lambda-match vs PMC

Claus Reinke claus.reinke at
Tue Nov 7 20:28:49 EST 2006

Hi Wolfram,

> > - matchings are not first-class expressions in PMC
> The most important aim of the original PMC was to be a confluent rewriting 
> system that emulates Haskell pattern matching
> ..
> So I needed only those operations on matchings that are ``somehow implicit'' 
> in Haskell pattern matching, and I did not need matching variables etc.

understood. sorry if my message suggested that our aims were the same!-)
and as your earlier message indicated, one could nevertheless use 
PMC-inspired constructs to replace Haskell pattern matching with
something more modular.

btw, while my proposal ticket does link to your email, it doesn't make your
alternative proposal explicit - would you mind elaborating your proposal into 
a separate Haskell' ticket, so that  Haskellers and committee could compare 
the two alternative proposals and their pros & cons (I have been told that 
my current ticket is already rather long, so it will be better to have two 
separate, but cross-linked proposal tickets)?

> > in spite of the monadic semantics, there are no monads in the type system,
> Just like in ML.
> In fact, just like in pure expression Haskell, which,
> from the point of view taken in the MPC2006 paper,
> still relies on a lifting monad to add undefined to constructed types.

unlike ML, pure expression Haskell only provides an implicit identity monad,
where fail raises an exception, so you might want to be explicit about both
the expression and the matching monad. which would mean to have these
monads reflected in the types.

> > A "running commentary" in computational lambda-calculus,
> The main problem I see with that
> is that the computational lambda-calculus only sugars away ONE monad,
> while, in the MPC paper, we are dealing with TWO monads.

interesting, I hadn't thought about that at all - so we Haskellers routinely
use several instances of computational lambda-calculus in our code, and
while each of those instances could be explained through one such calculus,
one calculus (at least in original form) wouldn't be sufficient to cover current 

> In the lambda-match proposal there is the remark:
> > 
> > -- we use Maybe as the default matching monad, but [] can be fun, too..

the code carefully leaves open which matching monad to choose, but provides 
some help for common default choices, such as Maybe, Either String, and [].
I'm tempted to make (Either String) the default, as it makes it easy to preserve
error messages (although I should use a newtype, to avoid instance conflicts).
> In PMC (see the MPC paper)
> you can change not only the matching monad,
> but also the expression monad, for example:
> * the lifting monad in standard Haskell
> * a Maybe monad in the ``matching failure as exceptions'' view
>    of the pattern guards paper [Erwig-PeytonJones-2001],
> *  a list monad in functional-logic programming.

we can still do most of that, we just have to be explicit about both monads.
as one example, the function "ok", used to define match-failure in do-notation,
merges the match monad and the monad of the do-block. another example
is "nest", which merges two nested match-monads. using lists of successes
should also work, although we don't have logic variables (not unless we
use non-standard data structures that allow for them). propagating match
failure through exceptions probably suffers from similar problems (need
to use monadic rather than pure code).

> To me, it looks like the main difference between the lambda-match library
> and Tullsen's pattern matching combinators [PADL 2000] is that the 
> lambda-match library also includes the same ``pointwise lifting'' of the 
> monadic operations into function types that we use in the MPC paper.

that is strange - if you re-read that paper (I did after your email), I think
you'll find very little actual overlap with the lambda-match proposal. of 
course, both start from the same idea, namely to replace pattern matching 
with "monadic data parsing", but most of the details are rather different. 

one might also say that Tullsen's work is more ambitious, in making not 
only match failure and fall-through explicit in a MonadPlus, but also 
matching itself (through various pattern combinators and syntactic sugar).
this is the main reason I did not mention his paper as related work in
the proposal - it would only confuse the issues. of course, I have been
working on my own versions of first class patterns, based on the 
lambda-match proposal, and -so far- no further syntax extensions, but
that isn't part of the lambda-match proposal.

so, lambda-match is a smaller step, both syntactically and semantically,
and has been specifically targetted to be suited for Haskell'. it also aims 
to lay the groundwork for refactoring Haskell pattern matching into 
something simpler, more compositional, and more expressive (first-class 
patterns tend to include pattern abstractions and views), after Haskell'.

Henrik has pointed out to me that I should make these aims and 
expected advantages more explicit in my proposal ticket, which I'll
try when I next update it (I'm recompiling ghc and libraries to check
whether I've missed any syntax conflicts, updates after that..).

> Since PMC handles this as a language extension,
> it only concerns the semantics, not the type system.

(this referred to the lifting of lambda-matches to multiple parameters)

I could be wrong, but when you elaborate your own proposal, I think 
you'll find that both n-ary patterns and the choice of monads will need
to be reflected in the type system, as most other properties of interest
in Haskell.

once we start to distinguish nested match monads, "curried" matches 
are no longer as easy to use as n-ary matches, so while you may say
that this is merely a convenience, I think it is of practical importance.

and I've tried to be careful not to use disputed features such as
overlapping instances, etc., which led to the pedestrian approach of
wrapping matches in Match constructors. this is nothing but a tag
to serve as a base-case for any type-level recursions over the
parameters of n-ary matches, which therefore are straightforward.

> Since the lambda-match proposal does it as a library, it has to 
> be done inside the language, leading to the type-class artistry 
> involving declarations like the following:

hmm. speaking for myself, I wouldn't be interested in Haskell's
design if I didn't want to use it. and if I want to use Haskell, it
would seem odd to handle parts of my proposal as language 
extensions unless Haskell is not expressive enough to handle
those parts as libraries.

I don't claim that it was straightforward to come up with the
type classes (separating Lift and MonadPlus, separating Ex
from Lift, and the details of Nest, all took some work), but
apart from Nest, the results are not difficult to read or use,
and even nest does seem to pose few problems in use.

in fact, I put a lot of work into trying to achieve the latter,
by reducing the potential for ambiguities (hence the functional
dependencies that make Ex look more complicated), and
by keeping to the common subset of Hugs/GHC. 

there are a few cases where things could be easier, eg,
kind annotations (scheduled for Haskell', I think) in 
MatchMonad, or type patterns in class declarations (which
would permit me to make the purpose of Ex more obvious
-as it is from the type of ex- while still being able to express 
the functional dependencies).

As for all embedded DSLs, I would like to be able to add 
syntax transformations without changing the Haskell 
implementation, and I would like to add error message 
postprocessing the same way (so that I could define DSL-
specific syntax and error messages as part of a library), 
but I have to make do with what Haskell provides..

> > -- extract (with function) from inner match monad
> > -- (extraction is lifted over lambda-match parameters;
> > --  we cannot express all functional dependencies,
> > --  because the inner c could be a function type)
> > class Ex a c da dc | da -> a, dc da -> c, da c -> dc {- , dc a c -> da -} where
> >   ex :: (a -> c) -> da -> dc 
> So probably this is a seemingly innocuous extension to do notation
> with the potential for some quite spectacular type error messages...

we are not talking about an extension to do notation. we are trying 
to expose a language feature that was previously only available 
implicitly, via do notation or case.

yes, the type errors messages can be formidable, but mostly due to
our old enemy, the monomorphism restriction (how an implementation
issue that should at best result in a performance warning was ever 
permitted to enter the language definition, let alone be such an 
annoying obstacle to *programming with functions*, is beyond 
me - I do hope this mistake will finally be corrected in Haskell'!!). 

having said that, I would again point out that I've tried to make the 
library useable, and while I haven't been entirely successful wrt to
ease of use, the type errors do seem to be helpful most of the time
(translating missing constraints into the class members helps), and 
explicit type declarations do not seem to be needed as often as 
one might fear for this kind of type-class programming (ymmv, 
of course, so you'll have to try for yourself, and let me know!-).
> And, from my point of view, all it achieves over my tentative 
> PMC proposal is to avoid the two language extensions of
> alternatives inside lambda abstractions, and argument supply 
> (match ... with ...), at the cost of a different language extension.

as I mentioned, the monads will need to be explicit in Haskell, 
which throws into doubt the idea of not having n-ary matches, as 
well as raising all the problems of how to handle nested monads,
and how to reduce ambiguities while still allowing the monads to 
be chosen as needed. 

keeping alternatives inside lambda abstractions as anything other
than syntactic sugar does not seem to make the main impact of
the suggested change as clear as providing for single alternatives
plus composition: pattern match failure and fall-through have
become programmable, no longer tied to a language construct.

my proposal tries to be a compromise, by providing most (all?)
features of PMC, as well as foundations for monadic data parsing 
in general, using syntactic sugar only where absolutely necessary,
and library support everywhere else. please do pursue your own
proposal through to a prototypical implementation and Haskell'
ticket, though - if you can come up with something that does 
provide the same features as lambda-match, without its difficulties, 
I'd like to know about it!

> (I am also afraid that the ``|'' notation might be dangerous.
> To emphasise its character as a ``monadic lambda'',
> I would rather consider something like ``\>'', to be typeset $\lambda_{>}$.
> )

I chose the '|' because it is already reserved, but cannot be 
used in that position (*), and because it is already associated with
alternatives in data types. the notation needs to be very lightweight,
because several lambda-matches will be normally be used together
with (+++) and parenthesis, to cover alternative cases, and the '|' 
does provide a nice visual aid in connecting these separate cases 
by layout. I'm not completely tied to this syntax, but anything else 
I've tried so far seems unable to provide similar benefits in practice 
(including your \>, which neither aligns well, nor suggests the case
alternatives - even if you meant \>>; and we are concerned more 
with MonadPlus than with Monad here) and might steal another 
operator/keyword (like "proc" for arrows).

note also that this is *not* the "monadic lambda" one might expect,
because it embeds the body of the lambda-match in a return. one
might want to add a lambda-do as well:

    [| '\>' <patterns> 'do' <statements> |] 
    \ <variables> -> do {<patterns> <- return (<variables>)
                                   ; <statements> }

or, using lambda-match to define lambda-do:

    \> <patterns> do <statements> 
    ok $ (| <patterns> -> do <statements>)

but I decided not to make that part of the present proposal.

Thank you for your comments,

(*) actually, when recompiling ghc and libraries from scratch, I
    found one conflict that I hadn't anticipated: if, within the head
    of a list comprehension, one uses a do-block with more than
    one statement, and layout instead of explicit {}, then it is not
    clear whether one sees the last expression in the do-block or
    the first qualifier of the list comprehension.. 

    (don't laugh, that actually occurs, in Data/Array/Base;-). to 
    avoid complications, and because lambda-matches are meant 
    to be passed as parameters to higher-order functions such as 
    splice and (+++) anyway, I've now changed the patch to 
    require parens around all lambda-matches, and from this 
    safe position I'm looking for places where the parens are 
    not needed (the way the grammar is organised does not 
    always make it easy to differentiate these places).

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