[Haskell-cafe] symbol type?

Dan Weston westondan at imageworks.com
Thu Oct 11 14:58:13 EDT 2007

For a contrary point of view, there is a footnote at the bottom of page 
20 in "Parsec, a fast combinator parser" by Daan Leijen, the creator of 

"I have to warn the reader though that experience with the HaskellLight 
compiler has shown that it hardly pays off in practice to use special 
identifier representations instead of normal strings"

Thomas Conway wrote:
> On 10/10/07, Michael Vanier <mvanier at cs.caltech.edu> wrote:
>> Is there an implementation of a symbol type in Haskell i.e. a string which has a constant-time
>> comparison operation?
> To borrow Prolog terminology, it sounds like you're looking for an
> "atom" data type.
> I've not done it, but I've plotted to implement a module according to
> the following sketch:
> module Data.Atom where
> data Atom ....
> atom :: String -> Atom -- or ByteString
> name :: Atom -> String -- or ByteString
> instance Eq Atom where ...
> instance Ord Atom where ...
> The constructor function would do hash-consing using unsafePerformIO
> internally to build a [hash] table of extant Atoms. If ByteString is
> used for the internal "name", the hash consing means that you can use
> the Ptr for O(1) equality tests. The implementation of compare would
> still need to do a normal string comparison, after doing an initial
> equality test.
> If you do the O(1) equality test before doing a full compare, the
> performance will be very good in many situations, since non-equal
> comparisons tend to terminate quickly. The exception of course is
> strings with long common prefixes (e.g. URLs). For symbol names in a
> compiler, this is unlikely to be a significant problem.
> cheers,
> T.

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