why is Data.Set not a Monad?

Dan Doel dan.doel at gmail.com
Sun May 6 16:00:09 EDT 2007

On Sunday 06 May 2007, Frederik Eaton wrote:
> Hello,
> Anyone know why Data.Set is not a Monad? Or Data.Map?
> It seems Data.Map is a Functor, but not Data.Set...
> I am confused. Am I not importing the right modules? Thanks,

These questions all have slightly different answers, I think. Somewhat out of 

1) Data.Map isn't a monad because it isn't one. Consider:

  return :: a -> Map k a

What key will return choose to inject a value into a map? The only option that 
leaps to mind is:

  return a = singleton undefined a

But that's hardly useful.

2) Data.Set is a monad, but you can't convince Haskell's type system of that 
the way things are currently structured. This is because set operations 
require elements to be instances of the Ord typeclass, and the Monad 
typeclass signature doesn't allow for that. In the current typeclass, you 

  return :: a -> m a

While Set requires:

  return :: Ord a => a -> m a -- return = singleton

It is possible to structure things so that Set can be given a Monad instance, 
but it may require some extensions. Here's one such way. Consider the 
following typeclass:

  class Monad m a where
    return :: a -> m a
    (>>=) :: (Monad m b) => m a -> (a -> m b) -> m b

Here, 'm' is the monad type constructor, and 'a' will be the types it works 
on. An instance is needed for each such allowable a. In Set's case, with 
undecidable instances, this is easy:

  instance (Ord a) => Monad' Set a where
    return a = singleton a

The (Ord a) context is provided for return. However, bind is still a problem, 
because the obvious definition:

  m >>= f = fold (union . f) empty m
	:: (Ord b) => Set a -> (a -> Set b) -> Set b

Has an (Ord b) context that we can't provide. One way (not the only one, I'm 
sure) to solve this is to rebuild Set as a GADT, so that the (Ord b) context 
is packaged with the set. This can be simulated by wrapping the existing set 
(suppose the current set is imported qualified):

  data Set a where
    Empty :: Set a
    Wrap :: Ord a => Set a -> Set a

  singleton :: Ord a => a -> Set a
  singleton a = Wrap (Set.singleton a)

  union :: Set a -> Set a -> Set a
  union Empty t = t
  union s Empty = s
  union (Wrap s) (Wrap t) = Wrap (Set.union s t)

  fold :: (a -> b -> b) -> b -> Set a -> b
  fold _ z Empty = z
  fold f z (Wrap s) = Set.fold f z s

Now, since the GADT union doesn't require an Ord context, we can write:

  instance Ord a => Monad Set a where
    return a = singleton a -- The same as before
    s >>= f = fold (union . f) Empty s

So, we're finally at a 'valid' Monad instance for Set, and it only took us 
multi-parameter type classes, undecidable instances, and GADTs. :) Existing 
monads can be declared members of the revised class like so:

  instance Monad [] a where
    return a = [a]
    l >>= f = foldr ((++) . f) [] l

Simply not restricting the parameter 'a' leaves you with the case we currently 

Other approaches have been suggested, I think, but this is one. I'm not sure 
it's an advisable road to take, as it's rather complicated, but it's an 

3) As for Functors, it's easy to define an fmap operation for Map k v. You 
take your function of type (v -> u) and apply it to each element, storing the 
result at the same key. However, consider the type of the obvious fmap 
implementation for Set a:

  fmap f s = fold (insert . f) empty s :: Ord b => (a -> b) -> Set a -> Set b

This requires an (Ord b) context that is absent from the Functor method's 
signature, just as we ran into problems with the signatures in the current 
Monad class. In fact, Set's 'map' function requires Ord contexts for a and b 

The problem here is that you can't use the same tricks as above to provide the 
(Ord b) context for fmap via a GADT (insert still requires a provided 
context). I suppose you could, of course, take *both* a and b as parameters 
to the class, so that you could place constraints on both. The same thing 
would work for Monad above, off the top of my head, and you could avoid the 
GADT. However, I suspect if you start down a road of taking a parameter for 
each distinct type variable in your method signatures, and having to declare 
(whether explicitly or implicitly) n^m instances for a class, rather than 1, 
things are going to get hairy.

Data.Set does provide a 'mapMonotonic' function of type:

  (a -> b) -> Set a -> Set b

which is the right type, but it appears to assume that the function respects 
the ordering, such that:

  a1 `compare` a2 == f a1 `compare` f a2

or something like that. You could, therefore, pass in a function that doesn't 
follow that, and up with a Set that isn't a set. Thus, it's unsuitable for 
use as fmap.

Anyhow, I hope that made some sense at least, and answered some of your 
questions. I'll attach a file that has a slightly more fleshed out 
implementation of the GADT set wrapper, along with a monad instance, in case 
you want to play with it. Some things are renamed a bit compared to the 
above, since, for example, there already is a Monad typeclass.


-- Dan
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