# Do notation considered harmful

### From HaskellWiki

(links to posts on the topic) |
(→Criticism: Added a link) |
||

(17 intermediate revisions by 4 users not shown) | |||

Line 1: | Line 1: | ||

+ | == Criticism == | ||

+ | |||

+ | Haskell's [[Keywords#do | do notation]] is popular and ubiquitous. | ||

+ | However we shall not ignore that there are several problems. | ||

+ | Here we like to shed some light on aspects you may not have thought about, so far. | ||

+ | |||

+ | === Didactics === | ||

+ | |||

+ | The <hask>do</hask> notation hides functional details. | ||

+ | This is wanted in order to simplify writing imperative style code fragments. | ||

+ | The downsides are | ||

+ | * that, since <hask>do</hask> notation is used almost everywhere, where <hask>IO</hask> takes place, newcomers quickly believe that the <hask>do</hask> notation is necessary for doing <hask>IO</hask>, | ||

+ | * that newcomers think, that <hask>IO</hask> is somehow special and non-functional, in contrast to the advertisement for Haskell being purely functional, | ||

+ | * and that newcomers think, that the order of statements determines the order of execution. | ||

+ | |||

+ | These misunderstandings let people write clumsy code like | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do putStrLn "text" | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | instead of | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | putStrLn "text" | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | or | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do text <- getLine | ||

+ | return text | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | instead of | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | getLine | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | or | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do | ||

+ | text <- readFile "foo" | ||

+ | writeFile "bar" text | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | instead of | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | readFile "foo" >>= writeFile "bar" | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | . | ||

+ | |||

+ | The order of statements is also not the criterion for the evaluation order. | ||

+ | Also here only the data dependencies count. | ||

+ | See for instance | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do x <- Just (3+5) | ||

+ | y <- Just (5*7) | ||

+ | return (x-y) | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | where <hask>3+5</hask> and <hask>5*7</hask> can be evaluated in any order, also in parallel. | ||

+ | Or consider | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do x <- Just (3+5) | ||

+ | y <- Nothing | ||

+ | return (x-y) | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | where <hask>3+5</hask> is probably not evaluated at all, because it's result is not necessary to find out, | ||

+ | that the entire <hask>do</hask> describes a <hask>Nothing</hask>. | ||

+ | |||

+ | |||

+ | === Library design === | ||

+ | |||

+ | Unfortunately, the <hask>do</hask> notation is so popular that people write more things with monads than necessary. | ||

+ | See for instance the [http://hackage.haskell.org/cgi-bin/hackage-scripts/package/binary-0.4.1 Binary] package. | ||

+ | It contains the <hask>Put</hask> monad, which has in principle [http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2009-January/053317.html nothing to do with a monad]. | ||

+ | All "put" operations have the monadic result <hask>()</hask>. | ||

+ | In fact it is a <hask>Writer</hask> monad using the <hask>Builder</hask> type, and all you need is just the <hask>Builder</hask> monoid. | ||

+ | Even more unfortunate, | ||

+ | the [[applicative functor]]s were introduced to Haskell's standard libraries only after [[monad]]s and [[arrow]]s, | ||

+ | thus many types are instances of <hask>Monad</hask> and <hask>Arrow</hask> classes, | ||

+ | but not as much are instances of <hask>Applicative</hask>. | ||

+ | There is no special syntax for applicative functors because it is hardly necessary. | ||

+ | You just write | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | data Header = Header Char Int Bool | ||

+ | |||

+ | readHeader :: Get Header | ||

+ | readHeader = liftA3 Header get get get | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | or | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | readHeader = Header <$> get <*> get <*> get | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | |||

+ | Not using monads and thus <hask>do</hask> notation can have advantages. | ||

+ | Consider a generator of unique identifiers. | ||

+ | First you might think of a <hask>State</hask> monad which increments a counter each time an identifier is requested. | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | run :: State Int a -> a | ||

+ | run m = evalState m 0 | ||

+ | |||

+ | newId :: State Int Int | ||

+ | newId = | ||

+ | do n <- get | ||

+ | modify succ | ||

+ | return n | ||

+ | |||

+ | example :: (Int -> Int -> a) -> a | ||

+ | example f = | ||

+ | run $ | ||

+ | do x <- newId | ||

+ | y <- newId | ||

+ | return (f x y) | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | |||

+ | |||

+ | If you are confident, that you will not need the counter state at the end and | ||

+ | that you will not combine blocks of code using the counter | ||

+ | (where the second block needs the state at the end of the first block), | ||

+ | you can enforce a more strict scheme of usage. | ||

+ | The following is like a <hask>Reader</hask> monad, | ||

+ | where we call <hask>local</hask> on an incremented counter for each generated identifier. | ||

+ | Alternatively you can view it as [[Continuation]] monad. | ||

+ | |||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | newtype T a = T (Int -> a) | ||

+ | |||

+ | run :: T a -> a | ||

+ | run (T f) = f 0 | ||

+ | |||

+ | newId :: (Int -> T a) -> T a | ||

+ | newId f = T $ \i -> case f i of T g -> g (succ i) | ||

+ | |||

+ | example :: (Int -> Int -> T a) -> a | ||

+ | example f = | ||

+ | run $ | ||

+ | newId $ \a -> | ||

+ | newId $ \b -> | ||

+ | f a b | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | |||

+ | This way users cannot accidentally place a <hask>return</hask> | ||

+ | somewhere in a <hask>do</hask> block where it has no effect. | ||

+ | |||

+ | |||

+ | === Safety === | ||

+ | {{essay}} | ||

+ | |||

+ | With <hask>do</hask> notation we have kept alive a dark side of the C programming language: | ||

+ | The silent neglect of return values of functions. | ||

+ | In an imperative language it is common to return an error code and provide the real work by side effects. | ||

+ | In Haskell this cannot happen, because functions have no side effects. | ||

+ | If you ignore the result of a Haskell function the function will even not be evaluated. | ||

+ | The situation is different for <hask>IO</hask>: | ||

+ | While processing the <hask>IO</hask> you might still ignore the contained return value. | ||

+ | |||

+ | You can write | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do getLine | ||

+ | putStrLn "text" | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | and thus silently ignore the result of <hask>getLine</hask>. | ||

+ | The same applies to | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do System.Cmd.system "echo foo >bar" | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | where you ignore the <hask>ExitCode</hask>. | ||

+ | Is this behaviour wanted? | ||

+ | |||

+ | In safety oriented languages there are possibilities to explicitly ignore return values | ||

+ | (e.g. <code>EVAL</code> in [http://www.modula3.org/ Modula-3]). | ||

+ | Haskell does not need this, because you can already write | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do _ <- System.Cmd.system "echo foo >bar" | ||

+ | return () | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | Writing <hask> _ <- </hask> should always make you cautious whether ignoring the result is the right thing to do. | ||

+ | The possibility for silently ignoring monadic return values is not entirely the fault of the <hask>do</hask> notation. | ||

+ | It would suffice to restrict the type of the <hask>(>>)</hask> combinator to | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | (>>) :: m () -> m a -> m a | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | This way, you can omit <hask> _ <- </hask> only if the monadic return value has type <hask>()</hask>. | ||

+ | |||

+ | New developments: | ||

+ | * GHC since version 6.12 emits a warning when you silently ignore a return value | ||

+ | * There is a new function called <hask>void</hask> that makes ignoring of return values explicit: [http://hackage.haskell.org/trac/ghc/ticket/3292 GHC ticket 3292] | ||

+ | <!-- related is the problem on inefficient void (mapM f xs) vs. (mapM_ f xs) --> | ||

+ | |||

+ | == Happy with less sugar == | ||

+ | |||

+ | === Additional combinators === | ||

+ | |||

+ | Using the infix combinators for writing functions simplifies the addition of new combinators. | ||

+ | Consider for instance a monad for [http://darcs.haskell.org/probability/src/Numeric/Probability.hs random distributions]. | ||

+ | This monad cannot be an instance of <hask>MonadPlus</hask>, | ||

+ | because there is no <hask>mzero</hask> (it would be an empty list of events, but their probabilities do not sum up to 1) | ||

+ | and <hask>mplus</hask> is not associative because we have to normalize the sum of probabilities to 1. | ||

+ | Thus we cannot use standard <hask>guard</hask> for this monad. | ||

+ | However we would like to write the following: | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | do f <- family | ||

+ | guard (existsBoy f) | ||

+ | return f | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | |||

+ | Given a custom combinator which performs a filtering with subsequent normalization called <hask>(>>=?) :: Distribution a -> (a -> Bool) -> Distribution a</hask> | ||

+ | we can rewrite this easily: | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | family >>=? existsBoy | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | Note that the <hask>(>>=?)</hask> combinator introduces the risk of returning an invalid distribution (empty list of events), | ||

+ | but it seems that we have to live with that problem. | ||

+ | |||

+ | === Alternative combinators === | ||

+ | |||

+ | If you are used to write monadic function using infix combinators <hask>(>>)</hask> and <hask>(>>=)</hask> | ||

+ | you can easily switch to a different set of combinators. | ||

+ | This is useful when there is a monadic structure that does not fit into the current <hask>Monad</hask> type constructor class, | ||

+ | where the monadic result type cannot be constrained. | ||

+ | This is e.g. useful for the [http://www.randomhacks.net/articles/2007/03/15/data-set-monad-haskell-macros Set data type], | ||

+ | where the element type must have a total order. | ||

+ | |||

+ | == Useful applications == | ||

+ | |||

+ | It shall be mentioned that the <hask>do</hask> sometimes takes the burden from you to write boring things. | ||

+ | E.g. in | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | getRight :: Either a b -> Maybe b | ||

+ | getRight y = | ||

+ | do Right x <- y | ||

+ | return x | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | a <hask>case</hask> on <hask>y</hask> is included, | ||

+ | which calls <hask>fail</hask> if <hask>y</hask> is not a <hask>Right</hask> (i.e. <hask>Left</hask>), | ||

+ | and thus returns <hask>Nothing</hask> in this case. | ||

+ | |||

+ | Also the <hask>mdo</hask> notation proves useful, since it maintains a set of variables for you in a safe manner. | ||

+ | Compare | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | mdo x <- f x y z | ||

+ | y <- g x y z | ||

+ | z <- h x y z | ||

+ | return (x+y+z) | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | and | ||

+ | <haskell> | ||

+ | mfix | ||

+ | (\ ~( ~(x,y,z), _) -> | ||

+ | do x <- f x y z | ||

+ | y <- g x y z | ||

+ | z <- h x y z | ||

+ | return ((x,y,z),x+y+z)) | ||

+ | </haskell> | ||

+ | |||

+ | |||

== See also == | == See also == | ||

* Paul Hudak in Haskell-Cafe: [http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2007-August/030178.html A regressive view of support for imperative programming in Haskell] | * Paul Hudak in Haskell-Cafe: [http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2007-August/030178.html A regressive view of support for imperative programming in Haskell] | ||

* Data.Syntaxfree on Wordpress: [http://syntaxfree.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/do-notation-considered-harmful/ Do-notation considered harmful] | * Data.Syntaxfree on Wordpress: [http://syntaxfree.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/do-notation-considered-harmful/ Do-notation considered harmful] | ||

+ | * [[Things to avoid#do notation]] | ||

[[Category:Syntax]] | [[Category:Syntax]] |

## Revision as of 20:49, 21 March 2013

## Contents |

## 1 Criticism

Haskell's do notation is popular and ubiquitous. However we shall not ignore that there are several problems. Here we like to shed some light on aspects you may not have thought about, so far.

### 1.1 Didactics

TheThis is wanted in order to simplify writing imperative style code fragments. The downsides are

- that, since notation is used almost everywhere, wheredotakes place, newcomers quickly believe that theIOnotation is necessary for doingdo,IO
- that newcomers think, that is somehow special and non-functional, in contrast to the advertisement for Haskell being purely functional,IO
- and that newcomers think, that the order of statements determines the order of execution.

These misunderstandings let people write clumsy code like

do putStrLn "text"

instead of

putStrLn "text"

or

do text <- getLine return text

instead of

`getLine`

or

do text <- readFile "foo" writeFile "bar" text

instead of

readFile "foo" >>= writeFile "bar"

.

The order of statements is also not the criterion for the evaluation order. Also here only the data dependencies count. See for instance

do x <- Just (3+5) y <- Just (5*7) return (x-y)

Or consider

do x <- Just (3+5) y <- Nothing return (x-y)

### 1.2 Library design

Unfortunately, theSee for instance the Binary package.

It contains theEven more unfortunate, the applicative functors were introduced to Haskell's standard libraries only after monads and arrows,

thus many types are instances ofThere is no special syntax for applicative functors because it is hardly necessary. You just write

data Header = Header Char Int Bool readHeader :: Get Header readHeader = liftA3 Header get get get

or

readHeader = Header <$> get <*> get <*> get

Consider a generator of unique identifiers.

First you might think of arun :: State Int a -> a run m = evalState m 0 newId :: State Int Int newId = do n <- get modify succ return n example :: (Int -> Int -> a) -> a example f = run $ do x <- newId y <- newId return (f x y)

If you are confident, that you will not need the counter state at the end and
that you will not combine blocks of code using the counter
(where the second block needs the state at the end of the first block),
you can enforce a more strict scheme of usage.

Alternatively you can view it as Continuation monad.

newtype T a = T (Int -> a) run :: T a -> a run (T f) = f 0 newId :: (Int -> T a) -> T a newId f = T $ \i -> case f i of T g -> g (succ i) example :: (Int -> Int -> T a) -> a example f = run $ newId $ \a -> newId $ \b -> f a b

### 1.3 Safety

*This page addresses an aspect of Haskell style, which is to some extent a matter of taste. Just pick what you find appropriate for you and ignore the rest.*

The silent neglect of return values of functions. In an imperative language it is common to return an error code and provide the real work by side effects. In Haskell this cannot happen, because functions have no side effects. If you ignore the result of a Haskell function the function will even not be evaluated.

The situation is different forYou can write

do getLine putStrLn "text"

The same applies to

do System.Cmd.system "echo foo >bar"

Is this behaviour wanted?

In safety oriented languages there are possibilities to explicitly ignore return values
(e.g. `EVAL`

in Modula-3).
Haskell does not need this, because you can already write

do _ <- System.Cmd.system "echo foo >bar" return ()

(>>) :: m () -> m a -> m a

New developments:

- GHC since version 6.12 emits a warning when you silently ignore a return value
- There is a new function called that makes ignoring of return values explicit: GHC ticket 3292void

## 2 Happy with less sugar

### 2.1 Additional combinators

Using the infix combinators for writing functions simplifies the addition of new combinators. Consider for instance a monad for random distributions.

This monad cannot be an instance ofHowever we would like to write the following:

do f <- family guard (existsBoy f) return f

we can rewrite this easily:

`family >>=? existsBoy`

but it seems that we have to live with that problem.

### 2.2 Alternative combinators

If you are used to write monadic function using infix combinatorsyou can easily switch to a different set of combinators.

This is useful when there is a monadic structure that does not fit into the currentwhere the monadic result type cannot be constrained. This is e.g. useful for the Set data type, where the element type must have a total order.

## 3 Useful applications

It shall be mentioned that theE.g. in

getRight :: Either a b -> Maybe b getRight y = do Right x <- y return x

Compare

mdo x <- f x y z y <- g x y z z <- h x y z return (x+y+z)

and

mfix (\ ~( ~(x,y,z), _) -> do x <- f x y z y <- g x y z z <- h x y z return ((x,y,z),x+y+z))

## 4 See also

- Paul Hudak in Haskell-Cafe: A regressive view of support for imperative programming in Haskell
- Data.Syntaxfree on Wordpress: Do-notation considered harmful
- Things to avoid#do notation