[Haskell-cafe] Is it usual to read a Maybe (IORef a) ?

minh thu noteed at gmail.com
Thu Sep 4 03:53:35 EDT 2008

2008/9/4 Timothy Goddard <tim at goddard.net.nz>:
> It looks like this code isn't really in fitting with normal Haskell idioms.

I guess you mean by Haskell idiom : "pure". But Haskell allows you to
do IO, etc.

> Emulating C in Haskell will only give you a harder way of writing C. Don't
> think about emulating a potentially null pointer with Maybe (IORef a) and
> passing this to a function to read content unless you also want to implement
> the function "segfault :: IO ()".

> You really need to ask yourself whether it makes sense to read a NULL /
> Nothing field. In C this would cause a segfault. The idea in Haskell is that
> you don't allow invalid values to be passed in to a function at all. Each
> function should be pure and accept only sensible inputs, allowing you to
> analyse what each function does in isolation from the rest of the program.
> In Haskell, functions should use the type system to only accept arguments
> which make sense. The caller should handle the possibility that a function it
> calls returns nothing, not expect every other callee to do so. The Maybe
> monad helps with this for many cases:
> lookupEmployee :: Integer -> Maybe Employee
> lookupPassportNo :: Employee -> PassportNo
> lookupMarriageCertificate :: PassportNo -> Maybe MarriageCert
> getPassportNumbers :: MarriageCert -> (PassportNo, PassportNo)
> getNameFromPassport :: PassportNo -> Maybe String
> lookupSpouse :: Integer -> Maybe String
> lookupSpouse employee_no = do
>        employee <- lookupEmployee employee_no
>        let passport = lookupPassportNo employee
>        cert <- lookupMarriageCertificate
>        let (p1, p2) = getPassportNumbers cert
>        let partner = if p1 == passport then p2 else p1
>        getNameFromPassport partner
> In this example, if any lookup which can fail does, the result is Nothing.
> Each lookup function can assume that a valid argument is present, though some
> types of lookup may still give no result. The caller chooses how to account
> for this inability to find a match, in this case by itself having no result.

Thanks for the exemple, but I'm aware of monads (even if I can't still
use them easily when
many of them are mixed).
Here my problem is more about interactively editable data structure
(at least from the
point of view of the user). I would be very happy to do it with pure functions.

> The thing I'm more concerned about here is the use of IORefs inside data
> structures at all. A data structure containing IORefs is mutable and can only
> be manipulated in the IO monad, which defeats the point of Haskell. There is
> a use case for using mutable structures for some resource-intensive
> operations, but even then it's often trading short-term speed for long term
> difficulties. If you think immutable structures imply poor performance, take
> a look at projects such as uvector and Data Parallel Haskell - immutable data
> structures which beat the hell out traditional, C-like techniques.

I'm looking at the FGL package, it seems very intersting. I don't
think immutable data
structures imply poor perfromance, but I think designing the examples you give
is quite complicated and done by really experienced Haskell programmers.
Please, don't answer to my problem (even if I haven't really explain
it) by exposing
state-of-the-art Haskell goodness.

> If you must use IORefs, consider only using them to hold the whole structure,
> which is modified by normal, pure functions. If you don't think you can make
> do with this, you're probably still thinking about the program in an
> imperative manner. You will probably be better off either rethinking how
> you're doing things or, if you cannot translate the concepts to a functional
> form, using an imperative language.

Overall, I agree I have to look for a more pure approach. Although, I
think something like
FGL required a lot of work. But raising, say, uvector, in face of my
use of IORef seems a bit

> Good luck,

Thank you,

> Tim
> On Wed, 03 Sep 2008 22:09:38 minh thu wrote:
>> Hi,
>> I'd like to write a data structure to be used inside the IO monad.
>> The structure has some handles of type Maybe (IORef a),
>> i.e. IORef are pointers and the Maybe is like null pointers.
>> So I came up with the following functions :
>> readHandle :: Maybe (IORef a) -> IO (Maybe a)
>> readField :: (a -> b) -> Maybe (IORef a) -> IO (Maybe b)
>> readHandle Nothing  = do
>>   return Nothing
>> readHandle (Just r) = do
>>   v <- readIORef r
>>   return $ Just v
>> readField f h = do
>>   m <- readHandle h
>>   return $ fmap f m
>> Is it something usual ?
>> Are there any related functions in the standard libraries ?
>> Thanks,
>> Thu
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