# Using the min-key function in Clojure

I was discussing today at work the problem of dealing with a variable length list of parameters in a typeless language. If you explicitly declare the variable part of your parameters to be a list of strings, if someone only passes in one parameter, the compiler can check if it's a list of string or a single string and compile accordingly. Without the type information (which ironically, includes C) you're out of luck. It's got to assume you are dealing with a list.

So, if you've got a list and you want the smallest item in Clojure

(min [-2 1 3])

will just return [-2 1 3]. Not really a useful behaviour. However, you can use apply to solve the problem:

(apply min [-2 1 3])

actually returns -2. It gets trickier, though, when you're dealing with min-key. Let's say you want the number that's closest to zero.

(min-key #(Math/abs %) -2 1 3)

works, but what if you have a list? Now you need to get creative:

(apply min-key #(Math/abs %)) [-2 1 3])

This relies on the fact that apply always takes the last parameter and flattens it. So (apply f a b [c d e]) is the same as (f a b c d e).

**CORRECTION:** My original solution to this was

((partial apply min-key #(Math/abs %)) [-2 1 3])

which I didn't really like. I invited alternatives in the comments, and got a superior one from Huw. I've replaced the main text with his solution. I've also learned a bit more Clojure, which is the point of blogging in the first place...

and

(apply min-key #(Math/abs %) [-2 1 3])

both work just fine

(apply min (map #(Math/abs %) [-2 -1 3]))

=> 1

(apply min-key #(Math/abs %) [-2 -1 3])

=> -1

Talking sense? Talking rubbish? Something I'm missing? Let me know!

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