Way to expose BLACKHOLES through an API?

Ryan Newton rrnewton at gmail.com
Mon Nov 7 15:50:05 CET 2011

Hi GHC users,

When implementing certain concurrent systems-level software in Haskell
it is good to be aware of all potentially blocking operations.
Presently, blocking on an MVar is explicit (it only happens when you
do a takeMVar), but blocking on a BLACKHOLE is implicit and can
potentially happen anywhere.

If there are known thunks where we, the programmers, know that
contention might occur, would it be possible to create a variant of
"Control.Monad.Evaluate" that allows us to construct non-blocking

   evaluate :: a -> IO a
   evaluateNonblocking :: a -> IO (Maybe a)

It would simply return Nothing if the value is BLACKHOLE'd.  Of course
it may be helpful to also distinguish the evaluated and unevaluated
states.  Further, the above simple version allows data-races (it may
become blackhole'd right after we evaluate).  An extreme version would
actively blackhole it to "lock" the thunk... but maybe that's overkill
and there are some other good ideas out there.

A mechanism like the proposed should, for example, allow us to consume
just as much of a lazy Bytestring as has already been computed by a
producer, WITHOUT blocking and waiting on that producer thread, or
migrating the producer computation over to our own thread (blowing its


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