[Haskell-beginners] Wrong type inferred for polymorphic function in a case alternative

Brent Yorgey byorgey at seas.upenn.edu
Wed Apr 11 17:31:32 CEST 2012

Hi Ramin, 

What you need is Rank2Types:

  {-# LANGUAGE Rank2Types #-}

  module ABC where


  apply :: (forall a. TClass a => (a -> a -> a)) -> T -> T -> T
  apply fn x y =
    case (x, y) of
      (TA x, TA y) -> TA (fn x y)
      (TB x, TB y) -> TB (fn x y)
      (TC x, TC y) -> TC (fn x y)
      _            -> error "T constructors do not match"

The problem with the old type signature of apply:

  apply :: TClass a => (a -> a -> a) -> T -> T -> T

is that this type means that the *caller* of apply gets to choose the
type 'a', and may provide some function which only works for some
particular type a (which must be an instance of TClass).  But that's
not what you want.  The new type:

  apply :: (forall a. TClass a => (a -> a -> a)) -> T -> T -> T

means that the caller must provide a function which is guaranteed to
work for *any* instance of TClass.  (Note the 'forall' and the extra


On Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 12:06:28AM +0900, Ramin Honary wrote:
> Hi everyone,
> I am using GHC 7.0.4.
> I boiled-down my problem into a simple program which I attached to
> this message. I don't know how to get the program to compile.
> I need to pass arbitrary class member functions as a parameter to a
> very large, complex, polymorphic function called "apply", and have
> this class member function applied to abitrary fields of data
> constructors of a very large, complex data type.
> What I expect to happen is this:
> For each case alternative, GHC will infer the type of the polymorphic
> function from the matched pattern in the case alternative, and use
> that inference to select the correct instance function for that type.
> So for case alternative (TA x, TA y) -> TA (fn x y), the correct
> instance for "fn" is selected based on the type of "x" and "y" which
> are determined by the pattern match, and by the type of "TA". If that
> case alternative does not match, then it should try the next
> alternative (TB x, TB y) -> TB (fn x y), and since "fn" is
> polymorphic, it will still be able to select the correct instance for
> the type given by the pattern match. So I can pass "f1" or "f2" or
> "f3" to "apply" as the "fn" parameter, and have the correct instance
> of "f1" or "f2" or "f3" be selected depending on where in the "case"
> expression "fn" is used.
> What is actually happening is:
> GHC arbitrarily selects one of the case alternatives (usually the last
> case alternative, sometimes the first) and decides that from now on
> this one type is the type for "fn" for every case alternative. So for
> every other case alternative, it decides that "fn" is of the wrong
> type and rejects the program, rather than trying to infer a different
> type for "fn" specific to this case alternative. Said another way, the
> type inference algorithm is being too strict, and I would like it to
> be more lazy, computing the type once per each case alternative,
> rather than computing the type only once for the entire case
> statement. Is there a language option for that?
> I have tried using language options, like -XNoMonoPatBinds
> -XNoMonomorphismRestriction -XMonoLocalBinds -XPolymorphicComponents
> -XImpredicativeTypes, but none of those help. My current solution is
> to use Template Haskell and make the "apply" function a splice, so the
> whole case statement is copied to every place it is used (which takes
> a very, very long for it time to comple). Is there a way to do this
> without Template Haskell? Can I get GHC to behave as I expected it to?
> Thanks,
>     Ramin

> _______________________________________________
> Beginners mailing list
> Beginners at haskell.org
> http://www.haskell.org/mailman/listinfo/beginners

More information about the Beginners mailing list