[Haskell-cafe] Unwrapping newtypes

Kevin Jardine kevinjardine at gmail.com
Wed Sep 8 08:01:55 EDT 2010

I have a generic object that I want to wrap in various newtypes to
better facilitate type checking.

For example,

newtype Blog = Blog Obj
newtype Comment = Comment Obj
newtype User = User Obj

Unlike Obj itself, whose internal structure is hidden in a library
module, the newtype wrappings are purely to facilitate type checking.
It is no secret that each is just a wrapper around Obj.

It is obvious how to construct the various wrapper objects. It is not
so obvious how to extract the Obj they contain in a reasonably generic
way however. What I want is a getObj function that works on all of

Of course this could work if someone using the library wrote an
instance for each wrapper object:

instance GetObject Blog where
    getObj (Blog obj) = obj

but this is a pain in the neck to write for each newtype.

I discovered that Foldable defines a handy toList function that
extracts content from generic Foldable structures.

So that I could write:

toObj :: Foldable thing => thing Obj -> Obj
toObj w = head $ toList w

Slightly kludgy but it works.

Even better, recent versions of GHC will allow you to automatically
derive Foldable.


newtype Blog = Blog Obj deriving Foldable

returns a kind error.

What does work is:

newtype BlogF a = Blog a deriving Foldable
type Blog = BlogF Obj

After having spent close to a day on this, I am a bit baffled that
such a seemingly trivial problem seems so hard to do.

I am wondering if I am missing something really, really obvious.

Any suggestions? Or is there perhaps a more Haskelly way to place type
constraints on a more generic type?


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