Strict tuples

Simon Marlow simonmar at
Mon Mar 20 06:32:19 EST 2006

On 19 March 2006 02:35, Manuel M T Chakravarty wrote:

> Loosely related to Ticket #76 (Bang Patterns) is the question of
> whether we want the language to include strict tuples.  It is related
> to bang patterns, because its sole motivation is to simplify enforcing
> strictness for some computations.  Its about empowering the programmer
> to choose between laziness and strictness where they deem that
> necessary without forcing them to completely re-arrange
> sub-expressions (as seq does).
> So what are strict tupples?  If a lazy pair is defined in pseudo code
> as 
>   data (a, b) = (a, b)
> a strict pair would be defined as
>   data (!a, b!) = ( !a, !b )
> Ie, a strict tuple is enclosed by bang parenthesis (! ... !).  The use
> of the ! on the rhs are just the already standard strict data type
> fields.
> Why strict tuples, but not strict lists and strict Maybe and so on?
> Tuples are the Haskell choice of returning more than one result from a
> function.  So, if I write
>   add x y = x + y
> the caller gets an evaluated result.  However, if I write
>   addmul x y = (x + y, x * y)
> the caller gets a pair of two unevaluated results.  Even with bang
> patterns, I still have to write
>   addmul x y = let !s = x + y; !p = x * y in (s, p)
> to have both results evaluated.  With strict tuples
>   addmul x y = (!x + y, x * y!)
> suffices.
> Of course, the caller could invoke addmul using a bang patterns, as in
>   let ( !s, !p ) = addmul x y
>   in ...
> but that's quite different to statically knowing (from the type) that
> the two results of addmul will already be evaluated.  The latter
> leaves room for more optimisations.
> Syntax issues
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> * In Haskell (,) is the pair constructor.  What should be use for
>   strict tuples?  (!,!) ?
> * With strict tuples (! and !) would become some sort of
>   reserved/special symbol.  That interferes with bang patterns, as
>   (!x, y!) would be tokenized as (! x , y !).  We could use ( ... !)
>   for strict tuples to avoid that conflict, or just requires that the
>   user write ( !x, !y ) when they want a bang pattern.  (Just like you
>   cannot write `Just.x' to mean `Just . x' as the former will always
>   be read as a qualified name and not the application of function
>   composition.

Not to mention overlap with sections:  (!i).  Even with just bang
patterns, we have some interesting parsing problems due to the overlap
with infix '!'.  eg., now 

  arr ! x = indexArray arr x

will probably parse as

  arr (!x) = indexArray arr x

which means that in order to define (!) you have to use the prefix form:
(!) arr x = ...

GHC's implementation of bang pattern parsing has some ugliness to deal
with this.  In the report, we will have to be very careful to make sure
the syntax doesn't have any ambiguities in this area, which will
probably mean adding special cases to the grammar.

My suggestion is to avoid these problems by removing infix '!' from the

I realise this is a code-breaking change, but I consider the special
cases introduced to the syntax by bang patterns to be rather warty.
Also, since I think many of us envisage Haskell moving towards having
more strictness annotations in the future, it makes sense to
consistently use the '!' operator to mean "strict".


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