Safe streaming with linear types

Adaptation of the streaming library for increased safety through linear types. Summer of Haskell 2017 project in collaboration with Tweag I/O. My name is Edvard Hübinette, and I study computer science @ Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

View the Project on GitHub

Homegrown linear monads with RebindableSyntax

20 Jul 2017

The issues I am trying to tackle with streaming are rooted in the fact that usage of references to old stream states can repeat monadic effects that was performed to yield earlier values. When solving this, the need for a linear monad class arose. This would allow relying on the type system to ensure that a monadic value can only be used once by forcing the bind (>>=) to consume its first argument (disallowing multiple uses of earlier stream references), effectively making the previously shown runtime errors impossible.

This was interesting because monads and their accompanied do-notation feels very tightly coupled with Haskell as a language, but the GHC extension -XRebindableSyntax allows quite some tinkering!

If you want to code along and tinker with the lollipops yourself, I helped the guys at Tweag I/O write a small guide to get started which can be found here.

Meet LMonad!

First I defined the linear monad, because it is the monadic semantics that I need to stricten:

class LApplicative m => LMonad m where
  (>>=) :: m a  (a  m b)  m b

  (>>) :: m ()  m a  m a
  m >> k = m >>= \() -> k
  {-# INLINE (>>) #-}

  return :: a  m a
  return = pure

ap :: LMonad m => m (a  b)  m a  m b
ap m1 m2 = do
  x1 <- m1
  x2 <- m2
  return (x1 x2)

The >>= is pretty straight forward: given a monadic value, we unwrap it, apply it to a linear morphism once, and get a new monadic value. One of my first hunches here was to use (>>=) :: m a ⊸ (a -> m b) ⊸ m b which would make the superclasses a lot less constrained, but unfortunately we need to take in account that the a here may also be some monadic value (e.g. a ~ Maybe Int, and particularly a ~ Stream f m r). Allowing this unrestricted continuation a -> m b would allow freely duplicating those monadic actions.

>> looks a bit more different than we are used to, and in particular very restrictive! This is logical though, since the semantics of >> is to perform a computation and throw away the result, something not very linear at all. Therefore it only makes sense to blind something that does not produce results, namely values of type m ().

return is pure from a linear Applicative because I want to keep the heritage line of subclasses: Functor > Applicative > Monad (this is why I have included ap, which will be clear in a moment). Let’s follow the types and see where this takes us for the superclasses!


Now we want to define of a linear Applicative, which is already somewhat constrained from the types of LMonad. We know from the monad laws that Applicative and Monad should relate through these two equations:

pure  = return
(<*>) = ap

…which already hints us with the correct types for LApplicative:

class LFunctor f => LApplicative f where
  pure :: a  f a

  (<*>) :: f (a  b)  f a  f b

  (*>) :: f ()  f b  f b
  a1 *> a2 = (id <$ a1) <*> a2

  (<*) :: f a  f ()  f a
  (<*) = liftA2 $ \a () -> a

  liftA2 :: LApplicative f => (a  b  c)  f a  f b  f c
  liftA2 f a b = f <$> a <*> b

Here we get the types for pure and ap for free from the above laws, since they need to be the same as for their LMonad equivalents.

For *> and <* we face the same restrictions as for LMonad: we cannot throw away values! If we do not respect this, we cannot use LApplicative operations on any LMonad, because they will break the linearity constraints. Hence, the only reasonable approach is to only allow replacing values of type ().

Worth noting if you are hacking along is that $ isn’t the prelude one, but a linear counterpart. This is a returning problem at the moment; since the linearity checker does not infer linearity if not explicitly told so, instead it assumes functions to be unrestricted which leads to hey, this variable should be treated linearly-errors. This is explained further in the readme linked in the introduction.

Now let’s take a look where this leads us for the LFunctor!


It would sure be nice to have fmap :: (a ⊸ b) -> f a ⊸ f b (note the regular arrow), letting us transform all values in the functor with a single linear function. But unfortunately that would not allows us to use fmap on linear monads, because it will have an unrestricted (nonlinear) type! The linearity checker cannot allow this, because it is not sure the values are treated linearly. So we are confined to:

class LFunctor f where
  fmap :: (a  b)  f a  f b

  (<$) :: a  f ()  f a
  (<$) = fmap . \a () -> a

Here we almost have the good old fmap, but with a linear transformation which can only be applied once. For (<$) the same logic applies as for LApplicative: we can’t throw away values, so the only values we can replace are values of type unit.

It sounds crippling, but as it turns out this does not seem to be the end of the world. For example, the functor that is used for representing the shape of streamed elements in the streaming prelude looks like this:

data Of a b = !a :> b

instance Functor (Of a) where
  fmap f (a :> x) = a :> f x
  a <$ (b :> x)   = b :> a

where b is the end-of-stream value. …hey, that isn’t half bad: fmap is only applied to a single value, but the functor can hold any type of values in its unrestricted a! To solve the problems with streaming we want to constrain the effects of the stream, usually we don’t care about the linearity of the values. So, since we in this context don’t really care about linearity in a, we might as well just make it unrestricted (note the regular arrow in the constructor):

data LOf a b where (:>) :: a -> b  LOf a b

instance LFunctor (LOf a) where
  fmap f (a :> x) = a :> f x

With this definition of a partly-linear Of we can even use the same Functor instance (with the above default implementation of (<$)) and be on our way!

I was promised extension hacking!

Ah yes, so how can we use these without having to resort to less-than-stellar-readability code with qualified infix operators L.>>= mixed with crazy lambdas everywhere? Say hi to -XRebindableSynax! This little gem of an extension allows you to rebind much of the Haskell syntax to your own definitions (pretty well explained in further detail here, a neat advent calendar with a new GHC extension every day).

So everything we need to do to actually use our new and shiny monad is to hide >>, >>=, return from prelude, activate the extension, import our monad class and do-notation works magically out of the box:

{-# LANGUAGE RebindableSyntax #-}

import Control.Monad.LMonad
import Prelude hiding ((>>), (>>=), return)

instance (LFunctor f, LMonad m) => LApplicative (Stream f m) where
  pure = return
  {-# INLINE pure #-}
  streamf <*> streamx = do
    f <- streamf
    x <- streamx
    return (f x)
  {-# INLINE (<*>) #-}

The example is taken from my linear streaming fork.

This extension is very clever and enables friction-free use of whatever definition you want to use for >>=, >> and return (other syntactic stuff too).

Thanks for reading! If you would like to discuss the content, feel free to drop a comment in the Reddit thread.