Version 13 (modified by simonpj, 3 years ago) (diff)


Adding Kind Constraint

This page describes an extension to kind system that supporsts a kind Constraint to cover constraints as well as types, in order to reuse existing abstraction mechanisms, notably type synonyms, in the constraint language.

Much of the motivation for this proposal can be found in Haskell Type Constraints Unleashed which identifies the shortage of abstraction mechanisms for constraints relative to types. See ticket #788 for the resulting constraint synonym proposal, which seeks to fill some of the gaps with new declaration forms. Here, however, the plan is to extend the kind system, empowering the existing mechanisms to work with constraints. Max Bolingbroke, commenting on context aliases (in turn based on John Meacham's class alias proposal) makes a similar suggestion, remarking that a new kind would probably help. The final design is largely the work of Conor McBride.

The new design has now been implemented by Max Bolingbroke. It's in HEAD and upcoming GHC 7.4, and is described in Max's Sept 2011 blog post.

The design: user's eye view

  • Add a kind Constraint for constraints, so that, e.g. Monad :: (* -> *) -> Constraint.
  • Close Constraint under tuples, so (F1, .. Fn) :: Constraint iff each Fi :: Constraint.
  • Allow (rather, neglect to forbid) the use of type to introduce synonyms for Constraint(-constructing) things. Thus one might say
    type Transposable f = (Traversable f, Applicative f)
    type Reduce m x = (Monad m, Monoid (m x))
    type Stringy x = (Read x, Show x)
  • Allow these synonym facts to appear wherever a class constraint can appear. For example
    class Stringy a => C a where ....
    f :: Reduce m x => x -> m x
  • Allow nested tuple constraints, with componentwise unpacking and inference, so that (Stringy x, Eq x) is a valid constraint without flattening it to (Read x, Show x, Eq x).
  • Retain the policy of defaulting to kind * in ambiguous inference problems -- notably () is the unit type and the trivial constraint -- except where overridden by kind signatures. For example:
    type MyUnit = () -- gives the unit type by default
    type MyTrue = () :: Constraint  -- needs the kind signature to override the default
  • Allow the type family mechanism to extend to the new kinds, pretty much straight out of the box. For example:
    type family   HasDerivatives n     f :: Constraint
    type instance HasDerivatives Z     f  = ()
    type instance HasDerivatives (S n) f  = (Differentiable f, HasDerivatives n (D f))
    where Differentiable is the class of differentiable functors and D f is the associated derivative functor.
  • You can abtract over type variables of kind Constraint. Here is a contrived example:
    data T a where     -- Notice a :: Constraint
      MkT :: a => T a  -- Note the cool type:  a => blah
    f :: T (Ord x) -> x -> Bool
    f MkT x = x > x
    g :: T (Ord Int)
    g = MkT
    main = print (f g 4)   -- Computes 4>4 = False
    We could do with some convincing examples of why this is a good thing, but it simply falls out.

More syntax

One might consider a syntax for giving fully explicit kinds to type synonyms, like this:

type Reduce :: (* -> *) -> * -> Constraint where
  Reduce m x = (Monad m, Monoid (m x))


Constraint synonyms appear to overlap with superclases. For example one could say

class (Read x, Show x) => Stringy x where {}

But there are significant differences

  • Using the class mechanism forces you to give an instance declaration too. Perhaps something like
    instance (Read x, Show x) => Stringy x where {}
    This is painful duplication, and (worse) there is little to stop you writing an overlapping instance later. At least, looking at the instance doesn't tell you that no overlapping instance is intended.
  • The type family mechamism gives new power. For example, consider the celebrated collection example:
    class Collection c where
      type family X c :: * -> Constraint
      empty :: c a
      insert :: (X c) => c a -> a -> c a
    instance Collection [] where
      type instance X [] a = Eq a
      insert xs x = ...
    instance Collection Data.Set where
      type instance X Data.Set a = Ord a
      insert s x = ...
    See Bulk types with class.


These notes about the implementation are intended for GHC hackers, and logically form part of the GHC Commentary.

A major change is that the data type Type (in module TypeRep) no longer has a PredTy construct. Instead, we have just Type:

  • In a function type t1 -> t2, the arguent t1 is a constraint argument iff t1 :: Constraint.
  • Constraint arguments are pretty-printed before a double arrow "=>" when displaying types. Moreover they are passed implicitly in source code; for exmaple if f :: ty1 => ty2 -> ty3 then the Haskell programmer writes a call (f e2), where e2 :: ty2, and the compiler fills in the first argument of type ty1.
  • A constraint type (of kind Constraint) can take one of these forms
    • Equality constraint: TyConApp eqTyCon [ty1, ty2]
    • Class constraint: TyConApp tc [ty1, ty2], where tc is a TyCon whose classTyCon_maybe is Just cls.
    • Implicit parameter: TyConApp tc [ty1], where tc is a TyCon whose tyConIP_maybe is Just ip.
    • Tuple constraint: TyConApp tup_tc [ty1, ..., tyn], where tup_tc is a constraint tuple TyCon.
    • Constraint variable: TyVarTy tv where tv has kind Constraint.
  • Constraint types (ie types with kind Constraint) are always boxed. The constraint solver in the type checker deals solely in terms of boxed constraints.
  • Implicit parameters have a type written ?x::Int, say. Concretely, this is represented as TyConApp ?x [intTy], where intTy is the representation of the type for Int, and ?x is a TyCon of kind (* -> *). There is an infinite family of such implicit-parameter TyCons; see data constructor IPTyCon in data type TyConParent in TyCon.
  • Equality constraints. Constraint types are always boxed, including equality constraints. So (a ~ b) is a boxed value. We also have a primtive type of unboxed equality constraints, written (a ~# b). Roughly the former is declared thus:
    data a ~ b = Eq# (a ~# b)
    where Eq# is a data constructor with a single, unboxed, zero-width field of type (a ~# b). See TysWiredIn.eqTyCon.
  • Constraint tuples are needed for situations like
    types X a = (Show a, Ix a)
    Although we use standard tuple syntax, internally we use a separate infinite family of tuple TyCons, just as we separate the boxed and unboxed type families. See BasicTypes.TupleSort.