(Note: this blog post has code accessible on this GitHub repository. You can follow along there if you’d like.)
Haskell doesn’t really have a callstack. The evaluation strategy is more like a graph reduction. If you don’t understand that, that’s okay – I don’t either! All I know about it is that it makes questions like “what’s the stack trace for this error?” surprisingly difficult to answer.
While Haskell’s debugging story tends to be rather nice (break up code into small, composable, reusable functions; take advantage of types to make errors unrepresentable where practical; write unit and property tests for the rest), it’s also great to know where errors actually come from.
Coding practices like “don’t ever use partial functions like
head :: [a] -> a” and “prefer
NonEmpty a to
[a] where possible” help a lot.
However, you may find yourself stuck staring at
recv: resource vanished
or similar, and that frankly sucks.
GHC has a callstack simulation mechanism. The interface is a nullary type class, and you can include a callstack with your program by adding it:
headNoCallStack :: [a] -> a headNoCallStack (x:xs) = x headNoCallStack  = error "nope" headWithCallstack :: HasCallStack => [a] -> a headWithCallstack (x:xs) = x headWithCallstack  = error "nope"
Let’s compare the behavior of these various functions.
head from the Prelude gives us this:
λ> head  *** Exception: Prelude.head: empty list
Well, that’s useless. No information about where it was even called!
headNoCallStack gives slightly better results:
λ> headNoCallStack  *** Exception: nope CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:7:22 in main:Lib
We get a callstack!
error was modified recently to carry a
CallStack parameter, though that information is a little hidden:
λ> :t error error :: [Char] -> a λ> :i error error :: forall (r :: ghc-prim-0.5.0.0:GHC.Types.RuntimeRep) (a :: TYPE r). HasCallStack => [Char] -> a -- Defined in ‘GHC.Err’
:info output shows that
error is polymorphic in the runtime representation (eg: the phantom type
a can be an unlifted type like
Int# or a lifted type like
:type omits the
HasCallStack constraint for some reason.
headWithCallstack throws that error, you’ll get more extra information:
λ> headWithCallStack  *** Exception: nope CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:11:24 in main:Lib headWithCallStack, called at <interactive>:6:1 in interactive:Ghci1
This constructs a
headWithCallStack down to the
How does this interact with more complex programs? Let’s write something with a bit of nesting:
maximumCS :: (HasCallStack, Ord a) => [a] -> a maximumCS = foldr1CS max foldr1CS :: HasCallStack => (a -> a -> a) -> [a] -> a foldr1CS _ [x] = x foldr1CS k (x:xs) = k x (foldr1CS k xs) foldr1CS _  = error "foldr1 empty list" someProgram :: HasCallStack => [[Int]] -> Int someProgram = headWithCallStack . maximumCS
Nothing terribly complicated, but we’re propagating that callstack all the way down. Let’s see what happens when it blows up:
λ> someProgram  *** Exception: foldr1 empty list CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:19:17 in main:Lib foldr1CS, called at src/Lib.hs:14:13 in main:Lib maximumCS, called at src/Lib.hs:22:35 in main:Lib someProgram, called at <interactive>:36:1 in interactive:Ghci1 λ> someProgram [] *** Exception: nope CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:11:24 in main:Lib headWithCallStack, called at src/Lib.hs:22:15 in main:Lib someProgram, called at <interactive>:37:1 in interactive:Ghci1
Nice! We get a complete stack trace of everything that went wrong.
When we pass it the empty list, then we can see that
error was called by
foldr1CS, which was called by
maximumCS, and finally
someProgram was the main offender.
[], we can see that
headWithCallstack is the one that threw the exception. Nice!
Let’s see how this works if we omit something at some point.
foo :: HasCallStack => Maybe a -> a foo (Just a) = a foo Nothing = error "foo is unpleased" bar :: Maybe a -> a bar = foo baz :: HasCallStack => Maybe a -> a baz = bar
These are all just
fromJust in disguise.
baz delegates to
bar delegates to
Let’s observe the stack traces we get when we call
λ> foo Nothing *** Exception: foo is unpleased CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:28:15 in main:Lib foo, called at <interactive>:44:1 in interactive:Ghci1 λ> bar Nothing *** Exception: foo is unpleased CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:28:15 in main:Lib foo, called at src/Lib.hs:31:7 in main:Lib λ> baz Nothing *** Exception: foo is unpleased CallStack (from HasCallStack): error, called at src/Lib.hs:28:15 in main:Lib foo, called at src/Lib.hs:31:7 in main:Lib
Our callstack appears to be cut off!
We only get to see what happens with
foo local stack.
bar does not have the
HasCallStack constraint, it doesn’t propagate any more information when the error is bubbled up.
If any function in the chain does not have
HasCallStack in the signature, then nothing above that will be represented in the stack trace.
This is a pretty big limitation.
HasCallStack is implemented as an implicit parameter in current versions of GHC.
This is an extra parameter that gets passed around and handled in your program, which will affect performance.
Implicit parameters can potentially interact with sharing in weird ways, which might also cause strange performance issues.
HasCallStack is not pervasive in many libraries, so you’re unlikely to actually have a
CallStack present in the functions you pass to library or framework code.
This makes them less useful.
Lastly, the GHC Exceptions machinery doesn’t have any notion of a callstack, and any proper exceptions that you throw or catch will not have a callstack: only