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Formatting function types

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Revision as of 14:17, 11 July 2011 by Lemming (Talk | contribs)

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A very common way (at least in the base libraries) of formatting function types seems to be this:

hPutBuf :: Handle                       -- handle to write to
        -> Ptr a                        -- address of buffer
        -> Int                          -- number of bytes of data in buffer
        -> IO ()

I remember when I first started learning Haskell, and these many-arrowed functions seemed very strange to me: "Okay, we give it a handle, and get a pointer, and, um, from this we get an int, and from this an action? Er?"

The problem here is that the first parameter has a distinguished look while the other parameters and the return value all look the same. I think that a naive reader is inclined to assume that line breaks are situated at major structural boundaries. Consider two different interpretations of the structure of the type term:

  (((Handle               (Handle
  -> Ptr a)             ->(Ptr a
  -> Int)               ->(Int
  -> IO ())             -> IO ())))

Which one looks more natural?

The point of this rant is just this: the aforementioned multi-line formatting style should only be used for left-associative infix operators. For right-associative ones (such as the function arrow), the One True Way is this:

Handle ->
Ptr a ->
Int ->
IO ()

Unfortunately the first (misleading) style is used by Haddock for library documentation and GHC for error reporting.

See also