Nascent GHC Proposal: Source Rewrite Rules and Optional Constraints

Motivation #1: HMock Predicates

data Predicate a = Predicate
{ showPredicate :: String,
showNegation :: String,
accept :: a -> Bool,
explain :: a -> String
  1. It’s important that Predicate works on arbitrary types, including those without Show instances. Indeed, using predicates is the only way to match function calls in HMock whose arguments don’t have Eq and Show instances.
  2. The exact strings produced by showPredicate, showNegation, and explain are entirely unspecified, by design. It’s nice for users if they are as descriptive as possible, but they only get used in error messages and diagnostics, so no kind of real correctness depends upon their exact value.
  3. Predicates are often polymorphic. For instance, there is eq :: (Show a, Eq a) => a -> Predicate a, which compares checks for equality with a specific value. There are even more complex predicates, too, like unorderedElemsAre :: MonoFoldable t => [Predicate (Element t)] -> Predicate t, which uses a Ford-Fulkerson max-flow algorithm to match elements and child predicates, then reports on the best available matching, and whether there were either elements or child predicates that couldn’t be matched.
  • The eq predicate requires a Show constraint. This is used to implement showPredicate, showNegation, and explain. However, if it weren’t available, I could still provide the core functionality of eq at the cost of somewhat poorer descriptive text. Leaving out the Show constraint would have doomed all users to receive poor descriptions. In the end, I left it in, making eq less useful. I could also define a separate nonShowableEq predicate, which is identical to eq in all ways except that it lacks Show. This is ugly, and doing this everywhere would double the exposed symbols in this module (from 50 to 100 exports!)
  • On the other hand, unorderedElemsAre doesn’t have an Eq constraint on Element t. If it did, I could provide better explanatory text by listing which specific element values in the collection were unexpected. Yet this seems too limiting on such a useful combinator, which is often useful for higher-order types. Therefore, I left the constraint out. This is a real loss of functionality. Again, I could define showableUnorderedElemsAre, but at the cost of exploding the API if I did this everywhere.

Motivation #2: Improving efficiency

Existing (and partial) solutions

  • In C++, there’s an approach known as SFINAE: “Specialization Failure Is Not An Error”. What this means is that you can just write two implementations of the same template, and if the more specific one doesn’t compile, you don’t get an error! Instead, the compiler ignores it and substitutes the more general implementation. Since C++ monomorphizes all templates at compile time, it all comes down to trying, and dropping the specialization if possible. This means C++ programs can make these trade-offs without exposing different names and APIs.
  • Mike Izbicki has written a Haskell library called ifcxt for Haskell, which partially solves the problem. The good news is that you can use the library to define optional constraints, and different implementations based on whether the constraint is satisfied or not. The bad news is that it requires Template Haskell to write a bunch of boilerplate. Unfortunately, new boilerplate is needed for every new type, so this Template Haskell cannot be internal to the implementation and needs to be invoked from the client code.
  • GHC already has a mechanism called rewrite rules, which allow certain expressions to be matched and rewritten by the compiler into a more efficient form. However, this happens during the Core stage of GHC, which is after type class resolution has occurred. This means that rewrite rules are not able to add additional type classes.

Proposed solution #1: Source rewrite rules

"nub/Ord" forall x. nub x = ordNub x

Proposed solution #2: Optional constraints

foo :: a -> a
foo = id
fooNum :: Num a => a -> a
fooNum a = a + 1
"fooNum" forall x. foo x = fooNum x
bar x = foo x





Software engineer, volunteer K-12 math and computer science teacher, author of the CodeWorld platform, amateur ring theorist, and Haskell enthusiast.

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Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Software engineer, volunteer K-12 math and computer science teacher, author of the CodeWorld platform, amateur ring theorist, and Haskell enthusiast.

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