Version 6 (modified by goldfire, 9 months ago) (diff)


Adding dependent types to Haskell

This page is to track design and implementation ideas around adding a form of dependent types to Haskell. This work will also fix bug #7961. Richard Eisenberg (a.k.a. goldfire) is expecting to take on most (all?) of this work.

Surface Language Design

It is possible to fix #7961 without any surface language changes, as that bug addresses only lifting restrictions on promotion. There is a chance that this bugfix will enter HEAD without all of the other features below, but this writeup generally will not consider fixing #7961 separate from adding dependent types.


As pointed out in the Hasochism paper, Haskell currently enjoys a confluence of design decisions. One says that compile-time arguments are elided in runtime code. For example, when calling map :: (a -> b) -> [a] -> [b], the type instantiations for a and b are properly arguments to map (and are passed quite explicitly in Core), but these arguments are always elided in surface Haskell. As the levels are mixing, we may want to revisit this. Along similar lines, type arguments in Haskell are always erasable -- that is, instantiations for types are never kept at runtime. While this is generally a Good Thing and powers much of Haskell's efficiency, dependent typing relies on keeping some types around at runtime. Here, it is even more apparent that sometimes, we want to be able to pass in values for type arguments, especially if those values can be inspected at runtime.

Haskell currently has three quantifiers: forall, ->, and =>, as classified in the following table:

Current Haskell
Quantifier Dependent? Visible? Required? Relevant?
forall yes unification FVs no
-> no yes yes yes
=> no solving yes yes
  • Dependent means that the quantified thing (henceforth, quantifiee) can appear later in the type. This is clearly true for forall-quantified things and clearly not true for ->-quantified things. (That is, if we have Int -> Bool, we can't mention the Int value after the ->!)
  • Visibility refers to whether or not the argument must appear at call sites in the program text. If something is not visible, the table lists how GHC is to fill in the missing bit at call sites.
  • A required quantification is one that must textually appear in the type. Note that Haskell freely infers the type a -> a really to mean forall a. a -> a, by looking for free variables (abbreviated to FVs, above).
  • Relevance refers to how the quantifiee can be used in the term that follows. (This is distinct from dependence, which says how the quantifiee can be used in the type that follows!) forall-quantifiees are not relevant. While they can textually appear in the term that follows, they appear only in irrelevant positions -- that is, in type annotations and type signatures. ->- and =>-quantifiees, on the other hand, can be used freely.

Relevance is something of a squirrely issue. It is (RAE believes) closely related to parametricity, in that if forall-quantifiees were relevant, Haskell would lose the parametricity property. Another way to think about this is that parametric arguments are irrelevant and non-parametric arguments are relevant.

Related work

Readers: Please add to these lists!

There are several published works very relevant to the design:

There are also many works addressing the use of dependent types in Haskell. Here is a selection: