[Haskell-cafe] Re: Debugging partial functions by the rules
robdockins at fastmail.fm
Wed Nov 15 16:50:32 EST 2006
On Wednesday 15 November 2006 15:53, John Hughes wrote:
> > From: Robert Dockins <robdockins at fastmail.fm>
> > It seems to me that every possible use of a partial function has some
> > (possibly imagined) program invariant that prevents it from failing.
> > Otherwise it is downright wrong. 'head', 'fromJust' and friends
> > don't do anything to put that invariant in the program text.
> Well, not really. For example, I often write programs with command line
> arguments, that contain code of the form
> do ...
> [a,b] <- getArgs
> Of course the pattern match is partial, but if it fails, then the standard
> error message is good enough.
I'd actually put this in a different category than 'partial function' (in what
might be regarded as an abuse of termonology). This is failure in a monad,
and is something I personally use a lot. Failure in IO just usually happens
to have behavior very similar to calling 'error'.
I'll often write code in an arbitrary monad just to model partiality via
the 'fail' function. Sometimes, as here, I use partial pattern matches to do
this implicitly. Why is this better than 'error'? Because it allows the
code consumer decide how to deal with problems. You can use runIdentity to
convert 'fail' to 'error'. You can run with runErrorT and recover the error
message. You can run it in a custom moand that has some other fancy error
handling. etc, etc.
> This applies to "throw away" code, of course, and if I decide to keep the
> code then I sooner or later extend it to fix the partiality and give a more
> sensible error message. But it's still an advantage to be ABLE to write the
> more concise, but cruder version initially.
I'm not against partial pattern matching. I think it's way better than using
partial projection functions.
> This isn't a trivial point. We know that error handling code is a major
> part of software cost--it can even dominate the cost of the "correct case"
> code (by a large factor). Erlang's "program for the correct case" strategy,
> coupled with good fault tolerance mechanisms, is one reason for its
> commercial success--the cost of including error handling code *everywhere*
> is avoided. But this means accepting that code *may* very well fail--the
> failure is just going to be handled somewhere else.
> Haskell (or at least GHC) has good exception handling mechanisms too. We
> should be prepared to use them, and "let it fail" when things go wrong. The
> savings of doing so are too large to ignore.
Talk softly and drive a Sherman tank.
Laugh hard, it's a long way to the bank.
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