Version 4 (modified by ross@…, 12 years ago) (diff)

Flexible Contexts

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Brief Explanation

In Haskell 98,

  • contexts of type signatures, newtype and data declarations consist of assertions of the form C v or C (v t1 … tn), where v is a type variable.
  • contexts of instance and class declarations consist of assertions of the form C v, where v is a type variable.

The proposal is that class arguments in contexts of type signatures and class declarations may be arbitrary types, e.g.

g :: (C [a], D (a -> b)) => [a] -> b

(Similar relaxation of instance declarations leads to UndecidableInstances. Contexts on newtype and data declarations are RemovalCandidates.)


Context reduction

Haskell computes a type for each variable bound by let or where, and then generalizes this type. In Haskell 98, the allowed contexts are restricted, so contexts are reduced using instance declarations (and duplicate assertions and those implied by class contexts are removed) until either they are in the allowed form or no instance is applicable, in which case an error is reported. For example, in the following

module M where
class C a where c_method :: a -> Bool
foo xs = c_method (tail xs)

the context of the inferred type

foo :: C [a] => [a] -> Bool

is neither allowed nor reducible, so a missing instance C [a] is reported.

When contexts are unrestricted, context reduction is forced only by explicit signatures and the type of main. The above example becomes legal; if a matching instance is in scope when context reduction is forced on uses of foo, they will also typecheck:

import M
instance C [a] where c_method = null

main :: IO ()
main = print (foo "abc")

Delaying context reduction:

  • can leave contexts more complex (could interact with the Monomorphism Restriction)
  • delays (and sometimes avoids) type errors
  • sometimes avoids nontermination of context reduction
  • is required by OverlappingInstances



  • complicated context reduction story
  • deferred error checking