. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ And maybe I don't even need the toList() at the end ... this could even be lazy. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 16:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @FelixDombek Yup, if possible I would recommend using it as a Sequence instead of a List \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2022 at 17:48

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