Type equality predicates decide if two types are equal and return the result of the comparison as a type-level boolean. A type equality predicate ought to be total for ground types, that is, types with no free type variables. A more general type matching predicate compares the shape of two types, their top-level type constructors, etc.
Type equality predicates are deeply related to overlapping type-class
OverlappingInstances is one of the most controversial
Haskell extensions, whose semantics is the least clear and whose
interactions with existentials, separate compilation and other
Haskell features leave lingering doubts of soundness. Yet
OverlappingInstances are too useful to remove -- in part because
they decide type equalities. Several examples below tell
OverlappingInstances really are.
Yet there is a well-behaving, semantically clear way to implement
type equalities and general type pattern-matching that not only
OverlappingInstances but subsumes them. The code using
OverlappingInstances can be simply and mechanically modified to
avoid that extension. We thus propose to eliminate
OverlappingInstances as redundant.
The most common, and historically the first, type equality predicate
TypeEq was introduced in HList. The type checker simplifies the
type expression (originally, constraint)
TypeEq t1 t2 to the dedicated
HTrue if the type checker considers the types
same. If the type checker regards
t2 as different,
t2 is simplified to the dedicated type
HFalse. For ground types --
types without free type variables --
TypeEq t1 t2 always simplifies, to
HTrue. If the type under comparison contains a
free type variable, the type checker may be still be able to decide
disequality: for example, when comparing the unground types
Maybe a and
[b]. Otherwise, the type checker defers
the simplification of
TypeEq t1 t2, waiting for
become sufficiently instantiated by the context.
TypeEq predicate is used all throughout the HList and OOHaskell
libraries. In fact,
TypeEq is as ubiquitous in HList as
Eq is ubiquitous
in the standard
Data.List library. Most operations on
type-level collections -- such as look-ups, deletions,
replacements, checking for duplicates -- require equality comparisons.
TypeEqTotal t1 t2 is like
TypeEq t1 t2 but always
simplifies to either
HFalse, regardless of how well the
t2 are instantiated. A type variable is considered
equal only to itself. Therefore,
TypeEqTotal decides the identity
of two (unground) types:
TypeEqTotal t1 t2 simplifies to
and only if
t2 are equal in every possible grounding.
A type equality assertion is not a predicate, but is closely
related. Whereas an equality predicate applied to two types
HFalse depending on the success of the comparison,
the assertion simplifies to nothing
(or, gets discharged) when the types are unifiable, that is,
equal or could be made equal by instantiating type variables.
If the types are not unifiable the assertion -- and
the overall type checking -- fails.
If two types can be made equal by instantiating type variables,
the assertion does such an instantiation, as a side effect.
The type equality assertion was also introduced in HList, under the
TypeCast t1 t2, which nowadays can be written
t1 ~ t2. For ground types
TypeEq t1 t2 ~ HTrue is equivalent to
t1 ~ t2 and
TypeEq t1 t2 ~ HFalse asserts the disequality of the two types.
One might wish for a predicate version of
TypeCast t1 t2, which
TypeUni t1 t2.
If the types
t2 are equal or could be made equal by
instantiating type variables,
TypeUni t1 t2 simplifies to
HTrue and, like
TypeCast, applies the unifying substitution
TypeUni t1 t2 simplifies to
HFalse and the type-checking continues. Alas,
incoherent. For example, the type expression
(TypeUni x y, TypeUni x (), TypeUni y Bool)
(assuming previously uninstantiated
y) simplifies to
(HTrue,HTrue,HFalse) if the simplifications are done
left-to-right. If the type checker chooses the opposite order,
the result will be
TypeEqis described in Sec 9.
TypeCast: Type improvement constraint, local functional dependencies, and a type-level typecase
Type-level type introspection, equality and matching
The overlapping-free implementation of
TypeEQ that also supports wildcards
Reversing Haskell typechecker: converting from
undefined to defined
Implementation of TypeEqTotal, which was called TypeEq, as a functional relation. See the section `Equality predicate of type schemas' in the accompanying literal Haskell code.
TypeEq, described its three implementations. We summarize the description for ease of reference.
The naive implementation of
TypeEq specifies the predicate
by enumerating all the cases, as shown below. It does not scale.
data HTrue; data HFalse type family TypeEq x y :: * type instance TypeEq Bool Bool = HTrue type instance TypeEq Bool Char = HFalse type instance TypeEq Char Bool = HFalse type instance TypeEq Char Char = HTrue
A better approach is to relate each type to a unique type-level representation
that is easy to analyze and compare. For example, we map
each type to a type-level natural number, using an auxiliary injective
data Z; data S n -- Peano numerals type family TypeCode x :: * -- Type -to- Nat type instance TypeCode () = Z type instance TypeCode Bool = S Z type instance TypeCode Char = S (S Z)Composite types like
Either t1 t2can be encoded similarly (e.g., with Goedel numbers). The
TypeEqpredicate then is defined generically, in a single type instance:
type family TypeEq x y :: * type instance TypeEq x y = TypeEqNat (TypeCode x) (TypeCode y)We assume a type-level function
TypeEqNatto compare Peano numerals. To extend the universe of comparable types with a new type, we merely need to add one instance of
TypeCode; the definition of
TypeEqis unaffected. This approach does scale. We still need to manually coordinate the assignment of
TypeCodes across modules and libraries to ensure uniqueness. Goedel numbers are big, opaque, and cumbersome to analyze. Later we introduce a better representation that overcomes these drawbacks and also supports matching.
The `best' implementation of
TypeEq, in three lines of code,
works for all types, present or declared in the future.
In the HList paper,
TypeEq was introduced
as a functional relation (a multi-parameter type class with a functional
TypeEq could also be defined as a type function
(in GHC parlance, `type family'), as we have just shown. The most generic
implementation below, however, can be defined only as a functional
relation, since it relies on overlapping instances.
Type families do not permit overlapping, for a good reason.
class TypeEq x y b | x y -> b instance TypeEq x x HTrue instance b ~ HFalse => TypeEq x y bIf the type checker can see that two types
t2are the same so that the first
TypeEqinstance can be chosen, the constraint
TypeEq t1 t2 bsimplifies to
b ~ HTrue. Otherwise the third argument of
TypeEqis unified with
HFalse. The word `otherwise' betrays the complementation, `the default case', which is at the core of overlapping instances. We see the first intimations of the usefulness of overlapping instances and of their relation with type equalities.
()->Charbecause both types have the same top constructor
(->). That `distinguishing the types of one shape from the others' is again about the default case and a specific exception.
OverlappingInstancesare seemingly required; on the other hand, that extension could be impossible to use. In the vector-space example, the signature of the scalar-vector multiplication includes the type of the scalar field, which is uniquely determined by, or associated with, the vector space. Alas, associated data types cannot be used with
OverlappingInstances; even functional dependencies are problematic.
Here we resolve the problem by demonstrating how to use
OverlappingInstances-based type-constructor equality with associated
types. Later on we re-implement type-shape comparison without
Our implementation here reduces the type-shape comparison to the
TypeEq, applied to `normalized' types. The
normalization replaces `insignificant' parts of the composite type
(), as follows. (Alas, the procedure cannot be defined
generically for all arities since type classes have fixed kinds.)
class Normalize t r | t -> r instance (c ()) ~ r => Normalize (c x) r instance (c () ()) ~ r => Normalize (c x y) r instance (c () () ()) ~ r => Normalize (c x y z) r -- add instances for type constructors of higher arities instance y ~ x => Normalize x y -- The default instanceThe last instance is the catch-all for all the types not handled by more specific transformations. Again we resort to overlapping instances.
An application of the type shape comparison: distinguishing function types from any other types when implementing vector spaces as function spaces. This code demonstrates the mixing of functional relations,
Normalize, with associated type families. The mixing
is possible, but difficult and verbose. The difficulty
prompts us to seek the implementation of
TypeEq could be defined as a type function
Type-level type introspection, equality and matching
Re-implementation of type matching, including the functional vector spaces example, without overlapping instances.
Nicolas Frisby: topEq for types
A message posted on the Haskell-Cafe mailing list on Thu Nov 16 18:59:05 EST 2006. The message motivated comparing types by shape, and described one solution.
How to write an instance for not-a-function: an earlier, ad hoc solution.
In June 2010, Ryan Newton has posed a problem of optimizing a GMap
package of finite maps with the common interface and
keys of various types. The module GMap defines the type class
GMapKey and optimized instances for
Int32, pairs, sums,
lists, etc. When the key is a pair
(Int16,Int16), it is worthwhile to
pack the key into a single
Int32 value and use the
GMap Int32 instance,
rather than using the general
GMap (a,b) instance for pairs.
Overlapping instances are ideal for such specific overrides to
general behavior. Alas, the class
GMapKey has associated data types
and so does not permit overlapping instances.
We demonstrate an ungainly work-around, which moves overlapping into
an auxiliary type class with a functional dependency. The type class
`classifies' keys into disjoint subsets, with overlapping to
distinguish special cases (of keys that could be packed into a single word)
from the default case. The result of the classification is handled by the
Later we re-implement the example without
work-around will not be needed then.
Overlapping-free implementation of the example, in the approach described below.
OverlappingInstances, GHC lets us add a special case to an existing set of overloaded functions. Giving the general case and a set of exceptions is truly useful. The examples on this page -- and many more on Hackage -- speak for such mode of programming and hence for overlapping instances. Why are they so controversial?
Overlapping instances are controversial because they straddle a
contradiction. They embody ``negation as failure'': the general
type class instance is chosen for the given type only when all more
specific instances failed to match the type. Negation-as-failure
presupposes closed world, or a fixed set of instances. However, type
classes are open: the user may add more instances at any time, in
the same or different modules. The unlimited specialization
is indeed possible, for example, in the following
infinite chain of polymorphic types
a > [a] > [[a]] > [[[a]]] > .....
When compiling a module, GHC cannot know if a more specific instance
exists in another, perhaps not yet written, module. Still, GHC may have to
choose an instance when compiling (monomorphic) terms in the module.
Since abandoning separate compilation is not an option, GHC employs various
heuristics, which could occasionally lead to surprising results. GHC
User's Guide, in the section about overlapping instances, describes an
example of incoherence -- of different instance choices made in
different parts of the program for the same type. The interaction of
overlapping instances with existential quantification is another gray
area. If a type class includes associated data or types, overlapping
is unsound -- as in segmentation-fault unsound. This bodes ill
Since implementations of overlapping instances are based on heuristics rather than a sound theory, different implementations have different behavior. For example, Hugs treats overlapping in subtly different ways from GHC; therefore, the type equality predicate of HList, based on overlapping, sometimes works in Hugs and sometimes doesn't. HList is hardly useful in Hugs.
The Glorious Glasgow Haskell Compilation System User's Guide, Version 7.0.4. Section 22.214.171.124. Overlapping instances
OverlappingInstances. These type equality predicates later let us get rid of overlapping in the general case.
The scalable, overlapping-free type-level equality predicate has been described already in the HList paper, recalled earlier on this page. The key was relating each type to a unique type-level representation that is easy to analyze and compare. Type-level numerals are one such representation, which suffers from two drawbacks: the difficulty of implementing matching, and the cumbersome manual process to ensure unique representation. We now describe the representation that overcomes the first drawback and alleviates the second. Template Haskell or a bit of GHC support can ensure unique representation automatically.
The new type representation
TYPEREP is much easier to work with than Goedel
numbers. It is a type-level equivalent of
Data.Typeable.TypeRep and can
be informally described by the following declarations:
data TyCon_name -- name associated with each (registered) type constructor data LIST a = NIL | a :/ LIST a data TYPEREP = TYPEREP (TyCon_name, LIST TYPEREP)
TYPEREPis however a type-level data-structure. Strictly speaking, we need data kinds to define it. For now, the above declarations should serve as a guidance. Also as an informal guide, we write kind signatures for our type-level functions. Like type signatures of ordinary functions, kind signatures aid understanding. For now, they are informal and have to be given in comments.
To compare type constructor names, we injectively map them to
something easily comparable, for example, natural numbers
Data.Typeable uses a similar trick):
-- TC_code :: TyCon_name -> NAT type family TC_code tycon :: *
The total type function
TREPEQ compares two
TYPEREP for equality.
The function is defined below in closed form, once and for all:
-- TYPEREP -> TYPEREP -> BOOL type family TREPEQ x y :: * type instance TREPEQ (tc1, targ1) (tc2, targ2) = AND (NatEq (TC_code tc1) (TC_code tc2)) (TREPEQL targ1 targ2) -- LIST TYPEREP -> LIST TYPEREP -> BOOL type family TREPEQL xs ys :: * type instance TREPEQL NIL NIL = HTrue type instance TREPEQL NIL (h :/ t) = HFalse type instance TREPEQL (h :/ t) NIL = HFalse type instance TREPEQL (h1 :/ t1) (h2 :/ t2) = AND (TREPEQ h1 h2) (TREPEQL t1 t2)where the total
NatEq :: NAT -> NAT -> BOOLcompares two type-level natural numbers.
TYPEREPsupports matching, or wildcards, represented by a type
ANY(with a distinguished
TC_code, e.g., zero). The type function
TREPEQW :: TYPEREP -> TYPEREP -> BOOL, the variant of
TREPEQ, compares two
TYPEREPassuming that the
ANYtype is equal to any other type. A type-level list membership predicate
-- ((*,*) -> BOOL) -> * -> LIST * -> BOOL type family Member f x l :: *checks for an occurrence of an element in a type-level list, using the given element equality predicate, specified as
AC_TREPEQ(for equality) or
The injective type function
TYPEOF :: * -> TYPEREP, the analogue of
Data.Typeable.typeOf, returns the representation of a type. The
function is defined by instances. Here are a few:
data ANY -- The wildcard, for matching data TRN_any type instance TC_code TRN_any = Z -- distinguished for TRN_any type instance TYPEOF ANY = (TRN_any, NIL) data TRN_unit type instance TC_code TRN_unit = S Z type instance TYPEOF () = (TRN_unit, NIL) data TRN_maybe type instance TC_code TRN_maybe = S (S Z) type instance TYPEOF (Maybe a) = (TRN_maybe, (TYPEOF a) :/ NIL) data TRN_arrow type instance TC_code TRN_arrow = S (S (S Z)) type instance TYPEOF (a -> b) = (TRN_arrow, (TYPEOF a) :/ (TYPEOF b) :/ NIL)
The instances for
TC_code are regular and could be,
hopefully, derived by GHC or a similar tool automatically, similar to
the deriving of
Data.Typeable. For now, we can use Template Haskell
to derive the
TYPEOF instances for a new data type. For example,
Foo :: *,
$(tderive ''Foo) may expand to something like this:
data TRN_package_name_module_name_Foo type instance TC_code TRN_package_name_module_name_Foo = <very long type-level numeral that spells package_name_module_name_Foo> type instance TYPEOF Foo = (TRN_package_name_module_name_Foo, NIL)
Long unary numerals spelling full type constructor names
are clearly unappealing. Help is on the way: GHC will soon support
efficient numeric kinds and type-level strings. Ideally,
GHC would support
TYPEOF the way it currently
Data.Typeable -- deriving
TC_codes and efficiently comparing them.
In principle, GHC could even support ground type equality as a
built-in type-level function. However, mere equality comparison of
types is not enough to eliminate overlapping instances. We need type
comparison at all kinds, and we need matching. The
fulfills all the needs.
In conclusion, the injective type function
TYPEOF reifying a type to its
TYPEREP gives rise to the type equality comparison and
matching. Template Haskell or other such automated deriving of
TYPEOF instances can ensure the uniqueness of
the representation. Numeric and string kinds, coming to GHC,
will greatly improve the efficiency of type-level comparison.
TypeOf, and type-level functions for comparison and matching -- along with a small library for higher-order functional programming at the type level. The library uses neither overlapping instances nor functional dependencies. The code includes a few tests.
An example of type matching: re-implementing NotAFunction.hs, this time without overlapping instances.
OverlappingInstancesaltogether. We re-write the earlier code that relied on overlapping into the overlapping-free code, in a regular and almost mechanical way. We gain a sound overlapping of type families and associated data types. The new approach requires no changes to GHC and does not affect the FC calculus or the instance resolution algorithm. It works right now.
We may still define overloaded functions by giving the default
general instance and a set of special cases. The contradiction of
OverlappingInstances is avoided because the set of special cases is
Our first example is eliminating overlapping in the overloaded
function that converts lists to strings, with the special cases for
lists of booleans and characters:
[True,False] should be converted
to the string
class ShowList a where showl :: [a] -> String -- General instance instance Show a => ShowList a where ... -- Special instances, for lists of specific types instance ShowList Bool where ... instance ShowList Char where showl = id
To eliminate overlapping, we re-write the example as follows.
We rely on the TTypeable library for type introspection,
and for the type-level list membership predicate
class ShowList a where showl :: [a] -> String -- Enumeration of special cases type Special = TYPEOF Bool :/ TYPEOF Char :/ NIL -- Discriminator instance (flag ~ (Member AC_TREPEQ (TYPEOF a) Special), ShowList' flag a) => ShowList a where showl = showl' (undefined::flag) -- A replica of the original class and its instances class ShowList' flag a where showl' :: flag -> [a] -> String -- General instance instance Show a => ShowList' HFalse a where ... -- Special instances, for lists of specific types instance ShowList' HTrue Bool where ... instance ShowList' HTrue Char where showl' _ = id
ShowList instance checks to see if the type in question is
mentioned in the list of exceptions
Special, thus discriminating
between the general and special cases. The class
its instances are the replica of the original
with the extra parameter
flag, which resolves overlapping.
Modulo the dummy
flag parameter, the code of
Special defines the list of specializations. The members
of the list may contain wildcards
ANY and so the set of types to
specialize among could be infinite -- but their lower specialization
bound is fixed. Adding new special instances does not require
modifications to the existing instances but does require changes
to the code to extend
TYPEREPs of those special
types. The type alias
Special may be in a module of its own,
along with other configuration parameters.
In general, suppose we have declared
class C a with
N special, mutually non-overlapping instances, and one
instance C a. To eliminate overlapping, we define
class C' flag a with N special and one catch-all
instance, all non-overlapping, and a type-level list
The original class
C will have one, dispatching instance. Our
approach thus calls for one extra class, one extra instance and
one type-level list. In a more complex case of full overlap
class C a instance C [Int] instance C [a] instance C athe members of
Specialinclude wildcards. We use matching rather than the simple equality when searching through
Special. The rest remains the same.
The approach lets us implement hypothetical closed type instances. Such an extension is frequently mentioned -- but not implemented in GHC. The implementation will be non-trivial, requiring the change in the instance resolution algorithm. Our approach gives closed type families now.
-- hypothetical code type instance F where F Int = Bool F a = [a]Here is the complete code emulating the same closed type family with overlapping, in the existing GHC 7.0.4.
type family F a :: * type instance F x = F' (TREPEQ (TYPEOF x) (TYPEOF Int)) x type family F' flag x type instance F' HTrue x = Bool type instance F' HFalse x = [x] newtype W x = W (F x) w1 = W True :: W Int w2 = W "abc" :: W CharWe stress that
TREPEQis the total equality comparison predicate defined in closed form, once and for all.
There have been other proposals to eliminate overlapping instances: closed type families, instance chains, disequality constraints. Only instance chains have been implemented, in an experimental Haskell-like system. None of these proposal have been realized in GHC and none are easily implementable, requiring significant changes to the instance resolution algorithm or System FC, with unknown interactions with other features. All these proposals to sound overlapping also make the set of special cases closed, thus taking the closed-world assumption.
We have described the re-writing procedure that eliminates the use of
OverlappingInstances. It is the only presently available way
to sound overlapping, requiring no changes to the type checker or
its theory. We advocate abolishing overlapping instances,
claiming it results in no loss of expressiveness.
Implementing the challenging example posed by David Mazi`eres. The example seemed to require overlapping type constructor instances, and hence
Adding a special case to an existing library of overloaded functions: re-implementing the example GMapSpec.hs, this time without overlapping instances.
The described new approach to type equality and overlapping elimination was first discussed on the Haskell' mailing list in June-August 2011.
Your comments, problem reports, questions are very welcome!
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