strict bits of datatypes

Malcolm Wallace Malcolm.Wallace at
Tue Mar 20 09:53:47 EDT 2007

Ian Lynagh <igloo at> wrote:

>     data Fin a = FinCons a !(Fin a) | FinNil
>     w = let q = FinCons 3 q
>         in case q of
>                FinCons i _ -> i
> is w 3 or _|_?

Knowing that opinions seem to be heavily stacked against my
interpretation, nevertheless I'd like to try one more attempt at

The Haskell Report's definition of `seq` does _not_ imply an order of
evaluation.  Rather, it is a strictness annotation.  (Whether this is
the right thing to do is another cause of dissent, but let's accept the
Report as is for now.)  So `seq` merely gives a hint to the compiler
that the value of its first argument must be established to be
non-bottom, by the time that its second argument is examined by the
calling context.  The compiler is free to implement that guarantee in
any way it pleases.

So just as, in the expression
    x `seq` x
one can immediately see that, if the second x is demanded, then the
first one is also demanded, thus the `seq` can be elided - it is
semantically identical to simply

Now, in the definition
    x = x `seq` foo
one can also make the argument that, if the value of x (on the lhs of
the defn) is demanded, then of course the x on the rhs of the defn is
also demanded.  There is no need for the `seq` here either.
Semantically, the definition is equivalent to
    x = foo
I am arguing that, as a general rule, eliding the `seq` in such a case
is an entirely valid and correct transformation.

The objection to this point of view is that if you have a definition
    x = x `seq` foo
then, operationally, you have a loop, because to evaluate x, one must
first evaluate x before evaluating foo.  But as I said at the beginning,
`seq` does _not_ imply order of evaluation, so the objection is not


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