[Haskell-beginners] Is my understanding of ">>=" correct?

Bob Ippolito bob at redivi.com
Tue Feb 19 21:15:54 CET 2013

On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:13 AM, Martin Drautzburg <
Martin.Drautzburg at web.de> wrote:

> Hello all,
> It took me quite some time to understand >>=. What confused me, was that
> the
> second operand is a function, not just a Monad. I believe I am beginning to
> see the light.
> First there is no way to sequence operations by just writing one after the
> other. However we can chain operations by passing the output of one
> operation
> to the next. But this does not not allow capturing the intermediate
> results.
> With >>= the output of one operation gets magically bound to the parameter
> of
> the function and remains in scope all the way through.

Well, sequencing actions is a special case of chaining actions where you
simply ignore the result of the previous action. This is the >> operator.
It is defined as follows:

m >> k = m >>= \_ -> k

There is no magic involved, just functions and lexically scoped variables.

I was confused by the signature m a -> (a -> mb) -> mb because it looks like
> there is (as second parameter) a function which returns a Monad. But I
> doubt I
> ever saw such a function, in the sense that it does something intelligent.
> It
> is typically a function that does not do a whole lot with its parameter,
> but
> just returns another Monad, such that its parameter is bound to the result
> of
> the previous expression.

I think it's important to note that the signature is a -> (a -> m b) -> m
b. The space is significant. 'm' is a separate type variable from 'a' or

> But it could be done:
> do
>         x <- SomeMonad
>         y <- someCleverlyConstructedMonad x
> If I want to see the function of the >>= signature I have to read the do
> block
> right->left (following the arrow) and then diagonally to the lower right.
> The
> diagonal steps reveal the function. In the above example we have
> \x -> someCleverlyConstructedMonad
> but many times I just see
> do
>         x <- SomeMonad
>         y <- someOtherMonad
> and the function does not do anything intelligent but just binds x and
> enforces the sequence of operations.
> is this about right?

It's not really possible to translate the above example into valid code
because a do block must end with an expression. Let's say you were to
change it to the following valid syntax:

  x <- firstAction
  y <- secondAction x
  return (x, y)

The de-sugaring of that do block would look like this (newlines added to
show function scope):

firstAction >>= \x ->
  secondAction x >>= \y ->
    return (x, y)

A concrete example:

  x <- getLine
  y <- print x
  return (x, y)

h> getLine >>= \x -> print x >>= \y -> return (x, y)

do blocks are just syntax sugar, they don't do anything you couldn't easily
do with 'let ... in', '>>=' and '->'. They just make it a lot easier to
read in some cases. Other cases it's a wash, such as in this example where
we don't want to capture any intermediate results:

  x <- getLine
  print x

is equivalent to:

getLine >>= print

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