[Haskell-cafe] ambiguous type variable problem when using forall, multiparameter type classes, and constraints on polymorphic values (and syb-with-class)

C. McCann cam at uptoisomorphism.net
Fri May 21 13:55:33 EDT 2010

On Fri, May 21, 2010 at 12:30 PM, Jeremy Shaw <jeremy at n-heptane.com> wrote:
> Adding all the scoped type variable stuff does not seem to help. Alas,
> I can not figure out if this is a limitation of the type-checker, or
> something that is fundamentally impossible. Nor can I figure out how
> to work around the issue.

It's either one, depending on how you look at. To explain:

> The problem I have is when I try to add an additional constraint on 'm',
> such as (Monad m) =>
>> -- bar2 :: forall a m r. (Monad m, Data (Foo m) a, Num r) => a -> r
>> -- bar2 x = sum $ gmapQ (undefined :: Proxy (Foo m)) (bar2 :: forall b.
>> (Monad m, Data (Foo m) b, Num r) => b -> r) x

How might the compiler decide what specific "m" is meant when this
function is called, so that it can make sure that it's always a Monad?
All it has to work with are "a" and "r". The only connection to "m" is
via the Data instance, but the second parameter to Data alone is not
really sufficient to find a specific instance--in fact, there could
well be multiple such instances.

>> bar1 :: forall a m r. (Data (Foo m) a, Num r) => a -> r
>> bar1 x = sum $ gmapQ (undefined :: Proxy (Foo m)) bar1 x

Note that "m" is actually ambiguous here as well, but GHC won't
complain until it needs to care about the specific type. If everything
looks fully polymorphic GHC will just shrug, but by adding a class
constraint to the definition's context, you force the issue.

A classic, minimalist example of this problem--class constraints on
types that don't appear in the function signature--is the function
"show . read". The type is just  String -> String, but the behavior
depends on an unknown intermediate type.

> In my real code I need to define the data instance like:
>> -- instance (Monad m) => Data (Foo m) a
> Which, by itself is fine. But that results in my needing to add (Monad
> m) to the 'bar' function. And that is what I can't figure out how to
> do..

The question you should answer first is: How do you expect the bar
function to know which monad to use--or, if it doesn't matter which
monad it picks, why do you care that it's given a monad at all?

- C.

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