Wired-in and known-key things

There are three categories of entities that GHC "knows about"; that is, information about them is baked into GHC's source code.

Wired-in things

A Wired-in thing is fully known to GHC. Most of these are TyCons such as Bool. It is very convenient to simply be able to refer to boolTyCon :: TyCon without having to look it up in an environment.

All primitive types are wired-in things, and have wired-in Names. The primitive types (and their Names) are all defined in compiler/prelude/TysPrim.hs.

The non-primitive wired-in type constructors are defined in compiler/prelude/TysWiredIn.hs. There are a handful of wired-in Ids in compiler/basicTypes/MkId.hs. There are no wired-in classes (they are too complicated).

All the non-primitive wired-in things are also defined in GHC's libraries, because even though GHC knows about them we still need to generate code for them. For example, Bool is a wired-in type constructor, but it is still defined in GHC.Base because we need the info table etc for the data constructors. Arbitrarily bad things will happen if the wired-in definition in compiler/prelude/TysWiredIn.hs differs from that in the library module.

All wired-in things have a WiredIn Name (see Names), which in turn contains the thing. See a case study of Bool implementation for more details.

Known-key things

A known-key thing has a fixed, pre-allocated Unique or key. They should really be called "known-Name" things, because the baked-in knowledge is:

  • Its defining Module
  • Its OccName
  • Its Unique

Almost all known-key names are defined in compiler/prelude/PrelNames.hs; for example: PrelNames.eqClassName :: Name.

The point about known-key things is that GHC knows its name, but not its definition. The definition must still be read from an interface file as usual. The known key just allows an efficient lookup in the environment.


When reading an interface file, GHC might come across "GHC.Base.Eq", which is the name of the Eq class. How does it match up this occurrence in the interface file with eqClassName defined in PrelNames? Because the global name cache maintained by the renamer is initialised with all the known-key names. This is done by the (hard-to-find) function HscMain.newHscEnv:

newHscEnv :: DynFlags -> IO HscEnv
newHscEnv dflags
  = do { ...
         nc_var <- newIORef (initNameCache us knownKeyNames)
	 return (HscEnv { ... hsc_NC = nc_var, ... }) }

knownKeyNames :: [Name]
knownKeyNames = map getName wiredInThings ++ basicKnownKeyNames ++ templateHaskellNames

Notice that the initialisation embraces both the wired-in and ("basic") known-key names.

Orig RdrName things

An Orig RdrName thing has a top-level definition of a RdrName, using the Orig constructor. Here, the baked-in information is:

  • Its defining Module
  • Its OccName

Again, almost all of these are in compiler/prelude/PrelNames.hs. Example: PrelNames.not_RDR :: RdrName.

Last modified 23 months ago Last modified on Jul 17, 2015 10:06:19 PM