[Haskell-cafe] Stack vs Heap allocation

Derek Elkins derek.a.elkins at gmail.com
Thu May 8 18:54:33 EDT 2008

On Thu, 2008-05-08 at 23:29 +0100, Edsko de Vries wrote:
> Hi,
> How can I know whether something will be stack or heap allocated? For
> example, in the standard example of why 
> foldl (+) 0
> will fail to evaluate a long list of integers due to a stack overflow,
> but foldl' won't, it is pointed out that foldl starts building up
> unevaluated thunks. So, apparently, these thunks are allocated on the
> stack rather than on the heap with a pointer to the thunk on the stack.
> (I understand that foldl' is asymptotically better than foldl
> space-wise; that is irrelevant to my question.)
> On the other hand, in this version that sums all the values in a tree
> data Tree = Leaf Int | Node Tree Tree
> sum :: Tree -> Int
> sum t = sum' [t] 0
>   where
>     sum' [] acc = acc
>     sum' (Leaf i : ts) acc = sum' ts $! (i + acc)
>     sum' (Node l r : ts) acc = sum' (l : r : ts) acc
> we are building up a (potentially) large lists of trees yet to be
> processed, but never run out of stack space. Apparently, the list is
> built up on the heap rather than on the stack. 
> What is the fundamental difference between these two examples? Why is
> the list of trees yet to be processed allocated on the heap (with a
> pointer on the stack, presumably) but the unevaluated thunks in the
> foldl example allocated on the stack?

No, the thunks are (usually) stored on the heap.  You don't get the
stack overflow until you actually force the computation at which point
you have an expression like:
(...(((1+2)+3)+4) ... + 10000000)
which requires stack in proportion to the number of nested parentheses

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