This is the third part in my series of practical applications of the QuantifiedConstraints extension. See also part 1 and part 2.

In particular, I will be referencing many concepts that were introduced in part 2, so if you haven’t read that post yet, go read it before proceeding further!

In my last blog post, I explored how the upcoming QuantifiedConstraints language extension let us derive a hypothetical version of Monad which includes the join function using GeneralizedNewtypeDeriving (GND). The key trick in that post is the use of quantified constraints of the form:

type Representational1 m = forall a b. Coercible a b => Coercible (m a) (m b)

Which states that m a and m b are representationally equal (i.e., they can be converted from one to the other using the coerce function) for any types a and b such that a and b are representationally equal. In other words, a Representational1 m constraint represents the idea that m’s argument can be used at a representational role (a fact which is not expressible through the RoleAnnotations syntax).

In this post, I will explore more applications of this Representational1 trick. In particular, I will show how Representational1 lets us derive two more classes in the base library using GND, which would be impossible without the use of QuantifiedConstraints. One of these classes, Traversable, will prove to be challenging to derive without making some sort of backwards-incompatible change, but I will demonstrate a way to work around that issue.

GND-incompatible classes in base

Monad-plus-join wasn’t the only class that gave the role system fits. To my knowledge, there were two other packages from base that could no longer be derived with GND once it switched from using unsafeCoerce to coerce:

  • ArrowApply
  • Traversable

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.


The less interesting case is ArrowApply:

class Arrow a => ArrowApply a where
  app :: a (a b c, b) c

Notice the similarity between the type of app and the return type of join, which is m (m a). Both types feature a distinctive, nested-type-variable application structure. In the case of join, it’s the variable m that’s applied in a nested fashion, and for app, it’s the type variable a. Just as join caused problems for WrappedMonad, app caused problems for a wrapper newtype defined in the acme-schoenfinkel package [1]:

newtype WrappedSchoenfinkel cat a b
  = WrappedSchoenfinkel { unwrapSchoenfinkel :: cat a b }
  deriving (Category, Arrow, ArrowApply)

The derived ArrowApply instance no longer typechecked once GND switched to coerce, as the typechecker could not conclude that the following two types were representationally equal:

  • cat (WrappedSchoenfinkel cat a b, a) b
  • cat ( cat a b, a) b

Luckily, the fix for this is relatively straightforward. We simply need to use QuantifiedConstraints to require that a type constructor that takes two arguments should be representationally roled in its first argument:

type RepresentationalInFirstArg c =
  (forall a1 a2 b. Coercible a1 a2
              => Coercible (c a1 b) (c a2 b) :: Constraint)

Equipped with this constraint, the derived ArrowApply instance for WrappedSchoenfinkel becomes:

instance (ArrowApply cat, RepresentationalInFirstArg cat)
    => ArrowApply (WrappedSchoenfinkel cat) where
  app :: forall a b. WrappedSchoenfinkel cat (WrappedSchoenfinkel cat a b, a) b
  app = coerce (app :: cat (cat a b, a) b)

Ta-da! This goes to show that even Acme libraries can provide interesting blog post material.


A more intriguing example of breakage comes in the form of the well known Traversable class:

class (Functor t, Foldable t) => Traversable t where
  traverse :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b)

Like join and app, the return type of traverse, f (t b), has an interesting nesting structure. If we were to attempt to derive an instance of Traversable for a higher-kinded newtype of a certain shape, such as in the following example:

newtype WrappedTraversable t a
  = WrapTraversable { unwrapTraversable :: t a }
  deriving newtype Traversable

Then GHC’s typechecker would be profoundly unhappy. This time, it would complain that it is unable to conclude that the following types are representationally equal:

  • f (t b)
  • f (WrappedTraversable t b)

Unlike the WrappedSchoenfinkel breakage, which went unnoticed for some time due to its relative obscurity, this WrappedTraversable breakage was observed while the patch to make GND use coerce was being written. The author of said patch worked around the issue by forcing deriving Traversable for newtypes to use the DeriveTraversable algorithm instead of GND. That workaround is still in place today in GHC. In fact, the only way I was able to convince GHC to use GND to derive Traversable in the example above was by using an explicit newtype deriving strategy keyword!

Well, now that we know GND’ing Traversable is broken, can we fix it using the technique we employed for Monad-plus-join and ArrowApply? It’s tempting to think that we can simply write:

instance (Traversable t, Representational1 f)
    => Traversable (WrappedTraversable t) where
  traverse :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> WrappedTraversable t a
                            -> f (WrappedTraversable t b)
  traverse = coerce (traverse :: (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b))

But GHC will reject this. Why? Because the Representational f constraint in the instance context is a lie. The f that appears in the type signature of traverse is actually bound by the method itself, and not in the instance head. If we used explicit forall syntax, the above instance would be:

instance forall t f.
      (Traversable t, Representational1 f)
    => Traversable (WrappedTraversable t) where
  traverse :: forall f a b.
              Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> WrappedTraversable t a
                            -> f (WrappedTraversable t b)
  traverse = coerce (traverse :: (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b))

Now it is more evident that the f bound in the type signature of traverse is shadowing the f bound by the instance head, which means that the Representational f constraint in the instance context is referring to the wrong f. In fact, there’s no way we can possibly refer to the right f within the instance context. Bummer.

This poses an interesting question: what other ways can we tweak things such that we can impose a Representational1 constraint on the f in traverse? Here are three possible suggestions, in decreasing order of boldness:

(a) Make Representational1 a superclass of Functor

In the type of traverse, f is constrained to be Applicative, which has Functor as a superclass. An interesting question one can ask is: should every Functor also be Representational1? In other words, if f is a Functor, and you know that Coercible a b holds for some types a and b, can you conclude that Coercible (f a) (f b) holds?

I will claim that the answer to this question is “yes”, provided that you have a law-abiding Functor. As a very hand-wavey proof, we can write both halves of the isomorphism that Coercible (f a) (f b) induces:

to :: (Coercible a b, Functor f) => f a -> f b
to = fmap coerce

from :: (Coercible a b, Functor f) => f b -> f a
from = fmap coerce

For assurance that to and from are no-ops at runtime, we can appeal to a Functor law: fmap id = id. If we use some fast-and-loose reasoning and claim that coerce is morally equivalent to id, then we have that fmap coerce = coerce, which means that to and from can also be implemented as:

to   = coerce -- No-ops,
from = coerce -- as desired

OK, that’s enough hand-waving.

In any case, one might find it appealing to make Representational1 a superclass of Functor. The immediate benefit of doing this is that we can now coerce underneath any Functor. In particular, this means that if we used GND to produce a Traversable instance for WrappedTraversable like so:

instance Traversable t => Traversable (WrappedTraversable t) where
  traverse :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> WrappedTraversable t a
                            -> f (WrappedTraversable t b)
  traverse = coerce (traverse :: (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b))

Then it typechecks without any additional fuss! We don’t even have to change anything about the Traversable class or GND, as GHC simply discovers a Representational1 f constraint by expanding Applicative f’s superclass constraints.

What are the downsides of this approach? The obvious one is that it requires changing Functor—a Haskell98 mainstay whose definition has stood unchanged for many years—to impose a superclass constraint which makes use of an extremely recent GHC extension. Changing such an important class in base is likely to met with a healthy amount of skepticism, which is why I haven’t seriously entertained the idea of proposing that this be done.

Another, more surprising consequence of this change is that there would be Functor instances in the wild that would no longer typecheck. For instance, consider this example from the bifunctors library:

data Mag a b t where
  Map :: (x -> t) -> Mag a b x -> Mag a b t
  One :: a -> Mag a b b

instance Functor (Mag a b) where
  fmap = Map

If Representational1 were a superclass of Functor, then this code would implode. That’s because Mag is a GADT that constrains its last type parameter to be nominally roled (due to the equality occurring in the One constructor’s return type). In other words, one can never coerce from Mag a b t1 to Mag a b t2, so a Representational1 (Mag a b) constraint is never satisfiable.

There is a silver lining to this breakage, however. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the Functor (Mag a b) instance is not law-abiding, since fmap id /= id! To my knowledge, the only other examples of Functor instances that a Representational1 superclass prevents would also break the Functor laws in a similar fashion. It doesn’t rule out all such lawbreakers, but it does catch a good number of them in a clever way.

(b) Replace traverse with something else

Hm, perhaps changing Functor is too rash of an idea. Surely folks would be alright with only making breaking changes to Traversable? …OK, probably not. But let’s consider what we could do if that were an option.

One thing we could do is throw out the traverse method entirely [2] and replace it with a counterpart that’s more amenable to GND. If we want something that closely resembles traverse, we can use the following:

  traverseRep :: (Applicative f, Representational1 f)
              => (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b)

traverseRep is exactly traverse with an additional Representational1 f constraint. This ensures that one can coerce into f’s argument without needing to change anything about the Functor (or Applicative) class itself.

Alternatively, if you want a variant that doesn’t involve Representational1 at all, you can use this invention of David Feuer’s:

  mapTraverse :: Applicative f
              => (t b -> r) -> (a -> f b) -> t a -> f r
  -- mapTraverse p f xs = p <$> traverse f xs

mapTraverse is quite GND-friendly, since no type mentioning t ever appears underneath an application of f.

(c) Add an additional method to Traversable

As a middle ground between not changing anything and making breaking changes, what if we could make Traversable benefit from GND without needing to resort to backwards-incompatible shenanigans? I believe it is possible to have our cake and eat it, too.

Instead of changing the traverse method, I propose to simply add another method alongside it:

class (Functor t, Foldable t) => Traversable t where
  traverse :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b)

  traverseRep :: (Applicative f, Representational1 f)
              => (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b)
  traverseRep = traverse

I’ve chosen traverseRep due to its similarity to traverse, although we could just as well have picked mapTraverse or some other variant thereof.

Since Traversable still has traverse, we can’t directly use GND to derive an instance of it for WrappedTraversable. But as an alternative, what if we trained DeriveTraversable to be smarter with respect to newtypes? That is, have DeriveTraversable emit the code that it normally does for non-newtypes, but if we’re using DeriveTraversable on a newtype, then in addition to generating the usual code for traverse, also generate an implementation of traverseRep that uses coerce.

To demonstrate this proposed technique, here is the code that I would imagine DeriveTraversable producing for an instance for WrappedTraversable:

instance Traversable t => Traversable (WrappedTraversable t) where
  traverse :: forall f a b. Applicative f
           => (a -> f b) -> WrappedTraversable t a -> f (WrappedTraversable t b)
  traverse f (WrapTraversable ta) = WrapTraversable <$> traverse f ta

  traverseRep :: forall f a b. (Applicative f, Representational1 f)
              => (a -> f b) -> WrappedTraversable t a -> f (WrappedTraversable t b)
  traverseRep = coerce (traverseRep :: (a -> f b) -> t a -> f (t b))

The implementation for traverse is entirely standard DeriveTraversable fare, but the traverseRep bit is new. The implementation for traverseRep is what GND would have produced, except that we’ve taken special care to only use coerce in traverseRep, not traverse (since it wouldn’t typecheck in the latter). In this way, we’re bestowing some of GND’s powers onto DeriveTraversable.

This approach combines the best of both worlds, since now folks can reach for traverseRep if they want the most efficient version, and other folks who want to stick to Haskel98 can still use traverse.


I’ve shown how QuantifiedConstraints opens the door to coerce-ing more things than ever before and taking GND to new heights. What’s more, I’ve shown how we can do so in a way that minimizes breakage—or even avoids it entirely.

Have we reached the end of all the cool tricks one can accomplish with QuantifiedConstraints? Of course not! Stay tuned for future blog posts in this series for more.

  1. The acme-schoenfinkel package is one of the lesser known libraries authored by the late Ertugrul Söylemez. This blog post is dedicated in his memory. 

  2. To be precise, we’d not only have to throw out the traverse method, but also the mapM, sequence, and sequenceA methods, which all have a similar flavor. But hey, if we’re discussing crazy ideas that will probably never happen, what is one more crazy idea going to hurt?