Denotational design with type class morphisms

I’ve just finished a draft of a paper called Denotational design with type class morphisms, for submission to ICFP 2009. The paper is on a theme I’ve explored in several posts, which is semantics-based design, guided by type class morphisms.

I’d love to get some readings and feedback. Pointers to related work would be particularly appreciated, as well as what’s unclear and what could be cut. It’s an entire page over the limit, so I’ll have to do some trimming before submitting.

The abstract:

Type classes provide a mechanism for varied implementations of standard interfaces. Many of these interfaces are founded in mathematical tradition and so have regularity not only of types but also of properties (laws) that must hold. Types and properties give strong guidance to the library implementor, while leaving freedom as well. Some of the remaining freedom is in how the implementation works, and some is in what it accomplishes.

To give additional guidance to the what, without impinging on the how, this paper proposes a principle of type class morphisms (TCMs), which further refines the compositional style of denotational semantics. The TCM idea is simply that the instance’s meaning is the meaning’s instance. This principle determines the meaning of each type class instance, and hence defines correctness of implementation. In some cases, it also provides a systematic guide to implementation, and in some cases, valuable design feedback.

The paper is illustrated with several examples of type, meanings, and morphisms.

You can get the paper and see current errata here.

The submission deadline is March 2, so comments before then are most helpful to me.

Enjoy, and thanks!

Sequences, segments, and signals

The post Sequences, streams, and segments offered an answer to the the question of what’s missing in the following box:

discreteStream Sequence
continuousFunction ???

I presented a simple type of function segments, whose representation contains a length (duration) and a function. This type implements most of the usual classes: Monoid, Functor, Zip, and Applicative, as well Comonad, but not Monad. It also implements a new type class, Segment, which generalizes the list functions length, take, and drop.

The function type is simple and useful in itself. I believe it can also serve as a semantic foundation for functional reactive programming (FRP), as I’ll explain in another post. However, the type has a serious performance problem that makes it impractical for some purposes, including as implementation of FRP.

Fortunately, we can solve the performance problem by adding a simple layer on top of function segments, to get what I’ll call “signals”. With this new layer, we have an efficient replacement for function segments that implements exactly the same interface with exactly the same semantics. Pleasantly, the class instances are defined fairly simply in terms of the corresponding instances on function segments.

You can download the code for this post.


  • 2008-12-06: dup [] = [] near the end (was [mempty]).
  • 2008-12-09: Fixed take and drop default definitions (thanks to sclv) and added point-free variant.
  • 2008-12-18: Fixed appl, thanks to sclv.
  • 2011-08-18: Eliminated accidental emoticon in the definition of dup, thanks to anonymous.

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Sequences, streams, and segments

What kind of thing is a movie? Or a song? Or a trajectory from point A to point B? If you’re a computer programmer/programmee, you might say that such things are sequences of values (frames, audio samples, or spatial locations). I’d suggest that these discrete sequences are representations of something more essential, namely a flow of continuously time-varying values. Continuous models, whether in time or space, are often more compact, precise, adaptive, and composable than their discrete counterparts.

Functional programming offers great support for sequences of variable length. Lazy functional programming adds infinite sequences, often called streams, which allows for more elegant and modular programming.

Functional programming also has functions as first class values, and when the function’s domain is (conceptually) continuous, we get a continuous counterpart to infinite streams.

Streams, sequences, and functions are three corners of a square. Streams are discrete and infinite, sequences are discrete and finite, and functions-on-reals are continuous and infinite. The missing corner is continuous and finite, and that corner is the topic of this post.

discreteStream Sequence
continuousFunction ???

You can download the code for this post.


  • 2008-12-01: Added Segment.hs link.
  • 2008-12-01: Added Monoid instance for function segments.
  • 2008-12-01: Renamed constructor “DF” to “FS” (for “function segment”)
  • 2008-12-05: Tweaked the inequality in mappend on (t :-># a).

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Enhancing a Zip

This post is part four of the zip folding series inspired by Max Rabkin’s Beautiful folding post. I meant to write one little post, but one post turned into four. When I sense that something can be made simpler/clearer, I can’t leave it be.

To review:

  • Part One related Max’s data representation of left folds to type class morphisms, a pattern that’s been steering me lately toward natural (inevitable) design of libraries.
  • Part Two simplified that representation to help get to the essence of zipping, and in doing so lost the expressiveness necessary to define Functorand Applicative instaces.
  • Part Three proved the suitability of the zipping definitions in Part Two.

This post shows how to restore the Functor and Applicative (very useful composition tools) to folds but does so in a way that leaves the zipping functionality untouched. This new layer is independent of folding and can be layered onto any zippable type.

You can get the code described below.


  • 2009-02-15: Simplified WithCont, collapsing two type parameters into one. Added functor comment about cfoldlc'.

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Another lovely example of type class morphisms

I read Max Rabkin’s recent post Beautiful folding with great excitement. He shows how to make combine multiple folds over the same list into a single pass, which can then drastically reduce memory requirements of a lazy functional program. Max’s trick is giving folds a data representation and a way to combine representations that corresponds to combining the folds.

Peeking out from behind Max’s definitions is a lovely pattern I’ve been noticing more and more over the last couple of years, namely type class morphisms.

Continue reading ‘Another lovely example of type class morphisms’ »

Simplifying semantics with type class morphisms

When I first started playing with functional reactivity in Fran and its predecessors, I didn’t realize that much of the functionality of events and reactive behaviors could be packaged via standard type classes. Then Conor McBride & Ross Paterson introduced us to applicative functors, and I remembered using that pattern to reduce all of the lifting operators in Fran to just two, which correspond to pure and (< *>) in the Applicative class. So, in working on a new library for functional reactive programming (FRP), I thought I’d modernize the interface to use standard type classes as much as possible.

While spelling out a precise (denotational) semantics for the FRP instances of these classes, I noticed a lovely recurring pattern:

The meaning of each method corresponds to the same method for the meaning.

In this post, I’ll give some examples of this principle and muse a bit over its usefulness. For more details, see the paper Simply efficient functional reactivity. Another post will start exploring type class morphisms and type composition, and ask questions I’m wondering about.

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Simply efficient functional reactivity

I submitted a paper Simply efficient functional reactivity to ICFP 2008.


Functional reactive programming (FRP) has simple and powerful semantics, but has resisted efficient implementation. In particular, most past implementations have used demand-driven sampling, which accommodates FRP’s continuous time semantics and fits well with the nature of functional programming. Consequently, values are wastefully recomputed even when inputs don’t change, and reaction latency can be as high as the sampling period.

This paper presents a way to implement FRP that combines data- and demand-driven evaluation, in which values are recomputed only when necessary, and reactions are nearly instantaneous. The implementation is rooted in a new simple formulation of FRP and its semantics and so is easy to understand and reason about.

On the road to efficiency and simplicity, we’ll meet some old friends (monoids, functors, applicative functors, monads, morphisms, and improving values) and make some new friends (functional future values, reactive normal form, and concurrent “unambiguous choice”).

Functional reactive partner dancing

This note continues an exploration of arrow-friendly formulations of functional reactive programming. I refine the previous representations into an interactive dance with dynamically interchanging roles of follow and lead. These two roles correspond to the events and reactive values in the (non-arrow) library Reactive described in a few previous posts. The post ends with some examples.

The code described (with documentation and examples) here may be found in the new, experimental library Bot (which also covers mutant-bots and chatter-bots).

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Functional reactive chatter-bots

In a few recent posts, I’ve been writing about a new basis for functional reactive programming (FRP), embodied in the Reactive library. In those posts, events and reactive values are (first class) values. A reactive system able to produce outputs from inputs might have type Event a -> Event b or perhaps Reactive a -> Reactive b.

Although I’m mostly happy with the simplicity and expressiveness of this new formulation, I’ve also been thinking about arrow-style formulations, as in Fruit and Yampa. Those systems expose signal functions in the programming interface, but relegate events and time-varying values (called “behaviors” in Fran and “signals” in Fruit and Yampa) to the semantics of signal functions.

If you’re not familiar with arrows in Haskell, you can find some getting-started information at the arrows page.

This post explores and presents a few arrow-friendly formulations of reactive systems.


  • 2008-02-06: Cleaned up the prose a bit.
  • 2008-02-09: Simplified chatter-bot filtering.
  • 2008-02-09: Renamed for easier topic recognition (was “Invasion of the composable Mutant-Bots”).
  • 2008-02-10: Replaced comps by the simpler concatMB for sequential chatter-bot composition.

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Future values via multi-threading

Future values

A previous post described future values (or simply “futures”), which are values depend on information from the future, e.g., from the real world. There I gave a simple denotational semantics for future values as time/value pairs. This post describes the multi-threaded implementation of futures in Reactive‘s Data.Reactive module.

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