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MonadFail Proposal

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*** Retroactively removing superclasses is easy, but adding them is hard (see AMP).
 
*** Retroactively removing superclasses is easy, but adding them is hard (see AMP).
 
* Which types with <code>Monad</code> instances will not have <code>MonadFail</code> instances?
 
* Which types with <code>Monad</code> instances will not have <code>MonadFail</code> instances?
 +
** <code>base</code>: <code>Either</code>
 +
** <code>transformers</code>:
 +
** <code>stm</code>: <code>STM</code>
 
* What <code>MonadFail</code> instances will be created?
 
* What <code>MonadFail</code> instances will be created?
** <code>base</code>:
+
** <code>base</code>: <code>IO</code>
 
** <code>transformers</code>:
 
** <code>transformers</code>:
 
*** Proposal for an <code>Either</code> instance using <code>Monad</code> instance in <code>Control.Monad.Trans.Error</code>:<syntaxhighlight lang="haskell">instance MonadFail (Either String) where fail = Left </syntaxhighlight>
 
*** Proposal for an <code>Either</code> instance using <code>Monad</code> instance in <code>Control.Monad.Trans.Error</code>:<syntaxhighlight lang="haskell">instance MonadFail (Either String) where fail = Left </syntaxhighlight>

Revision as of 09:40, 5 October 2015

Contents

1 MonadFail proposal (MFP)

A couple of years ago, we proposed to make Applicative a superclass of Monad which successfully killed the single most ugly thing in Haskell as of GHC 7.10.

Now, it's time to tackle the other major issue with Monad fail being a part of it.

You can contact me as usual via IRC/Freenode as quchen, or by email to dluposchainsky at the email service of Google. This file was posted on the ghc-devs@ and libraries@ mailing lists, as well as on Reddit.

This proposal was first posted on quchen's articles Github repo.

1.1 Overview

  • The problem - reason for the proposal
  • MonadFail class - the solution
  • Discussion - explaining our design choices
  • Adapting old code - how to prepare current code to transition smoothly
  • Estimating the breakage - how much stuff we will break
  • Transitional strategy - how to break as little as possible while transitioning
  • Current status

1.2 The problem

Currently, the <- symbol is unconditionally desugared as follows:

do pat <- computation     >>>     let f pat = more
   more                   >>>         f _ = fail "..."
                          >>>     in  computation >>= f

The problem with this is that fail cannot (!) be sensibly implemented for many monads, for example Either, State, IO, and Reader. In those cases it defaults to error As a consequence, in current Haskell, you can not use Monad polymorphic code safely, because although it claims to work for all Monad , it might just crash on you. This kind of implicit non-totality baked into the class is terrible.

The goal of this proposal is adding the fail only when necessary and reflecting that in the type signature of the do block, so that it can be used safely, and more importantly, is guaranteed not to be used if the type signature does not say so.

1.3 MonadFail class

To fix this, introduce a new typeclass:

class Monad m => MonadFail m where
    fail :: String -> m a

Desugaring can now be changed to produce this constraint when necessary. For this, we have to decide when a pattern match can not fail; if this is the case, we can omit inserting the fail call.

The most trivial examples of unfailable patterns are of course those that match anywhere unconditionally,

do x <- action     >>>     let f x = more
   more            >>>     in  action >>= f

In particular, the programmer can assert any pattern be unfailable by making it irrefutable using a prefix tilde:

do ~pat <- action     >>>     let f ~pat = more
   more               >>>     in  action >>= f

A class of patterns that are conditionally failable are newtype , and single constructor data types, which are unfailable by themselves, but may fail if matching on their fields is done with failable patterns.

data Newtype a = Newtype a
 
-- "x" cannot fail
do Newtype x <- action            >>>     let f (Newtype x) = more
   more                           >>>     in  action >>= f
 
-- "Just x" can fail
do Newtype (Just x) <- action     >>>     let f (Newtype (Just x)) = more
   more                           >>>         f _ = fail "..."
                                  >>>     in  action >>= f

ViewPatterns are as failable as the pattern the view is matched against. Patterns like (Just -> Just x) should generate a MonadFail constraint even when it's "obvious" from the view's implementation that the pattern will always match. From an implementor's perspective, this means that only types (and their constructors) have to be looked at, not arbitrary values (like functions), which is impossible to do statically in general.

do (view ->  pat) <- action     >>>     let f (view ->  pat) = more
   more                         >>>         f _ = fail "..."
                                >>>     in  action >>= f
 
do (view -> ~pat) <- action     >>>     let f (view -> ~pat) = more
   more                         >>>     in  action >>= f

A similar issue arises for PatternSynonyms which we cannot inspect during compilation sufficiently. A pattern synonym will therefore always be considered failable.

do PatternSynonym x <- action     >>>     let f PatternSynonym x = more
   more                           >>>         f _ = fail "..."
                                  >>>     in  action >>= f

1.4 Discussion

  • What laws should fail follow?
    • Left zero: ∀ s f. fail s >>= f ≡ fail s.
    • Right zero: ∀ v s. v >> fail s ≡ fail s.
  • What is the relationship to MonadPlus?
    • As the laws above indicate, fail is a close relative of mzero. We could suggest a default definition of fail _ = mzero, which shows the intended usage and effect of the MonadFail class.
    • However, we should not remove fail and use only mzero instead.
      • Not all types with Monad instances have MonadPlus instances.
      • Some types do use the String argument to fail. For example, a parser might fail with a message involving positional information. Binary uses fail as their only interface to fail a decoding step.
      • Some types have different definitions for mzero and fail. Although STM is MonadPlus it uses the default fail = error. It should therefore not get a MonadFail instance.
  • Rename fail?
    • No. Old code might use fail explicitly and we should avoid breaking it. The Report talks about fail and we have a solid migration strategy that does not require a renaming.
  • Remove the String argument?
    • No. The String might help error reporting and debugging. String may be ugly, but it's the de facto standard for simple text in GHC. No high performance string operations are to be expected with fail so this breaking change would in no way be justified. Also note that explicit fail calls would break if we removed the argument.
  • How sensitive would existing code be to subtle changes in the strictness behaviour of do notation pattern matching?
    • It doesn't. The implementation does not affect strictness at all, only the desugaring step. Care must be taken when fixing warnings by making patterns irrefutable using ~ as that does affect strictness. (Cf. difference between lazy/strict State)
  • The Monad constraint for MonadFail seems unnecessary. Should we drop or relax it? What other things should be considered?
    • Applicative do notation is coming sooner or later, fail might be useful in this more general scenario. Due to the AMP, it is trivial to change the MonadFail superclass to Applicative later. (The name will be a bit misleading, but it's a very small price to pay.)
    • The class might be misused for a strange pointed type if left without any constraint. This is not the intended use at all. I think we should keep the Monad superclass for three main reasons:
      • We don't want to see (Monad m, MonadFail m) => all over the place.
      • The primary intended use of fail is for desugaring do-notation anyway.
      • Retroactively removing superclasses is easy, but adding them is hard (see AMP).
  • Which types with Monad instances will not have MonadFail instances?
    • base: Either
    • transformers:
    • stm: STM
  • What MonadFail instances will be created?
    • base: IO
    • transformers:
      • Proposal for an Either instance using Monad instance in Control.Monad.Trans.Error:
        instance MonadFail (Either String) where fail = Left

1.5 Adapting old code

  • Help! My code is broken because of a missing MonadFail instance! Here are your options:
    1. Write a MonadFail instance (and bring it into scope)
      #if !MIN_VERSION_base(4,11,0)
      -- Control.Monad.Fail import will become redundant in GHC 7.16+
      import qualified Control.Monad.Fail as Fail
      #endif
      import Control.Monad
       
      instance Monad Foo where
       (>>=) = <...bind impl...>
       -- NB: <code>return</code> defaults to <code>pure</code>
      #if !MIN_VERSION_base(4,11,0)
       -- Monad(fail) will be removed in GHC 7.16+
       fail = Fail.fail
      #endif
       
      instance MonadFail Foo where
       fail = <...fail implementation...>
    2. Change your pattern to be irrefutable
    3. Emulate the old behaviour by desugaring the pattern match by hand:
      do Left e <- foobar
        stuff
      becomes
      do x <- foobar
      
       e <- case x of
           Left e' -> e'
           Right r -> error "Pattern match failed" -- Boooo
      
      stuff
      The point is you'll have to do your dirty laundry yourself now if you have a value that you know will always match, and if you don't handle the other patterns you'll get incompleteness warnings, and the compiler won't silently eat those for you.
  • Help! My code is broken because you removed fail from Monad but my class defines it! Delete that part of the instance definition.

1.6 Esimating the breakage

Using our initial implementation, I compiled stackage-nightly, and grepped the logs for the warnings. Assuming my implementation is correct, the number of "missing MonadFail warnings generated is 487. Note that I filtered out [] Maybe and ReadPrec since those can be given a MonadFail instance from within GHC, and no breakage is expected from them. The build logs can be found here. Search for "failable pattern" to find your way to the still pretty raw warnings.

Here are some commands you might find interesting for exploring the logs:

# List all packages generating warnings (57 of them)
grep "is used in the context" ''    | \
    grep -v '(‘\[|Maybe|ReadPrec)' | \
    perl -pe 's#^(.'')\.log.''$#\1#' | \
    uniq -u
 
# Histogram of the breaking contexts (mostly IO and parsers)
grep "is used in the context" ''                    | \
    grep -v '(‘\[|Maybe|ReadPrec)'                 | \
    perl -pe 's#^.''in the context ‘([^ ]+).''$#\1#' | \
    sort                                           | \
    uniq -c                                        | \
    sort -rg

1.7 Transitional strategy

The roadmap is similar to the AMP, the main difference being that since MonadFail does not exist yet, we have to introduce new functionality and then switch to it.

  1. GHC 8.0 / base-4.9
    • Add module Control.Monad.Fail with new class MonadFail(fail) so people can start writing instances for it. Control.Monad only re-exports the class MonadFail but not its fail method. NB: At this point, Control.Monad.Fail.fail clashes with Prelude.fail and Control.Monad.fail.
    • Add a language extension -XMonadFailDesugaring that changes desugaring to use MonadFail(fail) instead of Monad(fail) This has the effect that typechecking will infer a MonadFail constraint for do blocks with failable patterns, just as it is planned to do when the entire thing is done.
    • Warn when a do block that contains a failable pattern is desugared, but there is no MonadFail instance in scope: "Please add the instance or change your pattern matching." Add a flag to control whether this warning appears.
    • Warn when an instance implements the fail function (or when fail is imported as a method of Monad , as it will be removed from the Monad class in the future. (See also GHC #10071)
  2. GHC 8.2
    • Switch -XMonadFailDesugaring on by default.
    • Warnings are still issued if the desugaring extension has been explicitly disabled.
  3. GHC 8.4
    • Remove -XMonadFail leaving its effects on at all times.
    • Remove fail from Monad
    • Instead, re-export Control.Monad.Fail.fail as Prelude.fail and Control.Monad.fail
    • Control.Monad.Fail is now a redundant module that can be considered deprecated.

1.8 Current status

  • ZuriHac 2015 (29.5. - 31.5.): Franz Thoma (@fmthoma) and me (David Luposchainsky aka @quchen) started implementing the MFP in GHC.
    • Desugaring to the new fail can be controlled via a new language extension, MonadFailDesugaring
    • If the language extension is turned off, a warning will be emitted for code that would break if it was enabled.
    • Warnings are emitted for types that have a MonadFail instance. This still needs to be fixed.
    • The error messages are readable, but should be more so. We're still on this.
  • 2015-06-09: Estimated breakage by compiling Stackage. Smaller than expected.
  • 2015-06-09 (late): Published. People seem to like the idea, with a couple of pain points remaining.
  • 2015-06-16: Update 1 posted.
  • 2015-09-18: Patch nearly finished. Some nontrivial tests still fail.