Superclass defaults

Conor McBride conor at
Wed Aug 31 12:22:22 CEST 2011


Sorry to be late again...I'm trying to have what's laughably described
as a holiday, but it seems more like the common cold to me.

On 31 Aug 2011, at 08:52, Jonas Almström Duregård wrote:

> | > There seems to be a lot of support for Option 3... but what about
> Option 2 (ie pre-empt but give a warning)?

At least in the short term, I think Option 2 is a good compromise. It's
true that when I started using default superclass instances (which SHE
supports) in the Epigram codebase, the first thing I had to do was
delete a bunch of dull default instance stacks. That was fun, but it
wasn't nothing.

> I think option 2 sounds very good. Possibly with the exception of only
> warning when the manual instance is in another module, since you will
> never experience the "perplexity" described in option 3 if you have
> written the instance yourself.

I become perplexed very easily. I think we should warn whenever silent
pre-emption (rather than explicit) hiding is used to suppress a default
instance, because it is bad --- it makes the meaning of an instance
declaration rather more context dependent. Perhaps a design principle
should be that to understand an instance declaration, you need only
know (in addition) the tower of class declaration s above it: it is
subtle and worrying to make the meaning of one instance declaration
depend on the presence or absence of others.

Arguably, option 1 does not conflict with design goal 1. Design goal 1
supports a methodology for refining a class into a hierarchy without
creating the need for stacks of default instances or breaking code. If
the new superclass is a brand new thing without legacy instances,
there's no problem. If we'd had this mechanism in place, Functor would
always have been made a superclass of Monad, Applicative would have
been easily inserted, and we wouldn't have the stacks of manually added
default instances to worry about.

The main problem with Option 1 is in dealing with the legacy of
classes which currently require a stack of default instances, creating
a hierarchy from parts which already exist. Option 1 would create a  
of instance conflicts and thus demand changes to code. Design goal 1
isn't very explicit (sorry!) about this distinction between introducing
new classes as superclasses and building hierarchies from legacy  
but it was the former I intended. I always expected the latter to cause

If it is also a design goal to minimize damage with respect to the
current unfortunate situation, then Option 1 is problematic. Whatever we
might wish, we are where we are. We should be pragmatic. I think we
should set Option 1 as the direction of travel, but go with Option 2 for
the moment. We should make sure that the warnings generated by Option 2
are sufficiently informative that it is easy to track down the conflicts
and resolve them explicitly, for Option 1 compliance.

Does this sound plausible?


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