small improvement to roles mechanism

Edward Kmett ekmett
Sat Oct 12 03:43:50 UTC 2013

My personal preference would be to go with something like option #3, and
try to make sure we have a design we're happy with that also has more
community buy in, then see if for something like 7.8.2 we can turn on
warnings to ease the transition.

This'd let us work out if the NPR stuff is necessary/could help, figure out
how to deal with the dictionary coercion issues we recently discovered
without being under the gun. This close to a release I'd feel a lot better
if we were getting more sure rather than less about the design, especially
one that has the awkward consequence of impacting even users who don't care
about it.

Regarding the platform I didn't mean to imply that it was even possible for
7.8 to find its way into the Platform in time for November, but with the
kind of breakage the GND changes would imply to me that it'd be a hard sell
even 6 months later for the next one, which would push back a whole lot of
other good stuff beyond the horizon. Compare with the impact here with the
concerns for 7.6 the last time it came around for consideration.


On Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 10:19 PM, Richard Eisenberg <eir at>wrote:

> I tend to agree with the above remarks and have been silencing the little
> voice in the back of my head that has suggested we pull roles out of 7.8.
> Ever since the debate about default roles vis-a-vis abstract datatypes
> started, I've been wondering if we're being a little hasty here.
> As we think about how to proceed, I think it's worth teasing apart the two
> different strains in all of this: enforcing type safety and enforcing
> abstraction.
> Roles, as they are, do a quite good job of enforcing type safety. When
> compiling all of Hackage, the majority of the breakage from roles was due
> to real type goofs in programs. A total of 18 packages (out of the 3,234
> that compile with 7.6.3) fail to compile because of deficiencies in the
> role system, including transitive breakage (i.e., packages that depend on
> broken packages). A small change in the GND check discussed in this forum
> would fix 11 of these, leaving only 7. Given that type systems are
> necessarily conservative, I'm not too displeased with this result -- the 3
> packages that would need to be changed would require only a few lines of
> code. Given this result, I disagree with Edward's claim that roles will
> provide the biggest pain in upgrading from 7.6 to 7.8.
> That said, I of course would like to do better and would prefer to 0
> broken packages due to deficiencies in the role system.
> On the other hand, roles as they are do a poor job of enforcing
> abstraction. But, before roles came along, there wasn't anything resembling
> a way of enforcing abstraction in the context of GND. So, this isn't
> exactly a new problem. The only thing (I think) exacerbating the problem is
> that Coercible now makes it easier than ever to break abstraction.
> That said, I of course would like to fix this problem, too.
> So, how to proceed? There are a few options:
> 1. I'll change the GND check to be a little more liberal, and we release
> roles in 7.8. I could notify the authors of the three packages that need to
> be updated because of the lack of role abstraction.
> 2. Like #1, but disallow Coercible. This way, the abstraction problem is
> no worse than it was before. (Apologies to Joachim if he minds this
> suggestion.)
> 3. Pull roles out of 7.8, giving us a little more time to Get It Right.
> It's a little hard for me to choose between these options, but I think
> it's good to be conservative in language design of a language in real use,
> so I lean slightly toward option #3. Doing this is very feasible from a
> technical standpoint -- it's easy to turn off the checks.
> If we go with #3, given the flux in the design, I'm even uncertain about
> the idea of warnings in 7.8. It would all feel a little silly if we issue
> these warnings and then change the design between 7.8 and 7.10 just enough
> to make the warnings wrong. I think warnings in 7.8.2 is a better idea.
> As for Johan's remark that the feature should have been vetted more
> thoroughly -- I completely agree, and I'll take responsibility for that
> decision. I did do some ad-hoc testing against packages on Hackage known to
> use GND, but the testing was not as thorough as it could have been. That
> said, I'm not sure anything would have played out too differently had I
> done more extensive testing; the results were about as I expected.
> I do greatly appreciate everyone's feedback and interest in this!
> Richard
> On Oct 11, 2013, at 7:55 PM, Edward Kmett wrote:
> I have to agree that I'm somewhat disturbed by the fact that we're pushing
> this out and we're still finding issues with it this close to release. =(
> It strikes me that the role machinery is going to be the cause of the
> majority of the pain users have upgrading to 7.8, and if I try to pretend
> to be Mark Lentczner for a bit, it makes it seem highly likely that it'd be
> the kind of thing that keeps 7.8 from going into a Haskell Platform,
> causing the groundhog to see his shadow, leaving us with another year of
> 7.4 or 7.6.x.
> I know we're at the 5 yard line, but to metaphorically throw a bunch of
> metaphors in a blender, if we had to make the uncomfortable decision to
> perform triage and ask if it should be put off (at least enforcing) the
> roles machinery to 7.10, so we can know we have it right, how much fallout
> would there be? Off the top of my head, of course Joachim's work on
> Coercible would be affected. What else?
> One option might be to pull the teeth of role inference for 7.8 with
> regards to GND, and turn bad roles use into a warning for a release cycle.
> That would give the community a year to get role annotations in place
> before generalized newtype deriving for their code just stopped working.
> If we ship with this the way it stands, I don't foresee the community
> reaction being good.
> With its teeth pulled, then GND could proceed as before, but with the
> added detailed warnings from the dictionary coercions helping to guide
> folks to make the change. By the time we'd be enforcing correct role
> annotations most folks would have them in place to silence the warnings.
> -Edward
> On Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 7:15 PM, Johan Tibell <johan.tibell at>wrote:
>> Oh and let me add: it would have been nice to have the people actually
>> making these change to have done an impact analysis on Hackage, instead of
>> discovering potential issues a week or two before the release. Lets try to
>> do that next time.
>> On Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 4:14 PM, Johan Tibell <johan.tibell at>wrote:
>>> Let me start by saying that I'm happy we're trying to fix the GND
>>> problem. Thanks for working on that.
>>> That being said: is this ready for mainstream consumption? We're forcing
>>> this on everyone without any language pragma or flags to opt-in/out. That
>>> is bad if we're not sure we're doing the right thing in some cases or if
>>> we're causing spurious failures. At ICFP I got the impression that very few
>>> people will be affected, but Bryan's result suggests there are more people
>>> than I thought.
>>> On Thu, Oct 10, 2013 at 8:26 PM, Richard Eisenberg <eir at>wrote:
>>>> In Bryan's recent test of GHC 7.8 against all of Hackage, there were
>>>> three spurious errors caused by lack of role abstraction. Here are the
>>>> class definitions where a nominal parameter is inferred, probably against
>>>> the wishes of the author:
>>>> from logict-0.2.3/Control.Monad.Logic.Class:
>>>> > class (MonadPlus m) => MonadLogic m where
>>>> >     msplit     :: m a -> m (Maybe (a, m a))
>>>> from monadLib-3.5.2/MonadLib:
>>>> > class (Monad m) => ReaderM m i | m -> i where
>>>> >   ask :: m i
>>>> from base/Control.Arrow:
>>>> > class Arrow a => ArrowApply a where
>>>> >     app :: a (a b c, b) c
>>>> In each of these, the last parameter of the class is given a nominal
>>>> role because it appears as the parameter of a type variable. However, in
>>>> each case, it appears as the parameter of a *class* type variable. This
>>>> means that, if we somehow knew that the class author wanted the class to be
>>>> usable with GND, we could simply check every instance declaration for that
>>>> class to make sure that the relevant concrete instantiation has the right
>>>> role. For example, when the user writes, for example
>>>> > instance ArrowApply Foo where ?
>>>> we check that Foo's first parameter has a representational role. If it
>>>> doesn't, then the instance is rejected.
>>>> An alternative, somewhat heavier idea would be to represent roles as
>>>> class constraints. We could have
>>>> > class NextParamNominal (c :: k)
>>>> > class NextParamRepresentational (c :: k)
>>>> GHC could "generate" instances for every datatype definition. For
>>>> example:
>>>> > type role Map nominal representational
>>>> > data Map k v = ?
>>>> would induce
>>>> > instance NextParamNominal Map
>>>> > instance NextParamRepresentational (Map k)
>>>> Users would not be able to write these instances -- they would have to
>>>> be generated by GHC. (Alternatively, there could be no instances, just a
>>>> little magic in the constraint solver. Somewhat like Coercible.)
>>>> Then, the classes above would just have to add a superclass, like this:
>>>> > class (Arrow a, NextParamRepresentational a) => ArrowApply a where
>>>> >   app :: a (a b c, b) c
>>>> The role inference mechanism would be made aware of role constraints
>>>> and use this one to derive that ArrowApply is OK for GND.
>>>> This "heavier" approach has a similar upshot to the first idea of just
>>>> checking at instance declarations, but it is more customizable and
>>>> transparent to users (I think).
>>>> I'm not sure I'm advocating for this change (or volunteering to
>>>> implement before the release candidate), but I wanted to document the idea
>>>> and get any feedback that is out there. This would fix the breakage we've
>>>> seen without totally changing the kind system.
>>>> Thanks,
>>>> Richard
>>>> PS: Due credit is to migmit for suggesting the type-class idea on
>>>> glasgow-haskell-users.
>>>> _______________________________________________
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