[Haskell-cafe] Type families - how to resolve ambiguities?

Dan Doel dan.doel at gmail.com
Wed Aug 25 17:22:21 EDT 2010

On Wednesday 25 August 2010 5:05:11 pm DavidA wrote:
> Hi,
> The code below defines a type synonym family:
> {-# LANGUAGE MultiParamTypeClasses, TypeFamilies #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances, TypeSynonymInstances #-}
> data Vect k b = V [(b,k)] deriving (Eq,Show)
> data TensorBasis a b = T a b deriving (Eq, Ord, Show)
> type family Tensor k u v :: *
> type instance Tensor k (Vect k a) (Vect k b) = Vect k (TensorBasis a b)
> class Algebra k v where -- "v is a k-algebra"
>     unit :: k -> v
>     mult :: Tensor k v v -> v
> instance Algebra Integer (Vect Integer [Int]) where
>     unit 0 = V []
>     unit x = V [([],x)]
>     mult (V ts) = V [(g++h,x) | (T g h, x) <- ts]
> Naively I think of the type instance declaration as saying that the two
> types are synonyms, so I should be able to use one in a context where the
> other is expected. However, when I try to use the code, I don't seem to be
> able to get the type inferencer to recognise an object as being of both
> "types" at the same time. For example:
> Are type families the right mechanism to express what I'm trying to
> express? If so, what am I doing wrong, and how do I fix it?

The problem with mult is that k is not specified unambiguously. You either 
need v to determine k (which is probably not what you want, at a guess), mult 
to take a dummy argument that determines what k is:

  mult :: k -> Tensor k v v -> v


  mult :: D k -> Tensor k v v -> v  -- D k being some datatype

or, to make Tensor a data family instead of a type family.

If you used functional dependencies, for instance, this would be something 

  class Algebra k v t | k v -> t where
    unit :: k -> v
    mult :: t -> v

and mult is obviously problematic in not mentioning all the necessary 

-- Dan

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