Quantified contexts
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(Clarified proposal by desugaring to dictionaries) 

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Latest revision as of 19:49, 1 May 2010
Contents 
[edit] 1 The problem
The base library currently contains (essentially) the following classes:
class Monoid a where mempty :: a mappend :: a > a > a class MonadPlus m where mzero :: m a mplus :: m a > m a > m a class ArrowPlus c where arrowZero :: c a b arrowPlus :: c a b > c a b > c a b class Alternative f where empty :: f a (<>) :: f a > f a > f a
If you look closely these are all the same. The only difference is in the superclasses and in the arity of the argument. You will find that any class that is an instance of MonadPlus can be made an instance of Monoid. In fact, some types such as lists, are indeed instances of both classes.
This leads to duplication of code and of extra names for what is essentially the same thing.
When should you useclass Typeable a where typeOf :: a > TypeRep class Typeable1 t where typeOf1 :: t a > TypeRep class Typeable2 t where typeOf2 :: t a b > TypeRep  etc.
[edit] 2 Chained instances
This Typeable library comes with instances
instance (Typeable2 t, Typeable a) => Typable (t a) instance (Typeable3 t, Typeable a) => Typable2 (t a)  etc.
class Monoid2 t where mempty2 :: t a mappend2 :: t a > t a > t a class Monoid3 t where mempty3 :: t a b mappend3 :: t a b > t a b > t a b instance Monoid2 t => Monoid (t a) where mempty = mempty2 mappend = mappend2
class (Monad m, Monoid2 m) => MonadPlus m
A big disadvantage of these instances is that it is an all or nothing approach.
It is no longer possible to declare anFor example there is currently an instance
instance Ord k => Monoid (Map k v)
This would become imposible, because the instance would need be
instance Monoid2 Map  we need Ord
[edit] 3 Quantified contexts
An alternative would be a small extension of the Haskell language to allow quantifiers in contexts. Where we now write
function :: (Class a, Another (t a)) => Type a
We would also allow
function :: (forall b. Ctx => SomeClass b) => Type
The meaning is simple, to satisfy this context, an instance
instance Ctx => SomeClass b
is needed (or a more general one).
We can use these quantified contexts in theclass (Monad m, forall a. Monoid (m a)) => MonadPlus m
or without the superfluous extra class, for example
guard :: (Monad m, forall a. Monoid (m a)) => Bool > m ()
The compiler will never infer a quantified context; the above type is not the most general type of guard. If you gave no type signature the compiler would infer
guard :: (Monad m, Monoid (m ())) => Bool > m ()
[edit] 3.1 How this replaces chained instances
With quantified contexts the typeOfN functions can have the type signatures:
typeOf :: Typeable a => a > String  member of class Typeable typeOf1 :: (forall a. Typeable (t a)) => t a > String typeOf2 :: (forall a b. Typeable (t a b)) => t a b > String
A Typeable instance could be used where right now the 'Typeable1' class would be needed, for example
thisUsesTypeOf1 :: (forall a. Typeable (t a)) => (forall a. t a) > String thisUsesTypeOf1 empty = typeOf1 (empty :: t Int) ++ typeOf1 (empty :: t Bool) instance Typeable (Set a) where ... test = thisUsesTypeOf1 (Data.Set.empty :: forall a. Set a)
[edit] 4 Response from SimonPJ
I didn't see how Section 3 addressed the issues raised in Sections 1 and 2. For example, to avoid the cascade of `Typeable2`, `Typeable3` etc classes the solution is presumably polymorphism at the kind level. (Tim Sheard's language Omega has this.)
Still, I recognise the merit of quantification in contexts. Indeed, Ralf Hinze and I suggested it back in 2000 in Section 7 of [[http://research.microsoft.com/enus/um/people/simonpj/papers/derive.htm Derivable type classes]]. (This section is rather independent of the rest of the paper.)
However, attractive as it is, it's quite a big step to add something akin to local instance declarations. Our ICFP'08 paper [[http://research.microsoft.com/~simonpj/papers/assoctypes/index.htm Type checking with open type functions]] relies rather crucially on not having such local instances. (We've managed to simplify the algorithm quite a bit since then, but it still relies on that assumption.)
So I'm not sure I see how to make quantified contexts compatible with type functions, and all the other stuff in Haskell. But their lack is clearly a wart, and one that may become more pressing.
Meanwhile, clarifying the proposal would be a good thing, even if it's not adopted right away.
[edit] 5 Description in terms of dictionaries
The idea of quantified contexts is best described in terms of the dictionary transformation. A normal type class constraint like
f :: Monoid a => a
becomes
f :: MonoidDict a > a
The translation for quantified contexts would use Rank2Types:
f :: forall a. Monoid (m a) => m a
becomes
f :: (forall a. MonoidDict (m a)) > m a
Higher rank types are also possible in principle, so you could have
f :: (forall a. Ord a => Monoid (m a)) => m a
The dictionary argument to f is now a function, which when given an OrdDict a gives back a MonoidDict (m a).
[edit] 6 How this works with type functions?
Consider the function
problem :: (forall a. MyClass (MyTypeFunction a)) => ...
The only way to invoke 'problem' is if there were an instance
instance MyClass (MyTypeFunction a) where ...
I.e. with a type variable in the instance head. Assuming you could declare such an instance, there is no reason why it can't be used as an to satisfy a quantified context.