# Generic number type

## 1 Problem

Question:

Can I have a generic numeric data type in Haskell which covers
Integer
,
Rational
,
Double
and so on, like it is done in scripting languages like Perl and MatLab?

Answer: In principle you can define a type like

```data GenericNumber =
Integer Integer
| Rational Rational
| Double Double```
and define appropriate instances for
Num
class et. al.

However you will find that it is difficult to implement these methods in a way that is appropriate for each use case. There is simply no type that can emulate the others. Floating point numbers are imprecise - a/b*b=a does not hold in general. Rationals are precise but pi and sqrt 2 are not rational.

That is, when using
GenericNumber
s you will encounter exactly the problems

that all scripting language users have encountered so far (or ignored :-).

## 2 Solutions

It is strongly advised to carefully check whether a GenericNumber is indeed useful for your application. So let's revisit some examples and their idiomatic solutions in plain Haskell 98.

### 2.1 average

You may find it cumbersome to write

```average :: Fractional a => [a] -> a
average xs = sum xs / fromIntegral (length xs)```

and you may prefer

```average :: [GenericNumber] -> GenericNumber
average xs = sum xs / genericNumberLength xs```
with an appropriate implementation of
genericNumberLength
Data.List.genericLength
and you can write
```average :: Fractional a => [a] -> a
average xs = sum xs / genericlength xs```

### 2.2 ratios

You find it easy to write

`1 / 3 :: Rational`

but uncomfortable that

`1 / floor pi :: Rational`

does not work.

The first example works, because the numeric literals
1
and
3
are interpreted as rationals itself. The second example fails, because
floor
always returns an
Integral
number type, where
Rational
is not an instance. You should use
%
instead. This constructs a fraction out of two integers:
```1 % 3 :: Rational
1 % floor pi :: Rational```