Upgrading My Development Setup!


In the last year or so, I haven't actually written as much Haskell as I'd like to. There are a few reasons for this. First, I switched to a non-Haskell job, meaning I was now using my Windows laptop for all my Haskell coding. Even on my previous work laptop (a Mac), things weren't easy. Haskell doesn't have a real IDE, like IntelliJ for Java or XCode for iOS development.

Besides not having an IDE, Windows presents extra pains compared to the more developer-friendly Mac. And it finally dawned on me. If I, as an experienced developer, was having this much friction, it must be a nightmare for beginners. Many people must be trying to both learn the language AND fight against their dev setup. So I decided to take some time to improve how I program so that it'll be easier for me to actually do it.

I wanted good general functionality, but also some Haskell-specific functions. I did a decent amount of research and settled on Atom as my editor of choice. In this article, we'll explore the basics of setting up Atom, what it offers, and the Haskell tools we can use within it. If you're just starting out with Haskell, I hope you can take these tips to make your Haskell Journey easier.

Note that many tips in this article won't work without the Haskell platform! To start with Haskell, download our Beginners Checklist, or read our Liftoff Series!


It's always good to begin with the end in mind. So before we start out, let's establish some goals for our development environment. A lot of these are basic items we should have regardless of what language we're using.

  1. Autocomplete. Must have for terms within the file. Nice to have for extra library functions and types.
  2. Syntax highlighting.
  3. Should be able to display at least two code files side-by-side, should also be able to open extra files in tabs.
  4. Basic file actions should only need the keyboard. These include opening new files to new tabs or splitting the window and opening a new file in the pane.
  5. Should be able to build code using the keyboard only. Should be able to examine terminal output and code at the same time.
  6. Should be able to format code automatically (using, for instance, Hindent)
  7. Some amount of help filling in library functions and basic types. Should be able to coordinate types from other files.
  8. Partial compilation. If I make an obvious mistake, the IDE should let me know immediately.
  9. Vim keybindings (depends on your preference of course)

With these goals in mind, let's go ahead and see how Atom can help us.

Basics of Atom

Luckily, the installation process for Atom is pretty painless. Using the Windows installer comes off without a hitch for me. Out of the box, Atom fulfills most of the basic requirements we'd have for an IDE. In fact, we get all our 1-4 goals without putting in any effort. The trick is that we have to learn a few keybindings. The following are what you'll need to open files.

  1. Ctrl+P - Open a new tab with a file using fuzzy find
  2. Ctrl+K + Direction (left/right/up/down arrow) - Open a new pane (will initially have the same file as before).
  3. Ctrl+K + Ctrl+Direction - Switch pane focus

Those commands solve requirements 3 and 4 from our goals list.

Another awesome thing about Atom is the extensive network of easy-to-install plugins. We'll look at some Haskell specific items below. But to start, we can use the package manager to install vim-mode-improved. This allows most Vim keybindings, fulfilling requirement 9 from above. There are a few things to re-learn with different keystrokes, but it works all right.

Adding Our Own Keybindings

Since Atom is so Hackable, you can also add your own keybindings and change ones you don't like. We'll do one simple example here, but you can also check out the documentation for some more ideas. One thing we'll need for goal #5 is to make it easier to bring up the bottom panel within atom. This is where terminal output goes when we run a command. You'll first want to open up keymap.cson, which you can do by going to the file menu and click Keymap….

Then you can add the following lines at the bottom:

  'ctrl-shift-down': 'window:toggle-bottom-dock'
  'ctrl-shift-up': 'window:toggle-bottom-dock'

First, we scope the command to the entire atom workspace. (We'll see an example below of a command with a more limited scope). Then we assign the Ctrl+Shift+Down Arrow key combination to toggle the bottom dock. Since it's a toggle command, we could repeat the command to move it both up and down. But this isn't very intuitive, so we add the second line so that we can also use the up arrow to bring it up.

A super helpful tool is the key binding resolver. At any point, you can use ctrl+. (control key plus the period key) to bring up the resolver. Then pressing any key combination will bring up the commands Atom will run for it. It will highlight the one it will pick in case of conflicts. This is great for finding unassigned key combinations!

Haskell Mode in Atom

Now let's start looking at adding some Haskell functionality to our editor. We'll start by installing a few different Haskell-related packages in Atom. You don't need all these, but this is a list of the core packages suggested in the Atom documentation.


The trickier part of getting Haskell functionality is the binary dependencies. A couple of the packages we added depend on having a couple programs installed. The most prominent of these is ghc-mod, which exposes some functionality of GHC. You'll also want a code formatter, such as hindent, or stylish-haskell installed.

At the most basic level, it's easy to install these programs with Stack. You can run the command:

stack install ghc-mod stylish-haskell

However, ghc-mod matches up with a specific version of GHC. The command above installs the binaries at a system-wide level. This means you can only have the version for one GHC version installed at a time. So imagine you have one project using GHC 8.0, and another project using GHC 8.2. You won't be able to get Haskell features for each one at the same time using this approach. You would need to re-install the proper version whenever you switched projects.

As a note, there are a couple ways to ensure you know what version you've installed. First, you can run the stack install ghc-mod command from within the particular project directory. This will use that project's LTS to resolve which version you need. You can also modify the install command like so:

stack --resolver lts-9 install ghc-mod

There is an approach where you can install different, compiler specific versions of the binary on your system, and have Atom pick the correct one. I haven't been able to make this approach work yet. But you can read about that approach on Alexis King's blog post here.

Keybinding for Builds

Once we have that working, we'll have met most of our feature goals. We'll have partial compilation and some Haskell specific autocompletion. There are other packages, such as haskell-hoogle that you can install for even more features.

There's one more feature we want though, which is to be able to build our project from the keyboard. When we installed our Haskell packages, Atom added a "Haskell IDE" menu at the top. We can use this to build our project with "Haskell IDE" -> "Builder" -> "Build Project". We can add a keybinding for this command like so.

  'ctrl-alt-shift-b': 'ide-haskell-cabal:build'

Notice that we added a namespace here, so this command will only run on Haskell files. Now we can build our project at any time with Ctrl+Shift+Alt+B, which will really streamline our development!


The biggest weakness with Atom Haskell-mode is binary dependencies and GHC versions. The idea behind Stack is that switching to a different project with a different compiler shouldn't be hard. But there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get editor support. To be fair though, these problems are not exclusive to Atom.

Another weakness is that the Haskell plugins for Atom currently only support up through LTS 9 (GHC 8). This is a big weakness if you're looking to use new features from the cutting edge of GHC development. So Atom Haskell-mode might not be fully-featured for industry projects or experimental work.

As a further note, the Vim mode in Atom doesn't give all the keybindings you might expect from Vim. For example, I could no longer use the colon key plus a number to jump to a line. Of course, Atom has its own bindings for these things. But it takes a little while to re-learn the muscle memory.


There are, of course, alternatives to the approach I've laid out in this article. Many plugins/packages exist enabling you to get good Haskell features with Emacs and Vim. For Emacs, you should look at haskell-mode. For Vim, I made the most progress following this article from Stephen Diehl. I'll say for my part that I haven't tried the Emacs approach, and ran into problems a couple times with Vim. But with enough time and effort, you can get them to work!

If you use Visual Studio, there are a couple packages for Haskell: Haskelly and Haskero. I haven't used either of these, but they both seem provide a lot of nice features.


Having a good development environment is one of the keys to programming success. More popular languages have full-featured IDE's that make programming a lot easier. Haskell doesn't have this level of support. But there's enough community help that you can use a hackable editor like Atom to get most of what you want. Since I fixed this glaring weakness, I've been able to write Haskell much more efficiently. If you're starting out with the language, this can make or break your experience! So it's worth investing at least a little bit of time and effort to ensure you've got a smooth system to work with.

Of course, having an editor setup for Haskell is meaningless if you've never used the language! Download our Beginners Checklist or read our Liftoff Series to get going!

Haskell Data Types Review!

This week we're taking a quick break from new content. We've added our new series on Haskell's data system to our permanent collection. You can find it under the beginners panel or check it out here! This series had five parts. Let's take a quick review:

  1. In part 1 we reviewed the basic way to construct data types in Haskell. We compared this to the syntax of other langauges like Java and Python.
  2. Part 2 showed the simple way we can extend our Haskell types to make them sum types! We saw that this is a more difficult process in other languages. In fact, we resorted to making different inherited types in object oriented languages.
  3. Next, we demonstrated the concept of parametric types in part 3. We saw how little we needed to add to Haskell's definitions to make this work. Again, we looked at comparable examples in other languages as well.
  4. In part 4, we delved into Haskell's typeclasses. We compared them against inherited types from OO languages and noted some pros and cons.
  5. Finally, in part 5 we concluded the series by exploring the idea of type families. Our code was more complicated than we'd need in other languages. And yet, our code contains a lot more behavioral guarantees in Haskell than it does elsewhere. And we achieved this while still having a good deal of flexibility. Type families have a definite learning curve, but they're a useful concept to know.

As always keeping coming back every Monday morning for some new Haskell content! For more updates and our monthly newsletter, make sure you Subscribe! This will also give you access to our Subscriber Resources!

Why Haskell V: Type Families


Welcome to the conclusion of our series on Haskell data types! We've gone over a lot of things in this series that demonstrated Haskell's simplicity. We compared Haskell against other languages where we saw more cumbersome syntax. In this final part, we'll see something a bit more complicated though. We'll do a quick exploration of the idea of type families. We'll start by tracing the evolution of some related type ideas, and then look at a quick example.

Type families are a rather advanced concept. But if you're more of a beginner, we've got plenty of other resources to help you out! Take a look at our Getting Started Checklist or our Liftoff Series!

Different Kinds of Type Holes

In this series so far, we've seen a couple different ways to "plug in a hole", as far as a type or class definition goes. In the third part of this series we explored parametric types. These have type variables as part of their definition. We can view each type variable as a hole we need to fill in with another type.

Then in the fourth part, we explored the concept of typeclasses. For any instance of a typeclass, we're plugging in the holes of the function definitions of that class. We fill in each hole with an implementation of the function for that particular type.

This week, we're going to combine these ideas to get type families! A type family is an enhanced class where one or more of the "holes" we fill in is actually a type! This allows us to associate different types with each other. The result is that we can write special kinds of polymorphic functions.

A Basic Logger

First, here's a contrived example to use through this article. We want to have a logging typeclass. We'll call it MyLogger. We'll have two main functions in this class. We should be able to get all the messages in the log in chronological order. Then we should be able to log a new message while sending some sort of effect. A first pass at this class might look like this:

class MyLogger logger where
  prevMessages :: logger -> [String]
  logString :: String -> logger -> logger

We can make a slight change that would use the State monad instead of passing the logger as an argument:

class MyLogger logger where
  prevMessages :: logger -> [String]
  logString :: String -> State logger ()

But this class is deficient in an important way. We won't be able to have any effects associated with our logging. What if we want to save the log message in a database, send it over network connection, or log it to the console? We could allow this, while still keeping prevMessages pure like so:

class MyLogger logger where
  prevMessages :: logger -> [String]
  logString :: String -> StateT logger IO ()

Now our logString function can use arbitrary effects. But this has the obvious downside that it forces us to introduce the IO monad places where we don't need it. If our logger doesn't need IO, we don't want it. So what do we do?

Type Family Basics

One answer is to make our class a type family. W do this with the type keyword in the class defintion. First, we need a few language pragmas to allow this:

{-# LANGUAGE TypeFamilies #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleContexts #-}
{-# LANGUAGE AllowAmbiguousTypes #-}

Now we'll make a type within our class that refers to the monadic effect type of the logString function. We have to describe the "kind" of the type with the definition. Since it's a monad, its kind is * -> *. This indicates that it requires another type parameter. Here's what our definition looks like:

class MyLogger logger where
  type LoggerMonad logger :: * -> *
  prevMessages :: logger -> [String]
  logString :: String -> (LoggerMonad logger) ()

Some Simple Instances

Now that we have our class, let's make an instance that does NOT involve IO. We'll use a simple wrapper type for our logger. Our "monad" will contain the logger in a State. Then all we do when logging a string is change the state!

newtype ListWrapper = ListWrapper [String]
instance MyLogger ListWrapper where
  type (LoggerMonad ListWrapper) = State ListWrapper
  prevMessages (ListWrapper msgs) = reverse msgs
  logString s = do
    (ListWrapper msgs) <- get
    put $ ListWrapper (s : msgs)

Now we can make a version of this that starts involving IO, but without any extra "logging" effects. Instead of using a list for our state, we'll use a mapping from timestamps to the messages. When we log a string, we'll use IO to get the current time and store the string in the map with that time.

newtype StampedMessages = StampedMessages (Data.Map.Map UTCTime String)
instance MyLogger StampedMessages where
  type (LoggerMonad StampedMessages) = StateT StampedMessages IO
  prevMessages (StampedMessages msgs) = Data.Map.elems msgs
  logString s = do
    (StampedMessages msgs) <- get
    currentTime <- lift getCurrentTime
    put $ StampedMessages (Data.Map.insert currentTime s msgs)

More IO

Now for a couple examples that use IO in a traditional logging way while also storing the messages. Our first example is a ConsoleLogger. It will save the message in its State but also log the message to the console.

newtype ConsoleLogger = ConsoleLogger [String]
instance MyLogger ConsoleLogger where
  type (LoggerMonad ConsoleLogger) = StateT ConsoleLogger IO
  prevMessages (ConsoleLogger msgs) = reverse msgs
  logString s = do
    (ConsoleLogger msgs) <- get
    lift $ putStrLn s
    put $ ConsoleLogger (s : msgs)

Another option is to write our messages to a file! We'll store the file name as part of our state, though we could use the Handle if we wanted.

newtype FileLogger = FileLogger (String, [String])
instance MyLogger FileLogger where
  type (LoggerMonad FileLogger) = StateT FileLogger IO
  prevMessages (FileLogger (_, msgs)) = reverse msgs
  logString s = do
    (FileLogger (filename, msgs)) <- get
    handle <- lift $ openFile filename AppendMode
    lift $ hPutStrLn handle s
    lift $ hClose handle
    put $ FileLogger (filename, s : msgs)

And we can imagine that we would have a similar situation if we wanted to send the logs over the network. We would use our State to store information about the destination server. Or else we could add something like Servant's ClientM monad to our stack in the type definition.

Using Our Logger

By defining our class like this, we can now write a polymorphic function that will work with any of our loggers!

runComputations :: (Logger logger, Monad (LoggerMonad logger)) => InputType -> (LoggerMonad logger) ResultType
runComputations input = do
  logString "Starting Computation!"
  let x = firstFunction input
  logString "Finished First Computation!"
  let y = secondFunction x
  logString "Finished Second Computation!"
  return y

This is awesome because our code is now abstracted away from the needed effects. We could call this with or without the IO monad.

Comparing to Other Languages

Now, to be fair, this is one area of Haskell's type system that makes it a bit more difficult to use than other languages. Arbitrary effects can happen anywhere in Java or Python. Because of this, we don't have to worry about matching up effects with types.

But let's not forget about the benefits! For all parts of our code, we know what effects we can use. This lets us determine at compile time where certain problems can arise.

And type families give us the best of both worlds! They allow us to write polymorphic code that can work either with or without IO effects!


That's all for our series on Haskell's data system! We've now seen a wide range of elements, from the simple to the complex. We compared Haskell against other languages. Again, the simplicity with which one can declare data in Haskell and use it polymorphically was a key selling point for me!

Hopefully this series has inspired you to get started with Haskell if you haven't already! Download our Getting Started Checklist or read our Liftoff Series to get going!

Why Haskell IV: Typeclasses vs. Inheritance


Welcome to part four of our series comparing Haskell's data types to other languages. As I've expressed before, the type system is one of the key reasons I enjoy programming in Haskell. And this week, we're going to get to the heart of the matter. We'll compare Haskell's typeclass system with the idea of inheritance used by object oriented languages.

If Haskell's simplicity inspires you as well, try it out! Download our Beginners Checklist and read our Liftoff Series to get going!

Typeclasses Review

Before we get started, let's do a quick review of the concepts we're discussing. First, let's remember how typeclasses work. A typeclass describes a behavior we expect. Different types can choose to implement this behavior by creating an instance.

One of the most common classes is the Functor typeclass. The behavior of a functor is that it contains some data, and we can map a type transformation over that data.

In the raw code definition, a typeclass is a series of function names with type signatures. There's only one function for Functor: fmap:

class Functor f where
  fmap :: (a -> b) -> f a -> f b

A lot of different container types implement this typeclass. For example, lists implement it with the basic map function:

instance Functor [] where
  fmap = map

But now we can write a function that assumes nothing about one of its inputs except that it is a functor:

stringify :: (Functor f) -> f Int -> f String

We could pass a list of ints, an IO action returning an Int, or a Maybe Int if we wanted. This function would still work! This is the core idea of how we can get polymorphic code in Haskell.

Inheritance Basics

As we saw in previous parts, object oriented languages like Java, C++, and Python tend to use inheritance to achieve polymorphism. With inheritance, we make a new class that extends the functionality of a parent class. The child class can access the fields and functions of the parent. We can call functions from the parent class on the child object. Here's an example:

public class Person {
  public String firstName;
  public String lastName;
  public int age;

  public Person(String fn, String ln, int age) {
    this.firstName = fn;
    this.lastName = ln;
    this.age = age;

  public String getFullName() {
    return this.firstName + " " + this.lastName;

public class Employee extends Person {
  public String company;
  public String email;
  public int salary;

  public Employee(String fn,
                  String ln,
                  int age,
                  String company,
                  String em,
                  int sal) {
    super(fn, ln, age);
    this.company = company;
    this.email = em;
    this.sal = sal;

Inheritance expresses an "Is-A" relationship. An Employee "is a" Person. Because of this, we can create an Employee, but pass it to any function that expects a Person. We can also call the getFullName function from Person on our Employee type.

public void printPerson(Person p) {

public void main {
  Employee e = Employee("Michael", "Smith", 23, "Google", "msmith@google.com", 100000);
  String s = e.getFullName();

Here's another trick. We can put items constructed as either Person or Employee in the same array, if that array has type Person[]:

public void main {
  Employee e = Employee("Michael", "Smith", 23, "Google", "msmith@google.com", 100000);
  Person p = Person("Katie", "Johnson", 25);
  Person[] people = {e, p};

This provides a useful kind of polymorphism we can't get in Haskell.


Inheritance does have a few benefits. It allows us to reuse code. The Employee class can use the getFullName function without having to define it. If we wanted, we could override the definition in the Employee class, but we don't have to.

Inheritance also allows a degree of polymorphism, as we saw in the code examples above. If the circumstances only require us to use a Person, we can use an Employee or any other subclass of Person we make.

We can also use inheritance to hide variables away when they aren't needed by subclasses. In our example above, we made all our instance variables public. This means an Employee function can still call this.firstName. But if we make them private instead, the subclasses can't use them in their functions. This helps to encapsulate our code.


Inheritance is not without its downsides though. One unpleasant consequence is that it creates a tight coupling between classes. If we change the parent class, we run the risk of breaking all child classes. If the interface to the parent class changes, we'll have to change any subclass that overrides the function.

Another potential issue is that your interface could deform to accommodate child classes. There might be some parameters only a certain child class needs, and some only the parent needs. But you'll end up having all parameters in all versions because the API needs to match.

A final problem comes from trying to understand source code. There's a yo-yo effect that can happen when you need to hunt down what function definition your code is using. For example your child class can call a parent function. That parent function might call another function in its interface. But if the child has overridden it, you'd have to go back to the child. And this pattern can continue, making it difficult to keep track of what's happening. It gets even worse the more levels of a hierarchy you have.

I was a mobile developer for a couple years, using Java and Objective C. These kinds of flaws were part of what turned me off OO-focused languages.

Typeclasses as Inheritance

Now, Haskell doesn't allow you to "subclass" a type. But we can still get some of the same effects of inheritance by using typeclasses. Let's see how this works with the Person example from above. Instead of making a separate Person data type, we can make a Person typeclass. Here's one approach:

class Person a where
  firstName :: a -> String
  lastName :: a -> String
  age :: a -> Int
  getFullName :: a -> String

data Employee = Employee
  { employeeFirstName :: String
  , employeeLastName :: String
  , employeeAge :: Int
  , company :: String
  , email :: String
  , salary :: Int

instance Person Employee where
  firstName = employeeFirstName
  lastName = employeeLastName
  age = employeeAge
  getFullName e = employeeFirstName e ++ " " ++ employeeLastName e

We can one interesting observation here. Multiple inheritance is now trivial. After all, a type can implement as many typeclasses as it wants. Python and C++ allows multiple inheritance. But it presents enough conceptual pains that languages like Java and Objective C do not allow it.

Looking at this example though, we can see a big drawback. We won't get much code reusability out of this. Every new type will have to define getFullName. That will get tedious. A different approach could be to only have the data fields in the interface. Then we could have a library function as a default implementation:

class Person a where
  firstName :: a -> String
  lastName :: a -> String
  age :: a -> Int

getFullName :: (Person a) => a -> String
getFullName p = firstName p ++ " " ++ lastName p

data Employee = ...

instance Person Employee where

This allows code reuse. But it does not allow overriding, which the first example would. So you'd have to choose on a one-off basis which approach made more sense for your type. And no matter what, we can't place different types into the same array, as we could in Java.

So while we could do inheritance in Haskell, it's a pattern you should avoid. Stick to using typeclasses in the intended way.


Object oriented inheritance has some interesting uses. But at the end of the day, I found the warts very annoying. Tight coupling between classes seems to defeat the purpose of abstraction. Meanwhile, restrictions like single inheritance feel like a code smell to me. The existence of that restriction suggests a design flaw. Finally, the issue of figuring out which version of a function you're using can be quite tricky. This is especially true when your class hierarchy is large.

Typeclasses express behaviors. And as long as our types implement those behaviors, we get access to a lot of useful code. It can be a little tedious to flesh out a new instance of a class for every type you make. But there are all kinds of ways to derive instances, and this can reduce the burden. I find typeclasses a great deal more intuitive and less restrictive. Whenever I see a requirement expressed through a typeclass, it feels clean and not clunky. This distinction is one of the big reasons I prefer Haskell over other languages.


That wraps up our comparison of typeclasses and inheritance! There's one more topic I'd like to cover in this series. It goes a bit beyond the "simplicity" of Haskell into some deeper ideas. We've seen concepts like parametric types and typeclasses. These force us to fill in "holes" in a type's definition. We can expand on this idea by looking at type families. Next week, we'll explore this more advanced concept and see what it's useful for.

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Why Haskell III: Parametric Types


Welcome back to our series on the simplicity of Haskell's data declarations. Last week, we looked at how to express sum types in different languages. We saw that they fit very well within Haskell's data declaration system. For Java and Python, we ended up using inheritance, which presents some interesting benefits and drawbacks. We'll explore those more next week. But first, we should wrap our heads around one more concept: parametric types.

We'll see how each of these languages allows for the concept of parametric types. In my view, Haskell does have the cleanest syntax. But other compiled languages do pretty well to incorporate the concept. Dynamica languages though, provide insufficient guarantees for my liking.

This all might seem a little wild if you haven't done any Haskell at all yet! Read our Liftoff Series to get started!

Haskell Parametric Types

Let's remember how easy it is to do parametric types in Haskell. When we want to parameterize a type, we'll add a type variable after its name in the definition. Then we can use this variable as we would any other type. Remember our Person type from the first week? Here's what it looks like if we parameterize the occupation field.

data Person o = Person
  { personFirstName :: String
  , personLastName :: String
  , personEmail :: String
  , personAge :: Int
  , personOccupation :: o

We add the o at the start, and then we can use o in place of our former String type. Now whenever we use the Person type, we have to specify a type parameter to complete the definition.

data Occupation = Lawyer | Doctor | Engineer

person1 :: Person String
person1 = Person "Michael" "Smith" "msmith@gmail.com" 27 "Lawyer"

person2 :: Person Occupation
person2 = Person "Katie" "Johnson" "kjohnson@gmail.com" 26 Doctor

When we define functions, we can use a specific version of our parameterized type if we want to constrain it. We can also use a generic type if it doesn't matter.

salesMessage :: Person Occupation -> String
salesMessage p = case personOccupation p of
  Lawyer -> "We'll get you the settlement you deserve"
  Doctor -> "We'll get you the care you need"
  Engineer -> "We'll build that app for you"

fullName :: Person o -> String
fullName p = personFirstName p ++ " " ++ personLastName p

Last of all, we can use a typeclass constraint on the parametric type if we only need certain behaviors:

sortOnOcc :: (Ord o) => [Person o] -> [Person o]
sortOnOcc = sortBy (\p1 p2 -> compare (personOccupation p1) (personOccupation p2)

Java Generic Types

Java has a comparable concept called generics. The syntax for defining generic types is pretty clean. We define a type variable in brackets. Then we can use that variable as a type freely throughout the class definition.

public class Person<T> {
    private String firstName;
    private String lastName;
    private String email;
    private int age;
    private T occupation;

    public Person(String fn, String ln, String em, int age, T occ) {
        this.firstName = fn;
        this.lastName = ln;
        this.email = em;
        this.age = age;
        this.occupation = occ;

    public T getOccupation() { return this.occupation; }
    public void setOccupation(T occ) { this.occupation = occ; }

There's a bit of a wart in how we pass constraints. This comes from the Java distinction of interfaces from classes. Normally, when you define a class and state the subclass, you would use the extends keyword. But when your class uses an interface, you use the implements keyword.

But with generic type constraints, you only use extends. You can chain constraints together with &. But if one of the constraints is a subclass, it must come first.

public class Person<T extends Number & Comparable & Serializable> {

In this example, our template type T must be a subclass of Number. It must then implement the Comparable and Serializable interfaces. If we mix the order up and put an interface before the parent class, it will not compile:

public class Person<T extends Comparable & Number & Serializable> {

C++ Templates

For the first time in this series, we'll reference a little bit of C++ code. C++ has the idea of "template types" which are very much like Java's generics. Here's how we can create our user type as a template:

template <class T>
class Person {
  string firstName;
  string lastName;
  string email;
  int age;
  T occupation;

  bool compareOccupation(const T& other);

There's a bit more overhead with C++ though. C++ function implementations are typically defined outside the class definition. Because of this, you need an extra leading line for each of these stating that T is a template. This can get a bit tedious.

template <class T>
bool Person::compareOccupation(const T& other) {

One more thing I'll note from my experience with C++ templates. The error messages from template types can be verbose and difficult to parse. For example, you could forget the template line above. This alone could cause a very confusing message. So there's definitely a learning curve. I've always found Haskell's error messages easier to deal with.

Python - The Wild West!

Since Python isn't compiled, there aren't type constraints when you construct an object. Thus, there is no need for type parameters. You can pass whatever object you want to a constructor. Take this example with our user and occupation:

class Person(object):

  # This definition hasn't changed!
  def __init__(self, fn, ln, em, age, occ):
    self.firstName = fn
    self.lastName = ln
    self.email = em
    self.age = age
    self.occupation = occ

stringOcc = "Lawyer"
person1 = Person(

class Occupation(object):

classOcc = Occupation()

# Still works!
person2 = Person(

Of course, with this flexibility comes great danger. If you expect there are different types you might pass for the occupation, your code must handle them all! Without compilation, it can be tricky to know you can do this. So while you can do polymorphic code in Python, you're more limited. You shouldn't get too carried away, because it is more likely to blow up in your face.


Now that we know about parametric types, we have more intuition for the idea of filling in type holes. This will come in handy next week as we look at Haskell's typeclass system for sharing behaviors. We'll compare the object oriented notion of inheritance and Haskell's typeclasses. This distinction gets to the core of why I've come to prefer Haskell as a language. You won't want to miss it!

If these comparisons have intrigued you, you should give Haskell a try! Download our Beginners Checklist to get started!

Why Haskell II: Sum Types


Today, I'm continuing our series on "Why Haskell". We're looking at concepts that are simple to express in Haskell but harder in other languages. Last week we began by looking at simple data declarations. This week, we'll go one step further and look at sum types. That is, we'll consider types with more than one constructor. These allow the same type to represent different kinds of data. They're invaluable in capturing many concepts.

Most of the material in this article is pretty basic. But if you haven't gotten the chance to use Haskell yet, you might to start from the beginning! Download our Beginners Checklist or read our Liftoff Series!

Haskell Basic Sum Types

Last week we started with a basic Person type like so:

data Person = Person String String String Int String

We can expand this type by adding more constructors to it. Let's imagine our first constructor refers to an adult person. Then we could make a second constructor for a Child. It will have different information attached. For instance, we only care about their first name, age, and what grade they're in:

data Person =
  Adult String String String Int String |
  Child String Int Int

To determine what kind of Person we're dealing with, it's a simple case of pattern matching. So whenever we need to branch, we do this pattern match in a function definition or a case statement!

personAge :: Person -> Int
personAge (Adult _ _ _ a _) = a
personAge (Child _ a _) = a

-- OR

personAge :: Person -> Int
personAge p = case p of
  Adult _ _ _ a _ -> a
  Child _ a _ -> a

On the whole, our definition is very simple! And the approach scales. Adding a third or fourth constructor is just as simple! This extensibility is super attractive when designing types. The ease of this concept was a key point in convincing me about Haskell.

Record Syntax

Before we move onto other languages, it's worth noting the imperfections with this design. In our type above, it can be a bit confusing what each field represents. We used record syntax in the previous part to ease this pain. We can apply that again on this sum type:

data Person =
    { adultFirstName :: String
    , adultLastName :: String
    , adultEmail :: String
    , adultAge :: Int
    , adultOccupation :: String
    } |
    { childFirstName :: String
    , childAge :: Int
    , childGrade :: Int

This works all right, but it still leaves us with some code smells we don't want in Haskell. In particular, record syntax derives functions for us. Here are a few type signatures of those functions:

adultEmail :: Person -> String
childAge :: Person -> Int
childGrade :: Person -> Int

Unfortunately, these are partial functions. They are only defined for Person elements of the proper constructor. If we call adultEmail on a Child, we'll get an error, and we don't like that. The types appear to match up, but it will crash our program! We can work around this a little by merging field names like adultAge and childAge. But at the end of the day we'll still have some differences in what data we need.

Coding practices can reduce the burden somewhat. For example, it is quite safe to call head on a list if you've already pattern matched that it is non-empty. Likewise, we can use record syntax functions if we're in a "post-pattern-match" situation. But we would need to ignore them otherwise! And this is a rule we would like to avoid in Haskell.

Java Approach I: Multiple Constructors

Now let's try to replicate the idea of sum types in other languages. It's a little tricky. Here's a first approach we can do in Java. We could set a flag on our type indicating whether it's a Parent or a Child. Then we'll have all the different fields within our type. Note we'll use public fields without getters and setters for the sake of simplicity. Like Haskell, Java allows us to use two different constructors for our type:

public class Person {
  public boolean isAdult;
  public String adultFirstName;
  public String adultLastName;
  public String adultEmail;
  public int adultAge;
  public String adultOccupation;
  public String childFirstName;
  public int childAge;
  public int childGrade;

  // Adult Constructor
  public Person(String fn, String ln, String em, int age, String occ) {
    this.isAdult = true;
    this.adultFirstName = fn;

  // Child Constructor
  public Person(String fn, int age, int grade) {
    this.isAdult = false;
    this.childFirstName = fn;

We can see that there's a big amount of bloat on the field values, even if we were to combine common ones like age. Then we'll have more awkwardness when writing functions that have to pattern match. Each function within the type will involve a check on the boolean flag. And these checks might also percolate to outer calls as well.

public class Person {
  public String getFullName() {
    if (this.isAdult) {
      // Adult Code
    } else {
      // Child Code

This approach is harder to scale to more constructors. We would need an enumerated type rather than a boolean for the "flag" value. And it would add more conditions to each of our functions. This approach is cumbersome. It's also very unidiomatic Java code. The more "proper" way involves using inheritance.

Java Approach II: Inheritance

Inheritance is a way of sharing code between types in an object oriented language. For this example, we would make Person a "superclass" of separate Adult and Child classes. We would have separate class declarations for each of them. The Person class would share all the common information. Then the child classes would have code specific to them.

public class Person {
  public String firstName;
  public int age;

  public Person(String fn, int age) {
    this.firstName = fn;
    this.age = age;

// NOTICE: extends Person
public class Adult extends Person {
  public String lastName;
  public String email;
  public String occupation;

  public Adult(String fn, String ln, String em, int age, String occ) {
    // super calls the "Person" constructor
    super(fn, age);
    this.lastName = ln;
    this.email = em;
    this.occupation = occ;

// NOTICE: extends Person
public class Child extends Person {
  public int grade;

  public Child(String fn, int age, int grade) {
    // super calls the "Person" constructor
    super(fn, age);
    this.grade = grade;

By extending the Person type, each of our subclasses gets access to the firstName and age fields. There's a big upside we get here that Haskell doesn't usually have. In this case, we've encoded the constructor we used with the type. We'll be passing around Adult and Child objects for the most part. This saves a lot of the partial function problems we encounter in Haskell.

We will, on occasion, combine these in a form where we need to do pattern matching. For example, we can make an array of Person objects. Then at some point we'll need to determine which have type Adult and which have type Child. This is possible by using the isinstance condition in Java. But again, it's unidiomatic and we should strive to avoid it. Still, inheritance represents a big improvement over our first approach.

Python: Only One Constructor!

Unlike Java, Python only allows a single constructor for each type. The way we would control what "type" we make is by passing a certain set of arguments. We then provide None default values for the rest. Here's what it might look like.

class Person(object):
  def __init__(self,
               fn = None,
               ln = None,
               em = None,
               age = None,
               occ = None,
               grade = None):
    if fn and ln and em and age and occ:
      self.isAdult = true
      self.firstName = fn
      self.lastName = ln
      self.age = age
      self.occupation = occ
      self.grade = None
    elif fn and age and grade:
      self.isAdult = false
      self.firstName = fn
      self.age = age
      self.grade = grade
      self.lastName = None
      self.email = None
      self.occupation = None
      raise ValueError("Failed to construct a Person!")

# Note which arguments we use!
adult = Person(fn="Michael", ln="Smith", em="msmith@gmail.com", age=25, occ="Lawyer")
child = Person(fn="Mike", age=12, grade=7)

But there's a lot of messiness here! A lot of input combinations lead to errors! Because of this, the inheritance approach we proposed for Java is also the best way to go for Python. Again though, Python lacks pattern matching across different types of classes. This means we'll have more if statements like if isinstance(x, Adult). In fact, these will be even more prevalent in Python, as type information isn't attached.


Once again, we see certain themes arising. Haskell has a clean, simple syntax for this concept. It isn't without its difficulties, but it gets the job done if we're careful. Java gives us a couple ways to manage the issue of sum types. One is cumbersome and unidiomatic. The other is more idiomatic, but presents other issues as we'll see later. Then Python gives us a great deal of flexibility but few guarantees about anything's type. The result is that we can get a lot of errors.


This week, we continued our look at the simplicity of constructing types in Haskell. We saw how a first try at replicating the concept of sum types in other languages leads to awkward code. In a couple weeks, we'll dig deeper into the concept of inheritance. It offers a decent way to accomplish our task in Java and Python. And yet, there's a reason we don't have it in Haskell. But first up, our next article will look at the idea of parametric types. We'll see again that it is simpler to do this in Haskell's syntax than other languages. We'll need those ideas to help us explore inheritance later.

If this series makes you want to try Haskell more, it's time to get going! Download our Beginner's Checklist for some tips and tools on starting out! Or read our Liftoff Series for a more in depth look at Haskell basics.

Why Haskell I: Simple Data Types!


I first learned about Haskell in college. I've considered why I kept up with Haskell after, even when I didn't know about its uses in industry. I realized there were a few key elements that drew me to it.

In a word, Haskell is elegant. For me, this means we can simple concepts in simple terms. In the next few weeks, we're going to look at some of these concepts. We'll see that Haskell expresses a lot of ideas in simple terms that other languages express in more complicated terms. This week, we'll start by looking at simple data declarations.

If you've never used Haskell, now is the perfect time to start! For a quick start guide, download our Beginners Checklist. For a more in-depth walkthrough, read our Liftoff Series!

Haskell Data Declarations

This week, we'll be comparing a data type with a single constructor across a few different languages. Next week, we'll look at multi-constructor types. So let's examine a simple type declaration:

data Person = Person String String String Int String

Our declaration is very simple, and fits on one line. There's a single constructor with a few different fields attached to it. We know exactly what the types of those fields are, so we can build the object. The only way we can declare a Person is to provide all the right information in order.

firstPerson :: Person
firstPerson = Person "Michael" "Smith" "msmith@gmail.com" 32 "Lawyer"

If we provide any less information, we won't have a Person! We can leave off the last argument. But then the resulting type reflects that we still need that field to complete our item:

incomplete :: String -> Person
incomplete = Person "Michael" "Smith" "msmith@gmail.com" 32

Now, our type declaration is admittedly confusing. We don't know what each field means at all when looking at it. And it would be easy to mix things up. But we can fix that in Haskell with record syntax, which assigns a name to each field.

data Person = Person
  { personFirstName :: String
  , personLastName :: String
  , personEmail :: String
  , personAge :: Int
  , personOccupation :: String

We can use these names as functions to retrieve the specific fields out of the data item later.

fullName :: Person -> String
fullName person = personFirstName person ++ " "
  ++ personLastName person

And that's the basics of data types in Haskell! Let's take a look at this same type declaration in a couple other languages.


If we wanted to express this in the simplest possible Java form, we'd do so like this:

public class Person {
  public String firstName;
  public String lastName;
  public String email;
  public int age;
  public String occupation;

Now, this definition isn't much longer than the Haskell definition. It isn't a very useful definition as written though! We can only initialize it with a default constructor Person(). And then we have to assign all the fields ourselves! So let's fix this with a constructor:

public class Person {
    public String firstName;
    public String lastName;
    public String email;
    public int age;
    public String occupation;

    public Person(String fn,
                  String ln, 
                  String em, 
                  int age, 
                  String occ) {
        this.firstName = fn;
        this.lastName = ln;
        this.email = em;
        this.age = age;
        this.occupation = occ;

Now we can initialize it in a sensible way. But this still isn't idiomatic Java. Normally, we would have our instance variables declared as private, not public. Then we would expose the ones we wanted via "getter" and "setter" methods. If we do this for all our types, it would bloat the class quite a bit. In general though, you wouldn't have arbitrary setters for all your fields. Here's our code with getters and one setter.

public class Person {
    private String firstName;
    private String lastName;
    private String email;
    private int age;
    private String occupation;

    public Person(String fn, 
                  String ln, 
                  String em,
                  int age,
                  String occ) {
        this.firstName = fn;
        this.lastName = ln;
        this.email = em;
        this.age = age;
        this.occupation = occ;

  public String getFirstName() { return this.firstName; }
  public String getLastName() { return this.lastName; }
  public String getEmail() { return this.email; }
  public int getAge() { return this.age; }
  public String getOccupation() { return this.occupation; }

  public void setOccupation(String occ) { this.occupation = occ; }

Now we've got code that is both complete and idiomatic Java.

Public and Private

We can see that the lack of a public/private distinction in Haskell saves us a lot of grief in defining our types. Why don't we do this?

In general, we'll declare our data types so that constructors and fields are all visible. After all, data objects should contain data. And this data is usually only useful if we expose it to the outside world. But remember, it's only exposed as read-only, because our objects are immutable! We'd have to construct another object if we want to "mutate" an existing item (IO monad aside).

The other thing to note is we don't consider functions as a part of our data type in the same way Java (or C++) does. A function is a function whether we define it along with our type or not. So we separate them syntactically from our type, which also contributes to conciseness.

Of course, we do have some notion of public and private items in Haskell. Instead of using the type defintion, we handle it with our module definitins. For instance, we might abstract constructors behind other functions. This allows extra features like validation checks. Here's how we can define our person type but hide it's true constructor:

module Person (Person, mkPerson) where

-- We do NOT export the `Person` constructor!
-- To do that, we would use:
-- module Person (Person(Person)) where
--   OR
-- module Person (Person(..)) where

data Person = Person String String String Int String

mkPerson :: String -> String -> String -> Int -> String
  -> Either String Person
mkPerson = ...

Now anyone who uses our code has to use the mkPerson function. This lets us return an error if something is wrong!


As our last example in this article, here's a simple Python version of our data type.

class Person(object):

  def __init__(self, fn, ln, em, age, occ):
    self.firstName = fn
    self.lastName = ln
    self.email = em
    self.age = age
    self.occupation = occ

This definition is pretty compact. We can add functions to this class, or define them outside and pass the class as another variable. It's not as clean as Haskell, but much shorter than Java.

Now, Python has no notion of private member variables. Conventions exist, like using an underscore in front of "private" variable names. But you can't restrict their usage outside of your file, even through imports! This helps keep the type definition smaller. But it does make Python a little less flexible than other languages.

What Python does have is more flexibility in argument ordering. We can name our arugments as follows, allowing us to change the order we use to initialize our type. Then we can include default arguments (like None).

class Person(object):

  def __init__(self, fn=None, ln=None, em=None, age=None, occ=None):
    self.firstName = fn
    self.lastName = ln
    self.email = em
    self.age = age
    self.occupation = occ

# This person won't have a first name!
myPerson = Person(

This gives more flexibility. We can initialize our object in a lot more different ways. But it's also a bit dangerous. Now we don't necessarily know what fields are null when using our object. This can cause a lot of problems later. We'll explore this theme throughout this series when looking at Python data types and code.


We'll be making more references to Python throughout this series as we explore its syntax. Most of the observations we make about Python apply equally well to Javascript. In general, Javascript offers us flexibility in constructing objects. For instance, we can even extend objects with new fields once they're created. Javascript even naturalizes the concept of extending objects with functions. (This is possible in Python, but not as idiomatic).

A result of this though is that we have no guarantees about how which of our objects have which fields. We won't know for sure we'll get a good value from calling any given property. Even basic computations in Javascript can give results like NaN or undefined. In Haskell you can end up with undefined, but pretty much only if you assign that value yourself! And in Haskell, we're likely to see an immediate termination of the program if that happens. Javascript might percolate these bad values far up the stack. These can lead to strange computations elsewhere that don't crash our program but give weird output instead!

But the specifics of Javascript can change a lot with the framework you happen to be using. So we won't cite too many code examples in this series. Remember though, most of the observations we make with Python will apply.


So after comparing these methods, I much prefer using Haskell's way of defining data. It's clean, and quick. We can associate functions with our type or not, and we can make fields private if we want. And that's just in the one-constructor case! We'll see how things get even more hairy for other languages when we add more constructors! Come back next week to see how things stack up!

If you've never programmed in Haskell, hopefully this series shows you why it's actually not too hard! Read our Liftoff Series or download our Beginners Checklist to get started!

Happy New Years from MMH!


As 2018 comes to a close, I’d like to personally wish all my readers a happy new year! It’s been a big year for Monday Morning Haskell. We’re now more than two years old. We’ve grown a lot in readership, and tackled some very complex topics. We also released the first iteration of our Beginner’s Course, which will soon be re-opened!

New years is a time when I always like to get back to the basics a little bit. So for January, I’ve got a special series focusing on the simple things that drew me to Haskell in the first place. Haskell is a very different language from most. It has a lot of tools to express simple concepts that other languages struggle with.

We’ll look at things like type declarations, parametric types, and type families. We’ll compare the code required to express these concepts in Haskell and other languages. We’ll see the costs and benefits, and how Haskell gives us a lot more guarantees about how our code will work.

Besides our weekly blog posts, we've got some other big plans for 2019. We’re also looking to add another full-length course to our collection this summer! It will target a lot of the more advanced concepts we’ve gone through in this blog. You won’t want to miss it, so stay tuned!

To make sure you’re up to date with Monday Morning Haskell news, subscribe to our monthly newsletter! Subscribing will also give you access to our special subscriber resources! So don't miss out!

Purescript Series Now Available!

Last week we wrapped up our series on Purescript. At some point, we’ll come back to frontend web and tackle it from a more Haskell-centric perspective. But for now, we’ve added our our Purescript series as another permanent feature on our advanced page. You can take a look at that as well as our series on Elm. As a reminder, here’s the structure of that series:

  1. Part 1 covers the basics of Purescript. We see how to install it and how to solve simple problems.
  2. In part 2, we dig into some of the more complicated aspects of Purescript. We compare it to Haskell when it comes to elements like monads and typeclasses.
  3. In part 3, we get into the actual web usage of Purescript. We explore the basics of constructing a UI with the Halogen library. We also see how to architect our application to pass information around.
  4. We wrap up the series in part 4. In this part, we learn how to send web requests from our application. We also look at how to use routes to navigate between different pages.

Remember we also have plenty of resources for writing backend Haskell code! You can read our Haskell Web Series for some in-depth tutorials. You can also check out our Production Checklist for a slew of libraries for many different tasks!

And for any beginners out there, we have lots of material for you as well! Read our Liftoff Series and download our Beginners Checklist. They’ll teach you the basics of Haskell from the ground up!

Purescript IV: Routing and Navigation!


Welcome to the conclusion of our series on Purescript! We've spent a lot of time now learning to use functional languages for frontend web. Last Week we saw how to build a basic UI with Purescript. We made a simple counter and then a todo list application, as we did with Elm. This week, we'll explore two more crucial pieces of functionality. We'll see how to send web requests and how to provide different routes for our application.

There are two resources you can look at if you want more details on how this code works. First, you can look at our Github repository. You can also explore the Halogen Github repository. Take a look at the driver-routing and effects-ajax example.

Web Requests

For almost any web application, you're going to need to retrieve some data from a backend server. We'll use the purescript-affjax library to make requests from our Halogen components. The process is going to be a little simpler than it was with Elm.

In Elm, we had to hook web requests into our architecture using the concept of commands. But Purescript's syntax uses monads by nature. This makes it easier to work effects into our eval function.

In this first part of the article, we're going to build a simple web UI that will be able to send a couple requests. As with all our Halogen components, let's start by defining our state, message, and query types:

type State =
  { getResponse :: String
  , postInfo :: String

initialState :: State
initialState = 
  { getResponse: "Nothing Yet"
  , postInfo: ""

data Query a =
  SendGet a |
  SendPost a |
  UpdatedPostInfo String a

data Message = ReceivedFromPost String

We'll store two pieces of information in the state. First, we'll store a "response" we get from calling a get request, which we'll initialize to a default string. Then we'll store a string that the user will enter in a text field. We'll send this string through a post request. We'll make query constructors for each of the requests we'll send. Then, our message type will allow us to update our application with the result of the post request.

We'll initialize our component as we usually do, except with one difference. In previous situations, we used an unnamed m monad for our component stack. This time, we'll specify the Aff monad, enabling our asynchronous messages. This monad also gets applied to our eval function.

webSender :: H.Component HH.HTML Query Unit Message Aff
webSender = H.component
  { initialState: const initialState
  , render
  , eval
  , receiver: const Nothing

render :: State -> H.ComponentHTML Query

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff

Our UI will have four elements. We'll have a p field storing the response from our get request, as well as a button for triggering that request. Then we'll have an input field where the user can enter a string. There will also be a button to send that string in a post request. These all follow the patterns we saw in part 3 of this series, so we won't dwell on the specifics:

render :: State -> H.ComponentHTML Query
render st = HH.div [] [progressText, getButton, inputText, postButton]
    progressText = HH.p [] [HH.text st.getResponse]
    getButton = HH.button
      [ HP.title "Send Get", HE.onClick (HE.input_ SendGet) ]
      [ HH.text "Send Get" ]
    inputText = HH.input
      [ HP.type_ HP.InputText
      , HP.placeholder "Form Data"
      , HP.value st.postInfo
      , HE.onValueChange (HE.input UpdatedPostInfo)
    postButton =  HH.button
      [ HP.title "Send Post", HE.onClick (HE.input_ SendPost) ]
      [ HH.text "Send Post" ]

Our eval function will assess each of the different queries we can receive, as always. When updating the post request info (the text field), we update our state with the new value.

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff
eval = case _ of
  SendGet next -> ...
  SendPost next -> ...
  UpdatedPostInfo newInfo next -> do
    st <- H.get
    H.put (st { postInfo = newInfo })
    pure next

Now let's specify our get request. The get function from the Affjax library takes two parameters. First we need a "deserializer", which tells us how to convert the response into some desired type. We'll imagine we're getting a String back from the server, so we'll use the string deserializer. The our second parameter is the URL. This will be a localhost address. We call liftAff to get this Aff call into our component monad.

import Affjax as AX
import Affjax.ResponseFormat as AXR

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff
eval = case _ of
  SendGet next -> do
    response <-  H.liftAff $ AX.get AXR.string "http://localhost:8081/api/hello"
  SendPost next -> ...
  UpdatedPostInfo newInfo next -> ...

The response contains a lot of information, including things like the status code. But our main concern is the response body. This is an Either value giving us a success or error value. In either case, we'll put a reasonable value into our state, and call the next action!

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff
eval = case _ of
  SendGet next -> do
    response <-  H.liftAff $ AX.get AXR.string "http://localhost:8081/api/hello"
    st <- H.get
    case response.body of
      Right success -> H.put (st { getResponse = success })
      Left _ -> H.put (st { getResponse = "Error!" })
    pure next
  SendPost next -> ...
  UpdatedPostInfo newInfo next -> ...

Then we can go to our UI, click the button, and it will update the field with an appropriate value!

Post Requests

Sending a post request will be similar. The main change is that we'll need to create a body for our post request. We'll do this using the "Argonaut" library for Purescript. The fromString function gives us a JSON object. We wrap this into a RequestBody with the json function:

import Affjax.RequestBody as AXRB
import Data.Argonaut.Core as JSON


eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff
eval = case _ of
  SendGet next -> ...
  SendPost next -> do
    st <- H.get
    let body = AXRB.json (JSON.fromString st.postInfo)
  UpdatedPostInfo newInfo next -> ...

Aside from adding this body parameter, the post function works as the get function does. We'll break the response body into Right and Left cases to determine the result. Instead of updating our state, we'll send a message about the result.

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message Aff
eval = case _ of
  SendGet next -> ...
  SendPost next -> do
    st <- H.get
    let body = AXRB.json (JSON.fromString st.postInfo)
    response <- H.liftAff $ AX.post AXR.string "http://localhost:8081/api/post" body
    case response.body of
      Right success -> H.raise (ReceivedFromPost success)
      Left _ -> H.raise (ReceivedFromPost "There was an error!")
    pure next
  UpdatedPostInfo newInfo next -> ...

And that's the basics of web requests!

Routing Basics

Now let's change gears and consider how we can navigate among different pages. For the sake of example, let's say we've got 4 different types of pages in our app.

  1. A home page
  2. A login page
  3. A user profile page
  4. A page for each article

Each user profile will have an integer user ID attached to it. Each article will have a string identifier attached to it as well as a user ID for the author. Here's a traditional router representation of this:


With the Purescript Routing library, our first step is to represent our set of routes with a data type. Each route will represent a page on our site, so we'll call our type Page. Here's how we do that:

data Page =
  HomePage |
  LoginPage |
  ProfilePage Int |
  ArticlePage Int String

By using a data structure, we'll be able to ensure two things. First, all the routes in our application have some means of handling them. If we're missing a case, the compiler will let us know. Second, we'll ensure that our application logic cannot route the user to an unknown page. We will need to use one of the routes within our data structure.

Building a Parser

That said, the user could still enter any URL they want in the address bar. So we have to know how to parse URLs into our different pages. For this, we have to build a parser on our route type. This will have the type Match Page. This will follow an applicative parsing structure. For more background on this, check out this article from our parsing series!

But even if you've never seen this kind of parsing before, the patterns aren't too hard. The first thing to know is that the lit function (meaning literal) matches a string path component. So we feed it the string element we want, and it will match our route.

For our home page route, we'll want to first match the URL component "home".

import Routing.Match (Match, lit, int, str)

matchHome = lit "home"

But this will actually give us a Match that outputs a String. We want to ignore the string we parsed, and give a constructor of our Page type. Here's what that looks like:

matchHome :: Match Page
matchHome = HomePage <$ lit "home"

The <$ data-preserve-html-node="true" operator tells us we want to perform a functor wrap. Except we want to ignore the resulting value from the second part. This gives our first match!

The login page will have a very similar matcher:

matchLogin :: Match Page
matchLogin = LoginPage <$ lit "login"

But then for the profile page, we'll actually want to use the result from one of our matchers! We want to use int to read the integer out of the URL component and plug it into our data structure. For this, we need the applicative operator <*>. Except once again, we'll have a string part that we ignore, so we'll actually use *>. Here's what it looks like:

matchProfile :: Match Page
matchProfile = ProfilePage <$> (lit "profile" *> int)

Now for our final matcher, we'll keep using these same ideas! We'll use the full applicative operator <*> since we want both the user ID and the article ID.

matchArticle :: Match Page
matchArticle = ArticlePage <$>
  (lit "blog" *> lit "articles" *> int) <*> string

Now we combine our different matchers into a router by using the <|> operator from Alternative:

router :: Match Page
router = matchHome <|> matchLogin <|> matchProfile <|> matchArticle

And we're done! Notice how similar Purescript and Haskell are in this situation! Pretty much all the code from this section could work in Haskell. (As long as we used the corresponding libraries).

Incorporating Our Router

Now to use this routing mechanism, we're going to need to set up our application in a special way. It will have one single parent component and several child components. We will make it so that our application can listen to changes in the URL. We'll use our router to match those changes to our URL scheme. Our parent component will, as always, respond to queries. We won't go through the details of our child components. You can take a look at src/NavComponents.purs in our Github repo for details there.

We'll use some special mechanisms to send a query on each route change event. Then our parent component will handle updating the view. An important thing to know is that all the child components have the same query and message type. We won't use these much in this article, but these are how you would customize app-wide behavior.

type ChildState = Int
data ChildQuery a = ChildQuery a
data ChildMessage = ChildMessage

Each child component will have a link to the "next page" in the sequence. This way, we can show how these links work once we render it. We'll need access to these component definitions in our parent module:

homeComponent :: forall m.
  H.Component HH.HTML ChildQuery Unit ChildMessage m

loginComponent :: forall m.
  H.Component HH.HTML ChildQuery Unit ChildMessage m

profileComponent :: forall m. Int ->
  H.Component HH.HTML ChildQuery Unit ChildMessage m

articleComponent :: forall m. Int -> String ->
  H.Component HH.HTML ChildQuery Unit ChildMessage m

The Parent Component

Now let's start our by making a simple query type for our parent element. We'll have one query for changing the page, and one for processing messages from our children.

data ParentQuery a =
  ChangePage Page a |
  HandleAppAction Message a

The parent's state will include the current page. It could also include some secondary elements like the ID of the logged in user, if we wanted.

type ParentState = { currentPage :: Page }

Now we'll need slot designations for the "child" element of our page. Depending on the state of our application, our child element will be a different component. This is how we'll represent the different pages of our application.

data SlotId = HomeSlot | LoginSlot | ProfileSlot | ArticleSlot

Our eval and render functions should be pretty straightforward. When we evaluate the "change page" query, we'll update our state. Then we won't do anything when processing a ChildMessage:

eval :: forall m. ParentQuery ~>
  H.ParentDSL ParentState ParentQuery ChildQuery SlotId Void m
eval = case _ of
  ChangePage pg next -> do
    H.put {currentPage: pg}
    pure next
  HandleAppAction _ next -> do
    pure next

For our render function, we first need a couple helpers. The first goes from the page to the slot ID. The second gives a mapping from our page data structure to the proper component.

slotForPage :: Page -> SlotId
slotForPage HomePage = HomeSlot
slotForPage LoginPage = LoginSlot
slotForPage (ProfilePage _) = ProfileSlot
slotForPage (ArticlePage _ _) = ArticleSlot

componentForPage :: forall m. Page ->
  H.Component HH.HTML ChildQuery Unit Message m
componentForPage HomePage = homeComponent
componentForPage LoginPage = loginComponent
componentForPage (ProfilePage uid) = profileComponent uid
componentForPage (ArticlePage uid aid) = articleComponent uid aid

Now we can construct our render function. We'll access the page from our state, and then create an appropriate slot for it:

render :: forall m. ParentState ->
  H.ParentHTML ParentQuery ChildQuery SlotId m
render st = HH.div_
  [ HH.slot sl comp unit (HE.input HandleAppAction)
    sl = slotForPage st.currentPage
    comp = componentForPage st.currentPage

Adding Routing

Now to actually apply the routing in our application, we'll update our Main module. This process will be a little complicated. There are a lot of different libraries involved in reading event changes. We won't dwell too much on the details, but here's the high level overview.

Every time the user changes the URL or clicks a link, this produces a HashChangeEvent. We want to create our own Producer that will listen for these events so we can send them to our application. Here's what that looks like:

import Control.Coroutine as CR
import Control.Coroutine.Aff as CRA
import Web.HTML (window) as DOM
import Web.HTML.Event.HashChangeEvent as HCE
import Web.HTML.Event.HashChangeEvent.EventTypes as HCET

hashChangeProducer :: CR.Producer HCE.HashChangeEvent Aff Unit
hashChangeProducer = CRA.produce \emitter -> do
  listener <- DOM.eventListener
    (traverse_ (CRA.emit emitter) <<< HCE.fromEvent)
  liftEffect $
      >>= Window.toEventTarget
      >>> DOM.addEventListener HCET.hashchange listener false

Now we want our application to consume these events. So we'll set up a Consumer function. It consumes the hash change events and passes them to our UI, as we'll see:

  :: (forall a. ParentQuery a -> Aff a)
  -> CR.Consumer HCE.HashChangeEvent Aff Unit
hashChangeConsumer query = CR.consumer \event -> do
  let hash = Str.drop 1 $ Str.dropWhile (_ /= '#') $ HCE.newURL event
      result = match router hash
      newPage = case result of
                  Left _ -> HomePage
                  Right page -> page
  void $ liftAff $ query $ H.action (ChangePage newPage)
  pure Nothing

There are a couple things to notice. We drop the hash up until the # to get the relevant part of our URL. Then we pass it to our router for processing. Finally, we pass an appropriate ChangePage action to our UI.

How do we do this? Well, the first argument of this consumer function (query) is actually another function. This function takes in our ParentQuery and produces an Aff event. We can access this function as a result of the runUI function.

So our final step is to run our UI. Then we run a separate process that will chain the producer and consumer together:

main :: Effect Unit
main = HA.runHalogenAff do
  body <- HA.awaitBody
  io <- runUI parentComponent unit body
  CR.runProcess (hashChangeProducer CR.$$ hashChangeConsumer io.query)

We pass the io.query property of our application UI to the consumer, so our UI can react to the events. And now our application will respond to URL changes!


This wraps up our series on Purescript! Between this and our Elm Series , you should have a good idea on how to use functional languages to write a web UI. As a reminder, you can see more details on running Purescript code on our Github Repository. The README will walk you through the basic steps of getting this code setup.

You can also take a look at some of our other resources on web development using Haskell! Read our Haskell Web Series to see how to write a backend for your application. You can also download our Production Checklist to learn about more libraries you can use.

Purescript III: Making a Web Page with Purescript and React!


Last week we continued learning the basic elements of Purescript. We examined how typeclasses and monads work and the slight differences from Haskell. Now it's finally time to use Purescript for its main purpose: frontend web development. We'll accomplish this using the Halogen framework, built on React.js.

In this article, we'll learn about the basic concepts of Halogen/React. We'll build a couple simple components to show how these work. Next week, we'll conclude our look at Purescript by making a more complete application. We'll see how to handle routing and sending web requests.

If you're building a frontend, you'll also need a backend at some point. Check out our Haskell Web Series to learn how to do that in Haskell!

Also, getting Purescript to work can be tricky business! Take a look at our Github repository for some more setup instructions!

Halogen Crash Course

The Halogen framework uses React.js under the hood, and the code applies similar ideas. If you don't do a lot of web development, you might not be too familiar with the details of React. Luckily, there are a few simple principles we'll apply that will remind us of Elm!

With Halogen, our UI consists of different "components". A component is a UI element that maintains its own state and properties. It also responds to queries, and sends messages. For any component, we'll start by defining a a state type, a query type, and a message type.

data CState = …

data CQuery = …

data CMessage = ...

Our component receives queries from within itself or from other components. It can then send messages to other components, provided they have queries to handle them. With these types in place, we'll use the component function to define a component with 3 main elements. As a note, we'll be maintaining these import prefixes throughout the article.

import Halogen as H
import Halogen.HTML as HH
import Halogen.Events as HE
import Halogen.Properties as HP

myComponent :: forall m.
  H.Component HH.HTML CQuery Unit CMessage m
myComponent = H.component
  { initialState: …
  , render: …
  , eval: …
  , receiver: const Nothing


    render ::
      CState ->
      H.ComponentHTML CQuery

    eval ::
      CQuery ~>
      H.ComponentDSL CState CQuery CMessage m

The initialState is self explanatory. The render function will be a lot like our view function from Elm. It takes a state and returns HTML components that can send queries. The eval function acts like our update function in Elm. Its type signature looks a little strange. But it takes queries as inputs and can update our state using State monad function. It can also emit messages to send to other components.

Building a Counter

For our first example of a component, we'll make a simple counter. We'll have an increment button, a decrement button and a display of the current count. Our state will be a simple integer. Our queries will involve events from incrementing and decrementing. We'll also send a message each time we update our number.

type State = Int

data Query a =
  Increment a |
  Decrement a

data Message = Updated Int

Notice we have an extra parameter on our query type. This represents the "next" action that will happen in our UI. We'll see how this works when we write our eval function. But first, let's write out our render function. It has three different HTML elements: two buttons and a p label. We'll stick them in a div element.

render :: State -> H.ComponentHTML Query
render state =
  let incButton = HH.button 
                    [ HP.title "Inc"
                    , HE.onClick (HE.input_ Increment)
                    [ HH.text "Inc" ]
      decButton = HH.button
                    [ HP.title "Dec"
                    , HE.onClick (HE.input_ Decrement)
                    [ HH.text "Dec" ]
      pElement  = HH.p [] [HH.text (show state)]
  in  HH.div [] [incButton, decButton, pElement]

Each of our elements takes two list parameters. The first list includes properties as well as event handlers. Notice our buttons send query messages on their click events using the input_ function. Then the second list is "child" HTML elements, including the inner text of a button.

Now, to write our eval function, we use a case statement. This might seem a little weird, but all we're doing is breaking it down into our query cases:

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message m
eval = case _ of
      Increment next -> ...
      Decrement next -> ...

Within each case, we can use State monad-like functions to manipulate our state. Our cases are identical except for the sign. We'll also use the raise function to send an update message. Nothing listens for that message right now, but it illustrates the concept.

eval :: Query ~> H.ComponentDSL State Query Message m
eval = case _ of
      Increment next -> do
        state <- H.get
        let nextState = state + 1
        H.put nextState
        H.raise $ Updated nextState
        pure next
      Decrement next -> do
        state <- H.get
        let nextState = state - 1
        H.put nextState
        H.raise $ Updated nextState
        pure next

As a last note, we would use const 0 as the initialState in our component function.

Installing Our Component

Now to display this component in our UI, we write a short Main module like so. We get our body element with awaitBody and then use runUI to install our counter component.

module Main where

import Prelude
import Effect (Effect)
import Halogen.Aff as HA
import Halogen.VDom.Driver (runUI)
import Counter (counter)

main :: Effect Unit
main = HA.runHalogenAff do
  body <- HA.awaitBody
  runUI counter unit body

And our counter component will now work! (See Github for more details on you could run this code).

Building Our Todo List

Now that we've got the basics down, let's see how to write a more complicated set of components. We'll write a Todo list like we had in the Elm series. To start, let's make a Todo wrapper type and derive some instances for it:

newtype Todo = Todo
  { todoName :: String }

derive instance eqTodo :: Eq Todo
derive instance ordTodo :: Ord Todo

Our first component will be the entry form, where the user can add a new task. This form will use the text input string as its state. It will respond to queries for updating the name as well as pressing the "Add" button. When we create a new Todo, we'll send a message for that.

type AddTodoFormState = String

data AddTodoFormMessage = NewTodo Todo

data AddTodoFormQuery a = 
  AddedTodo a |
  UpdatedName String a

When we render this component, we'll have two main pieces. First, we need the text field to input the name. Then, there's the button to add the task. Each of these has an event attached to it sending the relevant query. In the case of updating the name, notice we use input instead of input_. This allows us to send the text field's value as an argument of the UpdatedName query. Otherwise, the properties are pretty straightforward translations of HTML properties you might see.

render ::
  AddTodoFormState ->
  H.ComponentHTML AddTodoFormQuery
render currentName =
  let nameInput = HH.input
                    [ HP.type_ HP.InputText
                    , HP.placeholder "Task Name"
                    , HP.value currentName
                    , HE.onValueChange (HE.input UpdatedName)
      addButton = HH.button
                    [ HP.title "Add Task"
                    , HP.disabled (length currentName == 0)
                    , HE.onClick (HE.input_ AddedTodo)
                    [ HH.text "Add Task" ]
  in  HH.div [] [nameInput, addButton]

Evaluating our queries is pretty simple. When updating the name, all we do is update the state and trigger the next action. When we add a new Todo item, we save the empty string as the state and raise our message. In the next part, we'll see how our list will respond to this message.

eval ::
  AddTodoFormQuery ~>
    AddTodoFormState AddTodoFormQuery AddTodoFormMessage m
eval = case _ of
  AddedTodo next -> do
    currentName <- H.get
    H.put ""
    H.raise $ NewTodo (Todo {todoName: currentName})
    pure next
  UpdatedName newName next -> do
    H.put newName
    pure next

And of course, we tie this all up by using the component function:

addTodoForm :: forall m.
  H.Component HH.HTML AddTodoFormQuery Unit AddTodoFormMessage m
addTodoForm = H.component
  { initialState: const ""
  , render
  , eval
  , receiver: const Nothing

Finishing the List

Now to complete our todo list, we'll need another component to store the tasks themselves. As always, let's start with our basic types. We won't bother with a message type since this component won't send any messages. We'll use Void when assigning the message type in a type signature:

type TodoListState = Array Todo

data TodoListQuery a =
  FinishedTodo Todo a |
  HandleNewTask AddTodoFormMessage a

Our state is our list of tasks. Our query type is a little more complicated. The HandleNewTask query will receive the new task messages from our form. We'll see how we make this connection below.

We'll also add a type alias for AddTodoFormSlot. Halogen uses a "slot ID" to distinguish between child elements. We only have one child element though, so we'll use a string.

type AddTodoFormSlot = String

We'll consider this component a "parent" of our "add task" form. This means the types will look a little different. We'll be making something of type ParentHTML. The type signature will include references to its own query type, the query type of its child, and the slot ID type. We'll still use most of the same functions though.

render ::
  TodoListState ->
  H.ParentHTML TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery AddTodoFormSlot m

eval ::
  TodoListQuery ~>
  H.ParentDSL TodoListState TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery 
    AddTodoFormSlot Void m

To render our elements, we'll have two sub-components. First, we'll want to be able to render an individual Todo within our list. We'll give it a p label for the name and a button that completes the task:

renderTask ::
  Todo ->
  H.ParentHTML TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery AddTodoFormSlot m
renderTask (Todo t) = HH.div_ 
  [ HH.p [] [HH.text t.todoName]
  , HH.button
      [ HE.onClick (HE.input_ (FinishedTodo (Todo t)))]
      [HH.text "Finish"]

Now we need some HTML for the form slot itself. This is straightforward. We'll use the slot function and provide a string for the ID. We'll specify the component we have from the last part. Then we'll attach the HandleNewTask query to this component. The allows our list component to receive the new-task messages from the form.

formSlot ::
  H.ParentHTML TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery AddTodoFormSlot m
formSlot = HH.slot
  "Add Todo Form"
  (HE.input HandleNewTask)

Now we combine these elements in our render function:

render ::
  TodoListState ->
  H.ParentHTML TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery AddTodoFormSlot m
render todos =
  let taskList = HH.ul_ (map renderTask todos)
  in  HH.div_ [taskList, formSlot]

Writing our eval is now a simple matter of using a few array functions to update the list. When we get a new task, we add it to our list. When we finish a task, we remove it from the list.

eval ::
  TodoListQuery ~>
  H.ParentDSL TodoListState TodoListQuery AddTodoFormQuery 
    AddTodoFormSlot Void m
eval = case _ of
  FinishedTodo todo next -> do
    currentTasks <- H.get
    H.put (filter  (_ /= todo) currentTasks)
    pure next
  HandleNewTask (NewTodo todo) next -> do
    currentTasks <- H.get
    H.put (currentTasks `snoc` todo)
    pure next

And that's it! We're done! Again, take a look at the Github repo for some more instructions on how you can run and interact with this code.


This wraps up our look at building simple UI's with Purescript. Next week we'll conclude our Purescript series. We'll look at some of the broader elements of building a web app. We'll see some basic routing as well as how to send requests to a backend server.

Elm is another great functional language you can use for Web UIs. To learn more about it, check out our recently concluded Elm Series!

Purescript II: Typeclasses and Monads


Last week, we started our exploration of Purescript. Purescript seeks to bring some of the awesomeness of Haskell to the world of web development. Its syntax looks a lot like Haskell's, but it compiles to Javascript. This makes it very easy to use for web applications. And it doesn't just look like Haskell. It uses many of the important features of the language, such as a strong system and functional purity.

If you need to brush up on the basics of Purescript, make sure to check out that first article again. This week, we're going to explore a couple other areas where Purescript is a little different. We'll see how Purescript handles type-classes, and we'll also look at monadic code. We'll also take a quick look at some other small details with operators. Next week, we'll look at how we can use Purescript to write some front-end code.

For another perspective on functional web development, check out our Haskell Web Series. You can also download our Production Checklist for some more ideas! You can also take a gander at our Elm Series for another frontend language!

Type Classes

The idea of type classes remains pretty consistent from Haskell to Purescript. But there are still a few gotchas. Let's remember our Triple type from last week.

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int

Let's write a simple Eq instance for it. To start with, instances in Purescript must have names. So we'll assign the name tripleEq to our instance:

instance tripleEq :: Eq Triple where
  eq (Triple t1) (Triple t2) = t1 == t2

Once again, we only unwrap the one field for our type. This corresponds to the record, rather than the individual fields. We can, in fact, compare the records with each other. The name we provide helps Purescript to generate Javascript that is more readable. Take note: naming our instances does NOT allow us to have multiple instances for the same type and class. We'll get a compile error if we try to create another instance like:

instance otherTripleEq :: Eq Triple where

There's another small change when using an explicit import for classes. We have to use the class keyword in the import list:

import Data.Eq (class Eq)

You might hope we could derive the Eq typeclass for our Triple type, and we can. Since our instance needs a name though, the normal Haskell syntax doesn't work. The following will fail:

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int
  } deriving (Eq)

For simple typeclasses though, we CAN use standalone deriving. This allows us to provide a name to the instance:

derive instance eqTriple :: Eq Triple

As a last note, Purescript does not allow orphan instances. An orphan instance is where you define a typeclass instance in a different file from both the type definition and the class definition. You can get away with these in Haskell, though GHC will warn you about it. But Purescript is less forgiving. The way to work around this issue is to define a newtype wrapper around your type. Then you can define the instance on that wrapper.


In part 1, we looked at a small snippet of monadic code. It looked like:

main :: Effect Unit
main = do
  log ("The answer is " <> show answer)

If we're trying to draw a comparison to Haskell, it seems as though Effect is a comparable monad to IO. And it sort've is. But it's a little more complicated than that. In Purescript, we can use Effect to represent "native" effects. Before we get into exact what this means and how we do it, let's first consider "non-native" effects.

A non-native effect is one of those monads like Maybe or List that can stand on its own. In fact, we have an example of the List monad in part 1 of this series. Here's what Maybe might look like.

maybeFunc :: Int -> Maybe Int

mightFail :: Int -> Maybe Int
mightFail x = do
  y <- maybeFunc x
  z <- maybeFunc y
  maybeFunc z

Native effects use the Effect monad. These include a lot of things we'd traditionally associate with IO in Haskell. For instance, random number generation and console output use the Effect monad:

randomInt :: Int -> Int -> Effect Int

log :: String -> Effect Unit

But there are also other "native effects" related to web development. The most important of these is anything that writes to the DOM in our Javascript application. Next week, we'll use the purescript-react library to create a basic web page. Most of its main functions are in the Effect monad. Again, we can imagine that this kind of effect would use IO in Haskell. So if you want to think of Purescript's Effect as an analogue for IO, that's a decent starting point.

What's interesting is that Purescript used to be more based on the system of free monads. Each different type of native effect would build on top of previous effects. The cool part about this is the way Purescript uses its own record syntax to track the effects in play. You can read more about how this can work in chapter 8 of the Purescript Book. However, we won't need it for our examples. We can just stick with Effect.

Besides free monads, Purescript also has the purescript-transformers library. If you're more familiar with Haskell, this might be a better starting spot. It allows you to use the MTL style approach that's more common in Haskell than free monads.

Special Operators

It's worth noting a couple other small differences. Some rules about operators are a little different between Haskell and Purescript. Since Purescript uses the period operator . for record access, it no longer refers to function composition. Instead, we would use the <<< operator:

odds :: List Int -> List Int
odds myList = filter (not <<< isEven) myList
    isEven :: Int -> Boolean
    isEven x = mod x 2 == 0

Also, we cannot define operators in an infix way. We must first define a normal name for them. The following will NOT work:

(=%=) :: Int -> Int -> Int
(=%=) a b = 2 * a - b

Instead, we need to define a name like addTwiceAndSubtract. Then we can tell Purescript to apply it as an infix operator:

addTwiceAndSubtract :: Int -> Int -> Int
addTwiceAndSubtract a b = 2 * a - b

infixrl 6 addTwiceAndSubtract as =%=

Finally, using operators as partial functions looks a little different. This works in Haskell but not Purescript:

doubleAll :: List Int -> List Int
doubleAll myList = map (* 2) myList

Instead, we want syntax like this:

doubleAll :: List Int -> List Int
doubleAll myList = map (_ * 2) myList


This wraps up our look at the key differences between Haskell and Purescript. Now that we understand typeclasses and monads, it's time to dive into what Purescript is best at. Come back next week, and we'll look at how we can write real frontend code with Purescript!

For some more ideas on using Haskell for some cool functionality, download our Production Checklist! For another look at function frontend development, check out our recent Elm Series!

Getting Started with Purescript!


Our Haskell Web Series covers a lot of cool libraries you can use when making a web app. But one thing we haven't covered on this blog yet is using Haskell for front-end web development. There are a number libraries and frameworks out there. Yesod and Snap come to mind. Another option is Reflex FRP, which uses GHCJS under the hood.

But for this new series I've decided to take a different approach. For the next few weeks, we're going to be exploring the Purescript language. Purescript is a bit of a meld between Haskell and Javascript. Its syntax is like Haskell's, and it incorporates many elements of functional purity. But it compiles to Javascript and thus has some features that seem more at home in that language.

This week, we'll start out by exploring the basics of Purescript. We'll see some of the main similarities and differences between it and Haskell. We'll culminate this series by making a web front-end with Purescript. We'll connect this front-end to Haskell code on the back-end.

Purescript is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using functional languages in product! Check out our Production Checklist for some awesome Haskell libraries!

Getting Started

Since Purescript is its own language, we'll need some new tools. You can follow the instructions on the Purescript website, but here are the main points.

  1. Install Node.js and NPM, the Node.js package manager
  2. Run npm install -g purescript
  3. Run npm install -g pulp bower
  4. Create your project directory and run pulp init.
  5. You can then build and test code with pulp build and pulp test.
  6. You can also use PSCI as a console, similar to GHCI.

First, we need NPM. Purescript is its own language, but we want to compile it to Javascript we can use in the browser, so we need Node.js. Then we'll globally install the Purescript libraries. We'll also install pulp and bower. Pulp will be our build tool like Cabal.

Bower is a package repository like Hackage. To get extra libraries into our program, you would use the bower command. For instance, we need purescript-integers for our solution later in the article. To get this, run the command:

bower install --save purescript-integers

A Simple Example

Once you're set up, it's time to start dabbling with the language. While Purescript compiles to Javascript, the language itself actually looks a lot more like Haskell! We'll examine this by comparison. Suppose we want to find the all pythagorean triples whose sum is less than 100. Here's how we can write this solution in Haskell:

sourceList :: [Int]
sourceList = [1..100]

allTriples :: [(Int, Int, Int)]
allTriples =
  [(a, b, c) | a <- sourceList, b <- sourceList, c <- sourceList]

isPythagorean :: (Int, Int, Int) -> Bool
isPythagorean (a, b, c) = a ^ 2 + b ^ 2 == c ^ 2

isSmallEnough :: (Int, Int, Int) -> Bool
isSmallEnough (a, b, c) = a + b + c < 100

finalAnswer :: [(Int, Int, Int)]
finalAnswer = filter 
  (\t -> isPythagorean t && isSmallEnough t)

Let's make a module in Purescript that will allow us to solve this same problem. We'll start by writing a module Pythagoras.purs. Here's the code we would write to match up with the Haskell above. We'll examine the specifics piece-by-piece below.

module Pythagoras where

import Data.List (List, range, filter)
import Data.Int (pow)
import Prelude

sourceList :: List Int
sourceList = range 1 100

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int

allTriples :: List Triple
allTriples = do
  a <- sourceList
  b <- sourceList
  c <- sourceList
  pure $ Triple {a: a, b: b, c: c}

isPythagorean :: Triple -> Boolean
isPythagorean (Triple triple) =
  (pow triple.a 2) + (pow triple.b 2) == (pow triple.c 2)

isSmallEnough :: Triple -> Boolean
isSmallEnough (Triple triple) =
  (triple.a) + (triple.b) + (triple.c) < 100

finalAnswer :: List Triple
finalAnswer = filter
  (\triple -> isPythagorean triple && isSmallEnough triple) 

For the most part, things are very similar! We still have expressions. These expressions have type signatures. We use a lot of similar elements like lists and filters. On the whole, Purescript looks a lot more like Haskell than Javascript. But there are some key differences. Let's explore those, starting with the higher level concepts.


One difference you can't see in code syntax is that Purescript is NOT lazily evaluated. Javascript is an eager language by nature. So it is much easier to compile to JS by starting with an eager language in the first place.

But now let's consider some of the differences we can see from the code. For starters, we have to import more things. Purescript does not import a Prelude by default. You must always explicitly bring it in. We also need imports for basic list functionality.

And speaking of lists, Purescript lacks a lot of the syntactic sugar Haskell has. For instance, we need to use List Int rather than [Int]. We can't use .. to create a range, but instead resort to the range function.

We also cannot use list comprehensions. Instead, to generate our original list of triples, we use the list monad. As with lists, we have to use the term Unit instead of ():

-- Comparable to main :: IO ()
main :: Effect Unit
main = do
  log "Hello World!"

Next week, we'll discuss the distinction between Effect in Purescript and monadic constructs like IO in Haskell.

One annoyance is that polymorphic type signatures are more complicated. Whereas in Haskell, we have no issue creating a type signature [a] -> Int, this will fail in Purescript. Instead, we must always use the forall keyword:

myListFunction :: forall a. List a -> Int

Another thing that doesn't come up in this example is the Number type. We can use Int in Purescript as in Haskell. But aside from that the only important numeric type is Number. This type can also represent floating point values. Both of these get translated into the number type in Javascript.

Purescript Data Types

But now let's get into one of the more glaring differences between our examples. In Purescript, we need to make a separate Triple type, rather than using a simple 3-tuple. Let's look at the reasons for this by considering data types in general.

If we want, we can make Purescript data types in the same way we would in Haskell. So we could make a data type to represent a Pythagorean triple:

data Triple = Triple a b c

This works fine in Purescript. But, it forces us to use pattern matching every time we want to pull an individual value out of this element. We can fix this in Haskell by using record syntax to give ourselves accessor functions:

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int

This syntax still works in Purescript, but it means something different. In Purescript a record is its own type, like a generic Javascript object. For instance, we could do this as a type synonym and not a full data type:

type Triple = { a :: Int, b :: Int, c :: Int}

oneTriple :: Triple
oneTriple = { a: 5, b: 12, c: 13}

Then, instead of using the field names like functions, we use "dot-syntax" like in Javascript. Here's what that looks like with our type synonym definition:

type Triple = { a :: Int, b :: Int, c :: Int}

oneTriple :: Triple
oneTriple = { a: 5, b: 12, c: 13}

sumAB :: Triple -> Int
sumAB triple = triple.a + triple.b

Here's where it gets confusing though. If we use a full data type with record syntax, Purescript no longer treats this as an item with 3 fields. Instead, we would have a data type that has one field, and that field is a record. So we would need to unwrap the record using pattern matching before using the accessor functions.

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int

oneTriple :: Triple
oneTriple = Triple { a: 5, b: 12, c: 13}

sumAB :: Triple -> Int
sumAB (Triple triple) = triple.a + triple.b

-- This is wrong!
sumAB :: Triple -> Int
sumAB triple = triple.a + triple.b

That's a pretty major gotcha. The compiler error you get from making this mistake is a bit confusing, so be careful!

Pythagoras in Purescript

With this understanding, the Purescript code above should make some more sense. But we'll go through it one more time and point out the little details.

To start out, let's make our source list. We don't have the range syntactic sugar, but we can still use the range function:

import Data.List (List, range, filter)

data Triple = Triple
  { a :: Int
  , b :: Int
  , c :: Int

sourceList :: List Int
sourceList = range 1 100

We don't have list comprehensions. But we can instead use do-syntax with lists instead to get the same effect. Note that to use do-syntax in Purescript we have to import Prelude. In particular, we need the bind function for that to work. So let's generate all the possible triples now.

import Prelude


allTriples :: List Triple
allTriples = do
  a <- sourceList
  b <- sourceList
  c <- sourceList
  pure $ Triple {a: a, b: b, c: c}

Notice also we use pure instead of return. Now let's write our filtering functions. These will use the record pattern matching and accessing mentioned above.

isPythagorean :: Triple -> Boolean
isPythagorean (Triple triple) = 
  (pow triple.a 2) + (pow triple.b 2) == (pow triple.c 2)

isSmallEnough :: Triple -> Boolean
isSmallEnough (Triple triple) =
  (triple.a) + (triple.b) + (triple.c) < 100

Finally, we can combine it all with filter in much the same way we did in Haskell:

finalAnswer :: List Triple
finalAnswer = filter 
  (\triple -> isPythagorean triple && isSmallEnough triple)

And now our solution will work!


This week we started our exploration of Purescript. Syntactically, Purescript is a very near cousin of Haskell. But there are a few key differences we highlighted here about the nature of the language.

Next week, we'll look at some other important differences in the type system. We'll see how Purescript handles type-classes and monads. After that, we'll see how we can use Purescript to build a web front-end with some of the security of a solid type system.

Download our Production Checklist for some more cool ideas of libraries you can use!

Elm Series + Purescript Coming Up!

In the last few weeks, we've been quite busy learning about Elm. We're taking a quick break this week from new material. But we're pleased to announce that our Elm series is now a permanent fixture on the advanced section of the site! Here's a quick review of what we covered there:

  1. Part 1 covers the language basics. We learned how to install Elm, the basic syntax, and how it's different from Haskell.
  2. In part 2, we see Elm in its natural habitat, building a simple web application. We make a Todo list app that showcases how Elm's architecture works.
  3. Part 3 expands our vocabulary of Elm techniques. We use effects to incorporate randomness and send some HTTP requests.
  4. In the final part of the series, we learn the basics of navigation. We start by writing a very simple multi-page application. Then we see how the page changes hook into Elm's architecture.

Coming Up: Purescript!

But we're not done with functional frontend yet! Starting next week, we'll learn Purescript! Like Elm, it compiles to Javascript, but has a syntax very reminiscent of Haskell's. It incorporates even more of Haskell's language features than Elm. This makes it even easier to put our functional skills to use with it. So you won't want to miss this series!

If you'd like to stick to Haskell for now though, make sure to check out our other resources, like our Liftoff Series and our Web Skills Series. You can also subscribe to our newsletter and get access to all our awesome resources!

Elm IV: Navigation!


Last week, we learned a few more complexities about how Elm works. We examined how to bridge Elm types and Haskell types using the elm-bridge library. We also saw a couple basic ways to incorporate effects into our Elm application. We saw how to use a random generator and how to send HTTP requests.

These forced us to stretch our idea of what our program was doing. Our original Todo application only controlled a static page with the sandbox function. But this new program used element to introduce effects into our program structure.

But there's still another level for us to get to. Pretty much any web app will need many pages, and we haven't seen what navigation looks like in Elm. To conclude this series, let's see how we incorporate different pages. We'll need to introduce a couple more components into our application for this.

Simple Navigation

Now you might be thinking navigation should be simple. After all, we can use normal HTML elements on our page, including the a element for links. So we'd set up different HTML files in our project and use routes to dictate which page to visit. Before Elm 0.19, this was all you would do.

But this approach has some key performance weaknesses. Clicking a link will always lead to a page refresh which can be disrupting for the user. This approach will also lead us to do a lot of redundant loading of our library code. Each new page will have to reload the generated Javascript for Data.String, for example. The latest version of Elm has a new solution for this that fits within the Elm architecture.

An Application

In our previous articles, we described our whole application using the element function. But now it's time to evolve from that definition. The application function provides us the tools we need to build something bigger. Let's start by looking at its type signature (see the appendix at the bottom for imports):

application :
  { init : flags -> Url -> Key -> (model, Cmd msg)
  , view : model -> Document msg
  , update : msg -> model -> (model, Cmd msg)
  , subscriptions : model -> Sub msg
  , onUrlRequest : UrlRequest -> msg
  , onUrlChange : Url -> msg
  - > Program flags model msg

There are a couple new fields to this application function. But we can start by looking at the changes to what we already know. Our init function now takes a couple extra parameters, the Url and the Key. Getting a Url when our app launches means we can display different content depending on what page our users visit first. The Key is a special navigation tool we get when our app starts that helps us in routing. We need it for sending our own navigation commands.

Our view and update functions haven't really changed their types. All that's new is the view produces Document instead of only Html. A Document is a wrapper that lets us add a title to our web page, nothing scary. The subscriptions field has the same type (and we'll still ignore it for the most part).

This brings us to the new fields, onUrlRequest and onUrlChange. These intercept events that can change the page URL. We use onUrlChange to update our page when a user changes the URL at the top bar. Then we use onUrlRequest to deal with a links the user clicks on the page.

Basic Setup

Let's see how all these work by building a small dummy application. We'll have three pages, arbitrarily titled "Contents", "Intro", and "Conclusion". Our content will just be a few links allowing us to navigate back and forth. Let's start off with a few simple types. For our program state, we store the URL so we can configure the page we're on. We also store the navigation key because we need it to push changes to the page. Then for our messages, we'll have constructors for URL requests and changes:

type AppState = AppState
  { url: Url
  , navKey : Key

type AppMessage =
  NoUpdate |
  ClickedLink UrlRequest |
  UrlChanged Url

When we initialize this application, we'll pass the URL and Key through to our state. We'll always start the user at the contents page. We cause a transition with the pushUrl command, which requires we use the navigation key.

appInit : () -> Url -> Key -> (AppState, Cmd AppMessage)
appInit _ url key =
  let st = AppState {url = url, navKey = key}
  in (st, pushUrl key "/contents")

Updating the URL

Now we can start filling in our application. We've got message types corresponding to the URL requests and changes, so it's easy to fill those in.

main : Program () AppState AppMessage
main = Browser.application
  { init : appInit
  , view = appView
  , update = appUpdate
  , subscriptions = appSubscriptions
  , onUrlRequest = ClickedLink -- Use the message!
  , onUrlChanged = UrlChanged

Our subscriptions, once again, will be Sub.none. So we're now down to filling in our update and view functions.

The first real business of our update function is to handle link clicks. For this, we have to break the UrlRequest down into its Internal and External cases:

appUpdate : AppMessage -> AppState -> (AppState, Cmd AppMessage)
appUpdate msg (AppState s) = case msg of
  NoUpdate -> (AppState s, Cmd.none)
  ClickedLink urlRequest -> case urlRequest of
    Internal url -> …
    External href -> ...

Internal requests go to pages within our application. External requests go to other sites. We have to use different commands for each of these. As we saw in the initialization, we use pushUrl for internal requests. Then external requests will use the load function from our navigation library.

appUpdate : AppMessage -> AppState -> (AppState, Cmd AppMessage)
appUpdate msg (AppState s) = case msg of
  NoUpdate -> (AppState s, Cmd.none)
  ClickedLink urlRequest -> case urlRequest of
    Internal url -> (AppState s, pushUrl s.navKey (toString url))
    External href -> (AppState s, load href)

Once the URL has changed, we'll have another message. The only thing we need to do with this one is update our internal state of the URL.

appUpdate : AppMessage -> AppState -> (AppState, Cmd AppMessage)
appUpdate msg (AppState s) = case msg of
  NoUpdate -> (AppState s, Cmd.none)
  ClickedLink urlRequest -> …
  UrlChanged url -> (AppState {s | url = url}, Cmd.None)

Rounding out the View

Now our application's internal logic is all set up. All that's left is the view! First let's write a couple helper functions. The first of these will parse our URL into a page so we know where we are. The second will create a link element in our page:

type Page =
  Contents |
  Intro |
  Conclusion |

parseUrlToPage : Url -> Page
parseUrlToPage url =
  let urlString = toString url
  in if contains "/contents" urlString
       then Contents
       else if contains "/intro" urlString
         then Intro
         else if contains "/conclusion" urlString
           then Conclusion
           else Other

link : String -> Html AppMessage
link path = a [href path] [text path]

Finally let's fill in a view function by applying these:

appView : AppState -> Document AppMessage
appView (AppState st) =
  let body = case parseUrlToPage st.url of
               Contents -> div [] 
                 [ link "/intro", br [] [], link "/conclusion" ]
               Intro -> div [] 
                 [ link "/contents", br [] [], link "/conclusion" ]
               Conclusion -> div [] 
                 [ link "/intro", br [] [], link "/contents" ]
               Other -> div [] [ text "The page doesn't exist!" ]
  in  Document "Navigation Example App" [body]

And now we can navigate back and forth among these pages with the links!


In this last part of our series, we completed the development of our Elm skills. We learned how to use an application to achieve the full power of a web app and navigate between different pages. There's plenty more depth we can get into with designing an Elm application. For instance, how do you structure your message types across your different pages? What kind of state do you use to manage your user's experience. We'll explore these another time.

We're not done with functional frontend yet though! We've got another series coming up that'll teach you the basics of Purescript. So stay tuned for that!

And you'll also want to make sure your backend skills are up to snuff as well! Read our Haskell Web Series for more details on that! You can also download our Production Checklist!

Appendix: Imports

import Browser exposing (application, UrlRequest(..), Document)
import Browser.Navigation exposing (Key, load, pushUrl)
import Html exposing (button, div, text, a, Html, br)
import Html.Attributes exposing (href)
import Html.Events exposing (onClick)
import String exposing (contains)
import Url exposing (Url, toString)

Elm III: Adding Effects


Last week we dug deeper into using Elm. We saw how to build a more complicated web page forming a Todo list application. We learned about the Elm architecture and saw how we could use a couple simple functions to build our page. We laid the groundwork for bringing effects into our system, but didn't use any of these.

This week, we'll add some useful pieces to our Elm skill set. We'll see how to include more effects in our system, specifically randomness and HTTP requests.

To learn more about constructing a backend for your system, you should read up on our Haskell Web Series. It'll teach you things like connecting to a database and making an HTTP server.

Incorporating Effects

Last week, we explored using the element expression to build our application. Unlike sandbox, this allowed us to add commands, which enable side effects. But we didn't use any of commands. Let's examine a couple different effects we can use in our application.

One simple effect we can cause is to get a random number. It might not be obvious from the code we have so far, but we can't actually do it in our Todo application at the moment! Our update function is pure! This means it doesn't have access to IO. What it can do is send commands as part of its output. Commands can trigger messages, and incorporate effects along the way.

Making a Random Task

We're going to add a button to our application. This button will generate a random task name and add it to our list. To start with, we'll add a new message type to process:

type TodoListMessage =
  AddedTodo Todo |
  FinishedTodo Todo |
  UpdatedNewTodo (Maybe Todo) |

Now here's the HTML element that will send the new message. We can add it to the list of elements in our view:

randomTaskButton : Html TodoListMessage
randomTaskButton = button [onClick AddRandomTodo] [text "Random"]

Now we need to add our new message to our update function. We need a case for it:

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  AddRandomTodo ->
    (TodoListState { todoList = todoList, newTodo = newTodo}, …)

So for the first time, we're going to fill in the Cmd element! To generate randomness, we need the generate function from the Random module.

generate : (a -> msg) -> Generator a -> Cmd msg

We need two arguments to use this. The second argument is a random generator on a particular type a. The first argument then is a function from this type to our message. In our case, we'll want to generate a String. We'll use some functionality from the package elm-community/random-extra. See Random.String and Random.Char for details. Our strings will be 10 letters long and use only lowercase.

genString : Generator String
genString = string 10 lowerCaseLatin

Now we can easily convert this to a new message. We generate the string, and then add it as a Todo:

addTaskMsg : String -> TodoListMessage
addTaskMsg name = AddedTodo (Todo {todoName = name})

Now we can plug these into our update function, and we have our functioning random command!

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  AddRandomTodo ->
    (..., generate addTaskMsg genString)

Now clicking the random button will make a random task and add it to our list!

Sending an HTTP Request

A more complicated effect we can add is to send an HTTP request. We'll be using the Http library from Elm. Whenever we complete a task, we'll send a request to some endpoint that contains the task's name within its body.

We'll hook into our current action for FinishedTodo. Currently, this returns the None command along with its update. We'll make it send a command that will trigger a post request. This post request will, in turn, hook into another message type we'll make for handling the response.

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  (FinishedTodo doneTodo) ->
    (..., postFinishedTodo doneTodo)
  ReceivedFinishedResponse -> ...

postFinishedTodo : Todo -> Cmd TodoListMessage
postFinishedTodo = ...

We create HTTP commands using the send function. It takes two parameters:

send : (Result Error a -> msg) -> Request a -> Cmd Msg

The first of these is a function interpreting the server response and giving us a new message to send. The second is a request expecting a result of some type a. Let's plot out our code skeleton a little more for these parameters. We'll imagine we're getting back a String for our response, but it doesn't matter. We'll send the same message regardless:

postFinishedTodo : Todo -> Cmd TodoListMessage
postFinishedTodo todo = send interpretResponse (postRequest todo)

interpretResponse : Result Error String -> TodoListMessage
interpretResposne _ = ReceivedFinishedResponse

postRequest : Todo -> Request String
postRequest = ...

Now all we need is to create our post request using the post function:

post : String -> Body -> Decoder a -> Request a

Now we've got three more parameters to fill in. The first of these is the URL we're sending the request to. The second is our body. The third is a decoder for the response. Our decoder will be Json.Decode.string, a library function. We'll imagine we are running a local server for the URL.

postRequest : Todo -> Request String
postRequest todo = post "localhost:8081/api/finish" … Json.Decode.string

All we need to do now is encode the Todo in the post request body. This is straightforward. We'll use Json.Encode.object, which takes a list of tuples. Then we'll use the string encoder on the todo name.

jsonEncTodo : Todo -> Value
jsonEncTodo (Todo todo) = Json.Encode.object
  [ ("todoName", Json.encode.string todo.todoName) ]

Now all we have to do is use this encoder together with the jsonBody function. And then we're done!

postRequest : Todo -> Request String
postRequest todo = post
  (jsonBody (jsonEncTodo todo))

As a reminder, most of the types and helper functions from this last part come from the HTTP Library for Elm. We could then further process the response in our interpretResponse function. If we get an error, we could send a different message. Either way, we can ultimately do more updates in our update function.


This concludes part 3 of our series on Elm! We took a look at a few nifty ways to add extra effects to our Elm projects. We saw how to introduce randomness into our Elm project, and then how to send HTTP requests. Next week, we'll explore navigation, a vital part of any web application. We'll see how the Elm architecture supports a multi-page application. Then we'll see how to move between the different pages efficiently, without needing to reload every bit of our Elm code each time.

Now that you know how to write a functional frontend, you should learn more about the backend! Read our Haskell Web Series for some tutorials on how to do this. You can also download our Production Checklist for some more ideas!

Elm II: Making a Todo List!


Last week we learned about the basics of Elm. Elm is a functional language you can use for front-end web development. Its syntax is very close to Haskell. Though as we explored, it lacks a few key language features.

This week, we're going to make a simple Todo List application to show a bit more about how Elm works. We'll see how to apply the basics we learned, and take things a bit further.

But a front-end isn't much use without a back-end! Take a look at our Haskell Web Series to learn some cool libraries for a Haskell back-end!

Todo Types

Before we get started, let's define our types. We'll have a basic Todo type, with a string for its name. We'll also make a type for the state of our form. This includes a list of our items as well as a "Todo in Progress", containing the text in the form:

module Types exposing
  ( Todo(..)
  , TodoListState(..)
  , TodoListMessage(..)

type Todo = Todo 
  { todoName : String }

type TodoListState = TodoListState
  { todoList : List Todo
  , newTodo : Maybe Todo

We also want to define a message type. These are the messages we'll send from our view to update our model.

type TodoListMessage =
  AddedTodo Todo |
  FinishedTodo Todo |
  UpdatedNewTodo (Maybe Todo)

Elm's Architecture

Now let's review how Elm's architecture works. Last week we described our program using the sandbox function. This simple function takes three inputs. It took an initial state (we were using a basic Int), an update function, and a view function. The update function took a Message and our existing model and returned the updated model. The view function took our model and rendered it in HTML. The resulting type of the view was Html Message. You should read this type as, "rendered HTML that can send messages of type Message". The resulting type of this expression is a Program, parameterized by our model and message type.

sandbox :
  { init : model
  , update : msg -> model -> model
  , view : model -> Html msg
  -> Program () model msg

A sandbox program though doesn't allow us to communicate with the outside world very much! In other words, there's no IO, except for rendering the DOM! So there a few more advanced functions we can use to create a Program. For a normal application, you'll want to use the application function seen here. For the single page example we'll do this week, we can pretty much get away with sandbox. But we'll show how to use the element function instead to get at least some effects into our system. The element function looks a lot like sandbox, with a few changes:

element :
  { init : flags -> (model, Cmd msg)
  , view : model -> Html msg
  , update : msg -> model -> (model, Cmd msg)
  , subscriptions : model -> Sub msg
  -> Program flags model msg

Once again, we have functions for init, view, and update. But a couple signatures are a little different. Our init function now takes program flags. We won't use these. But they allow you to embed your Elm project within a larger Javascript project. The flags are information passed from Javascript into your Elm program.

Using init also produces both a model and a Cmd element. This would allow us to run "commands" when initializing our application. You can think of these commands as side effects, and they can also produce our message type.

Another change we see is that the update function can also produce commands as well as the new model. Finally, we have this last element subscriptions. This allows us to subscribe to outside events like clock ticks and HTTP requests. We'll see more of this next week. For now, let's lay out the skeleton of our application and get all the type signatures down. (See the appendix for an imports list).

main : Program () TodoListState TodoListMessage
main = Browser.element 
  { init = todoInit
  , update = todoUpdate
  , view = todoView
  , subscriptions = todoSubscriptions

todoInit : () -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)

todoView : TodoListState -> Html TodoListMessage

todoSubscriptions : TodoListState -> Sub TodoListMessage

Initializing our program is easy enough. We'll ignore the flags and return a state that has no tasks and Nothing for the task in progress. We'll return Cmd.none, indicating that initializing our state has no effects. We'll also fill in Sub.none for the subscriptions.

todoInit : () -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoInit _ = 
  let st = TodoListState { todoList = [], newTodo = Nothing }
  in (st, Cmd.none)

todoSubscriptions : TodoListState -> Sub TodoListMessage
todoSubscriptions _ = Sub.none

Filling in the View

Now for our view, we'll take our basic model components and turn them into HTML. When we have a list of Todo elements, we'll display them in an ordered list. We'll have a list item for each of them. This item will state the name of the item and give a "Done" button. Clicking the button allows us to send a message for finishing that Todo:

todoItem : Todo -> Html TodoListMessage
todoItem (Todo todo) = li [] 
  [ text todo.todoName
  , button [onClick (FinishedTodo (Todo todo))] [text "Done"]

Now let's put together the input form for adding a Todo. First, we'll determine what value is in the input and whether to disable the done button. Then we'll define a function for turning the input string into a new Todo item. This will send the message for changing the new Todo.

todoForm : Maybe Todo -> Html TodoListMessage
todoForm maybeTodo = 
  let (value_, isEnabled_) = case maybeTodo of
                              Nothing -> ("", False)
                              Just (Todo t) -> (t.todoName, True)
      changeTodo newString = case newString of
                               "" -> UpdatedNewTodo Nothing
                               s -> UpdatedNewTodo (Just (Todo { todoName = s }))
  in ...

Now, we'll make the HTML for the form. The input element itself will tie into our onChange function that will update our state. The "Add" button will send the message for adding the new Todo.

todoForm : Maybe Todo -> Html TodoListMessage
todoForm maybeTodo = 
  let (value_, isEnabled_) = ...
      changeTodo newString = ...
  in div []
       [ input [value value_, onInput changeTodo] []
       , button [disabled (not isEnabled_), onClick (AddedTodo (Todo {todoName = value_}))] 
          [text "Add"]

We can then pull together all our view code in the view function. We have our list of Todos, and then add the form.

todoView : TodoListState -> Html TodoListMessage
todoView (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo }) = div []
  [ ol [] (List.map todoItem todoList)
  , todoForm newTodo

Updating the Model

The last thing we need is to write out our update function. All this does is process a message and update the state accordingly. We need three cases:

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  (AddedTodo newTodo_) -> ...
  (FinishedTodo doneTodo) -> ...
  (UpdatedNewTodo newTodo_) -> ...

And each of these cases is pretty straightforward. For adding a Todo, we'll append it at the front of our list:

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  (AddedTodo newTodo_) ->
    let st = TodoListState { todoList = newTodo_ :: todoList
                           , newTodo = Nothing
  (FinishedTodo doneTodo) -> ...
  (UpdatedNewTodo newTodo_) -> ...

When we've finished a Todo, we'll remove it from our list by filtering on the name being equal.

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  (AddedTodo newTodo_) -> ...
  (FinishedTodo doneTodo) ->
    let st = TodoListState { todoList = List.filter (todosNotEqual doneTodo) todoList
                           , newTodo = newTodo
    in (st, Cmd.none)
  (UpdatedNewTodo newTodo_) -> ..

todosNotEqual : Todo -> Todo -> Bool
todosNotEqual (Todo t1) (Todo t2) = t1.todoName /= t2.todoName

And updating the new todo is the easiest of all! All we need to do is replace it in the state.

todoUpdate : TodoListMessage -> TodoListState -> (TodoListState, Cmd TodoListMessage)
todoUpdate msg (TodoListState { todoList, newTodo}) = case msg of
  (AddedTodo newTodo_) -> ...
  (FinishedTodo doneTodo) -> ...
  (UpdatedNewTodo newTodo_) -> ..
    (TodoListState { todoList = todoList, newTodo = newTodo_ }, Cmd.none)

And with that we're done! We have a rudimentary program for our Todo list.


This wraps up our basic Todo application! There are still a few more things we should learn moving on from Elm. Next week, we'll see how to implement some important types of effects any site will need. We'll see an intro to Elm's effect system, and use it to send HTTP requests.

For some more ideas on building cool products in Haskell, take a look at our Production Checklist. It goes over some libraries for many topics, including databases and parsing!

Appendix: Imports

import Browser
import Html exposing (Html, button, div, text, ol, li, input)
import Html.Attributes exposing (value, disabled)
import Html.Events exposing (onClick, onInput)

Elm: Functional Frontend!


Our Haskell Web Series covers a lot of cool libraries you can use when making a web app. But one thing we haven't covered yet on this blog is using Haskell for front-end web development. There are many libraries and frameworks out there. Yesod and Snap come to mind. Another option is Reflex FRP which uses GHCJS under the hood.

But for this new series I've decided to take a different approach. For the next few weeks we're going to be looking at Elm!

I love Elm for a few reasons. Elm builds on my strong belief that we can take the principles of functional programming and put them to practical use. The language is no-nonsense and the documentation is quite good. Elm has a few syntactic quirks . It also lacks a few key Haskell features. And yet, we can still do a lot with it.

This week we'll look at basic installation, differences, and usage. Next week, we'll compose a simple Todo application in Elm. This will give us a feel for how we architect our Elm applications. We'll wrap up by exploring how to add more effects to our app, and how to integrate Elm types with Haskell.

Front-end is, of course, only part of the story. To learn more about using Haskell for backend web, check out our Haskell Web Series! You can also download our Production Checklist for more ideas!

Basic Setup

As with any language, there will be some setup involved in getting Elm onto our machine for the first time. For Windows and Mac, you can run the installer program provided here. There are separate instructions for Linux, but they're straightforward enough. You fetch the binary, tar it, and move to your bin.

Once we have the elm executable installed, we can get going. When you've used enough package management programs, the process gets easier to understand. The elm command has a few fundamental things in common with stack and npm.

First, we can run elm init to create a new project. This will make a src folder for us as well as an elm.json file. This JSON file is comparable to a .cabal file or package.json for Node.js. It's where we'll specify all our different package dependencies. The default version of this will provide most of your basic web packages. Then we'll make our .elm source files in /src.

Running a Basic Page

Elm development looks different from most normal Javascript systems I've worked with. While we're writing our code, we don't need to specify a specific entry point to our application. Every file we make is a potential web page we can view. So here's how we can start off with the simplest possible application:

import Browser
import HTML exposing (Html, div, text)

type Message = Message

main : Program () Int Message
main =
  Browser.sandbox { init = 0, update = update, view = view }

update : Message -> Int -> Int
update _ x = x

view : Int -> Html Message
view _ = div [] [text "Hello World!"]

Elm uses a model/view/controller system. We define our program in the main function. Our Program type has three parameters. The first relates to flags we can pass to our program. We'll ignore those for now. The second is the model type for our program. We'll start with a simple integer. Then the final type is a message. Our view will cause updates by sending messages of this type. The sandbox function means our program is simple, and has no side effects. Aside from passing an initial state, we also pass an update function and a view function.

The update function allows us to take a new message and change our model if necessary. Then the view is a function that takes our model and determines the HTML components. You can read the type of view as "an HTML component that sends messages of type Message.

We can run the elm-reactor command and point our browser at localhost:8000. This takes us to a dashboard where we can examine any file we want. We'll only want to look at the ones with a main function. Then we'll see our simple page with the div on the screen. (It strangely spins if we select a pure library file).

As per the Elm tutorial we can make this more interesting by using the Int in our model. We'll change our Message type so that it can either represent an Increment or a Decrement. Then our update function will change the model based on the message.

type Message = Increment | Decrement

update : Message -> Int -> Int
update msg model = case msg of
  Increment -> model + 1
  Decrement -> model - 1

view : Int -> Html Message
view model = div [] [String.fromInt model]

As a last change, we'll add + and - buttons to our interface. These will allow us to send the Increment and Decrement messages to our type.

view model = div []
  [ button [onClick Decrement] [text "-"]
  , div [] [ text (String.fromInt model) ]
  , button [onClick Increment] [text "+"]

Now we have an interface where we can press each button and the number on the screen will change! That's our basic application!

The Make Command

The elm reactor command builds up a dummy interface for us to use and examine our pages. But our ultimate goal is to make it so we can generate HTML and Javascript from our elm code. We would then export these assets so our back-end could serve them as resources. We can do this with the elm make command. Here's a sample:

elm make Main.elm --output=main.html

We'll want to use scripting to pull all these elements together and dump them in an assets folder. We'll get some experience with this in a couple weeks when we put together a full Elm + Haskell project.

Differences From Haskell

There are a few syntactic gotchas when comparing Elm to Haskell. We won't cover them all, but here are the basics.

We can already see that import and module syntax is a little different. We use the exposing keyword in an import definition to pick out specific expressions we want from that module.

import HTML exposing (Html, div, text)

import Types exposing (Message(..))

When we define our own module, we will also use the exposing keyword in place of where in the module definition:

module Types exposing

type Message = Increment | Decrement

We can also see that Elm uses type where we would use data in Haskell. If we want a type synonym, Elm offers the type alias combination:

type alias Count = Int

As you can see from the type operators above, Elm reverses the : operator and ::. A single colon refers to a type signature. Double colons refer to list appending:

myNumber : Int
myNumber = 5

myList : [Int]
myList = 5 :: [2, 3]

Elm is also missing some of the nicer syntax elements of Haskell. For instance, Elm lacks pattern matching on functions and guards. Elm also does not have where clauses. Only case and let statements exist. And instead of the . operator for function composition, you would use <<. data-preserve-html-node="true" Here are a few examples of these points:

isBigNumber : Int -> Bool
isBigNumber x = let forComparison = 5 in x > forComparison

findSmallNumbers : List Int -> List Int
findSmallNumbers numbers = List.filter (not << isBigNumber) numbers

As a last note in this section, Elm is strictly evaluated. Elm compiles to Javascript so it can run in browsers. And it's much easier to generate sensible Javascript with a strict language.

Elm Records

Another key difference with Elm is how record syntax works. It Elm, a "record" is a specific type. These simulation Javascript objects. In this example, we define a type synonym for a record. While we don't have pattern matching in general, we can use pattern matching on records:

type alias Point2D =
  { x: Float
  , y: Float

sumOfPoint : Point2D -> Float
sumOfPoint {x, y} = x + y

To make our code feel more like Javascript, we can use the . operator to access records in different ways. We can either use the Javascript like syntax, or use the period and our field name as a normal function.

point1 : Point2D
point1 = {x = 5.0, y = 6.0}

p1x : Float
p1x = point1.x

p1y : Float
p1y = .y point1

We can also update particular fields of records with ease. This approach scales well to many fields:

newPoint : Point2D
newPoint = { point1 | y = 3.0 }

Typeclasses and Monads

The more controversial differences between Haskell and Elm lie with these two concepts. Elm does not have typeclasses. For a Haskell veteran such as myself, this is a big restriction. Because of this, Elm also lacks do syntax. Remember that do syntax relies upon the idea that the Monad typeclass exists.

There is a reason for these omissions though. The Elm creator wrote an interesting article about it.

His main point is that (unlike me), most Elm users are coming from Javascript rather than Haskell. They tend not to have much background with functional programming and related concepts. So it's not as big a priority for Elm to capture these constructs. So what alternatives are available?

Well when it comes to typeclasses, each type has to come up with its own definition for a function. Let's take the simple example of map. In Haskell, we have the fmap function. It allows us to apply a function over a container, without knowing what the container is:

fmap :: (Functor f) => (a -> b) -> f a -> f b

We can apply this same function whether we have a list or a dictionary. In Elm though, each library has its own map function. So we have to qualify the usage of it:

import List
import Dict

double : List Int -> List Int
double l = List.map (* 2) l

doubleDict : Dict String Int -> Dict String Int
doubleDict d = Dict.map (* 2) d

Instead of monads, Elm uses a function called andThen. This acts a lot like Haskell's >>= operator. We see this pattern more often in object oriented languages like Java. As an example from the documentation, we can see how this works with Maybe.

toInt : String -> Maybe Int

toValidMonth : Int -> Maybe Int
toValidMonth month =
    if month >= 1 && month <= 12
        then Just month
        else Nothing

toMonth : String -> Maybe Int
toMonth rawString =
    toInt rawString `andThen` toValidMonth

So Elm doesn't give us quite as much functional power as we have in Haskell. That said, Elm is a front-end language first. It expresses how to display our data and how we bring components together. If we need complex functional elements, we can use Haskell and put that on the back-end.


We'll stop there for now. Next week we'll expand our understanding of Elm by writing a more complicated program. We'll write a simple Todo list application and see Elm's architecture in action.

To hear more from Monday Morning Haskell, make sure to Subscribe to our newsletter! That will also give you access to our awesome Resources page!

MMH Blog Archive!

We’re taking a quick breather this week on Monday Morning Haskell to announce a new website feature! Several readers have suggested it, so we now have the archive! You can scroll through the page and find all the different articles we’ve done over the last couple years. We’ve also implemented a tag system, so you can search for articles on specific topics. Our current tags list includes the following:

  1. Beginners
  2. Production
  3. Library
  4. Open Source
  5. AI
  6. Non-Technical
  7. Announcements

Take a look and let us know what you think!

Community Callouts

I’d also like to take a moment to call out some of the other excellent Haskell blog work going on in the community. I’ll give a special shoutout to Anuj Agarwal who listed us in his top 10 Haskell blogs. You can check out some of the other folks on that list as well. In particular, I enjoy Neil Mitchell’s blog as well as the material on Haskell Reddit and Haskell Weekly.


Next week we’ll start our exploration of frontend web development. This will involve looking at a couple other functional languages. Over the course of this series, we’ll explore both Elm and Purescript. We’ll see how both languages are similar to and different from Haskell. We’ll also see some ways we can integrate them with our Haskell code. You won’t want to miss this series!

And remember if you’re new to the community there are plenty of good resources out there to help you get off the ground! Take a look at our Beginners Checklist and our Liftoff Series for tips on getting started!

Deeper Stack Knowledge


This week we'll look at another way we can "level up" our Haskell skills. We'll look at some of the details around how Stack determines package versions. This will help us explain the nuances of when you need "extra deps" and why. We'll also explore some ways to bring in non-standard Haskell code.

But of course you need to know the basics before you can really start going! So if you've never used Stack before, take our free Stack mini-course!

Adding Libraries (Basics)

When I'm writing a small project for one of these articles, I don't have to think much about library versions. Generally, anything recent is fine. Let's take a simple example using Servant. I can start the project with stack new ServantExample. Then I can add servant as a dependency for my library by modifying the .cabal file:


When we run stack build, it'll install a whole bunch of dependencies for our project. We can do stack ls dependencies (or stack list-dependencies if you're on an older version of Stack). We'll see a list with many libraries, because servant has a lot of dependencies. In this article, we'll explore a few questions. How does Stack know which versions of these to get? Is it always finding the latest version? What happens if we need a different version? Do we ever need to look elsewhere?

Well first, we can, if we want, specify manual constraints on libraries within the .cabal file. To start, we can observe that Stack has downloaded servant-0.14.1 and directory- for our program. What happens if we add constraints like so:

  servant >= 0.14.1
  directory <=

We'll find that we can't build, because no version of directory matches our constraints. The error message will suggest adding it to extra dependencies in stack.yaml (we'll talk about this later). But this will cause dependency conflicts. So how do we avoid these conflicts? To understand this, let's examine the concept of resolvers.


Resolvers are one of the big things that separate Stack from Cabal on its own. A resolver is a series of libraries that have no conflicts among their dependencies. Each resolver has a version number.

If we go into our stack.yaml file, we'll see that we have a field that relates to the lts version number of our resolver. When we invoked the stack new command, this chose the latest lts, or "Long-Term Support" resolver. If there's an issue with this resolver, we can ask the great people at Stackage what's going wrong. At the time of writing, this version was 12.9:

resolver: lts-12.9

There are other kinds of resolvers we can use, as the comments in our auto-generated file will tell us. There are nightly builds, and resolvers that map to particular versions of GHC.

But let's stick to the idea of lts resolvers for now. A resolver gives us a big set of packages that work together and have no dependency conflicts. This prevents some of the more annoying issues that can come along when we try to have a lot of libraries.

For lts resolvers, the package directory lives on Stackage, and we can examine it if we like. We can see, for instance, on the site that there's a page dedicated to listing everything for lts-12.9. And we can compare the library versions on this site to what we've already got in our directory. And we'll see they're the same! For example, it lists version 0.14.1 of servant and version of directory.

So when we write our cabal file, we don't need to list version constraints on our packages. Stack will find the matching version from the resolver. Then we'll know that we can meet dependency constraints with other packages there!

Resolvers and GHC

Now, our resolver has to work with whatever compiler we use. Each lts resolver links to a specific GHC version. We can't use our lts-12.9 resolver with GHC 7.10.3, because many of the library versions it links to only work for GHC 8+. If we are intent on using an older version of GHC, we'll have to use a resolver version that corresponds to it.

We can also get this kind of information by going onto the Stackage website. Let's lookup GHC 7.10.3, and we'll find that the last resolver for that was 6.35. Given this information, we can then set the resolver in our stack.yaml file. We'll then run stack build again. We'll find it uses different versions of certain packages for servant! For instance, servant itself is now version 0.7.1. Meanwhile the dependency on directory is gone entirely!

Extra Dependencies

Now let's suppose we don't want to write our program using the Servant library. Let's suppose we want to use Spock instead, like we did recently. When we first try to add Spock as a dependency in our .cabal file, we'll actually get an error. It looks like this:

In the dependencies for SpockExample-                                                                                     Spock needed, but the stack configuration has no specified version  (latest matching version                                                is

Stack then recommends we add Spock as an extra dependency in stack.yaml. Why do we need to do this? (Get ready for some rhyming). We can't depend on Stackage to contain every package that lives on Hackage. After all, pretty much anyone can publish to Hackage! As you add more libraries, it's more work to ensure they are conflict free.

Often, updates will introduce new conflicts. And often, the original library's authors are no longer maintaining the package. This means they won't release an update to fix it. Thus, the package gets dropped from the latest resolver. And many packages aren't used enough to justify the effort of keeping them in the resolver.

But this is OK! We can still introduce Spock into our Stack program. We'll go to our stack.yaml file and add it under our extra-deps part of the file:

- Spock-

This however, leads us to more dependencies we must add:

Spock-core-                                                                                                - reroute-

After adding these to our extra packages, everything will build!

Unfortunately, it can be an arduous process to slog through ALL the extra deps you need as a result of one library. You can use the stack solver command to list them all. If you add the --update-config flag, it will even add them to your file for you! At the time of writing though, there seems to be a bug in this feature, as it fails whenever I try to use it on Spock.

Be warned though. Extra dependencies have no guards against conflicts. Packages within the resolver still won't conflict. But every new extra package you introduce brings some more risk. Sometimes you'll need to play version tetris to get things to work. Sometimes you may need to try a different library altogether.

Different Kinds of Packages

Changing gears a bit, the stack.yaml file allows you to specify different packages within your project. Each package is a self-contained Haskell unit containing its own .cabal file. The auto-generated stack.yaml always has this simple packages section:

- .

One option for what to use as a package is a local directory, relative to wherever the stack.yaml file lives. So the default is the directory itself. But at a certain point, it might make sense for you to break your project into more pieces. This way, they can be independently maintained and tested. You might have sub-packages that look a bit like this:

- ‘./my-project-core'
- ‘./my-project-server'
- ‘./my-project-client'
- ‘./my-project-db'

You can use other options besides local directories as well. If you have a package stored on a remote server as a tar file, you can reference that:

- ‘.'
- https://mysite.com/my-project-client-1.0.0.tar.gz

Stack will download the code as necessary and build it. The other common option you'll use is a Github repository. You'll often want to reference a specific commit hash to use. Here's what that would look like:

- ‘.'
- location:
  git: https://github.com/my-user/my-project.git
  commit: b7deadc0def7128384

This technique is especially useful when you need to fix bugs on a dependency. The normal release process on a library can take a long time. And the library's maintainers might not have time to review your fix. But you can supply your own code and then reference it through Github. Say you want to fix something in Servant. You can make your own fork of the repository, fix the bug, and use that as a package in your project:

- ‘.'
- location:
  git: https://github.com/jhb563/servant.git
  commit: b7deadc0def7128384

Other Fields

That covers most of what you'll want to do in the Stack file. There are other fields. For instance, the flags field allows you to override certain build flags for packages. Here's an example covered in the docs. The yackage package typically builds with the flag upload. If you're using it as a package or a dependency, you can set this flag in the stack.yaml file:

    upload: true

But if you want to set it to false, you can do this as well by flipping the flag there.

You can also use the extra-package-dbs field. This is necessary if you need a specialized set of libraries that aren't on Hackage. You can create your own local database if you like and store modified versions of packages there. This feature is pretty advanced so it's unlikely most of you will need it.


Using Stack is easy at a basic level. For starter projects, you probably won't have to change the stack.yaml file much at all. At most you'll add a couple extra dependencies. But as you make more complicated things, you'll need some extra features. You'll need to know how Stack resolves conflicts and how you can bring in code from different places. These small extra features are important to your growth as a Haskell developer.

If you've never learned the basics of Stack, you're in luck! You can take our free Stack mini-course! If you've never learned Haskell at all, nows the time to start! Download our Beginners Checklist to start your journey!