weird behaviour of context resolution with FlexibleContexts and TypeFamilies

Dimitrios Vytiniotis dimitris at
Sat Feb 26 03:01:28 CET 2011

Hi Ganesh, you are right Simon's answer is not correct.

The cause of your problem is I believe quite involved -- I think I know what's going on (Simon: it seems to be
an overlap problem indeed but between a different instance and given arising from a superclass when trying to
solve a 'silent parameter' wanted) but I can't build the compiler on my OS X tonight to verify my thoughts.

I will hopefully be able to say more over the weekend. Can you submit a bug report in the meanwhile?

Or I will do it tomorrow.


From: glasgow-haskell-users-bounces at [glasgow-haskell-users-bounces at] on behalf of Ganesh Sittampalam [ganesh at]
Sent: Friday, February 25, 2011 4:39 PM
To: Simon Peyton-Jones
Cc: glasgow-haskell-users at; Sittampalam, Ganesh
Subject: Re: weird behaviour of context resolution with FlexibleContexts and TypeFamilies

Hi Simon,

You talk about the timing of application of the instance declaration
  instance PatchInspect (PrimOf p)) => Conflict p

but the constraint is actually defined in the class declaration, and I don't have any instance declarations for Conflict p itself.
    class PatchInspect (PrimOf p)) => Conflict p

Does that make a difference to your answer, or do you mean that the constraint in the class declaration automatically gives rise to the same behaviour?


On 25/02/2011 09:06, Simon Peyton-Jones wrote:
You are doing something very delicate here, akin to overlapping instances.

You have an instance
                instance PatchInspect (PrimOf p)) => Conflict p
and a function
                clever :: (Conflict (OnPrim p), ..) => ...

So if a constraint (Conflict blah) arises in the RHS of clever, the instance declaration will immediately apply; and then the type check fails.  But if it just so happens to precisely match the provided constraint (Conflict (OnPrim p)), you want to use the provided constraint.  In effect the type signature and the instance overlap.

Arguably, GHC should refrain from applying the instance if there is any possibility of a “given” constraint matching.  Currently it’s a bit random; but it’s a very weird situation.

But first, is this really what you intend?


From: glasgow-haskell-users-bounces at<mailto:glasgow-haskell-users-bounces at> [mailto:glasgow-haskell-users-bounces at] On Behalf Of Sittampalam, Ganesh
Sent: 24 February 2011 07:41
To: glasgow-haskell-users at<mailto:glasgow-haskell-users at>
Subject: weird behaviour of context resolution with FlexibleContexts and TypeFamilies


If I build the code below with -DVER=2, I get a complaint about PatchInspect (PrimOf p) being missing from the context of cleverNamedResolve.

This doesn't happen with -DVER=1 or -DVER=3

I presume that type class resolution is operating slightly differently in the different cases, but it's quite confusing - in the original code joinPatches did something useful and I was trying to inline the known instance definition. I would have expected it to be consistent between all three cases, either requiring the context or not.

Is it a bug, or just one of the risks one takes by using FlexibleContexts?

I've tried this with GHC 6.12.3 and with 7.0.2RC2.



{-# LANGUAGE CPP, TypeFamilies, FlexibleContexts #-}
module Class ( cleverNamedResolve ) where

data FL p = FL p

class PatchInspect p where
instance PatchInspect p => PatchInspect (FL p) where

type family PrimOf p
type instance PrimOf (FL p) = PrimOf p

data WithName prim = WithName prim

instance PatchInspect prim => PatchInspect (WithName prim) where

class (PatchInspect (PrimOf p)) => Conflict p where
    resolveConflicts :: p -> PrimOf p

instance Conflict p => Conflict (FL p) where
    resolveConflicts = undefined

type family OnPrim p

#if VER==1
class FromPrims p where

instance FromPrims (FL p) where

joinPatches :: FromPrims p => p -> p
#if VER==2
joinPatches :: FL p -> FL p
joinPatches :: p -> p

joinPatches = id

cleverNamedResolve :: (Conflict (OnPrim p)
                      ,PrimOf (OnPrim p) ~ WithName (PrimOf p))
                   => FL (OnPrim p) -> WithName (PrimOf p)
cleverNamedResolve = resolveConflicts . joinPatches

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