[Haskell-beginners] Type problems with IOArray

Alexander Dunlap alexander.dunlap at gmail.com
Wed Oct 22 23:04:10 EDT 2008

On Wed, Oct 22, 2008 at 7:26 PM, Xuan Luo <spoon.reloaded at gmail.com> wrote:
> I am having lots of trouble using polymorphic mutable IOArrays. Here
> is an example program:
> import Data.Array.MArray
> import Data.Array.IO
> foo x = do a <- newArray (0, 4) x
>           readArray a 2
> main = foo 42 >>= print
> So there is a function "foo" which makes an array of polymorphic type
> initialized with a value, then returns one of the elements of the
> array. So here "foo x" essentially does the same as "return x"; but it
> demonstrates problems I am having.
> So the above program fails with:
> testarray.hs:7:7:
>    No instance for (MArray a t IO)
>      arising from a use of `foo' at testarray.hs:7:7-12
>    Possible fix: add an instance declaration for (MArray a t IO)
>    In the first argument of `(>>=)', namely `foo 42'
>    In the expression: foo 42 >>= print
>    In the definition of `main': main = foo 42 >>= print
> Okay; so the problem is that "newArray" is a function that creates
> MArrays in general; but there is no function to specifically create
> IOArrays in particular, and it doesn't know I want to use IOArrays. In
> fact, all the other functions that are used to operate on mutable
> arrays are generic MArray functions too, and there is basically
> nothing that is specific to IOArrays, so it is not as if the compiler
> can "figure it out from context". This is bad design. I wish it could
> just decide to default to IOArrays or something, since IOArrays of any
> type already are instances of MArray, so it would be natural.
> Okay so the general way to resolve this is to add signatures to tell
> it that it is an IOArray. But when I give the type for IOArray I also
> have to tell it what type its contents are, and I want it to work
> polymorphically over any type, so the array has to be of a polymorphic
> type:
> foo x = do a <- newArray (0, 4) x :: IO (IOArray Int a)
>           readArray a 2
> But of course it doesn't know what "a" is, so maybe I am forced to
> also add a signature for the function "foo" itself, which the compiler
> should really be able to figure out for me:
> import Data.Array.MArray
> import Data.Array.IO
> foo :: a -> IO a
> foo x = do a <- newArray (0, 4) x :: IO (IOArray Int a)
>           readArray a 2
> main = foo 42 >>= print
> Okay, now the real problems begin:
> testarray.hs:5:32:
>    Couldn't match expected type `a1' against inferred type `a'
>      `a1' is a rigid type variable bound by
>           the polymorphic type `forall a1. IO (IOArray Int a1)'
>             at testarray.hs:5:16
>      `a' is a rigid type variable bound by
>          the type signature for `foo' at testarray.hs:4:7
>    In the second argument of `newArray', namely `x'
>    In a 'do' expression: a <- newArray (0, 4) x :: IO (IOArray Int a)
>    In the expression:
>        do a <- newArray (0, 4) x :: IO (IOArray Int a)
>           readArray a 2
> What the heck is this? I looked through a lot of stuff online and
> eventually found that this works:
> {-# LANGUAGE ScopedTypeVariables #-}
> import Data.Array.MArray
> import Data.Array.IO
> foo :: forall a. a -> IO a
> foo x = do a <- newArray (0, 4) x :: IO (IOArray Int a)
>           readArray a 2
> main = foo 42 >>= print
> So I had to add some weird "forall" stuff to my function signature and
> enable some language extension flag(?). This seems way too
> complicated.
> I just want to be able to make and use a simple polymorphic array in
> the IO monad with regular Haskell, without changing compiler flags or
> anything like that. I have been doing well in other stuff involving
> the IO monad, but these mutable arrays really got me stuck.
> Thanks,
> _______________________________________________
> Beginners mailing list
> Beginners at haskell.org
> http://www.haskell.org/mailman/listinfo/beginners

One way is to move the type signature one level lower:

import Data.Array.MArray
import Data.Array.IO

foo :: a -> IO a
foo x = do a <- (newArray (0, 4) :: a -> IO (IOArray Int a)) x
          readArray a 2

main = foo 42 >>= print

Essentially, the problem you are running into is this: You need to
tell the compiler what kind of array you want newArray (0,4) x to
create. You'd like to be able to say newArray (0,4) x :: IO (IOArray
Int *SOMETHING*), but Haskell doesn't let you do that; you have to
assign it a  type variable. Normally, you'd say IO (IOArray Int a), as
you did, but in this case, there's a problem: the type of "newArray
(0,4) x" in this context is not as general as "a". You can't make it
an instance of *any* type, only the type of x. Unfortunately, there's
no way to specify the type of x without using scoped type variables.
(In fact, that's pretty much the whole point of scoped type

The solution, then, is to not specify the type of newArray (0,4) x but
only the type of newArray (0,4). newArray (0,4) actually can have the
type (a -> IO (IOArray Int a)) for *any* a, because you haven't put
any constraints on "a" by applying it to "x".

I hope that's somewhat clear; I apologize for the convolutedness.


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