2014-03-03 - [ haskell, type-tetris, monad ]

This article is not a free monad tutorial but some ideas about what free monad does from the prospective of a Haskell newbie.

Some days ago I came across Free monad by reading this Stack Overflow question.

I'm not sure about what exactly it is, although some intuitiions are gained through both reading the question and answers and playing with the library.

In the rest of this article, I'd like to share my experience about how I explore functions listed here and some intuitions gained from this process. These intuitions are marked as bold sentences.

Make some values of Free f a

Import related library, you shoule make sure you've installed The free package.

import Control.Monad
import Control.Monad.Free

This first thing is to make some values of type Free f a.

The easiest constructor is Pure. In order to fit the type Free f a, I choose to use a list as f and Int as a, because when I looked around the document, f is most likely to be an instance of Functor:

v1 :: Free [] Int
v1 = Pure 10

The next thing is about how to use the other constructor: Free. Its type signature is Free :: f (Free f a) -> Free f a. It might not be that friendly, so I simplify it a little with f = [], a = Int. Then it becomes: Free :: [Free [] Int] -> Free [] Int. Go back to the original signature, we can say that Free constructor takes some value of Free f a wrapped in another f, then produces Free f a. By using Free, the outside functor is somehow “ignored” from its type signature. Moreover, the part f (Free f a) suggests an exactly match of inside and outside functors.

Now we've already have a v1 :: Free [] Int, and by using Free, we should end up with some values of type Free [] a:

v2 :: Free [] Int
v2 = Free [v1]

v3 :: Free [] Int
v3 = Free [v2,v2,v1]

Call GHCi to see the values:

λ> v1
Pure 10
λ> v2
Free [Pure 10]
λ> v3
Free [Free [Pure 10],Free [Pure 10],Pure 10]

Free monad is a monad

Of course free monad should be a monad, let's check the document to find some clues, in the instance list of data Free f a, we find this line:

Functor f => Monad (Free f)

This is enough for us to write some functions that can be used as the second argument of our old friend >>=:

foo1 :: Int -> Free [] Int
foo1 x = Free [Pure $ x*2, Pure $ x+20]

foo2 :: Int -> Free [] String
foo2 x = Free [Pure $ show x]

v4 :: Free [] String
v4 = v1 >>= foo1 >>= foo1 >>= foo1 >>= foo2

And the GHCi output is:

λ> v4
Free [Free [Free [Free [Pure "80"]
                 ,Free [Pure "60"]]
           ,Free [Free [Pure "80"]
                 ,Free [Pure "60"]]]
     ,Free [Free [Free [Pure "120"]
                 ,Free [Pure "80"]]
           ,Free [Free [Pure "100"]
                 ,Free [Pure "70"]]]]
λ> :{
| let foo1 = \x -> [x*2,x+20]
|     foo2 = \x -> [show x]
| in [10] >>= foo1 >>= foo1 >>= foo1 >>= foo2
| :}

You can observe some similiarity between list monad and Free [] monad. The intuition is Free [] monad seems to be a list monad but without concat.

retract and liftF

The document says “retract is the left inverse of lift and liftF”. So we explore liftF first.

liftF is “A version of lift that can be used with just a Functor for f.” I'm not sure about this, but we can get started from another clue: the type signature liftF :: (Functor f, MonadFree f m) => f a -> m a.

We choose to stick to our simplification: f = [], so we need to find a suitable m that is an instance of MonadFree [] m.

And this one looks promising:

Functor f => MonadFree f (Free f)

So we can let m = Free f, which gives us the simplified type signature: liftF :: [a] -> Free [] a. We can guess that liftF lifts functors into free monads. To confirm about this, let's try to lift some functors:

v7 :: Free [] Int
v7 = liftF [1,2,3,4,8,8,8]

v8 :: Free Maybe String
v8 = liftF $ Just "Foo"

v9 :: Free ((->) Int) Int
v9 = liftF (+ 10)

I don't know if there is an easy way of observing v9, for now we just print v7 and v8:

λ> v7
Free [Pure 1,Pure 2,Pure 3,Pure 4,Pure 8,Pure 8,Pure 8]
λ> v8
Free (Just (Pure "Foo"))

Now we know we can lift any functors, so we can construct Free f a not only from Pure and Free, but also directly from functors.

Now think about simplified type signature of retract :: Free [] a -> [a]. it is the reverse of liftF. Let's have a try in code:

v10 :: [Int]
v10 = retract v3

v11 :: Maybe String
v11 = retract v8

v12 :: [String]
v12 = retract v4

v13 :: Int -> Int
v13 = retract v9

Call GHCi for results, now we can observe v9 indirectly by using function v13:

λ> v10
λ> v11
Just "Foo"
λ> v12
λ> map v13 [1..5]

Therefore retract converts a free monad back to a functor. (I suspect this conclusion is somehow wrong, but for now I cannot tell what exactly is wrong.)

iter and iterM

Use the same trick we've played before, let f = []:

iter  ::            ([  a] ->    a) -> Free [] a ->   a
iterM :: Monad m => ([m a] -> m  a) -> Free [] a -> m a

I guess: iter converts a function who does some sorts of reduction on functors into another function who does the same thing but on free monads, and iterM is the monadic version of iter.

Let's have a try:

v14 :: Int
v14 = iter sum v3

foo3 :: [IO Int] -> IO Int
foo3 ms = sum `fmap` sequence ms

v15 :: IO Int
v15 = iterM foo3 v7

And look at GHCi:

λ> v14
λ> v15

Maybe I can say that iter and iterM lift reduction (for functors) into free monads


The type signature contains forall, but I think it's fine to just ignore that part. As we are just trying to get things work:

hoistFree :: Functor g => (f a -> g a) -> Free f b -> Free g b

I guess hoistFree lift a conversion between functors into a conversion between free monads.

I know list and Maybe are good friends:

import Data.Maybe
v16 :: Maybe String
v16 = Just "Foo"

v17 :: [String]
v17 = retract $ hoistFree maybeToList $ liftF v16

Look at GHCi, we should observe the conversion from Maybe String to [String]:

λ> v16
Just "Foo"
λ> v17

_Pure and _Free

The type signatures of these two functions are really long, but don't be afraid, we still have some clue:

  • If you look at Choice, we find a simple instance: Choice (->)
  • Pick up an applicative, I choose m = []
  • Pick up a functor, I choose f = Maybe
  • Ignore forall parts

We end up with:

_Pure :: (            a -> [           a])
      -> ( Free Maybe a -> [Free Maybe a])
_Free :: ((Maybe (Free Maybe a)) -> [Maybe (Free Maybe a)])
      -> (       (Free Maybe a)  -> [       Free Maybe a ])

I really can't figure out what these functions do, but I can still use it by feeding it with values of suitable type.

So for the following part of this section, I provide codes and outputs without explanation.

v18 :: [Free Maybe String]
v18 = _Pure (:[]) (liftF $ Just "Haskell")

v19 :: [String]
v19 = mapMaybe retract v18

-- f = Maybe
-- p = (->)
-- m = IO
-- _Free :: (Maybe (Free Maybe a) -> IO (Maybe (Free Maybe a)))
--       -> (       Free Maybe a  -> IO        (Free Maybe a) )
v20 :: IO (Free Maybe Int)
v20 = _Free return (liftF $ Just 123456)

v21 :: IO (Maybe Int)
v21 = retract `fmap` v20


λ> v18
[Free (Just (Pure "Haskell"))]
λ> v19
λ> v20
Free (Just (Pure 123456))
λ> v21
Just 123456

wrap method

This is a method defined for MonadFrees, the document says “Add a layer.”, let's see it in action:

v22 :: Free Maybe Int
v22 = liftF $ Just 10

v23 :: Free Maybe Int
v23 = wrap (Just v22)

v24 :: Free Maybe Int
v24 = wrap (Just v23)


λ> v22
Free (Just (Pure 10))
λ> v23
Free (Just (Free (Just (Pure 10))))
λ> v24
Free (Just (Free (Just (Free (Just (Pure 10))))))

Call it a day

This is the first time I attempted to do a “type-tetris”, although I still don't know what is free monad, but I do get some intuitions by using the functions provided. So let's call it a day.

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