Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Beta testing the Windows Minimal GHC Installer

Summary: There is now a minimal Windows GHC installer that can install the network library.

Michael Snoyman and I are seeking beta testers for our new Windows GHC installer. The installer is very new, and we're keen to get feedback.

Update: If you want to install to Program Files (the default installation path), download the file, right click and hit "Run as administrator". This will be automatic in the next version.

One of the standard problems when upgrading Haskell libraries on Windows is that sometimes you have to upgrade a package which requires a configure script - typically the network library. When that happens, you have to take special measures, and even then, sometimes the binary will fail at runtime (this happens on about half my machines).

Our installer solves that problem by bundling GHC, Cabal and MSYS in one installer. You can install the network library out of the box without any special configuration and it just works.

Our installer does not provide all the packages included with the Haskell Platform, but it does provide an environment where you can easily install those packages. This minimal installer might be more suitable for developers.

Why might I want this installer

The installer is much easier to install than the GHC distribution (has a real installer, sets up the %PATH%, includes Cabal and can build the network library).

The installer has less libraries than the Haskell Platform installer, but includes MSYS so you can build everything in the Platform. The lack of additional packages and close correspondence with GHC (there is one installer for each GHC version) might make it more suitable for library developers. Once GHC 7.10.1 is released, we hope to make a GHC Minimal Installer available within days.

The installer also has more precise control over what is added to the %PATH%. You can add all the binaries it provides, or just add a single binary minghc-7.8.3 which when run at the command prompt temporarily adds all the installed binaries to the %PATH%. Using the switcher, you can easily switch GHC versions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Announcing Shake 0.14

Summary: Shake 0.14 is now out. The *> operator became %>. If you are on Windows the FilePath operations work differently.

I'm pleased to announce Shake 0.14, which has one set of incompatible changes, one set of deprecations and some new features.

The *> operator and friends are now deprecated

The *> operator has been the Shake operator for many years, but in GHC 7.10 the *> operator is exported by the Prelude, so causes name clashes. To fix that, I've added %> as an alias for *>. I expect to export *> for the foreseeable future, but you should use %> going forward, and will likely have to switch with GHC 7.10. All the Shake documentation has been updated. The &*> and |*> operators have been renamed &%> and |%> to remain consistent.

Development.Shake.FilePath now exports System.FilePath

Previously the module Development.Shake.FilePath mostly exported System.FilePath.Posix (even on Windows), along with some additional functions, but modified normalise to remove /../ and made </> always call normalise. The reason is that if you pass non-normalised FilePath values to need Shake can end up with two names for one on-disk file and everything goes wrong, so it tried to avoid creating non-normalised paths.

As of 0.14 I now fully normalise the values inside need, so there is no requirement for the arguments to need to be normalised already. This change allows the simplification of directly exporting System.FilePath and only adding to it. If you are not using Windows, the changes are:

  • normalise doesn't eliminate /../, but normaliseEx does.
  • </> no longer calls normalise. It turned out calling normalise is pretty harmful for FilePattern values, which leads to fairly easy-to-make but hard-to-debug issues.

If you are using Windows, you'll notice all the operations now use \ instead of /, and properly cope with Windows-specific aspects like drives. The function toStandard (convert all separators to /) might be required in a few places. The reasons for this change are discussed in bug #193.

New features

This release has lots of new features since 0.13. You can see a complete list in the change log, but the most user-visible ones are:

  • Add getConfigKeys to Development.Shake.Config.
  • Add withTempFile and withTempDir for the Action monad.
  • Add -j to run with one thread per processor.
  • Make |%> matching with simple files much faster.
  • Use far less threads, with corresponding less stack usage.
  • Add copyFileChanged.


I'm hoping the next release will be 1.0!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Operators on Hackage

Summary: I wrote a script to list all operators on Hackage, and which packages they are used by.

In GHC 7.10 the *> operator will be moving into the Prelude, which means the Shake library will have to find an alternative operator (discussion on the mailing list). In order to pick a sensible operator, I wanted to list all operators in all Hackage packages so I could be aware of clashes.

Note that exported operators is more than just those defined by the package, e.g. Shake exports the Eq class, so == is counted as being exported by Shake. However, in most cases, operators exported by a package are defined by that package.

Producing the file

First I downloaded the Hoogle databases from Hackage, and extracted them to a directory named hoogle. I then ran:

ghc --make Operators.hs && operators hoogle operators.txt

And uploaded operators.txt above. The code for Operators.hs is:

import Control.Exception.Extra
import Control.Monad
import Data.List.Extra
import System.Directory.Extra
import System.Environment
import System.FilePath
import System.IO.Extra

main = do
    [dir,out] <- getArgs
    files <- listFilesRecursive dir
    xs <- forM files $ \file -> do
        src <- readFileUTF8' file `catch_` \_ -> readFile' file `catch_` \_ -> return ""
        return [("(" ++ takeWhile (/= ')') x ++ ")", takeBaseName file) | '(':x <- lines src]
    writeFileUTF8 out $ unlines [unwords $ a : nub b | (a,b) <- groupSort $ concat xs]

This code relies on the normal packages distributed with GHC, plus the extra package.

Code explanation

The script is pretty simple. I first get two arguments, which is where to find the extracted files, and where to write the result. I then use listFilesRecursive to recursively find all extracted files, and forM to loop over them. For each file I read it in (trying first UTF8, then normal encoding, then giving up). For each line I look for ( as the first character, and form a list of [(operator-name, package)].

After producing the list, I use groupSort to produce [(operator-name, [package])] then writeFileUTF8 to produce the output. Running the script takes just over a minute on my ancient computer.

Writing the code

Writing the code to produce the operator list took about 15 minutes, and I made some notes as I was going.

  • I started by loading up ghcid for the file with the command line ghcid -t -c "ghci Operators.hs". Now every save immediately resulted in a list of warnings/errors, and I never bothered opening the file in ghci, I just compiled it to test.
  • I started by inserting take 20 files so I could debug the script faster and could manually check the output was plausible.
  • At first I wrote takeBaseName src rather than takeBaseName file. That produced a lot of totally incorrect output, woops.
  • At first I used readFile to suck in the data and putStr to print it to the console. That corrupted Unicode operators, so I switched to readFileUTF8' and writeFileUTF8.
  • After switching to writeFileUTF8 I found a rather serious bug in the extra library, which I fixed and added tests for, then made a new release.
  • After trying to search through the results, I added ( and ) around each operator to make it easier to search for the operators I cared about.

User Exercise

To calculate the stats of most exported operator and package with most operators I wrote two lines of code - how would you write such code? Hint: both my lines involved maximumBy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Upper bounds or not?

Summary: I thought through the issue of upper bounds on Haskell package dependencies, and it turns out I don't agree with anyone :-)

There is currently a debate about whether Haskell packages should have upper bounds for their dependencies or not. Concretely, given mypackage and dependency-1.0.2, should I write dependency >= 1 (no upper bounds) or dependency >= 1 && < 1.1 (PVP/Package versioning policy upper bounds). I came to the conclusion that the bounds should be dependency >= 1, but that Hackage should automatically add an upper bound of dependency <= 1.0.2.

Rock vs Hard Place

The reason the debate has continued so long is because both choices are unpleasant:

  • Don't add upper bounds, and have packages break for your users because they are no longer compatible.
  • Add PVP upper bounds, and have reasonable install plans rejected and users needlessly downgraded to old versions of packages. If one package requires a minimum version of above n, and another requires a maximum below n, they can't be combined. The PVP allows adding new functions, so even if all your dependencies follow the PVP, the code might still fail to compile.

I believe there are two relevant relevant factors in choosing which scheme to follow.

Factor 1: How long will it take to update the .cabal file

Let us assume that the .cabal file can be updated in minutes. If there are excessively restrictive bounds for a few minutes it doesn't matter - the code will be out of date, but only by a few minutes, and other packages requiring the latest version are unlikely.

As the .cabal file takes longer to update, the problems with restrictive bounds become worse. For abandoned projects, the restrictive upper bounds make them unusable. For actively maintained projects with many dependencies, bounds bumps can be required weekly, and a two week vacation can break actively maintained code.

Factor 2: How likely is the dependency upgrade to break

If upgrading a dependency breaks the package, then upper bounds are a good idea. In general it is impossible to predict whether a dependency upgrade will break a package or not, but my experience is that most packages usually work fine. For some projects, there are stated compatibility ranges, e.g. Snap declares that any API will be supported for two 0.1 releases. For other projects, some dependencies are so tightly-coupled that every 0.1 increment will almost certainly fail to compile, e.g. the HLint dependency on Haskell-src-exts.

The fact that these two variable factors are used to arrive at a binary decision is likely the reason the Haskell community has yet to reach a conclusion.

My Answer

My current preference is to normally omit upper bounds. I do that because:

  • For projects I use heavily, e.g. haskell-src-exts, I have fairly regular communication with the maintainers, so am not surprised by releases.
  • For most projects I depend on only a fraction of the API, e.g. wai, and most changes are irrelevant to me.
  • Michael Snoyman and the excellent Stackage alert me to broken upgrades quickly, so I can respond when things go wrong.
  • I maintain quite a few projects, and the administrative overhead of uploading new versions, testing, waiting for continuous-integration results etc would cut down on real coding time. (While the Hackage facility to edit the metadata would be quicker, I think that tweaking fundamentals of my package, but skipping the revision control and continuous integration, seems misguided.)
  • The PVP is a heuristic, but usually the upper bound is too tight, and occasionally the upper bound is too loose. Relying on the PVP to provide bounds is no silver bullet.

On the negative side, occasionally my packages no longer compile for my users (very rarely, and for short periods of time, but it has happened). Of course, I don't like that at all, so do include upper bounds for things like haskell-src-exts.

The Right Answer

I want my packages to use versions of dependencies such that:

  • All the features I require are present.
  • There are no future changes that stop my code from compiling or passing its test suite.

I can achieve the first objective by specifying a lower bound, which I do. There is no way to predict the future, so no way I can restrict the upper bound perfectly in advance. The right answer must involve:

  • On every dependency upgrade, Hackage (or some agent of Hackage) must try to compile and test my package. Many Haskell packages are already tested using Travis CI, so reusing those tests seems a good way to gauge success.
  • If the compile and tests pass, then the bounds can be increased to the version just tested.
  • If the compile or tests fail, then the bounds must be tightened to exclude the new version, and the author needs to be informed.

With this infrastructure, the time a dependency is too tight is small, and the chance of breakage is unknown, meaning that Hackage packages should have exact upper bounds - much tighter than PVP upper bounds.

Caveats: I am unsure whether such regularly changing metadata should be incorporated into the .cabal file or not. I realise the above setup requires quite a lot of Hackage infrastructure, but will buy anyone who sorts it out some beer.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

November talks

Summary: I'll be talking at CodeMesh 2014 on 5th November and FP Days on 20th November.

I am giving two talks in London this month:

CodeMesh 2014 - Gluing Things Together with Haskell, 5th Nov

I'll be talking about how you can use Haskell as the glue language in a project, instead of something like Bash. In particular, I'll cover Shake, NSIS and Bake. The abstract reads:

A large software project is more than just the code that goes into a release, in particular you need lots of glue code to put everything together - including build systems, test harnesses, installer generators etc. While the choice of language for the project is often a carefully considered decision, more often than not the glue code consists of shell scripts and Makefiles. But just as functional programming provides a better way to write the project, it also provides a better way to write the glue code. This talk covers some of the technologies and approaches we use at Standard Chartered to glue together the quant library. In particular, we'll focus on the build system where we replaced 10,000 lines of Makefiles with 1,000 lines of Haskell which builds the project twice as fast. We'll also look at how to test programs using Haskell, how to replace ancillary shell scripts with Haskell, and how to use Haskell to generate installers.

FP Days 2014 - Building stuff with Shake, 20th Nov

I'll be giving a tutorial on building stuff with Shake. It's going to be less sales pitch, more how you structure a build system, and how you use Shake effectively. The abstract reads:

Build systems are a key part of any large software project, relied upon by both developers and release processes. It's important that the build system is understandable, reliable and fast. This talk introduces the Shake build system which is intended to help meet those goals. Users of Shake write a Haskell program which makes heavy use of the Shake library, while still allowing the full power of Haskell to be used. The Shake library provides powerful dependency features along with useful extras (profiling, debugging, command line handling). This tutorial aims to help you learn how to think about writing build systems, and how to make those thoughts concrete in Shake.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

HLint now spots bad unsafePerformIO

Summary: I've just released a new version of HLint that can spot an unsafePerformIO which should have NOINLINE but doesn't.

I've just released HLint v1.9.10, a tool to suggest improvements to Haskell code. I don't usually bother with release announcements of HLint, as each version just fixes a few things and adds a few hints, it's all in the changelog (plus there have now been 102 releases). The latest release attempts to make using unsafePerformIO a little bit safer. A common idiom for top-level mutable state in Haskell is:

myGlobalVar :: IORef Int
myGlobalVar = unsafePerformIO (newIORef 17)

That is, define a top-level CAF (function with no variables) and bind it to unsafePerformIO of some created mutable state. But the definition above is unsafe. GHC might decide myGlobalVar is cheap and inline it into several uses, duplicating the variable so that some functions update different versions. Running this code through the latest version of HLint we see:

Sample.hs:2:1: Error: Missing NOINLINE pragma
  myGlobalVar = unsafePerformIO (newIORef 17)
Why not:
  {-# NOINLINE myGlobalVar #-}
  myGlobalVar = unsafePerformIO (newIORef 17)

HLint has spotted the problem, and suggested the correct fix.

Trying it for real

Let's take the package slave-thread-0.1.0 and run HLint on it. Slave thread is a new package that helps you ensure you don't end up with ghost threads or exceptions being thrown but missed - a useful package. Running HLint we see:

Sample.hs:19:1: Error: Missing NOINLINE pragma
  slaves = unsafePerformIO $ Multimap.newIO
Why not:
  {-# NOINLINE slaves #-}
  slaves = unsafePerformIO $ Multimap.newIO

Sample.hs:20:3: Warning: Redundant $
  unsafePerformIO $ Multimap.newIO
Why not:
  unsafePerformIO Multimap.newIO

Sample.hs:25:1: Error: Eta reduce
  fork main = forkFinally (return ()) main
Why not:
  fork = forkFinally (return ())

Sample.hs:55:28: Warning: Redundant $
  PartialHandler.totalizeRethrowingTo_ masterThread $ mempty
Why not:
  PartialHandler.totalizeRethrowingTo_ masterThread mempty

Sample.hs:72:5: Error: Use unless
  if null then return () else retry
Why not:
  Control.Monad.unless null retry

HLint has managed to spot the missing NOINLINE pragma, and also a handful of tiny cleanups that might make the code a little more readable. Fortunately (and independent of HLint), the NOINLINE pragma was added in slave-thread-0.1.1, so the library no longer suffers from that bug.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fixing Haddock docs on Hackage

Summary: A few weeks ago Hackage stopped generating docs. I have a script that generates the docs, and also fixes some Haddock bugs.

Update: The Haddock documentation generators are running once again, but may be somewhat behind for a little while. A few weeks ago Hackage stopped generating documentation, so if you look at recently uploaded pages they tend to either lack docs, or have very alert maintainers who did a manual upload. I've packaged up my solution, which also fixes some pretty annoying Haddock bugs. Given that I can now get docs faster and better with my script, I'll probably keep using it even after Haddock on Hackage gets restarted.

How to use it

  • You are likely to get better results if you always install the packages you use with documentation.
  • Ensure you have tar, curl, cp and cabal on your $PATH.
  • cabal update && cabal install neil
  • Make a release, don't touch any other code, then make sure you are in the project directory.
  • neil docs --username=YourHackageUsername
  • Type in your Hackage password at the prompt.

And like that, your docs are online. To see an example of something that was generated with this process, look at Shake.

What I fixed

I automated the process using scripts originally taken from the lens library, supplemented with suggestions from Reddit. I then do a number of manual fixups.

  • Haddock now makes cross-module links where it doesn't know what the target is default to types. Concretely, if I write 'Development.Shake.need' in Haddock it generates a link to #t:need, which doesn't exist, when it should be #v:need - I fix that.
  • Update: fixed in Haddock 1.14 or above, as per this ticket.
  • On Windows, if you use CPP and multiline bird-tick (>) Haddock blocks you get a blank line between each line. I fix that.
  • If you follow some of the simpler scripts links outside your package won't work (or at least, didn't for me). I fix that.

The neil tool

The neil tool is my personal set of handy Haskell scripts. I make all my releases with it (neil sdist), and do lots of checks that my packages conform to my rules (neil check). I also use it for driving my Travis instances. It's in fairly regular flux. Until now, I've always kept it in Darcs/Git and never released it - it's personal stuff tuned to how I work.

You might also notice that neil provides a library. Don't use that, I intend to delete it in a few weeks. Update: library removed.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shake's Internal State

Summary: Shake is not like Make, it has different internal state, which leads to different behaviour. I also store the state in an optimised way.

Update: I'm keeping an up to date version of this post in the Shake repo, which includes a number of questions/answers at the bottom, and is likely to evolve over time to incorporate that information into the main text.

In order to understand the behaviour of Shake, it is useful to have a mental model of Shake's internal state. To be a little more concrete, let's talk about Files which are stored on disk, which have ModTime value's associated with them, where modtime gives the ModTime of a FilePath (Shake is actually generalised over all those things). Let's also imagine we have the rule:

file *> \out -> do
    need [dependency]

So file depends on dependency and rebuilds by executing the action run.

The Make Model

In Make there is no additional state, only the file-system. A file is considered dirty if it has a dependency such that:

modtime dependency > modtime file

As a consequence, run must update modtime file, or the file will remain dirty and rebuild in subsequent runs.

The Shake Model

For Shake, the state is:

database :: File -> (ModTime, [(File, ModTime)])

Each File is associated with a pair containing the ModTime of that file, plus a list of each dependency and their modtimes, all from when the rule was last run. As part of executing the rule above, Shake records the association:

file -> (modtime file, [(dependency, modtime dependency)])

The file is considered dirty if any of the information is no longer current. In this example, if either modtime file changes, or modtime dependency changes.

There are a few consequences of the Shake model:

  • There is no requirement for modtime file to change as a result of run. The file is dirty because something changed, after we run the rule and record new information it becomes clean.
  • Since a file is not required to change its modtime, things that depend on file may not require rebuilding even if file rebuilds.
  • If you update an output file, it will rebuild that file, as the ModTime of a result is tracked.
  • Shake only ever performs equality tests on ModTime, never ordering, which means it generalises to other types of value and works even if your file-system sometimes has incorrect times.

These consequences allow two workflows that aren't pleasant in Make:

  • Generated files, where the generator changes often, but the output of the generator for a given input changes rarely. In Shake, you can rerun the generator regularly, and using a function that writes only on change (writeFileChanged in Shake) you don't rebuild further. This technique can reduce some rebuilds from hours to seconds.
  • Configuration file splitting, where you have a configuration file with lots of key/value pairs, and want certain rules to only depend on a subset of the keys. In Shake, you can generate a file for each key/value and depend only on that key. If the configuration file updates, but only a subset of keys change, then only a subset of rules will rebuild. Alternatively, using Development.Shake.Config you can avoid the file for each key, but the dependency model is the same.

Optimising the Model

The above model expresses the semantics of Shake, but the implementation uses an optimised model. Note that the original Shake paper gives the optimised model, not the easy to understand model - that's because I only figured out the difference a few days ago (thanks to Simon Marlow, Simon Peyton Jones and Andrey Mokhov). To recap, we started with:

database :: File -> (ModTime, [(File, ModTime)])

We said that File is dirty if any of the ModTime values change. That's true, but what we are really doing is comparing the first ModTime with the ModTime on disk, and the list of second ModTime's with those in database. Assuming we are passed the current ModTime on disk, then a file is valid if:

valid :: File -> ModTime -> Bool
valid file mNow =
    mNow == mOld &&
    and [fst (database d) == m | (d,m) <- deps]
    where (mOld, deps) = database file

The problem with this model is that we store each File/ModTime pair once for the file itself, plus once for every dependency. That's a fairly large amount of information, and in Shake both File and ModTime can be arbitrarily large for user rules.

Let's introduce two assumptions:

Assumption 1: A File only has at most one ModTime per Shake run, since a file will only rebuild at most once per run. We use Step for the number of times Shake has run on this project.

Consequence 1: The ModTime for a file and the ModTime for its dependencies are all recorded in the same run, so they share the same Step.

Assumption 2: We assume that if the ModTime of a File changes, and then changes back to a previous value, we can still treat that as dirty. In the specific case of ModTime that would require time travel, but even for other values it is very rare.

Consequence 2: We only use historical ModTime values to compare them for equality with current ModTime values. We can instead record the Step at which the ModTime last changed, assuming all older Step values are unequal.

The result is:

database :: File -> (ModTime, Step, Step, [File])

valid :: File -> ModTime -> Bool
valid file mNow =
    mNow == mOld &&
    and [sBuild >= changed (database d) | d <- deps]
    where (mOld, sBuilt, sChanged, deps) = database file
          changed (_, _, sChanged, _) = sChanged

For each File we store its most recently recorded ModTime, the Step at which it was built, the Step when the ModTime last changed, and the list of dependencies. We now check if the Step for this file is greater than the Step at which dependency last changed. Using the assumptions above, the original formulation is equivalent.

Note that instead of storing one ModTime per dependency+1, we now store exactly one ModTime plus two small Step values.

We still store each file many times, but we reduce that by creating a bijection between File (arbitrarily large) and Id (small index) and only storing Id.

Implementing the Model

For those who like concrete details, which might change at any point in the future, the relevant definition is in Development.Shake.Database:

data Result = Result
    {result    :: Value   -- the result when last built
    ,built     :: Step    -- when it was actually run
    ,changed   :: Step    -- when the result last changed
    ,depends   :: [[Id]]  -- dependencies
    ,execution :: Float   -- duration of last run
    ,traces    :: [Trace] -- a trace of the expensive operations
    } deriving Show

The differences from the model are:

  • ModTime became Value, because Shake deals with lots of types of rules.
  • The dependencies are stored as a list of lists, so we still have access to the parallelism provided by need, and if we start rebuilding some dependencies we can do so in parallel.
  • We store execution and traces so we can produce profiling reports.
  • I haven't shown the File/Id mapping here - that lives elsewhere.
  • I removed all strictness/UNPACK annotations from the definition above, and edited a few comments.

As we can see, the code follows the optimised model quite closely.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Bake - Continuous Integration System

Summary: I've written a continuous integration system, in Haskell, designed for large projects. It works, but probably won't scale yet.

I've just released bake, a continuous integration system - an alternative to Jenkins, Travis, Buildbot etc. Bake eliminates the problem of "broken builds", a patch is never merged into the repo before it has passed all the tests.

Bake is designed for large, productive, semi-trusted teams:

  • Large teams where there are at least several contributors working full-time on a single code base.
  • Productive teams which are regularly pushing code, many times a day.
  • Semi-trusted teams where code does not go through manual code review, but code does need to pass a test suite and perhaps some static analysis. People are assumed to be fallible.

Current state: At the moment I have a rudimentary test suite, and it seems to mostly work, but Bake has never been deployed for real. Some optional functionality doesn't work, some of the web UI is a bit crude, the algorithms probably don't scale and all console output from all tests is kept in memory forever. I consider the design and API to be complete, and the scaling issues to be easily fixable - but it's easier to fix after it becomes clear where the bottleneck is. If you are interested, take a look, and then email me.

To give a flavour, the web GUI looks of a running Bake system looks like:

The Design

Bake is a Haskell library that can be used to put together a continuous integration server. To run Bake you start a single server for your project, which coordinates tasks, provides an HTTP API for submitting new patches, and a web-based GUI for viewing the progress of your patches. You also run some Bake clients which run the tests on behalf of the server. While Bake is written in Haskell, most of the tests are expected to just call some system command.

There are a few aspects that make Bake unique:

  • Patches are submitted to Bake, but are not applied to the main repo until they have passed all their tests. There is no way for someone to "break the build" - at all points the repo will build on all platforms and all tests will pass.
  • Bake scales up so that even if you have 5 hours of testing and 50 commits a day it will not require 250 hours of computation per day. In order for Bake to prove that a set of patches pass a test, it does not have to test each patch individually.
  • Bake allows multiple clients to run tests, even if some tests are only able to be run on some clients, allowing both parallelisation and specialisation (testing both Windows and Linux, for example).
  • Bake can detect that tests are no longer valid, for example because they access a server that is no longer running, and report the issue without blaming the submitted patches.

An Example

The test suite provides both an example configuration and commands to drive it. Here we annotate a slightly simplified version of the example, for lists of imports see the original code.

First we define an enumeration for where we want tests to run. Our server is going to require tests on both Windows and Linux before a patch is accepted.

data Platform = Linux | Windows deriving (Show,Read)
platforms = [Linux,Windows]

Next we define the test type. A test is something that must pass before a patch is accepted.

data Action = Compile | Run Int deriving (Show,Read)

Our type is named Action. We have two distinct types of tests, compiling the code, and running the result with a particular argument. Now we need to supply some information about the tests:

allTests = [(p,t) | p <- platforms, t <- Compile : map Run [1,10,0]]

execute :: (Platform,Action) -> TestInfo (Platform,Action)
execute (p,Compile) = matchOS p $ run $ do
    cmd "ghc --make Main.hs"
execute (p,Run i) = require [(p,Compile)] $ matchOS p $ run $ do
    cmd ("." </> "Main") (show i)

We have to declare allTests, then list of all tests that must pass, and execute, which gives information about a test. Note that the test type is (Platform,Action), so a test is a platform (where to run the test) and an Action (what to run). The run function gives an IO action to run, and require specifies dependencies. We use an auxiliary matchOS to detect whether a test is running on the right platform:

myPlatform = Windows
myPlatform = Linux

matchOS :: Platform -> TestInfo t -> TestInfo t
matchOS p = suitable (return . (==) myPlatform)

We use the suitable function to declare whether a test can run on a particular client. Finally, we define the main function:

main :: IO ()
main = bake $
    ovenGit "" "master" $
    ovenTest readShowStringy (return allTests) execute

We define main = bake, then fill in some configuration. We first declare we are working with Git, and give a repo name and branch name. Next we declare what the tests are, passing the information about the tests. Finally we give a host/port for the server, which we can visit in a web browser or access via the HTTP API.

Using the Example

Now we have defined the example, we need to start up some servers and clients using the command line for our tool. Assuming we compiled as bake, we can write bake server and bake client (we'll need to launch at least one client per OS). We can view the state by visiting in a web browser.

To add a patch we can run bake addpatch --name=cb3c2a71, using the SHA1 of the commit, which will try and integrate that patch into the master branch, after all the tests have passed.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

How to Rewrite the Prelude

Summary: Rewriting the Prelude should be done in a separate package and take a few years to complete, hopefully building a consensus and improving the result.

My recent suggestion that the Prelude shouldn't be rewritten to incorporate Foldable/Traversable generated a lot of feedback. It's clear some people strongly agree, and some strongly disagree. So instead of continuing the argument, in this post I'm going to describe how I think the people who want to change the Prelude should go about it.

There were a lot of comments that we should optimise Haskell for practitioners, not beginners - in particular that there should be Prelude (for advanced users) and Prelude.Simple (for beginners). My personal opinion is that if we have two Prelude's, why not make the beginner one the default one? Switching to the non-default one probably takes one line of moderately advanced syntax (currently import Prelude(); import Prelude.Advanced). For a beginner, writing a simple one line program, that more than doubles the complexity. For a moderate user, that's almost certainly outweighed by lines of LANGUAGE pragmas. (I'm also not sure that I want the "Advanced" Prelude, but that's not relevant to this post.)

Step 1: Write the new Prelude in a package

The first step to proposing a new Prelude should be to write Prelude.Advanced in a separate package on Hackage. Let's assume we have a package base-advanced with a module Prelude.Advanced. The Prelude is not trivial, and translating high-level design goals (e.g. move Foldable into the Prelude) requires some design choices to translate into concrete code.

Step 2: Gain users and feedback

Rather than roll out the Prelude to everyone at once, slowly try and persuade people that your Prelude is superior to the existing one. In doing so, advanced users can start trying out the Prelude, and describing their experiences with it. Does it require Foldable to gain a size method? Does it show up a GHC error message that could be better? Do we need some new type of defaulting? Does profiling give poor results without some manually inserted cost centre? Is a direct list isomorphism a better type class to start from (as F# does with IEnumerable)? Given the number of enthusiastic supporters, this step should be easy.

Step 3: Incorporate feedback

The feedback from step 2 needs incorporating into the package, and potentially into GHC itself. I expect that will result in a significant number of revisions, and perhaps significant departures from the original design. Note that the classy-prelude package is following the steps above, and has had 38 revisions on Hackage so far.

Step 4: Gain acceptance

Before going any further, some critical mass of people need to agree the new way is preferable. There may turn out to be competing proposals, and hopefully as a community we can find consensus and identify the best ideas (as we are currently doing with IO streaming libraries).

Step 5: Move to base

Once we have agreement on what the new Prelude should look like, it should probably be moved into base. At this point, based on all the experience we've got, we can decide whether it becomes Prelude or Prelude.Advanced. At the same time as moving into base, we should decide on the simpler story, but what that decision looks like, will depend on what the proposed Prelude looks like.

The current approach

There are a number of areas that current approach worry me. The change was made directly in the base Prelude, based on some agreement of high-level design decisions, and has already resulted in unexpected additions to the Foldable class. The Prelude will first be exposed to lots of users once GHC 7.10 ships, by which point iterating on feedback will be slow and difficult. The plan for the "beginner" version is to encourage beginners to use the haskell2010 package, which I don't think has been thought out (as someone who tried to use the haskell98 package for a short while, the exception change meant you couldn't use haskell98 and base in the same package, which is basically fatal).

The Haskell community changed Applicative to be a superclass of Monad. That change was simple and thoroughly thought out over a period of years. Warnings were added to GHC, packages were analysed, people experimented with what it would mean, and once decided the change took a number of GHC releases to fully roll out. I consider this change to have been done the right way. In contrast, the complete rewrite of the Prelude is happening far more quickly, and I would argue too quickly. By taking a bit more time hopefully we can come up with something even better.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Why Traversable/Foldable should not be in the Prelude

Summary: For GHC 7.10, Traversable and Foldable are going to be in the Prelude. I missed the original discussion, but I suspect it's a bad idea.

Types are how Haskell programmers communicate their intentions to each other. Currently, the Haskell Prelude contains:

mapM :: Monad m => (a -> m b) -> [a] -> m [b]

As of GHC 7.10, as part of something known as the Burning Bridges Proposal (ticket, discussion, I can't actually find a full proposal...), that will become:

mapM :: (Traversable t, Monad m) => (a -> m b) -> t a -> m (t b)

Surely that's a good thing? Aren't more general types always better? Isn't the Prelude an archaic beast from the time before? I'd argue functions which are highly polymorphic are hard to use, and hard to think about, especially for beginners. I'd also argue the Prelude is remarkably well designed, not perfect, but quite an impressive feat.

What makes a type signature complex?

I've been thinking recently about what makes type signatures complex, both to practitioners, and to relative beginners. My rough metric is:

  • Fully concrete types are usually simple, as long as they aren't too long. The longer a type gets, the more complex it gets.
  • Types with functions in them aren't too bad (order-1 types), but as you go up to order-2 types things start to get more complex.
  • Fully polymorphic functions can be simpler than concrete functions, since they declare what you don't need to worry about.
  • Functions with type classes are more complex, since you need to read the type signature while looking at the context, and need to know each class being used.
  • Simple type classes (Eq, Show) aren't too bad, but custom type classes impose more of a burden.
  • As you add more type classes, the complexity grows faster than linearly. Three type classes are not three times as complex as one, but quite a bit harder.
  • Higher kinded type classes are significantly more complex than kind * type classes, e.g. Monad, Functor. The reason is that instead of having a hole you fill in, you now have a hole which itself has a hole.
  • The higher-kinded type classes Monad and Functor aren't as bad as the others, since Functor is really the "simplest" higher-kinded type class, and Monad is required knowledge for IO.
  • As you have more higher kinded type classes, the complexity burden grows even worse than for kind * type classes. Two is significantly more complex than one.

By that metric, the old mapM isn't too bad, but the new mapM is quite complex. It has two higher-kinded type classes, and one of them is not one of the common ones. I appreciate that making Foldable and Traversable key to Haskell will probably lead to them being more used, but now all beginners are going to have to wade through the Monad tutorial, their Foldable tutorial and their Traversable tutorial before they start programming (or just give up).

Why generality hurts

There are two main reasons why generality hurts:

Reading type signatures becomes difficult/impossible. We already have that problem with the Control.Arrow module, which (as far as most people use it), is just a pile of tuple combinators. But unlike other tuple combinators, these are ones whose type signature can't be understood. When I want to use &&& or *** I just pick randomly, see if it type checks, then try again. When other people I know what to use these functions they just use an explicit lambda. No one thinks of referring to the documentation, since the documentation presents a unification problem (which most of the people I know could solve), not an intuition.

Reading code becomes difficult. Haskell is brilliant for letting you write a composable pipeline of code that takes some input, does some processing, and produces some output. But that only works if you have enough concrete pieces in each function to read each piece in isolation. As an example:

test = foo . mapM baz . bar

Using the current mapM definition I can, in a fraction of a second, know the approximate shape of what foo consumes, and what bar produces. With the new mapM I don't, and have to keep more context in my head to reason about the code.

Who it hurts

Generality of this nature tends to hurt two types of people:

Beginners are hurt because they need to know more concepts just to get going. As a beginner I read through Data.List regularly to build up weapons in my arsenal to attack larger problems. The new Data.List will be generalised, and reading it won't give the insights I enjoyed. Maybe the beginner can instantiate all Foldable things to [], but that adds a mental burden to exactly those people who can bear it least.

Practitioners, those who are paid to code for a living, will have greater problems with maintenance. This isn't an unsubstantiated guess... I have taken over a project which made extensive use of the generalised traverse and sequence functions. Yes, the code was concise, but it was read-only, and even then, required me to "trust" that the compiler and libraries snapped together properly.

Who it benefits

The benefit probably comes from those who are already using the Applicative/Traversable classes regularly. For these people, they can probably avoid an import Prelude(). I am not against ever changing the Prelude, but I do think that for changes of this magnitude the ideas should probably be prototyped as a separate package, widely accepted, and only then should significant surgery be attempted on the Prelude. The classy-prelude work has gone in that direction, and I wish them luck, but the significant changes they've already iterated through suggest the design space is quite large.

Concluding remarks

I realise that I got to this discussion late, perhaps too late to expect my viewpoint to count. But I'd like to leave by reproducing Henning Thielemann's email on the subject:

David Luposchainsky wrote:

+1. I think the Prelude should be a general module of the most commonly
needed functions, which (generalized) folds and traversals are certainly
part of; right now it feels more like a beginner module at times.

It is certainly a kind of beginner module, but that's good. Experts know
how to import. Putting the most general functions into Prelude does not
work because:

1. There are often multiple sensible generalizations of a Prelude

2. You have to add more type annotations since types cannot be infered
from the functions.

There is simply no need to change Prelude and all packages that rely on
specific types. Just don't be lazy and import the stuff you need!

I should change my vote to:


Saturday, September 27, 2014

GHCID - a new GHCi based IDE (ish)

Summary: I've just released ghcid, which interactively shows the errors in your project on each save.

I'm please to announce ghcid, which is either "GHCi as a daemon" or "GHC + a bit of an IDE". I've been using it for my development for the last few days, and already find it quite valuable. Unlike other Haskell development tools, ghcid is intended to be incredibly simple. In particular, it doesn't integrate with any editors, doesn't depend on GHC the library and doesn't start web servers. It's under 200 lines of fairly dull Haskell, which talks over pipes to your existing ghci.

Using it

Run cabal update && cabal install ghcid to install it as normal. Then run ghcid --height=10 "--command=ghci Main.hs". The height is the number of lines you are going to resize your console window to (defaults to 8), and the command is how you start this project in ghci. Personally, I always create a .ghci file at the root of all my projects, which usually reads something like:

:set -fwarn-unused-binds -fwarn-unused-imports
:set -isrc
:load Main

With that you can pass --command=ghci (or nothing, since that is the default).

After that, resize your console and make it so you can see it while working in your editor. On Windows the ghcid console will automatically sit on top of all other windows. On Linux, you probably want to use your window manager to make it topmost or use a tiling window manager.

What you get

On every save you'll see a list of the errors and warnings in your project. It uses a single ghci under the hood, so even relatively large projects should update their status pretty quickly. As an example:

    Not in scope: `verbosit'
    Perhaps you meant `verbosity' (imported from System.Console.CmdArgs)
Util.hs:18:1: Warning: Defined but not used: `foo'

Or, if everything is good, you see:

All good

This project is only a few days old, so please report any bugs you find.

What you want

I regularly use an IDE to develop in a Haskell-like language. I find that with the IDE I'm about 25% more productive than without it. While an IDE can provide lots of neat features (go to definition, search, type tooltips) I think most of the productivity gains come from:

  1. Syntax coloring.
  2. A list of errors and warnings...
  3. ...which is updated as you type...
  4. ...and are highlighted in the text (red squiggles).

Every text editor already provides syntax coloring. With ghcid you get the list of errors and warnings. To get the final two features you need to integrate with an editor. I'm hoping that ghcid can do some of the heavy lifting by taking a directory of files to treat as overrides, and producing a list of warnings/errors to a file. The rest is editor specific, and I hope to attempt integration with Sublime Text at some point (although would love some help).

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Generating Open 3D Viewer Models

Summary: It's not obvious how to generate suitable Open 3D Viewer models, but with the right tools it isn't hard.

The Open 3D Viewer project is very cool, as an example here is a demo of a spinning cow rendered in the browser. For my wife's work I wanted to generate a 3D model of a fossil bedding plane. Effectively, given some x/y/z coordinates, produce a pretty rendering. It took a fair bit of guess work, so I wrote down the steps.

Step 1: Generate an OBJ file

Generate an OBJ file. You probably want an MTL file too, but it seems the 3D viewer only uses the Kd field. There are a few ways to get an OBJ file:

  • There are many samples on the web, including a snail in the Open 3D Viewer repo.
  • You can create OBJ files in a tool such as Blender, but the Blender interface confused me a lot (I am definitely not their intended audience).
  • You can generate an OBJ file using a Haskell script. I picked this method, and I'll write a blog about the script later, once I have some pretty pictures to show.

Step 2: Get the tools

There are some tools in the WebGL Loader project. Alas, that project says "for now I recommend r50 as the last stable revision". So now there are two tools to try, the latest and r50. I tried both. I had some limited success with r50 (it didn't seem to render properly, but it did run) while the latest revision segfaulted. Fortunately I found the tools in a Google Groups post, and have mirrored them in my repo (with trivial tweaks to support Python 2.7).

Step 3: Run objcompress

You need to run:

objcompress mymodel.obj mymodel.utf8 > mymodel.js

This will generate lots of mymodel*.utf8 files and mymodel.js.

Step 3: Run

You need to run:


(The file in the email is part&, but I renamed my copy.) This script will interactively ask a really long list of questions. I generate the correct inputs into a file and pipe it in:

py < response.txt

This generates the files groupings.txt and part_info.txt.

Step 4: Run



This generates the file entity_metadata.json.

Step 5: Get the viewer source

You can get the viewer source from the Open 3D Viewer repo. I have mirrored it in my repo, but I may tweak the viewer over time to match my wife's needs - you should get the original.

Step 6: Copy your files

Copy all the files from steps 1 to 4 to a directory inside the viewer named models/mymodel.

Step 7: Update the model list

Open up scripts/models.js and edit it to point at your model. For example:

o3v.MODELS = [{

Step 8: View the result

You can view the result by opening index.html. In Chrome you may need to pass the flag --allow-file-access-from-files.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Towards Shake 1.0

Summary: I've just released a new version of Shake, with a --demo feature and an underlying continuation monad. I want to release v1.0 in the near future.

I've just released a new version of the Shake build system, version 0.13.3. While the version number is only 0.0.1 higher, the changelog lists a large number of improvements. In particular, two changes are:

  • The Action monad is now based on continuations, which allows Shake to suspend threads without requiring a GHC RTS thread. The result is significantly less memory used on thread stacks. I still find it quite amazing that Haskell has such powerful and robust abstraction mechanisms that a huge change doesn't even break the API.
  • The shake binary now features a --demo mode, invoked by running shake --demo. This mode generates a Shake project, compiles it, and shows off some of the features of Shake. You can the output of --demo here.

Version 1.0

With the two features above, I'm now looking towards Shake version 1.0. I'm not looking to make any significant backwards-incompatible change, or necessarily any code/API changes at all. However, if you have anything you think should be addressed before reaching such a milestone, please comment on the issue tracker or email the mailing list.

Shake website

The one thing I still want to finish before releasing version 1.0 is to have a proper website for Shake. I've registered which will host the content, and have set up GitHub pages to serve it up. I have some rough content in the docs directory and a prototype generator in the website directory - as an example it currently generates something a bit like this for the user manual, but with a table of contents when run through the latest generator. I'd appreciate any help with the content, the generator, or the styling - just email the mailing list.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Shake in the wild

Summary: I spotted a few things using Shake, which I had nothing to do with.

In the past few days I have come across several things using the Shake build system. I wasn't involved in any of them, and haven't (yet) tried any of them out, but they certainly look cool.


Tibor Bremer from Utrecht University gave a talk at the Haskell Implementors Workshop 2014 about his ToolCabal project. This project replaces the "build a package" part of Cabal with something more flexible, supporting multiple simultaneous targets and more flexible preprocessors - all built on top of Shake. It doesn't attempt to tackle dependency resolution yet. There is a video of the talk:


The folks at Samplecount have written several Shake based things. None are yet on Hackage, so I suspect they are somewhat prototypes, but they look like they're already used quite seriously.

  • shake-cabal-build to make it easier to build your Shake build systems with Cabal. Shake build systems need to be compiled with GHC, for which I usually use ghc --make, but this project explains how to get things building with Cabal - important if your build system pulls in other libraries.
  • shake-language-c is a project to simplify building C/C++ projects with Shake. From the docs:

shake-language-c is a cross-platform build system based on the Shake Haskell library. The focus is on cross-compilation of C, C++ and Objective C source code to various target platforms. Currently supported target platforms are iOS, Android NDK, Google Portable Native Client, MacOS X, Linux and Windows (MinGW). Supported host platforms are MacOS X, Linux and Windows.

  • methcla is their mobile sound engine, which is built using this Shake script, which (unsurprisingly) uses shake-language-c and shake-cabal-build.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Continuations and Exceptions

Summary: In moving Shake to continuations, exceptions were the biggest headache. I figured out how to somewhat integrate continuations and exception handling.

The git repo for Shake now suspends inactive computations by capturing their continuation instead of blocking their thread, based on the continuations I described in a previous blog post. The most difficult part was managing exceptions. I needed to define a monad where I could capture continuations and work with exceptions, requiring the definitions:

data M a = ... deriving (Functor, Applicative, Monad, MonadIO)
throwM :: SomeException -> M a
catchM :: M a -> (SomeException -> M a) -> M a
captureM :: ((a -> IO ()) -> IO ()) -> M a

I'm using M as the name of the monad. I want equivalents of throwIO and catch for M, along with a function to capture continuations.

The first observation is that since catchM must catch any exceptions, including those thrown by users calling error, then throwM can be defined as:

throwM = liftIO . throwIO

Using throwIO gives better guarantees about when the exception is raised, compared to just throw.

The second observation is that sometimes I want to raise an exception on the continuation, rather than passing back a value. I can build that on top of captureM with:

captureM' :: ((Either SomeException a -> IO ()) -> IO ()) -> M a
captureM' k = either throwM return =<< captureM k

The third observation (which I observed after a few weeks trying not to follow it) is that the continuation may never be called, and that means you cannot implement a robust finallyM function. In particular, if the person who was intending to run the continuation themselves raises an exception, the continuation is likely to be lost. I originally tried to come up with schemes for defining the function passed the continuation to guarantee the continuation was called, but it became messy very quickly.

The properties we expect of the implementation, to a rough approximation, include:

  • catchM (x >> throwM e) (\_ -> y) >> z === x >> y >> z -- if you throw an exception inside a catchM, you must run the handler.
  • captureM (\k -> x) >>= y === x -- if you execute something not using the continuation inside captureM it must behave like it does outside captureM. In particular, if the captureM is inside a catchM, that catchM must not catch the exception.
  • captureM (\k -> k x) >>= y === x >>= y -- if you capture the continuation then continue that must be equivalent to not capturing the continuation.
  • captureM (\k -> k x >> k x) >>= y === (x >>= y) >> (x >>= y) -- if you run the continuation twice it must do the same IO actions each time. In particular, if the first gets its exceptions caught, the second must do also.

These properties are incomplete (there are other things you expect), and fuzzy (for example, the second property isn't type correct) - but hopefully they give an intuition.

The implementation was non-trivial and (sadly) non-elegant. I suspect a better implementation is known in the literature, and I'd welcome a pointer. My implementation defines M as:

type M a = ContT () (ReaderT (IORef (SomeException -> IO ())) IO) a

Here we have a continuation monad wrapping a reader monad. The reader contains an IORef which stores the exception handler. The basic idea is that whenever we start running anything in M we call the Haskell catch function, and the exception handler forwards to the IORef. We can define catchM as:

catchM :: M a -> (SomeException -> M a) -> M a
catchM m hdl = ContT $ \k -> ReaderT $ \s -> do
    old <- liftIO $ readIORef s
    writeIORef s $ \e -> do
        s <- newIORef old
        hdl e `runContT` k `runReaderT` s `catch`
            \e -> ($ e) =<< readIORef s
    flip runReaderT s $ m `runContT` \v -> do
        s <- ask
        liftIO $ writeIORef s old
        k v
  • We store the previous exception handler as old, and insert a new one. After the code has finished (we have left the catchM block) we restore the old exception handler. In effect, we have a stack of exception handlers.
  • When running the handler we pop off the current exception handler by restoring old, then since we have already used up our catch, we add a new catch to catch exceptions in the handler.

We then define captureM as:

captureM :: ((a -> IO ()) -> IO ()) -> M a
captureM f = ContT $ \k -> ReaderT $ \s -> do
    old <- readIORef s
    writeIORef s throwIO
    f $ \x -> do
        s <- newIORef old
        flip runReaderT s (k x) `E.catch`
            \e -> ($ e) =<< readIORef s
        writeIORef s throwIO
  • We make sure to switch the IORef back to throwIO before we start running the users code, and after we have finished running our code and switch back to user code. As a result, if the function that captures the continuation throws an exception, it will be raised as normal.
  • When running the continuation we create a new IORef for the handler, since the continuation might be called twice in parallel, and the separate IORef ensures they don't conflict with each other.

Finally, we need a way to run the computation. I've called that runM:

runM :: M a -> (Either SomeException a -> IO ()) -> IO ()
runM m k = do
    let mm = do
            captureM $ \k -> k ()
            catchM (Right <$> m) (return . Left)
    s <- newIORef throwIO
    mm `runContT` (liftIO . k) `runReaderT` s

The signature of runM ends up being the only signature the makes sense given the underlying mechanisms. We define mm by using the facilities of captureM to insert a catch and catchM to ensure we never end up in an exception state from runM. The rest is just matching up the types.

Stack depth could potentially become a problem with this solution. If you regularly do:

captureM (\k -> k ())

Then each time a catch will be wrapped around the function. You can avoid that by changing captureM to throw an exception:

captureM :: ((a -> IO ()) -> IO ()) -> M a
captureM f = ContT $ \k -> ReaderT $ \s -> do
    old <- readIORef s
    writeIORef s $ \_ ->
        f $ \x -> do
            s <- newIORef old
            flip runReaderT s (k x) `E.catch`
                \e -> ($ e) =<< readIORef s
    throwIO anyException

Here we unwind the catch by doing a throwIO, after installing our exception handler which actually passes the continuation. It is a bit ugly, and I haven't checked if either the catch is a problem, or that this solution solves it.

The implementation in Shake is a bit different to that described above. In Shake I know that captured continuations are never called more than once, so I
can avoid creating a new IORef in captureM, and I can reuse the existing one. Since I never change the handler, I can use a slightly less powerful definition of M:

type M a = ReaderT (IORef (SomeException -> IO ())) (ContT () IO) a

The resulting code is Development.Shake.Monad, which implements the RAW monad, and also does a few extra things which are irrelevant to this post.

The cool thing about Haskell is that I've been able to completely replace the underlying Shake Action monad from StateT/IO, to ReaderT/IO, to ReaderT/ContT/IO, without ever breaking any users of Shake. Haskell allows me to produce effective and flexible abstractions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Safe library - generalising functions

Summary: The Safe library now has exact versions of take/drop, with twelve functions implemented on top of a generalised splitAt.

The Safe library is a simple Haskell library that provides versions of standard Prelude and Data.List functions that usually throw errors (e.g. tail), but wrapped to provide better error messages (e.g. tailNote), default values (e.g. tailDef) and Maybe results (e.g. tailMay).

I recently released version 0.3.5, which provides a new module Safe.Exact containing crashing versions of functions such as zip/zipWith (which error if the lists are not equal length) and take/drop/splitAt (which error if there are not enough elements), then wraps them to provide safe variants. As an example, the library provides:

takeExact    :: Int -> [a] -> [a]
takeExactMay :: Int -> [a] -> Maybe [a]

These are like take, but if the Int is larger than the length of the list it will throw an error or return Nothing. Some sample evaluations:

takeExactMay 2 [1,2,3] == Just [1,2]
takeExact    2 [1,2,3] == [1,2]
takeExactMay 2 [1] == Nothing
takeExact    2 [1] ==
    1:error "Safe.Exact.takeExact, index too large, index=2, length=1"
take 1 (takeExact 2 [1]) == [1]

So takeExactMay computes up-front whether the whole computation will succeed, and returns a Nothing if it will fail. In contrast, takeExact produces elements while they are present, but if you demand an additional element that is missing it will result in an error. All the exceptions in the Safe library are designed to provide the maximum level of detail about what went wrong, here telling us the index we were after and the length of the list.

The library provides takeExact, dropExact and splitAtExact, plus Def/May/Note versions, resulting in twelve similar functions. While the implementation of any one function is reasonably short (although not that short, once proper error messages are provided), I didn't want to write the same code twelve times. However, generalising over functions that check up-front and those that check on-demand requires a bit of thought. In the end I settled for:

splitAtExact_ :: (String -> r) -> ([a] -> r) -> (a -> r -> r) -> Int -> [a] -> r
splitAtExact_ err nil cons o xs
    | o < 0 = err $ "index must not be negative, index=" ++ show o
    | otherwise = f o xs
        f 0 xs = nil xs
        f i (x:xs) = x `cons` f (i-1) xs
        f i [] = err $
            "index too large, index=" ++ show o ++ ", length=" ++ show (o-i)

Here the splitAtExact_ function has a parameterised return type r, along with three functional arguments that construct and consume the r values. The functional arguments are:

  • err :: String -> r, says how to convert an error into a result value. For up-front checks this produces a Nothing, for on-demand checks this calls error.
  • nil :: [a] -> r, says what to do once we have consumed the full number of elements. For take we discard all the remaining elements, for drop we are only interested in the remaining elements.
  • cons :: a -> r -> r, says how to deal with one element before we reach the index. For take this will be (:), but for functions producing a Maybe we have to check the r parameter first.

With this generalisation, I was able to write all twelve variants. As a few examples:

addNote fun msg = error $ "Safe.Exact." ++ fun ++ ", " ++ msg

takeExact = splitAtExact_ (addNote "takeExact") (const []) (:)

dropExact = splitAtExact_ (addNote "dropExact") id (flip const)

takeExactMay = splitAtExact_ (const Nothing) (const $ Just []) (\a -> fmap (a:))

dropExactMay = splitAtExact_ (const Nothing) Just (flip const)

splitAtExact = splitAtExact_ (addNote "splitAtExact")
    (\x -> ([], x)) (\a b -> first (a:) b)

splitAtExactMay = splitAtExact_ (const Nothing)
    (\x -> Just ([], x)) (\a b -> fmap (first (a:)) b)

Normally I would have defined takeExact and dropExact in terms of fst/snd on top of splitAtExact. However, in the Safe library error messages are of paramount importance, so I go to additional effort to ensure the error says takeExact and not splitAtExact.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Converting Make to Shake

Summary: I have converted over 10,000 lines from Make to Shake. Here are some tips I learnt along the way.

Make is the de facto build system for large projects - if no one made an active choice, your project is probably using Make. The Shake build system can be a better alternative, but how should you convert? The following tips are based on my experience converting a 10,000 line Make system to Shake.

Shake can do whatever Make can

Shake is more powerful than Make, so if Make could do something, Shake probably can too. As a first approximation, the Make snippet:

output: input1 input2
    shell command to run


"output" *> \out -> do
    need ["input1","input2"]
    cmd Shell "shell command to run"

In addition:

  • Variables in Make usually map to normal Haskell variables.
  • Definitions of rules and dependencies use the functions from Development.Shake. For example, .PHONY maps to the phony function.
  • Filepath manipulation uses the functions from Development.Shake.FilePath.
  • Dynamically generated include files can be handled with needMakefileDependencies from Development.Shake.Util.

Preserve the file/directory structure

The existing Make system will generate object files with particular names in particular places. Often these locations aren't what you would pick if you wrote the build system afresh. However, resist the temptation to "clean up" these pieces during the conversion. Treat the file locations as a specification, which lets you focus on the conversion to Shake without simultaneously redesigning a large and complex build system.

Treat the Makefile as a black box

Often the existing Makefile will be hard to understand, and sometimes won't be worth reading at all. The most important information in the Makefile is what commands it runs, which can be determined by make clean && make -j1 > log.txt, which captures a complete list of the commands run. From the commands it is usually relatively easy to determine the inputs and outputs, from which you can write the Shake rules. However, the Makefile can be useful to figure out which commands to group into a single rule, and how to generalise rules to cover multiple files.

Split the metadata from the logic

Often the Makefiles combine metadata (these object files go into this executable) with logic (use gcc -O2 to build all executables). Shake is great for writing build logic, but metadata is often better placed in separate files (the Haskell syntax can be a little heavy). You can use the full power of Haskell to store whatever metadata you require, and addOracle from Shake can introduce granular dependencies on the information. The module Development.Shake.Config provides some helper functions that might serve as a suitable base.

To bootstrap the Shake system, often the metadata can be extracted from the existing Makefiles. You can write a temporary script to parse the Makefile and extract whatever you consider the metadata, clean it up, and write it to new configuration files. Initially the config files are generated, but once you delete the Make original, they become source files.

Focus on a single platform/configuration

Often a build system will be cross-platform (Linux/Mac/Windows), build multiple targets (binaries/distribution package/documentation) and build multiple configurations (release/debug/profile). To start the conversion, focus only on the most heavily developed platform/configuration - if the migration is successful, abstracting over the differences is far easier in Shake than Make. You may wish to start with a simple target to try out Shake (e.g. documentation), but after that work on the target developers use every day, so that the developers can make use of the improvements sooner, motivating the migration.

Convert bottom up

Shake demands that it built all the dependencies (it checks the modification time is equal to what it remembered), in contrast Make only requires that targets are newer than their dependencies. As a result, you should start converting the leaves of the build system to Shake, and work upwards. Provided you use the same file/directory structure, you can then build what you have defined with Shake, then finish the build with Make, checking the result still works as expected.

Run Make and Shake in parallel

One you have migrated enough of the build system to be useful (the usual targets in the most common configuration), you should encourage some developers to try Shake instead of Make. These developers will find things that don't work properly, hidden features in the Make system that no one knew about etc. Expect to fix problems and iterate several times.

Hopefully the Shake system will be faster and more robust. Once these advantages have encouraged all the main developers to make the switch, you should delete/disable the Make system and expect it to bitrot quickly.

Refactor individual rules

As you are converting rules from Make to Shake you can translate them directly and refactor later, or convert straight into more idiomatic Shake. As an example, you might start with:

cmd Shell "ls >" out

The argument Shell tells Shake to use the system shell, meaning that > redirect works. Later on you may wish to switch to:

Stdout result <- cmd "ls"
writeFile' out result

Now you are invoking the ls command directly, capturing the output using Shake. Sometime later you may switch to:

getDirectoryFiles "." ["*"]

Which is the Shake tracked way of getting a list of files. Similarly, calling sed or for through Shell should probably be gradually converted to Shake/Haskell operations.

Refactor the whole

Once you have converted the whole build system, and disabled the original Make system, you may wish to refactor the build system - putting files in more appropriate places, rethinking file dependencies etc. In truth, I've never got round to this step, and I would be surprised if many people did. However, as the build system grows, hopefully the new bits with sensible decisions will gradually begin to outnumber the old bits with questionable design.

Ask if you get stuck

Build systems (even in Shake) are complex entities, with intricate coordination between files, which mostly run untyped external commands with many platform/version differences. As a result, build systems are often complex to write.

If you have a problem using Shake, just ask. If you can boil down the problem to something fairly standalone, ask on StackOverflow with the tag shake-build-system. If you are looking for more general advice, ask on the mailing list. If you succeed, write a blog post and tweet me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Applicative vs Monadic build systems

Summary: Shake is a monadic build system, and monadic build systems are more powerful than applicative ones.

Several people have wondered if the dependencies in the Shake build system are monadic, and if Make dependencies are applicative. In this post I'll try and figure out what that means, and show that the claim is somewhat true.

Gergo recently wrote a good primer on the concepts of Applicative, Monads and Arrows (it is worth reading the first half if you are unfamiliar with monad or applicative). Using a similar idea, we can model a simple build system as a set of rules:

rules :: [(FilePath, Action String)]
rules = [("a+b", do a <- need "a"; b <- need "b"; return (a ++ b))
        ,("a"  , return "Hello ")
        ,("b"  , return "World")

Each rule is on a separate line, containing a pair of the file the rule produces (e.g. a for the second rule) and the action that produces the files contents (e.g. return "Hello"). I've used need to allow a rule to use the contents of another file, so the rule for a+b depends on the files a and b, then concatenates their contents. We can run these rules to produce all the files. We've written these rules assuming Action is a Monad, using the do notation for monads. However, for the above build system, we can restrict ourselves to Applicative functions:

rules = [("a+b", (++) <$> need "a" <*> need "b")
        ,("a"  , pure "Hello ")
        ,("b"  , pure "World")

If Action is applicative but not monadic then we can statically (without running any code operating on file contents) produce a dependency graph. If Action is monadic we can't generate a graph upfront, but there are some build systems that cannot be expressed applicatively. In particular, using a monad we can write a "dereferencing" build system:

rules = [("!a", do a <- need "a"; need a)
        ,("a" , pure "b")
        ,("b" , pure "Goodbye")

To build the file !a we first require the file a (which produces the contents b), then we require the file b (which produces the contents Goodbye). Note that the first rule has changed b the content into b the file name. In general, to move information from the file content to a file name, requires a monad. Alternatively stated, a monad lets you chose future dependencies based on the results of previous dependencies.

One realistic example (from the original Shake paper), is building a .tar file from the list of files contained in a file. Using Shake we can write the Action:

contents <- readFileLines "list.txt"
need contents
cmd "tar -cf" [out] contents

The only build systems that I'm aware of that are monadic are redo, SCons and Shake-inspired build systems (including Shake itself, Jenga in OCaml, and several Haskell alternatives).

While it is the case that Shake is monadic, and that monadic build systems are more powerful than applicative ones, it is not the case that Make is applicative. In fact, almost no build systems are purely applicative. Looking at the build shootout, every build system tested can implement the !a example (provided the file a is not a build product), despite several systems being based on applicative dependencies.

Looking at Make specifically, it's clear that the output: input1 input2 formulation of dependencies is applicative in nature. However, there are at least two aspects I'm aware of that increase the power of Make:

  • Using $(shell cat list.txt) I can splice the contents of list.txt into the Makefile, reading the contents of list.txt before the dependencies are parsed.
  • Using -include file.d I can include additional rules that are themselves produced by the build system.

It seems every "applicative" build system contains some mechanism for extending its power. I believe some are strictly less powerful than monadic systems, while others may turn out to be an encoding of monadic rules. However, I think that an explicitly monadic definition provides a clearer foundation.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Optimisation with Continuations

Summary: Continuations are confusing. Here we solve a simple problem (that is at the heart of the Shake build system) using continuations.

Imagine we are given two IO a computations, and want to run them both to completion, returning the first a value as soon as it is produced (let's ignore exceptions). Writing that in Haskell isn't too hard:

parallel :: IO a -> IO a -> IO a
parallel t1 t2 = do
    once <- newOnce
    var <- newEmptyMVar
    forkIO $ t1 >>= once . putMVar var
    forkIO $ t2 >>= once . putMVar var
    readMVar var

We create an empty variable var with newEmptyMVar, fire off two threads with forkIO to run the computations which write their results to var, and finish by reading as soon as a value is available with readMVar. We use a utility newOnce to ensure that only one of the threads calls putMVar, defined as:

newOnce :: IO (IO () -> IO ())
newOnce = do
    run <- newMVar True
    return $ \act -> do
        b <- modifyMVar run $ \b -> return (False, b)
        when b act

Calling newOnce produces a function that given an action will either run it (the first time) or ignore it (every time after). Using newOnce we only call putMVar for the first thread to complete.

This solution works, and Shake does something roughly equivalent (but much more complex) in it's main scheduler. However, this solution has a drawback - it uses two additional threads. Can we use only one additional thread?

For the problem above, running the computations to completion without retrying, you can't avoid two additional threads. To use only one additional thread and run in parallel you must run one of the operations on the calling thread - but if whatever you run on the additional thread finishes first, there's no way to move the other computation off the the calling thread and return immediately. However, we can define:

type C a = (a -> IO ()) -> IO ()

Comparing IO a to C a, instead of returning an a, we get given a function to pass the a to (known as a continuation). We still "give back" the a, but not as a return value, instead we pass it onwards to a function. We assume that the continuation is called exactly once. We can define parallel on C:

parallel :: C a -> C a -> C a
parallel t1 t2 k = do
    once <- newOnce
    forkIO $ t1 (once . k)
    t2 (once . k)

This definition takes the two computations to run (t1 and t2), plus the continuation k. We fork a separate thread to run t1, but run t2 on the calling thread, using only one additional thread. While the parallel function won't return until after t2 completes, subsequent processing using the a value will continue as soon as either finishes.

Looking at the transformers package, we see Control.Monad.Trans.Cont contains ContT, which is defined as:

newtype ContT r m a = ContT {runContT :: (a -> m r) -> m r}

If we use r for () and IO for m then we get the same type as C. We can redefine C as:

type C a = ContT () IO a

The changes to parallel just involve wrapping with ContT and unwrapping with runContT:

parallel :: C a -> C a -> C a
parallel t1 t2 = ContT $ \k -> do
    once <- newOnce
    forkIO $ runContT t1 (once . k)
    runContT t2 (once . k)

Now we've defined our parallel function in terms of C, it is useful to convert between C and IO:

toC :: IO a -> C a
toC = liftIO

fromC :: C a -> IO a
fromC c = do
    var <- newEmptyMVar
    forkIO $ runContT c $ putMVar var
    readMVar var

The toC function is already defined by ContT as liftIO. The fromC function needs to change from calling a callback on any thread, to returning a value on this thread, which we can do with a forkIO and MVar. Given parallel on IO takes two additional threads, and parallel on C takes only one, it's not too surprising that converting IO to C requires an additional thread.

Aren't threads cheap?

Threads in Haskell are very cheap, and many people won't care about one additional thread. However, each thread comes with a stack, which takes memory. The stack starts off small (1Kb) and grows/shrinks in 32Kb chunks, but if it ever exceeds 1Kb, it never goes below 32Kb. For certain tasks (e.g. Shake build rules) often some operation will take a little over 1Kb in stack. Since each active rule (started but not finished) needs to maintain a stack, and for huge build systems there can be 30K active rules, you can get over 1Gb of stack memory. While stacks and threads are cheap, they aren't free.

The plan for Shake

Shake currently has one thread per active rule, and blocks that thread until all dependencies have rebuilt. The plan is to switch to continuations and only have one thread per rule executing in parallel. This change will not require any code changes to Shake-based build systems, hopefully just reduce memory usage. Until then, huge build systems may wish to pass +RTS -kc8K, which can save several 100Mb of memory.