containers: to be or not to be (strict, in this case)?

Claus Reinke claus.reinke at
Wed Mar 4 17:55:36 EST 2009

[addressing libraries@ as the maintainer of containers]

summary: could we please have equal support for all container
    operations, parameterised by element strictness?

We are now starting to see issues with container strictness almost
as often as we used to see the foldl/foldl' issue (the most recent
example on cafe even used foldl' to accumulate an IntMap,
unfortunately running into the non-strict nature of unionWith).

As with foldl' itself, this is only partially a learning from
experience issue: foldl' wasn't always available, and containers
is rather inconsistent about supporting (element-)strict operations
(Data.Map offers insertWith', Data.IntMap doesn't, neither offers
strict unionWith; Data.Set is completely ambivalent about element
strictness, depending on whether or not comparison is used).

For the case of Maps, a partial workaround is known, namely
to tie the availability of keys to evaluation of values. But this only
works if key and value are supplied from the outside - which is
not the case for the *With* family of functions (the supplied
operation is applied to the old value, from within the Map, and
the new value, from outside - there is no leverage to apply
strictness), nor for map.

Another workaround is to define your own strict insertWith',
then to avoid the non-strict parts of the API:

insertWith' op (k,v) m =
  maybe (IM.insert k v m)
        (\old->((IM.insert k) $! (v `op` old)) m)
        (IM.lookup k m)

Apart from costing an extra lookup, that cannot be the intended
way to use the API.

If possible, I'd like to see both element-strict and element-non-strict
containers supported, with otherwise the same APIs, and without a
separate strict-containers package. The obvious disadvantage of
code duplication (Data.Map has two definitions of insertWith) could
perhaps be avoided, by parameterising the code over element
strictness, as demonstrated here for Data.IntMap.insertWith:

insertWithKey  :: (Key -> a -> a -> a) -> Key -> a -> IntMap a -> IntMap a
insertWithKey = insertWithKeyS ($)

insertWithKey' :: (Key -> a -> a -> a) -> Key -> a -> IntMap a -> IntMap a
insertWithKey' = insertWithKeyS ($!)

type Strictness c a = (a -> c a) -> (a -> c a) -- constructor transformers

insertWithKeyS :: Strictness IntMap a
               -> (Key -> a -> a -> a) -> Key -> a -> IntMap a -> IntMap a
insertWithKeyS ($) f k x t
  = case t of
      Bin p m l r
        | nomatch k p m -> join k (Tip k $ x) p t
        | zero k m      -> Bin p m (insertWithKeyS ($) f k x l) r
        | otherwise     -> Bin p m l (insertWithKeyS ($) f k x r)
      Tip ky y
        | k==ky         -> Tip k $ (f k x y)
        | otherwise     -> join k (Tip k $ x) ky t
      Nil -> Tip k $ x

The idea being to abstract over every application of the container
constructors to the element type, then to supply either strict or non-strict
application. Ultimately, one might prefer a type-constructor-based
abstraction instead, to gain additional performance, but this should
be at least as good as the current situation (perhaps with an INLINE
on the parameterised versions), without the duplication.

Btw, this variant is slightly stricter than Data.Map.insertWith',
applying the strictness not only to the function passed in, but
to all IntMap construction from the element type (seemed more
consistent that way..).


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