ConstraintKinds feature suggestion and question about type family peculiarity

Simon Peyton-Jones simonpj at
Mon Jun 17 10:39:15 CEST 2013

| This seems to works marvellously, but in writing it I ran into 2
| annoyances.
| 1) The type errors produced by trying to use a function on a disallowed
| phantom type are rather unclear.
|     "Could not deduce (Restrict Int ('[] *)) arising from a use of ‛foo"
| Which got me thinking, it would be really nice to have a vacuous
| Constraint that takes an error string as argument, i.e. a constraint
| that never holds and returns it's error string as type error. This would
| let you produce far nicer type errors when (ab)using ConstraintKinds and
| TypeFamilies by, for example, adding an extra Restrict instance
| "Restrict x '[] = Vacuous "Applying restricted function to disallowed
| type"" (or something to that effect), producing that message as error
| rather than the "Could not deduce (Restrict Int ('[] *)" which is a
| rather unhelpful error if you're not the person that wrote this code and
| are just using a function with such a Restrict constraint.

This is part of a more general question about how to generate better type error messages.  The Helium folk did some good work on this.  There's a very interesting PhD to be had here.

| 2) for some reason the type families syntax always requires a full
| argument list, which I find rather ugly. I would much prefer to use
| KindSignatures and write "type family Restrict :: * -> [*] ->
| Constraint", but GHC does not allow this. Is there a specific reason for
| not allowing this syntax?

We need to fix the "arity" of a type family, because type families must always be fully applied.  If you write
	type family F a :: * -> *
then F *must* always be applied to one argument, and in a 'type instance' you can dispatch on one argument
	type instance F Int = []
	type instance F Bool = Maybe
If you instead write
	type family F a b :: *
then you must always apply F to two arguments, and in a 'type instance' you can dispatch on two arguments.
	type instance F Int Bool = Char

It is *unsatisfactory* that we get the clue about arity from the syntactic form of the 'type family' declaration. But it's a convenient hack; less clunky than, say
	type family F [arity = 1] :: * -> * -> *  


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