GHC Status Report (April 2017)

By the time of publication GHC will be nearing its 8.2.1 release. While GHC 8.0 was a feature-oriented release, the past year of GHC development has been focused on stabilization and consolidation of existing features. This has included an effort to reduce compilation times, improve code generation, and place the levity polymorphism story introduced in GHC 8.0 on a stable theoretical footing.

While priorities for the 8.4 release have not yet been discussed, they will very likely include further focus on compilation time reduction, improved error messages, and additional improvements to code generation.

Major changes in GHC 8.2

While the emphasis of 8.2 is on performance, stability, and consolidation, it also includes a number of new features.

Libraries, source language, and type system

  • Indexed Typeable representations. While GHC has long supported runtime type reflection through the Typeable typeclass, its current incarnation requires careful use, providing little in the way of type-safety. For this reason the implementation of types like Data.Dynamic must be implemented in terms of unsafeCoerce with no compiler verification.

GHC 8.2 will address this by introducing indexed type representations, leveraging the type-checker to verify many programs using type reflection. This allows facilities like Data.Dynamic to be implemented in a fully type-safe manner. See the paper] for a description of the proposed interface and the Wiki for current implementation status.

  • Backpack. Backpack has merged with GHC, Cabal and cabal-install, allowing you to write libraries which are parametrized by signatures, letting users decide how to instantiate them at a later point in time. If you want to just play around with the signature language, there is a new major mode ghc –backpack; at the Cabal syntax level, there are two new fields signatures and mixins which permit you to define parametrized packages, and instantiate them in a flexible way. More details are on the Backpack Wiki page.
  • Levity polymorphism. GHC 8.0 reworked GHC’s kind system introducing the notion of levity to describe a type’s runtime representation. However, the ability to write functions which were polymorphic over levity was purposefully withheld.

While GHC’s current compilation model doesn’t allow arbitrary levity polymorphism, GHC 8.2 enables certain classes of polymorphism which were either disallowed or broken in 8.0. See the paper for details.

  • deriving strategies. GHC now provides the programmer with a precise mechanism to distinguish between the three ways to derive typeclass instances: the usual way, the GeneralizedNewtypeDeriving way, and the DeriveAnyClass way. See the DerivingStrategies Wiki page for more details.
  • New classes in base. The Bifoldable, and Bitraversable typeclasses are now included in the base library.
  • Unboxed sums. GHC 8.2 has a new language extension, UnboxedSums, that enables unboxed representation for non-recursive sum types. GHC 8.2 doesn’t use unboxed sums automatically, but the extension comes with new syntax, so users can manually unpack sums. More details can be found in the Wiki page.

Runtime system

  • Compact regions. This runtime system feature allows a referentially “closed” set of heap objects to be collected into a “compact region,” allowing cheaper garbage collection, sharing of heap-objects between processes, and the possibility of inexpensive serialization. See the paper for details.
  • Better profiling support. The cost-center profiler now better integrates with the GHC event-log. Heap profile samples can now be dumped to the event log, allowing heap behavior to be more easily correlated with other program events. Moreover, the cost center stack output (e.g. .prof files) can now be produced in a machine-readable JSON format for easier integration with external tooling.
  • More robust DWARF output. GHC 8.2 will be the first release with reliable support for DWARF debugging information. A number of bugs leading to incorrect debug information for foreign calls have been fixed, meaning it should now be safe to enable debugging information in production builds.

With stable DWARF support comes a number of opportunities for new performance analysis and debugging tools (e.g. statistical profiling, cheap execution stacks). As GHC’s debugging information improves, we expect to see tooling developed to support these applications. See the DWARF status page on the GHC Wiki for further information.

  • Better support for NUMA platforms. Machines with non-uniform memory access costs are becoming more and more common as core counts continue to rise. The runtime system is now better equipped to efficiently run on such systems.
  • Experimental changes to the scheduler that enable the number of threads used for garbage collection to be lower than the -N setting.
  • Support for StaticPointers in GHCi. At long last programs making use of the StaticPointers language extension will have first-class bytecode interpreter support, allowing such programs to be loaded into GHCi.
  • Reduced CPU usage at idle. A long-standing regression resulting in unnecessary wake-ups in an otherwise idle program was fixed. This should lower CPU utilization and improve power consumption for some programs.


  • Compiler Determinism. GHC 8.0.2 is the first release of GHC which produces deterministic interface files. This helps consumers like Nix and caching build systems, and presents new opportunities for compile-time improvements. See the Wiki for details.

Development updates and acknowledgments

Since the 8.0 release nearly a year ago, GHC’s development community has continued to grow. Over the last year we have seen sixty new developers submit patches, many of whom have become regular contributors. These include new generations of researchers, as well as, increasingly, regular Haskell users from industry and elsewhere. GHC has had an exciting few months...

Moritz Angermann has been hard at work improving cross-compilation and bringing remoting support to the -fexternal-interpreter feature introduced in GHC 8.0. He has also contributed a number of patches improving support for iOS and Android targets and has been pondering how to enable Template Haskell during cross-compilation.

Ryan Scott and Matthew Pickering have been fixing bugs all over the compiler, in addition to their respective work on deriving strategies and the new COMPLETE pragma mentioned above.

Tamar Christina has been hard at work as our resident Windows expert. In addition to introducing split sections support, reworking dynamic linking, fixing toolchain breakage due to the recent Windows 10 Creator’s Update, and maintaining GHC packaging for the Chocolatey package manager, he is also an invaluable source of knowledge.

Andrey Mokhov and Jose Calderon have been continuing work on Hadrian, GHC’s new build system built on Shake. Hadrian is already very usable, lacking only in support for a some non-standard build configurations, building documentation, and producing binary and source distributions. These would be great, fairly self-contained projects for any interested developer with a Haskell experience. Contact Andrey if any of these sound intriguing to you.

Michal Terepeta has been performing a long-overdue grooming of GHC’s nofib benchmark suite. This suite is one of the primary windows into the performance of the compiler, yet has fallen into somewhat of a state of disrepair. Michal has been fixing broken tests, refactoring the build system, and generally making nofib a nicer place. In addition, he has been gradually cleaning up native code generator, revisiting GHC’s use of the hoopl library. Also working in the native code generator is Thomas Jakway, who has been working on improving the register allocator’s treatment of loops.

Another contributor working on runtime performance is Luke Maurer, who has contributed a rework of GHC’s treatment of join points, one of the major features of 8.2. Join points are an essential optimization which allows GHC to eliminate closure allocation for some types of calls. Prior to GHC 8.2 the join points optimization was fragile due to the lack of a sound theoretical footing. With Luke’s work, GHC is much better at preserving join point opportunities, leading to improved code generation in many performance critical settings. More details can be found in his paper.

As always, this is just a fraction of the contributions which we’ve seen in the past months. GHC improves through the efforts of everyone who offers patches, bug reports, code review, and discussion. If you have contributed any of these in the past year, thank you!

GHC HQ has also taken a number of steps in the past months to try to improve contributor workflow. Our new proposal process officially began in December and has been extremely active ever since: the ghc-proposals repository now has over fifty pull requests and has facilitated hundreds of messages of great discussion. Thanks to our everyone who has participated! GHC also now accepts GitHub pull requests for small changes to the user guide and library documents, which several contributors have made use of this. We hope that this channel will make it easier for users to contribute and perhaps feel compelled to pick up larger tasks in the future.

As always, if you are interested in contributing to any facet of GHC, be the runtime system, type-checker, documentation, simplifier, or anything in between, please come speak to us either on IRC (#ghc on or Happy Haskelling!

Further reading

  • GHC website:


  • GHC users guide:


  • ghc-devs mailing list:


Last modified 7 months ago Last modified on May 5, 2017 6:47:20 AM