Recover instances for your existential types. https://github.com/k0001/exinst

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BSD3 licensed by Renzo Carbonara
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Exinst is a library providing you with tools to automatically derive instances for type-indexed types whose type-indexes have been existentialized. Currently it only supports using singleton types as type-indexes.

TODO: Support for non-singleton-types types with kind * using Typeable should be possible, but I haven't worked on that yet. It's on the roadmap.

In short, what exinst currently gives you is: For any type t :: k -> *, if k is a singleton type and c (t k) :: Constraint is satisfied, then you can existentialize away the k parameter with Some1 t, and have c (Some1 t) automatically satisfied. Currently, up to 4 type indexes can be existentialized using Some1, Some2, Some3 and Some4 respectively.

NOTE: This tutorial asumes some familiarity with singleton types as implemented by the singleton library. A singleton type is, in very rough terms, a type inhabited by a single term, which allows one to go from its term-level representation to its type-level representation and back without much trouble. A bit like the term (), which is of type (): whenever you have the type () you know what that its term-level representation must be (), and whenever you have the term () you know that its type must be ().


As a motivation, let's consider the following example:

{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds #-}
{-# LANGUAGE KindSignatures #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances #-}
{-# LANGUAGE StandaloneDeriving #-}

data Size = Big | Small

data Receptacle (a :: Size) :: * where
  Vase :: Receptacle 'Small
  Glass :: Receptacle 'Small
  Barrel :: Receptacle 'Big

deriving instance Show (Receptacle a)

Receptacle can describe three types of receptacles (Vase, Glass and Barrel), while at the same time being able to indicate, at the type level, whether the size of the receptacle is Big or Small. Additionally, we've provided Show instances for Receptacle.

Now, if we want to put Receptacles in a container, for example in [], we can do so only as long as the Receptacle type is fully applied and monomorphic. That is, we can have [Receptacle 'Small] and [Receptacle 'Big], but we can't have [Receptacle] nor [forall a. Receptacle a]. So, if we want to have Receptacles of different sizes in a container like [], we need a different solution.

At this point we need to ask ourselves why we need to put Receptacles of different sizes in a same container. If the answer is something like “because we want to show all of them, no matter what size they are”, then we should realize that what we are actually asking for is that no matter what Size our Receptable has, we need to be able to find a Show instance for that Receptacle. In Haskell, we can express just that using existential types and constraints hidden behind a data constructor.

--We need to add these language extensions to the ones in the previous example
--{-# LANGUAGE ExistentialQuantification #-}
--{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleContexts #-}

data ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown
  = forall a. (Show (Receptacle a))
      => MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown (Receptacle a)

We can construct values of type ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown only as long as there exist a Show instance for the Receptacle a we give to the MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown constructor. In our case, both Receptacle 'Small and Receptacle 'Big have Show instances, so all of Vase, Glass and Barrel can be used successfully with MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown.

Now, ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown on itself doesn't yet have a Show instance, and we can't derive one automatically using the deriving mechanism, but we can give an explicit Show instance that just forwards the work to the Show instance of the underlying Receptacle a.

instance Show ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown where
  show (MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown a) = show a

That works as intended:

> show (MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown Vase)
> show (MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown Barrel)

And now, as we wanted, we can put Receptacles of different sizes in a [] and show them (as long as we wrap each of them as ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown, that is).

> map show [MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown Vase, MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown Barrel]
["Vase", "Barrel"]

However, the above solution is unsatisfying for various reasons: For one, the Show instance for ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown works only as long as the ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown itself carries a witness that the Show constraint for Receptacle a is satisfied, which means that if we want to write yet another instance for ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown that simply forwards its implementation to the underlying Receptacle a, say Eq, then the MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown constructor would need to be modified to witness the Eq (Receptacle a) instance too:

data ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown
  = forall a. (Show (Receptacle a), Eq (Receptacle a))
      => MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown (Receptacle a)

With that in place we can provide an Eq instance for ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown as we did for Show before, but if we pay close attention, we can see how the implementation of ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown starts to become a bottleneck: Every instance we want to provide for ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown that simply forwards its work to the underlying Receptacle a needs to be witnessed by MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown itself, it is not enough that there exists an instance for Receptacle a. Moreover, even the name ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown that we chose before isn't completely accurate anymore, and will become less and less accurate as we continue adding constraints to MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown.

Additionally, everywhere we use the MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown constructor we need to witness that the existentialized Receptacle a satisfies all the required constraints, which means that, if the Receptacle a we pass to MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown is being received, say, as a parameter to a function, then the type of that function will also require that its caller satisfies all of the same constraints, even though it is obvious to us, statically, that the instances exist. We can now see how all of this becomes unmanegeable, or at least very boilerplatey, as those constraints start to propagate through our code base.

What we need is a way for instances such as the Show instance for ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown to find the Show instance for Receptacle a without it being explicitely witnessed by the MkReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown constructor. That is exactly the problem that exinst solves: allowing existentials to find their instances.


Given the code for Size, Receptacle and its Show instances above, we can achieve the same functionality as our initial ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown by existentializing the type indexes of Receptacle 'Small and Receptacle 'Big as Some1 Receptacle. In order to do that, we must first ensure that Size and its constructors can be used as singleton types (as supported by the singletons library), for which we can use some TH provided by Data.Singletons.TH:

import Data.Singletons.TH

Data.Singletons.TH.genSingletons [''Size]

And we'll also need a Show instance for Size for reasons that will become apparent later:

deriving instance Show Size

Now we can construct a Show1 Size and show achieving the same results as we did with ReceptacleOfAnySizeThatCanBeShown before.

Note: this code won't work yet. Keep reading.

> import Exinst (some1)
> import Exinst.Instances.Base ()
> :t some1 Glass
:t some1 Glass :: Some1 Receptacle
> show (some1 Glass)
"Some1 Small Glass"

Well, actually, the default Show instance for Some1 shows a bit more of information, as it permits this string to be Read back into a Some1 Receptacle if needed, but displaying just "Glass" would be possible too, if desired.

TODO: Implement said Read instance.

The important thing to notice in the example above is that some1 does not require us to satisfy a Show (Receptacle 'Small) constraint, it just requires that the type index for the type-indexed type we give it as argument is a singleton type:

some1 :: forall (f1 :: k1 -> *) (a1 :: k1). SingI a1 => f1 a1 -> Some1 f1

It is the application of show to some1 Glass which will fail to compile if there isn't a Show instance for Receptacle 'Small, complaining that a Show instance for Some1 Receptable can't be found. The reason for this is that even if Show instances for Some1 are derived for free, they are only derived for Some1 (t :: k1 -> *) where a Show (t a) for a specific but statically unknown a can be found at runtime (mostly, there are other minor requirements too). The mechanism through which instances are found at runtime relies on Dict from the constraints library, which exinst wraps in a Dict1 typeclass to be instantiated once per singleton type.

-- The Exinst.Dict1 class
class Dict1 (c :: * -> Constraint) (f1 :: k1 -> *) where
  dict1 :: Sing (a1 :: k1) -> Dict (c (f1 a1))

What Dict1 says is that: for a type-indexed type f1, given a term-level representation of the singleton type that indexes said f1, we can obtain a witness that the constraint c is satisfied by f1 applied to the singleton type.

That class seems to be a bit too abstract, but the instances we as users need to write for it are quite silly and straightforward. Even boilerplatey if you will; they could even be generated using TH

TODO: Write the TH for deriving the Dict{1,2,3,4} implementation.

Here's an example of how to provide Show support for Some1 Receptacle via Dict1:

instance (Show (Receptacle 'Small), Show (Receptacle 'Big)) => Dict1 Show Receptacle where
  dict1 = \x -> case x of
    SSmall -> Dict
    SBig -> Dict

The implementation of dict1 looks quite silly, but it has to look like that as it is only by pattern-matching on each of the Sing Size constructors that we learn about the type level representation of a singleton type, which we then use to select the proper Show instance among all of those listed in the instance head.

Given this Dict1 instance, we can proceed to excecute the REPL example mentioned before and it will work just fine.

However, that Dict1 instance is still a bit insatisfactory: If we wanted, again, to provide Eq support for our Some1 Receptacle type, we would need to write yet another Dict1 instance like the one above, but mentioning Eq instead of Show. We can do better.

The trick, when writing Dict1 instances such as the one above, is to leave c and f1 :: k1 -> * completely polymorphic, and instead only talk concretely about the singleton type with kind k1. This might sound strange at first, as c and f1 are the only two type parameters to Dict1. But as it often happens when working with singleton types, we are not particularly interested in the types involved, but in their kinds instead. So, this is the Dict1 instance you often want to write:

instance (c (f1 'Small), c (f1 'Big)) => Dict1 c f1 where
  dict1 = \x -> case x of
    SSmall -> Dict
    SBig -> Dict

That instance says that for any choice of c and f1 :: Size -> *, if an instance for c (f1 a) exists for a specific choice of a, then, given a term level representation for that a and the aid of dict1, said instance can be looked up at runtime.

Notice that Some1 itself doesn't have any requirements about Dict1, it's the various instances for Some1 who rely on Dict1. Dict1 has nothing to do with Some1, nor with the choice of f nor with the choice of c; it is only related to the singleton type used as a type-index for f.

The Exinst module exports ready-made instances for Some1, Some2, Some3 and Some4 (they can be enabled with some cabal flags).

  • Eq, Ord, Show from the base package.

  • FromJSON and ToJSON from the aeson package.

  • Serial from the bytes package.

  • Hashable from the hashable package.

  • NFData from the deepseq package.

  • Arbitrary from the QuickCheck package.

You are invited to read the instance heads for said instances so as to understand what you need to provide in order to get those instances “for free”. As a rule of thumb, most instances will require this: If you expect to have an instance for class Y => Z a satisfied for Some1 (f :: k -> *), then make sure an instance for Z is available for the DemoteRep ('KProxy :: KProxy k), that a Dict1 Z (f :: k -> *) or more general instance exists, and that the Y instance for Some1 (f :: k -> *) exists too.

Here is the full code needed to have, say, the Eq, Show, ToJSON and FromJSON instances available for Some1 Receptacle:

{-# LANGUAGE ConstraintKinds #-}
{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances #-}
{-# LANGUAGE KindSignatures #-}
{-# LANGUAGE MultiParamTypeClasses #-}
{-# LANGUAGE OverloadedStrings #-}
{-# LANGUAGE StandaloneDeriving #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TemplateHaskell #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeFamilies #-}
{-# LANGUAGE UndecidableInstances #-}

import qualified Data.Aeson as Ae
import           Data.Constraint (Dict(Dict))
import qualified Data.Singletons.TH
import           Exinst (Dict1(dict1))


data Size = Big | Small
  deriving (Eq, Show)

Data.Singletons.TH.genSingletons [''Size]
Data.Singletons.TH.singDecideInstances [''Size]

instance Ae.ToJSON Size where
  toJSON = \x -> case x of
    Small -> Ae.toJSON ("Small" :: String)
    Big -> Ae.toJSON ("Big" :: String)

instance Ae.FromJSON Size where
  parseJSON = Ae.withText "Size" $ \t -> case t of
     "Big" -> return Big
     "Small" -> return Small
     _ -> fail "Unknown"

instance (c (f 'Big), c (f 'Small)) => Dict1 c f where
  dict1 = \x -> case x of
    SBig -> Dict
    SSmall -> Dict


data Receptacle (a :: Size) :: * where
  Vase :: Receptacle 'Small
  Glass :: Receptacle 'Small
  Barrel :: Receptacle 'Big

deriving instance Eq (Receptacle a)
deriving instance Show (Receptacle a)

instance Ae.ToJSON (Receptacle a) where
  toJSON = \x -> case x of
    Vase -> Ae.toJSON ("Vase" :: String)
    Glass -> Ae.toJSON ("Glass" :: String)
    Barrel -> Ae.toJSON ("Barrel" :: String)

instance Ae.FromJSON (Receptacle 'Small) where
  parseJSON = Ae.withText "Receptacle 'Small" $ \t -> case t of
     "Vase" -> return Vase
     "Glass" -> return Glass
     _ -> fail "Unknown"

instance Ae.FromJSON (Receptacle 'Big) where
  parseJSON = Ae.withText "Receptacle 'Big" $ \t -> case t of
     "Barrel" -> return Barrel
     _ -> fail "Unknown"

Now, provided that we import Exinst.Instances.Base and Exinst.Instances.Aeson, Some1 Receptacle will have Eq, Show, FromJSON and FromJSON instances:

> import Exinst.Instances.Base ()
> import Exinst.Instances.Aeson ()

> -- Trying `fromSome1`.
> fromSome1 (some1 Vase) == Just Vase
> fromSome1 (some1 Vase) == Just Glass
> fromSome1 (some1 Vase) == Just Barrel

> -- Trying `withSome1`
> withSome1 (some1 Vase) show
> withSome1 (some1 Vase) (== Vase)    -- This will fail, use `fromSome1`
                                      -- if you know you are expecting
                                      -- a `Receptacle 'Small`

> -- Trying the `Eq` instance.
> some1 Vase == some1 Vase
> some1 Vase == some1 Glass
> some1 Vase == some1 Barrel

> -- Trying the `Show` instance.
> show (some1 Vase)
"Some1 Small Vase"
> map show [some1 Vase, some1 Glass, some1 Barrel]
["Some1 Small Vase","Some1 Small Glass","Some1 Big Barrel"]

> -- Trying the `ToJSON` and `FromJSON` instances.
> Ae.encode (some1 Vase)
"[\"Small\",\"Vase\"]"  -- Just like in Show, the ToJSON adds some information
                        -- about the Size type-index. That's why we require
                        -- Size to provide a ToJSON instance too.
> Ae.decode (Ae.encode (some1 Vase)) == Just (some1 Vase)
> Ae.decode (Ae.encode (some1 Vase)) == Just (some1 Glass)

About Some2, Some3 and Some4.

Just like Some1 hides the last singleton type index from fully applied type-indexed type, Some2 hides the last two type indexes, Some3 hides the last three, and Some3 hides the last four. They can be used in the same way as Some1.

Like as most instances for Some1 require Dict1 instances to be present for their singleton type-index, most instances for Some2, Some3 and Some4 will require that Dict2, Dict3 or Dict4 instances exist, respectively. Writing these instances is very straightforward. Supposing you have a type X :: T4 -> T3 -> T2 -> T1 -> * and want to existentialize all of the four type indexes yet be able to continue using all of its instances, we can write something like this:

instance (c (f1 'T1a), c (f1 'T1b)) => Dict1 c (f1 :: T1 -> *) where
  dict1 = \x -> case x of { ST1a -> Dict; ST1b -> Dict }
instance (Dict1 c (f2 'T2a), Dict1 c (f2 'T2b)) => Dict2 c (f2 :: T2 -> k1 -> *) where
  dict2 = \x -> case x of { ST2a -> dict1; ST2b -> dict1 }
instance (Dict2 c (f3 'T3a), Dict2 c (f3 'T3b)) => Dict3 c (f3 :: T3 -> k2 -> k1 -> *) where
  dict3 = \x -> case x of { ST3a -> dict2; ST3b -> dict2 }
instance (Dict3 c (f4 'T4a), Dict3 c (f4 'T4b)) => Dict4 c (f4 :: T4 -> k3 -> k2 -> k1 -> *) where
  dict4 = \x -> case x of { ST4a -> dict3; ST4b -> dict3 }

That is, assuming the following T1, T2, T3 and T4:

data T4 = T4a | T4b
data T3 = T3a | T3b
data T2 = T2a | T2b
data T1 = T1a | T1b

Effectively, we wrote just one instance per singleton type per type-index position, each of them promoting a term-level representation of a singleton type to its type-level representation and forwarding the rest of the work to a “smaller” dict. That is, dict4 reifies the type of the fourth-to-last type-index of X and then calls dict3 to do the same for the third-to-last type-index of X and so on. Notice, however, how we didn't need to mention X in none of the instances above: As we said before, these instances are intended to work for any choice of c, f4, f3, f2 and f1.

TODO: See if instead of having Some1, Some2, Some3, Some4, and their respective Dict1, Dict2, Dict3 and Dict4, etc., we can have a single SomeN and a single DictN working out the number of parameters using type-level natural numbers.

Converting Some1 (f :: k -> *) to f (a :: k).

If you have a Some1 (f :: k -> *) and you know, statically, that you need an specific f (a :: k), then you can use fromSome1 which will give you an f (a :: k) only if a was the type that was existentialized by Some1. Using fromSome1 requires that the singleton type-index implements Data.Singletons.Decide.SDecide, which can be derived mechanically with TH by means of Data.Singletons.TH.singInstance.

If you don't know, statically, the type of f (a :: k), then you can use withSome1Sing or withSome1 to work with f (a :: k) as long as a never leaves their scope (don't worry, the compiler will yell at you if you try to do that).

Library implementors: Writing instances for Some1 and friends.

Instances for Some1 seem to come out of thin air, but the truth is that they need to be written at least once by library authors so that, provided all its requirements are satisfied, they are made available.

When we imported Exinst.Instances.Base before, we brought to scope, among other things, the Show instance for Some1, which is defined as this:

-- Internal wrapper so that we don't have to write the string manipulation parts
-- in the 'Show' instance by hand.
data Some1'Show r1 x = Some1 r1 x deriving (Show)

instance forall (f1 :: k1 -> *)
  . ( SingKind ('KProxy :: KProxy k1)
    , Show (DemoteRep ('KProxy :: KProxy k1))
    , Dict1 Show f1
    ) => Show (Some1 f1)
    showsPrec n = \some1 -> withSome1Sing some1 $ \sa1 (x :: f1 a1) ->
       case dict1 sa1 :: Dict (Show (f1 a1)) of
          Dict -> showsPrec n (Some1 (fromSing sa1) x)

This code should be relatively straightforward if you are familiar with uses of the singletons and constraints libraries. We are simply reifying singleton types from their term-level representation to their type-level representation, and afterwards using the Dict1 mechanism to lookup the required instances during runtime. Additionaly, this instance requires that the term level representation of the singleton type implements Show too, as, like we saw in a previous example, the type index itself is shown in this Show implementation, in the hope that it can be later recovered and reified to the type level when using Read.



  • Removed dependency on generic-random.

  • Correctly deal with cabal flags for deepseq and hashable.

  • Add binary's Data.Binary.Binary and cereal's Data.Serialize.Serialize instances for Some{1,2,3,4}. These instances are compatible with each other and rely on the Data.Bytes.Serial instances.

Version 0.3

  • BREAKING: Renamed module Exinst.Singletons to Exinst.

  • BREAKING: The Exinst.Instances.Base module is gone. The base instances are now exported from Exinst.

  • Add Dict0.

  • Re-export Constraint from base.

  • Add Dict{0,2,3,4} instances for Bool.

  • Add GHC.Generics.Generic support for Some{1,2,3,4}. This only works for indexes with PEnum and PBounded instances.

  • Added tests.

  • Added Test.QuickCheck.Arbitrary instances for Some{1,2,3,4} in Exinst.Instances.QuickCheck. These instances and their dependency on QuickCheck can be toggled with the quickcheck Cabal flag.

  • Added Data.Aeson.{FromJSON,ToJSON} instances for Some{1,2,3,4} in Exinst.Instances.Aeson. These instances and their dependency on aeson can be toggled with the aeson Cabal flag. These instances used to exist in now-deprecated the exinst-aeson package, and are compatible with them.

  • Added Bytes.Serial.Serial instances for Some{1,2,3,4} in Exinst.Instances.Bytes. These instances and their dependency on bytes can be toggled with the bytes Cabal flag. These instances used to exist in now-deprecated the exinst-bytes package, and are compatible with them.

  • Added Control.DeepSeq.NFData instances for Some{1,2,3,4} in Exinst.Instances.DeepSeq. These instances and their dependency on deepseq can be toggled with the deepseq Cabal flag. These instances used to exist in now-deprecated the exinst-deepseq package, and are compatible with them.

  • Added Data.Hashable.Hashable instances for Some{1,2,3,4} in Exinst.Instances.DeepSeq. These instances and their dependency on hashable can be toggled with the hashable Cabal flag. These instances used to exist in now-deprecated the exinst-hashable package, and are compatible with them.

Version 0.2

  • Depend on singletons-2.2, which means KProxy is gone.

  • Add _Some{1,2,3,4} prisms.

  • Add Dict1 instance for Bool.

  • Add some{1,2,3,4}SingRep.

  • Thanks to Sandy Maguire for having contributed to this release.

Version 0.1.2

  • Export the Some{1,2,3,4} constructors.

  • Make all the fields in Some{1,2,3,4} strict.

  • Relax upper bound on base, singletons, constraints.

  • Re-export Dict(Dict) from constraints.

Version 0.1.1

  • Relax upper bound on singletons dependency.

  • withSome{1,2,3,4}Sing brings SingI instances to scope.

  • Generalized the (* -> Constraint) parameter in Dict{1,2,3,4} to (k -> Constraint).

Version 0.1

  • Initial release.
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