References are data accessors that can read, write or update the accessed infromation through their context. They are first-class values, can be passed in functions, transformed, combined. References generalize lenses, folds and traversals for haskell (see:

References are more general than field selectors in traditional languages.

  • References are first-class values. If there is a struct in C, for example, with an int field fl, then fl can only be used as part of an expression. One can not generalize a function to take a field selector and transform the selected data or use it in other ways.
  • They can have different meanings, while field accessors can only represent data-level containment. They can express uncertain containment (like field selectors of C unions), different viewpoints of the same data, and other concepts.

References are more potent than lenses, folds and traversals:

  • References can cooperate with monads, for example IO. This opens many new applications.
  • References can be added using the &+& operator, to create new lenses more easily.

Basic idea taken from the currently not maintained package

An example use of the references (a logger application that spawns new threads to update a global log):

logger =
  (forever $ do
     log <- logChan ^? chan&logRecord    -- Extract the log record from the received log message
     thrId <- forkIO (do time <- getTime
                         ioref&lastLogTime != time $ logDB     -- Update the last logging time mutable log database
                         let logMsg = senderThread .- show     -- Transform the thread id to a string and
                                        $ loggingTime .= time  -- update the time
                                        $ log                  -- inside the log message
                         ioref&debugInfos !~ addLogEntry log $ logDB  -- update the table of log entries
                         mvar !- (+1) $ count )
     mvar !- (thrId:) $ updaters                               -- Record the spawned thread
    ) `catch` stopUpdaters updaters
  where stopUpdaters updaters ThreadKilled =    
          mvar&traverse !| killThread $ updaters               -- Kill all spawned threads before stopping

There are a number of predefined references for datatypes included in standard libraries.

New references can be created in several ways:

  • From getter, setter and updater, using the reference function.
  • From getter and setter, using one of the simplified functions (lens, simplePartial, partial, …).
  • Using the Data.Traversal instance on a datatype to generate a traversal of each element.
  • Using lenses from Control.Lens package. There are a lot of packages defining lenses, folds and traversals for various data structures, so it is very useful that all of them can simply be converted into a reference.
  • Generating references for newly defined datatypes using the makeReferences Template Haskell function.




  • Exact reference types are now bound by operators.

  • New system of operators

  • Standardized generic and strict reference types (Lens, Partial, …).

  • New predefined references.


  • New, simpler operator interface

  • Instead of using Template Haskell, a new type-level calculation based method is used for generating transitive type instances.