# Designing New

I want a better way of constructing Haskell records.

Let’s compare and contrast the existing ways. We’ll be using this datatype as an example:

data Env = Env
{ accountId :: String
, requestHook :: Request -> IO Request
, responseHook :: Response -> IO Response
}


This type is an Env that you might see in a ReaderT Env IO integration with some external service. We can attach request hooks and response hooks.

# Function Arguments

The simplest and most boring way is to pass function arguments.

env :: Env
env = Env "asdfadf" "hunter42" pure pure


This is undesirable for a few reasons:

1. We have no idea what those parameters mean without looking at the datatype definition.
2. We have to pass arguments in a specific order.
3. If the type of the Env changes, then this also changes.
4. … but we don’t get a break if the field order is changed in a way that respects the types!

Consider swapping the order of accountId and accountPassword in our data definition. Now everything breaks mysteriously with no type errors.

Using the function-style for constructing records is probably a bad idea.

# Record Labels

The second most boring way is to use record construction syntax:

env :: Env
env = Env
{ accountId = "asdfasdf"
, requestHook = pure
, responseHook = pure
}


This solves basically all the problems with function arguments. However, we’re still sensitive to changes in the record constructor. If we add a new field, we must account for that in all creation sites. This is annoying, especially since many new fields in records like this are designed to accommodate new functionality or customization, and most existing users want to just ignore them.

# A Default Record

Instead of constructing a record, we’ll have end users modify an existing record.

defaultEnv :: Env
defaultEnv = Env
{ accountId = ""
, requestHook = pure
, responseHook = pure
}

env :: Env
env = defaultEnv
{ accountId = "asdfasdf"
}


However, this is gross, for a few reasons. The first is that we provide a dummy value of accountId and accountPassword, and the end user is required to fill them in. There’s actually no way for us to give a warning or error if they fail to provide it.

The standard solution is to accept function arguments, but this has a nasty problem: record syntax binds tighter than anything else, even function application, so we need to do this:

defaultEnv :: String -> String -> Env
defaultEnv a p = Env a p pure pure -- brevity, forgive me

env :: Env
env = (defaultEnv "asdfasdf" "hunter42")
{ requestHook = \req -> do
logRequest req
pure req
}


That’s right - we gotta put parens around our constructor. We can’t use $ here, either, because the syntax explicitly requires a value { field0 = val0, ... fieldN = valN } form. Also now we’re back at the same problem with defaultEnv - we can mismatch our function arguments. # An Args Record The pattern I chose for SqlBackend in persistent is to have an *Args record. {-# language DuplicateRecordFields #-} {-# language RecordWildCards #-} data EnvArgs = EnvArgs { accountId :: String , accountPassword :: String } mkEnv :: EnvArgs -> Env mkEnv EnvArgs {..} = Env { requestHook = pure , responseHook = pure , .. } env :: Env env = mkEnv EnvArgs { accountId = "asdfasdf" , accountPassword = "hunter42" }  This solves all of the above problems, but it’s a bit unsatisfying - we can’t also modify the requestHook and responseHook parameters directly in mkEnv, we have to do it outside. fullEnv :: Env fullEnv = (mkEnv EnvArgs {..}) { requestHook = \req -> do log req pure req }  Hmm, slightly annoying syntax, again. But, hey, whatever, it works. # Codependent Records No, I’m not talking about some fancy type theory. Record syntax is essentially codependent on the value it is modifying, or the constructor it is using. We can’t pass in a ‘record’ of stuff and use it in ways that are clever or useful. Let’s talk about the “whitespace operator.” We can imagine defining it like this, for regular functions: ( ) :: (a -> b) -> a -> b f a = f a  OK, it’s special built in syntax, the definition doesn’t make any sense. But let’s try and write it for records now. Remember we need to support update and creation. ( ) :: (AllowableRecord con rec result) => con -> rec -> result con rec = implementRecord con rec class AllowableRecord con rec result where implementRecord :: con -> rec -> result  Now rec is something that can stand alone - it is freed from the codependent relationship with the values and constructors it serves. What is that something, though? It could be a row type, like PureScript. That’d be awesome. Well now I’ve just worked myself up into a Mood about GHC’s record syntax. Even with OverloadedRecordDot, Haskell’s records are still bad, they’re just not awful. # Ignore Records, Use Functions This approach eschews records entirely for updates and uses set* functions. It makes for a pretty clean interface. env :: Env env = addRequestHook (\req -> log req >> pure req)$ mkEnv EnvArgs
{ accountId = "asdfasdf"
}

addRequestHook :: (Request -> IO Request) -> Env -> Env
{ requestHook = \req -> do
requestHook env req
newHook req
}


This is pretty tedious as a library author to write, but it gives you a better interface.

It would be nice if we could use this for construction, too. But this is a challenge because the type would change with each new addition to the record. The { ... } record syntax can know ahead of time how many fields there are, and GHC can issue warnings (or errors) if any are missing.

We can use a type parameter for each field that is required to be set.

data EnvP a b = EnvP
{ accountId :: a
, requestHook :: Request -> IO Request
, responseHook :: Response -> IO Response
}

type Env = EnvP String String

data Void

defaultEnv :: EnvP Void Void
defaultEnv = EnvP
{ requestHook = pure
, responseHook = pure
}


GHC will issue warnings here, but that’s okay - we know they’re undefined at the type level.

Now we can write our set functions:

setAccountId :: String -> EnvP a b -> EnvP String b
setAccountId str env = env { accountId = str }

setAccountPassword :: String -> EnvP a b -> EnvP a String

env :: Env
env =
setAccountId "asdfasdf"
$setAccountPassword "hunter42"$ defaultEnv


And, well, this actually works out. If we only expose the Env type (and maybe a pattern synonym for construction/deconstruction), this interface should be pretty safe and straightforward. A final mkEnv call could even put it behind a newtype wrapper, or a similar datatype, similar to the *Args pattern above. The boilerplate sucks, but would be easy to TemplateHaskell away.

Can OverloadedRecordDot help us here? With some of the tricks in Stealing impl From Rust, sort of. We can write simple setters:

data User = User { name :: String }

instance HasField "setName" User (String -> User) where
getField self newName =
self { name = newName }


And, using the One Weird Trick to defeat functional dependencies, we can write type-changing setters, too!

instance
HasField "setAccountId" (EnvP a b) (x -> EnvP x b)
=>
HasField "setAccountId" (EnvP a b) (x -> EnvP x b)
where
getField self x = self { accountId = x }


Now, to provide a good UX, we’d want to require this be String, possibly with a nice TypeError constraint that complains. But this’ll work for now - we can totally write this:

env :: EnvP String Void
env = defaultEnv.setAccountId "asdfasdf"


Unfortunately, chaining this isn’t really feasible.

env :: EnvP String String


This fails with an error, as .setAccountPassword is attaching to "asdfasdf", not the return of defaultEnv.setAccountId "asdfasdf". So we can work around this with parens:

env :: EnvP String String
env =


This gets annoying, especially as the chaining goes up. Assigning to intermediate values also works:

env :: EnvP String String
env =
let
withId = defaultEnv.setAccountId "asdfasdf"
in


But, at this point, I’m wondering how this is any better than just writing

env :: EnvP String String


Unfortunately, the type errors can get a bit weird and annoying carrying around the EnvP value. Wrapping it in a newtype or translating to a separate data structure can make errors better. It also distinguishes the “create this record” and “use this record” scenarios.

# Back to Args

And, yeah, ultimately, I think Args is probably the right way to go.

There’s not really much to a library for it. You’d define a class like this:

class New a where
type Args a = r | r -> a

new :: Args a -> a


You want the TypeFamilyDependencies annotation on Args because you want the argument type to inform the result type. A data family would also work, but it would not allow you to define it separately and document it with a separate type name. Maybe a problem, maybe not. It may also be nice to vary the return type, allowing IO, for example. That looks like this:

class New a where
type Args a = r | r -> a
type Return a = r | r -> a
type Return a = a

new :: Args a -> Return a


But now we’ve just, got, like, this type class, where it takes a thing, and returns another thing (maybe in IO, maybe not?? who knows). And this is so general and lawless that making a library for it seems a bit silly.

So, instead of writing a library, I wrote a blog post.