Is it time to start deprecating FunDeps?

Edward Kmett ekmett at
Wed May 1 05:35:10 CEST 2013

It seems to be my day to be the villain crying out against everything
someone proposes. ;)

I for one would be strongly against a proposal that started actively
deprecating the use of functional dependencies in user code.

There are a number of situations where the sheer amount of code you're
forced to write by the mechanical translation to equalities and type
families is explosive. I have dozens of classes of forms like

class Wrapped s t a b | a -> s, b -> t, a t -> s, b s -> t

that become frankly nigh unusable after translation -- other examples are
much worse. Similarly, in my experience, code written with monads-tf is
almost always about 15% more verbose than code written with the mtl. It
costs me two characters to put a space and an 's' in for MonadState s m,
but I'm usually not talking about the class unless I also reference the
state type in the signature later, and there it saves me several characters
per occurrence. When you have a more complicated functional dependency set
like the above, though the difference isn't just a small constant amount of

It isn't that I use these things out of ignorance. I use them deliberately
when the alternative isn't palatable.

I'm all for internally desugaring everything into the same form internally,
but Haskell as a culture has long embraced surface complexity so long as it
can desugar to something internally reasonable: Consider, let vs. where,
multiple definitions vs. case, layout vs. {}'s, etc.

This is despite their varying surface complexities. Let is an expression
and where being tied to the binding over statements, multiple bindings
permitting you to shuffle backtrack pattern matches and guards across
several arguments, etc.

Even changing out the implementation strategy for FDs in GHC has not been
without pain, as it has resulted in changing the semantics of a number of
corner cases. In fact, one could argue a large part of the stall in there
being any progress in standardizing something in the TF vs FD vs both arena
has been that it is very much a moving target. The document we would write
today bears very little resemblance to the document we'd have written 5
years ago. To standardize something you need to know what it means. If we'd
standardized FDs 5 years ago, we'd be sitting here with an increasingly
irrelevant language standard today or stuck in our tracks, and with very
little practical impact on the community to show for it, and we'd be likely
rewriting the whole document now.

It takes a lot of effort to write up something like either TFs or FDs in
their full generality, and the resulting document if based on just
transcoding the state of GHC documents an implementation, not necessarily
the most reasonable commonly agreeable semantics.

Arguably haskell-prime's role should be to follow far enough behind that
the right decisions can be reached by implementations that blaze ahead of

The only Haskell compiler even with type equalities is GHC at this point.
They aren't a small change to introduce to a compiler. I for one work on a
rather Haskelly compiler for my day job, when I'm not crying gloom and doom
on mailing lists, and have been actively considering how to go about it for
almost two years now without losing the other properties that make that
compiler special. I'd really be a lot more comfortable having seen more
success stories of people converting Haskell compilers over to this kind of
approach before I felt it wise to say that this way that we know works and
which has been productively in use in real code for ten years should be
deprecated in favor of a way that only works with the single compiler.

A large part of the pain of "choosing between" FDs and TFs is that both
have different somewhat overlapping strengths. In the end I don't think we
will wind up choosing between them, we'll just desugar both to a common
core. Hopefully after we have more than one point in the design space to
choose from.

Removing a language feature just because another one can duplicate it with
explosively more verbose code doesn't strike me as a very Haskelly way


On Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 1:31 AM, AntC <anthony_clayden at> wrote:

> Now that the Type Equality coercions extension is stable and has been
> blessed by SPJ as "a functional-dependency-like mechanism (but using
> equalities) for the result type" [in
> herranktypesandtypefunctions],
> no code is compelled to use FunDeps.
> [Note that this is orthogonal to the issue of overlaps. You can use the
> equalities mechanism happily with overlaps, see example below.
>  This is also orthogonal to type functions/families/associated types. You
> can use the equalities mechanism happily without type families.]
> There's plenty of code using FunDeps, so we couldn't just withdraw the
> extension. But we could start deprecating it.
> Better still, given that there is a mechanical way to convert FunDeps to
> equalities, we could start treating the FunDep on a class declaration as
> documentation, and validate that the instances observe the mechanical
> translation.
> Here's an example of the mechanical translation for HDeleteMany, the
> classic awkward example from HList.
> The problem is to delete all occurences of element type e in a HList l.
> Here's the 'non-solution' naieve attempt from the HList paper:
>     class HDeleteMany e l l' | e l -> l'
>     instance HDeleteMany a HNil HNil       -- base case OK
>     instance (HList l, HDeleteMany e l l')
>           => HDeleteMany e (HCons e l) l'  -- element match, so omit
>     instance (HList l, HDeleteMany e l l')
>           => HDeleteMany e (HCons e' l) (HCons e' l')
>                                            -- element not match, so retain
>                                            -- + recurse on the tail
> "The two overlapping instance heads for HCons are in no substitution
> ordering."
> Here's the mechanical translation, which _does_ compile:
>     class HDeleteMany e l l'                -- | e l -> l'
>     instance (HNil ~ l')                    -- force the result
>           => HDeleteMany a HNil l'          -- base case OK
>     instance (HList l, HDeleteMany e l l')
>           => HDeleteMany e (HCons e l) l'   -- same as above
>     instance (HList l, HDeleteMany e l l'', (HCons e' l'') ~ l')
>           => HDeleteMany e (HCons e' l) l'  -- force the result
> The translation rules (applying for the 'target' term of a FunDep) are:
> 1. If the target is a bare typevar not appearing otherwise in the head,
>    we're done OK.
> Otherwise:
> 2. Replace the target with a fresh typevar.
>    (This forces instance match without inspecting the use site.)
> 3. Add a type equality constraint
>    equating the fresh typevar with the as-was target term.
>    (This forces the result type, in the same way as a FunDep target.)
> Possible GSOC project?
> _______________________________________________
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> Haskell-prime at
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