Thursday, June 11, 2020

Reading Scalaz API Functions (Principles 5, Scalaz Files)

The Scalaz API has a large number of functions, most of which have several things in common:

  1. They have type parameters.
  2. Their implementations are very short, typically one line.
  3. They do not have Scaladoc.

While they don’t have Scaladoc, their types are printed in the Scaladoc pages. However, with some practice, you can get a quick, accurate understanding of each function by taking into account two things:

  1. One of the goals of the Scalazzi Safe Scala Subset is that “Types Are Documentation”. For example, one of the rules is “no side-effects”. Side effects, by their nature, do not appear in type signatures of methods that create them; by banishing them, we eliminate that source of untyped program behavior.
  2. Heavy use of type parameters, and minimization of concrete information in each type signature, amplifies parametricity. For Scalaz API functions, there are far fewer factors to consider when working out what a type “means” than you must consider when reading typical Scala libraries.

Adding Scaladoc may be valuable to many users. However, with these factors, the value is greatly diminished, and it’s difficult to justify the development cost of comprehensive Scaladoc when we are already encouraging users to think in terms of “Types Are Documentation”.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some simple “tricks” and rules-of-thumb that you can learn to accelerate this process.

Values of a type variable cannot arise from thin air.

Suppose that a function has a type variable B, and this type variable is used in the return type, which might be something like (List[Int], List[B]). There is no way for the function to make up its own Bs, so all Bs appearing in that list must have come from the arguments. If there were no Bs in the arguments, then that List[B] must be empty.

This rule, “must come from the arguments”, is significantly more flexible than it sounds, while allowing the caller to preserve data integrity in a type-checked way. For example, the signature def m[A, B](xs: List[A], f: A => B): List[B] does not require the result list to be empty, because the arguments supply a “way to get Bs”:

  1. Take any element from the xs list.
  2. Call f on that element.

Since the body of m has no other source of As than xs, it’s a fact of the return value that “all elements must have come from calling f on elements of xs”.

In this way, you can use a type signature to read the “flow” of data from its source in the arguments, through other arguments, to its destination in the result. When you get used to this, all sorts of useful corollaries naturally arise. For example, the above fact means also “if xs is empty, then the result list must be empty”.

If you don’t know anything about it, you can’t look at it.

Within the body of def m[A, B](xs: List[A], f: A => B): List[B], there is exactly one special operation available for values of type A—they can be converted to B via calling f—and there are none for values of type B. You can’t compare them, so you can’t sort either the input list or the output list. You can’t take their hash code. You can’t add two As together to get a combined A, and the same goes for Bs. You could do something polymorphic like put an A and B in an (A, B) tuple, but that tells you nothing about those values.

In Scalazzi-safe programming, we supply information about types via typeclasses. For example, if we declared A: Order, there’s a way to compare As. If we declared B: Semigroup, there’s a way to append Bs. When thinking about what a typeclass constraint means for the “flow of data” in a function, you can think of a typeclass constraint as supplying the primitives of that typeclass as extra arguments to the function. (That is, after all, how Scala implements typeclass constraints.) For example, A: Order means that there’s an extra argument (A, A) => Ordering, where Ordering is the usual three-valued result of comparison, and the function is guaranteed to follow some special properties (the laws of the typeclass). B: Semigroup means that there’s an extra argument (B, B) => B, also guaranteed to follow its own special properties.

Naturally, if there are no typeclass constraints on a type variable, no such extra arguments are supplied; only the “ordinary” arguments provide capabilities for working with the type. Surprisingly, for all that is made of the importance of Scalaz’s typeclasses, this is by far the most common case.

You can’t “just crash”.

Consider the type signature def lp[L, R](i: L, s: L => Either[L, R]): R. The flow of data says that the result must have come from s returning a Right, and that s call’s argument must be either i, or a Left from a prior call to s. Moreover, you can safely expect lp to use the L produced by s each time after the first, rather than trying i or another previous L again; in functional programming, it would be absurd to try s(i) again and expect that it might return a Right, when you already know it previously returned a Left.

In particular, there’s no allowance for “timing out” or “duplicate L detection”. Timing out (in terms of a maximum number of s calls) would require a different return type, like Option[R]. Duplicate detection would require a constraint like L: Equal at minimum.

“It’s impossible to implement this signature” is not a reason to “implement” it by crashing; it’s a reason to not have a function with that signature at all. Writing correct type signatures is part of writing a correct type-safe program. When type signatures are only declared for functions that are possible to implement, and reading those type signatures can tell you what they are honestly doing, they start to become true machine-checked documentation.

The utilities of each typeclass are bound by the basics of that typeclass.

Many of the most useful functions in the Scalaz API are defined as typeclass utilities, so they can be most easily understood by keeping in mind those basics as you read the utility functions. So utilities in Functor must have been gotten by mapping, utilities in Foldable must have been gotten by folding, and so on.

For example, consider the utility under typeclass Functor[F[_]], def void[A](fa: F[A]): F[Unit]. What does this function do? If you guess based on its name void, or a poor analogy like “F is some kind of collection” (a common mistake when first approaching Functor), you might conclude something like “it must return an empty F” or “it must return an F with a single Unit in it”. Unfortunately, these “intuitive” answers are not only wrong, they don’t make sense.

Instead, think about void like this: def void[F[_]: Functor, A](fa: F[A]): F[Unit]. Just as with the Order and Semigroup constraints described above, that constraint manifests as its primitives; in this case, “a map function for Fs”. That leaves only one possibility, which happens to be the true behavior of void: the result is gotten by calling map on fa, with _ => () as the function argument.

Practice on the simple cases.

The above are a lot of words to describe a thinking process that is very fast in practice. With practice, it’s much faster to understand what a function does by reading its type than by reading a documentation comment. At the very least, a documentation comment should only be considered as secondary advice to the primary source, the type.

The functions that are easiest to understand purely with types are, unfortunately, the most likely to be fully documented. That makes relying solely on documentation comments more tempting, but this is a mistake as a Scalaz newcomer. If you practice reading only the types for simple functions like void, you’ll gain important practice for quickly understanding much more complex functions using the same techniques.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Global typeclass coherence (Principles 3, Scalaz Files)

In Scalaz, we provide at most one typeclass instance per type throughout your whole program, and we expect users to preserve that invariant. For that type, there should be no way to get two incompatible instances. This is global coherence, and is required to make Scala programs using implicits for typeclasses understandable and maintainable.

If you want a different instance for the “same” type when working with Scalaz, the answer is always to start with a different type first. Then you can define your incompatible instance for the same structure, but on the different type, preserving coherence. Scalaz’s @@ type tags or the underlying existential newtype mechanism are convenient, flexible ways to get these “different” types.

It’s not surprising that “new type” as a solution to this problem comes from Haskell, as Haskell too depends on global coherence. While we can’t get all the benefits from coherence that Haskell does, what remain is sufficient to justify this seemingly non-modular rule.

The invisible action of implicits in Scala is a serious problem for understanding and maintenance if used in an undisciplined manner. Consider, for example, an incoherent implicit-based design: scala-library’s ExecutionContext.

At any point in the program, the ExecutionContext resolved depends on what variables are in scope. It’s unsafe to move any code that depends on ExecutionContext to some other method, because that set of variables can change, thus changing the behavior of the program. And you can’t determine at a glance whether some code depends on ExecutionContext, so moving any code carries some risk.

You can’t add an ec: ExecutionContext argument anywhere without potentially breaking working code, because it changes that set of variables. It’s only safe to introduce brand-new methods with that argument.

If you are refactoring and suddenly get an error about multiple conflicting ExecutionContexts in scope, you have no help to determine which is the “right” one; you have to figure it out based on the probable intent of the code originally was. Possibly, none of the options in scope is right.

By contrast, consider Monoid[List[N]], where N might be some type variable in scope. The correct instance depends on the type, not what variables are in scope. So you can add a Semigroup[N] constraint and know the answer won’t change. You can split up the method, or move any of its code anywhere else, and know the answer won’t change. You can even add a Monoid[List[N]] argument to your function, because you know the caller is required to come up with the same instance you were working with before.

You can add or delete constraints as required, because they’re always going to be fulfilled by the same instances. For example, Scalaz’s sorted map K ==>> V doesn’t carry the K comparator around, because we can assume it always depends on K and only on K.

If you ever get an error about multiple conflicting instances, you know there’s always a workable solution: choose one, because they’re the same.

Tools try to help with understanding Scala’s implicit resolution, but they don’t always work. Global coherence is your greatest ally when trying to understand what an implicit resolution is doing by hand: you know that any path to the instance you find is a correct one, and you can then work out why that isn’t being resolved.

Global coherence also lets Scalaz offer a much simpler API. For example, the efficient union of sorted maps requires that the ordering of K used for both is equal. With “local” (read: incoherent) instances, the only safe way to do this is to define a singleton type depending on the ordering, and treat this singleton type as a sort of third type parameter to the map type. If you happen to have built two maps with the same key type where you didn’t use polymorphism to unify their use of that singleton type, too bad, you can’t safely union them. With global coherence, because the instance only depends on K, the simple two-parameter map type is perfectly sufficient, and those maps are easy to union.

The “flexibility” of local instances is not worth it given the constraints of Scala, and Scalaz assumes you won’t be using them when you use its functionality. Define a newtype instead.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Scalazzi safe Scala subset (Principles 2, Scalaz Files)

Scalaz is designed for programmers building type-safe, functional programs. If you program like this, you can start to see very deep properties of your functions by only reading their types; in other words, types become documentation. This also lets you see how you can combine your functions in more ways, with greater confidence that the combination will actually make sense.

But Scala, the language, contains many unsafe features that get in the way of this method of thinking about your programs. “Scalazzi” means that you are avoiding or banning these features from your Scala codebase, thus restoring your ability to use types to discover those properties.

  1. null
  2. exceptions
  3. Type-casing (isInstanceOf)
  4. Type-casting (asInstanceOf)
  5. Side-effects
  6. equals/toString/hashCode
  7. notify/wait
  8. classOf/.getClass
  9. General recursion

Here’s an example of how you might use these rules to reduce your testing requirements.

Suppose that you have this very simple function to return the greater Int.

def maximum(x: Int, y: Int): Int = if (x >= y) x else y

(I encourage you to imagine that this is harder than this example; after all, aren’t your own programs more complicated?) This type signature says that any Int can be returned; we must test to verify that this isn’t happening.

Instead of writing a test, we can use parametricity to check that either x or y is returned, but nothing else, at compile time instead of test time.

def maximum[N <: Int](x: N, y: N): N = // • • •

I can read from this type that only x or y can be returned. With some practice, you’ll start to see more complex facts arising from types as well.

Unfortunately, Scala has many “features” that let you break this safety. These features aren’t useful for type-safe functional programs, so we simply declare them verboten.

Scalaz expects you to follow Scalazzi rules, but is also packed with features to help you follow them. For example, if you are calling map on a List and feel like your lambda needs to perform some side effect, it’s time to look into Scalaz’s Traverse typeclass.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

A standard library for principled functional programming in Scala (Principles 1, Scalaz Files)

The best way to think about “what is Scalaz?” is as a standard library for functional programming. This goes all the way back to its creation: the Scalaz project started because there are not enough facilities in Scala's standard library for convenient, everyday functional programming, without cheating.

How should this affect your approach to the library? Like a standard library, you learn the bits and pieces you need, not the whole thing. There is no must-read book, no must-watch tutorial video, no must-attend course. Scalaz can be used successfully from day 1 as a new Scala programmer; as you do not learn every part of the standard library before starting to use a language, so it goes for Scalaz as well. All that is required of you is the desire to solve programming problems in type-safe, functional ways, and the curiosity to learn about what components that others have discovered and how they might be useful. After all, most pieces of Scalaz were added to it because somebody was solving a problem, and found a solution they thought others might consider useful and well-thought-out.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Scala FP: how good an idea now?

Ed Kmett’s reddit comment full of biting commentary on the troubles of attempting functional programming in Scala remains the most concise listing of such problems, and remains mostly up-to-date over four years after it was written. It covers problems from the now famous to the less well known. It’s still a useful guide to what needs to change for Scala to be a great functional programming language, or conversely, why a functional programmer might want to avoid Scala.

But not everything is the same as when it was written. Some things have gotten better. Some can even be eliminated from the list safely. Some haven’t changed at all.

I’d like to go through each of Kmett’s bullet points, one by one, and elaborate on what has happened in the ensuing four years since he posted this comment.


[1:] If you take any two of the random extensions that have been thrown into scala and try to use them together, they typically don't play nice. e.g. Implicits and subtyping don't play nice together.

This hasn’t really changed. Paul Phillips’s age-old “contrarivariance” thread about the specific example Kmett uses here might as well have been written yesterday.

On a positive note, what is good hasn’t really changed, either. The type soundness of new features still cannot be justified merely because you can’t think of any ways programs would go wrong were your idea implemented; you still need positive evidence that your idea preserves soundness. This is more than can be said for, say, TypeScript.

On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot of attempts to “solve” these kinds of feature-compositionality problems by claims like “we don’t want you to write that kind of code in Scala”. New features like AnyVal subclasses are still made with the concerns of ill-typed, imperative programming placed above the concerns of well-typed, functional programming. Proposals like ADT syntax are likely to support only those GADT features deemed interesting for implementing the standard library, rather than what application programs might find useful.

[2:] Type inference works right up until you write anything that needs it. If you go to write any sort of tricky recursive function, you know, where inference would be useful, then it stops working.

Still 100% true.

[3:] Due to type erasure, its easy to refine a type in a case expression / pattern match to get something that is a lie.

I’m not sure why Ed wrote “due to type erasure” here, but the underlying problems are there. This comment came after the introduction of “virtpatmat”, which improved things in a lot of ways, not least with the improved support for GADTs. I’ve noticed some things get better for GADTs in 2.12, too.

But there are numerous unsound things you can do with pattern matching, some accompanied by compiler warnings, some not. Most of these are due to its reliance on Object#equals. Paul Phillips wrote several bug reports a long time ago about these, and one of the major ones is fixed: the type consequences of pattern matching used to think that Object#equals returning true implied that the two values were perfect substitutes for each other. For example, you could use an empty Buffer[A] and an empty Buffer[B] to derive A = B, even when they’re completely incompatible types.

This has been fixed, but the very similar problem with matching constants has not. I suspect that it will never be fixed unless pattern matching’s use of equals is removed entirely.

[4:] Free theorems aren't.

In the base Scala language, nothing has changed here. But we’ve tried to account for this shortcoming with practice. I wrote an article elaborating on the free theorems problem in Scala; surprise surprise, Object#equals makes another villainous appearance. Tony Morris popularized the “Scalazzi safe Scala subset” through his “Parametricity: Types are Documentation” talk, and since then “Scalazzi” has become the shorthand for this style of Scala programming. (If you’ve heard “Scalazzi” before, this is what it’s about: free theorems.) Tools like Wartremover have arisen to mechanically enforce parts of the Scalazzi rules (among other rules), and they’re well worth using.

So the situation in the Scala language hasn’t changed at all. The situation in Scala practice has gotten better, as long as you’re aware of it and compensating in your projects with tools like Wartremover.

Collections and covariant things

[5:] Since you can pass any dictionary anywhere to any implicit you can't rely on the canonicity of anything. If you make a Map or Set using an ordering, you can't be sure you'll get the same ordering back when you come to do a lookup later. This means you can't safely do hedge unions/merges in their containers. It also means that much of scalaz is lying to itself and hoping you'll pass back the same dictionary every time.

I don’t want to cover this in detail, because Ed’s already gone into it in his talk “Typeclasses vs the world”. I’ve also written about Scalaz’s “lying to itself” approach (a fair characterization), and why we think it’s the best possible choice for Scalaz users in Scala as it’s defined today.

You can think of this as the “coherence vs local instances” argument, too, and Ed is describing here how Scala fails as a substrate for the coherence approach. But he’s not saying that, as a result, coherence is the wrong choice. Since we think that, despite the potential for error, coherence is still the best choice for a Scala library, that should tell you what we think about the alternative: that with local instances, the potential for error is still greater.

So for us, the important question is, what has changed in Scala? There’s been a “coherence” proposal, but its purpose is not to force you to define only coherent instances, nor even to detect when you have not; instead, it’s to let you assert to the compiler that you’ve preserved coherence, whether you have or not; if you’re wrong, scalac simply makes wrong decisions, silently.

This would be very useful for performance, and I will embrace it for all typeclasses if implemented. It will make many implicit priority hacks unnecessary. But it wouldn’t address Ed’s concern at all.

[6:] The container types they do have have weird ad hoc overloadings. e.g. Map is treated as an iterable container of pairs, but this means you can't write code that is parametric in the Traversable container type that can do anything sensible. It is one of those solutions that seems like it might be a nice idea unless you've had experience programming with more principled classes like Foldable/Traversable.

The design of the current collections library is the one Kmett was talking about, so nothing has changed in released code. As for the future collections library, known as “collections-strawman”? The situation is the same.

[7:] You wind up with code that looks like all over the place due to CanBuildFrom inference woes.

I’m not sure what Kmett is referring to here, because I’ve been relying on the correct behavior for a long time, that is, without the trailing .toMap. The only thing I can think of would be the function being passed to map returning something implicitly convertible to two-tuple instead of a proper two-tuple, which would require an extra step to force that conversion to be applied.

Monads and higher kinds

[8:] Monads have to pay for an extra map at the end of any comprehension, because of the way the for { } sugar works.

This hasn’t changed at all, but is worth some elaboration. This behavior makes it so you can’t write “tail-recursive” monadic functions in the obvious way. As Dan Doel demonstrated, this can turn a purely right-associated bind chain, i.e. one that can be interpreted tail-recursively, into a repeatedly broken chain with arbitrary left-binds injected into it, thus either crashing the stack or requiring useless extra frames to be repeatedly shoved onto the heap.

This is kind of silly, and could be ameliorated if for wasn’t trying to be non-monadic. But that’s not going to change.

[9:] You have type lambdas. Yay, right? But now you can't just talk about Functor (StateT s IO). Its Functor[({type F[X] = StateT[S,IO,X]})#F], and you have to hand plumb it to something like return, because it basically can't infer any of that, once you start dealing with transformers ever. The instance isn't directly in scope. 12.pure[({type F[X] = StateT[S,IO,X]})#F] isn't terribly concise. It can't figure out it should use the inference rule to define the implicit for StateT[S,M,_] from the one for M[_] because of the increased flexibility that nobody uses.

This is probably the best story of the bunch, and possibly the most well-known of the whole series. This is good for Scala marketing, but probably not best for the future of Scala FP…

We first got the kind-projector to help us write these type lambdas more succinctly. So Kmett’s first example above can now be written Functor[StateT[S, IO, ?]]. Not as nice as the curried Haskell form, but much better.

Eventually, though, Miles Sabin implemented the “higher-order unification” feature, often called the “SI-2712 fix” after the infamous bug. This feature performs the inference Kmett describes above, and gets away with it precisely because it ignores “increased flexibility that nobody uses”.

The situation is not perfect—you have to flip this nonstandard switch, the resulting language isn’t source-compatible with standard Scala, and warts like bug 5075 (despite first appearances, this is quite distinct from 2712) remain—but Scala is in great shape with respect to this problem compared to where we were at the time of Kmett’s original writing.

[10:] In this mindset and in the same vein as the CanBuildFrom issue, things like Either don't have the biased flatMap you'd expect, somehow encouraging you to use other tools, just in case you wanted to bind on the Left. So you don't write generic monadic code over the Either monad, but rather are constantly chaining foo.right.flatMap(... .right.flatMap(....)) ensuring you can't use the sugar without turning to something like scalaz to fill it in. Basically almost the entire original motivation for all the type lambda craziness came down to being able to write classes like Functor have have several instances for different arguments, but because they are so hard to use nobody does it, making the feature hardly pay its way, as it makes things like unification, and path dependent type checking harder and sometimes impossible, but the language specification requires them to do it!

I’m not sure the situation was ever as severe as Kmett states, but that might be down to my personal experience in Scala, with Scalaz as my permanent companion.

The interspersed .rights never prevented you from using the for syntax, though they did make it significantly more obscure. Supposing foo and bar are Eithers:

for {
  x <- foo.right
  y <- bar.right

That trailing .right looks like it’s missing a dance partner, but it’s in just the right place for that biased flatMap or map method to kick in.

But in Scalaz, we never had to worry about it. Because we only supplied the right-biased Monad for Either. When you also bring in Scalaz’s Monad syntax, suddenly Either acquires the standard right-biased map and flatMap.

import scalaz.syntax.bind._, scalaz.std.either._

for {
  x <- foo
  y <- bar

No more lonely dancers.

But now ​right-biasing has returned to the standard library, so even these extra imports are no longer necessary.

Kmett pairs this point with a tangentially related point about functors over other type parameters. But I think higher-order unification is going to solve this problem, albeit in a very ad hoc way, in the long run. Programmers who want to use higher-kinded types will increasingly want to turn on the feature, or even be forced to by library designs that depend on it. Types that conform to right-bias—placing the functor parameter last, not first—will find happy users with nice inference.

class FA[F[_], A]

def fa[F[_], A](fa: F[A]): FA[F, A] =
  new FA

scala> fa(Left(33): Either[Int, String])
res0: FA[[+B]Either[Int,B],String] = FA@542c2bc8

This works even in more elaborate situations, such as with monad transformers:

trait EitherT[E, M[_], A]
trait ReaderT[R, F[_], A]
trait IO[A]
class Discovery[T1[_[_], _], T2[_[_], _], M[_], A]

def discover[T1[_[_], _], T2[_[_], _], M[_], A](a: Option[T1[T2[M, ?], A]])
    : Discovery[T1, T2, M, A] = new Discovery

scala> discover(None: Option[EitherT[String, ReaderT[Int, IO, ?], ClassLoader]])
res0: Discovery[[M[_], A]EitherT[String,M,A],
                [F[_], A]ReaderT[Int,F,A],
                ClassLoader] = Discovery@4f20ea29

Contrarian types that don’t conform will find themselves rejected for constantly introducing mysterious type mismatches that must be corrected with more explicit type lambdas. So the libraries should develop.

[11:] You don't have any notion of a kind system and can only talk about fully saturated types, monad transformers are hell to write. It is easier for me to use the fact that every Comonad gives rise to a monad transformer to intuitively describe how to manually plumb a semimonoidal Comonad through my parser to carry extra state than to work with a monad transformer!

This isn’t so much about inference of higher-kinded type parameters, which I’ve dealt with above, but how convenient it is to write them down.

As mentioned above, the kind-projector compiler plugin has made writing these types significantly easier. Yet it remains ugly compared to the curried version, for sure.

[12:] I've been able to get the compiler to build classes that it thinks are fully instantiated, but which still have abstract methods in them.

I haven’t seen this kind of thing in quite a while, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a few such bugs were still outstanding. Let’s give the compiler the benefit of the doubt and suppose that things have gotten significantly better in this area.

[13:] Tail-call optimization is only performed for self-tail calls, where you do not do polymorphic recursion.

There are two issues packed here. The first still holds: only self-tail calls are supported. Plenty of ink has been expended elsewhere; I point to Dan Doel again for some of that.

The second issue has a fix in Scala 2.12.4!

@annotation.tailrec def lp[A](n: Int): Int =
  if (n <= 0) n else lp[Option[A]](n - 1)
// [in 2.12.3] error:⇑ could not optimize @tailrec annotated method lp:
// it is called recursively with different type arguments

scala> lp[Unit](1000000)
res0: Int = 0

To pour a little oil on, this isn’t a 50% fix; this is a nice improvement, dealing with a particular annoyance in interpreting GADT action graphs, but the much larger issue is the still-missing general TCO.

[14:] Monads are toys due to the aforementioned restriction. (>>=) is called flatMap. Any chain of monadic binds is going to be a series of non-self tailcalls. A function calls flatMap which calls a function, which calls flatMap... This means that non-trivial operations in even the identity monad, like using a Haskell style traverse for a monad over an arbitrary container blows the stack after a few thousand entries.

And this is the same, for the same reason. Kmett goes on to discuss the “solutions” to this.

[15:] We can fix this, and have in scalaz by adapting apfelmus' operational monad to get a trampoline that moves us off the stack to the heap, hiding the problem, but at a 50x slowdown, as the JIT no longer knows how to help.

Nothing has changed here. We’ve tweaked the trampoline representation repeatedly to get better averages, but the costs still hold.

[16:] We can also fix it by passing imperative state around, and maybe getting scala to pass the state for me using implicits and hoping I don't accidentally use a lazy val. Guess which one is the only viable solution I know at scale? The code winds up less than 1/2 the size and 3x faster than the identity monad version. If scala was the only language I had to think in, I'd think functional programming was a bad idea that didn't scale, too.

This is still something you have to do sometimes. Just as above, nothing has really changed here. You just have to hope you don’t run into it too often.

Random restrictions

[17:] for yield sugar is a very simple expansion, but that means it has all sorts of rules about what you can't define locally inside of it, e.g. you can't stop and def a function, lazy val, etc. without nesting another for yield block.

One thing has changed in this area! You no longer have to use the val keyword when defining a val locally in the for block.

Otherwise, situation constant.

[18:] You wind up with issues like SI-3295 where out of a desire to not "confuse the computation model", it was decided that it was better to you know, just crash when someone folded a reasonably large list than fix the issue.. until it finally affected scalac itself. I've been told this has been relatively recently fixed.

As Kmett mentions, this was fixed. It remains fixed.

[19:] No first-class universal quantification means that quantifier tricks like ST s, or automatic differentiation without infinitesimal confusion are basically impossible.

def test = diff(new FF[Id,Id,Double] { 
   def apply[S[_]](x: AD[S, Double])(implicit mode: Mode[S, Double]): AD[S, Double]
      = cos(x) 

is a poor substitute for

test = diff cos

kind-projector has provided less well-known support for some varieties of polymorphic lambdas, such as FF in this example, for a while. The implicit constraint and fact that we’re trying to be polymorphic over a higher-kinded type might make things tricky, but let’s see if we can get it working.

Lambda[FF[Id, Id, Double]](x => cos(x))
Lambda[FF[Id, Id, Double]](x => implicit mode => cos(x))

// both forms fail with the uninteresting error:
// not found: value Lambda

Scalaz 8 contains a very clever unboxed encoding of universal quantification based on the observation that if side effects and singleton type patterns are forbidden, as they are under Scalazzi rules, multiple type applications in Scala are indistinguishable at runtime. (To see why this is, consider the difference between List.empty[A] and mutable.Buffer.empty[A].) The one that comes with Scalaz 8 only quantifies over a *-kinded type parameter, but we should be able to use the same technique to quantify over S: * -> *.

trait ForallK1Module {
  type ForallK1[F[_[_]]]

  type [F[_[_]]] = ForallK1[F]

  def specialize[F[_[_]], A[_]](f: [F]): F[A]

  def of[F[_[_]]]: MkForallK1[F]

  sealed trait MkForallK1[F[_[_]]] extends Any {
    type T[_]
    def apply(ft: F[T]): [F]

object ForallK1Module {
  val ForallK1: ForallK1Module = new ForallK1Module {
    type ForallK1[F[_[_]]] = F[λ[α => Any]]
    def specialize[F[_[_]], A[_]](f: [F]): F[A] = f.asInstanceOf[F[A]]
    def of[F[_[_]]]: MkForallK1[F] = new MkForallK1[F] {
      type T[_] = Any
      def apply(ft: F[T]): [F] = ft

// we're using an unboxed representation
type FF[F[_], G[_], T, S[_]] = AD[S, T] => Mode[S, T] => AD[S, T]

scala> ForallK1.of[Lambda[S[_] => FF[Id, Id, Double, S]]](
           x => implicit m => cos(x))
res3: ForallK1Module.ForallK1.ForallK1[
         [S[_$1]]AD[S,Double] => (Mode[S,Double] => AD[S,Double])
      ] = $$Lambda$2018/266706504@91f8cde

Upshot? Nothing has changed in core Scala. People in the Scala community have discovered some clever tricks, which work even better than on the slightly complicated test case Kmett supplied when tried with more traditional *-kinded rank-2 idioms like ST.

scala> Lambda[List ~> Option](_.headOption)
res2: List ~> Option = $anon$1@73c4d4b5

trait ST[S, A] {
  def flatMap[B](f: A => ST[S, B]): ST[S, B]
trait STVar[S, A] {
  def read: ST[S, A]

def newVar[S, A](a: A): ST[S, STVar[S, A]] = ???

def mkAndRead[S]: ST[S, Int] = newVar[S, Int](33) flatMap (

def runST[A](st: Forall[ST[?, A]]): A = ???

scala> :t Forall.of[ST[?, Int]](mkAndRead)[[α$0$]ST[α$0$,Int]]

scala> :t Forall.of[Lambda[s => ST[s, STVar[s, Int]]]](newVar(33))[[s]ST[s,STVar[s,Int]]]

scala> :t runST(Forall.of[ST[?, Int]](mkAndRead))

scala> :t runST(Forall.of[Lambda[s => ST[s, STVar[s, Int]]]](newVar(33)))
<console>:19: error: type mismatch;
 found   : Forall[[s(in type Λ$)]
                  ST[s(in type Λ$),
                     STVar[s(in type Λ$),Int]]]
 required: Forall[[α$0$(in type Λ$)]
                  ST[α$0$(in type Λ$),
                     STVar[_ >: (some other)s(in type Λ$) with (some other)α$0$(in type Λ$), Int]]]

Knowledgable use of these tricks will give you much better code than we could produce when Kmett wrote this, but it’s still nowhere near as elegant or easy-to-use as rank-2 in Haskell.

... but it runs on the JVM.

Indeed, Scala still runs on the JVM.

How good an idea is it?

So, a few things have gotten better, and a few things have gotten a lot better. That bodes well, anyway.

Functional programming practice in Scala will continue to encounter these issues for the foreseeable future. If you are writing Scala, you should be practicing functional programming; the reliability benefits are worth the price of entry. While you’re doing so, however, it’s no thoughtcrime to occasionally feel like it’s a bad idea that doesn’t scale.

This article was tested with Scala 2.12.4 -Ypartial-unification, Scalaz 8 3011709ba, and kind-projector 0.9.4.

Portions Copyright © 2013 Edward Kmett, used with permission.

Copyright © 2017, 2018 Stephen Compall. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.