Overlapping Instances

Brief Explanation

Instances are allowed to overlap, as long as there is a most specific one in any case. Contexts of instances play no part in testing for overlapping.



add overlapping or incoherent instances


  • useful on occasion.


  • Makes it very easy for incorrect programs to still typecheck.
  • Can cause confusing error messages.
  • A program that type checks can have its meaning changed by adding an instance declaration.
  • Similarly adding "import M()" can silently change the meaning of a program (by changing which instances are visible.
  • When exactly is overlap permitted? Is this ok?
    instance C a Int
    instance C Bool b
  • The language description would need to be a lot more specific about exactly where context reduction takes place.
  • Can sometimes be simulated with the extra-method trick used in the Show class of the Prelude for showing lists of characters differently than lists of other things.


Hugs compares instance declarations, while GHC delays tests until the instances are used.

  • Hugs considers instances to be overlapping if they are unifiable, e.g.
    instance C Int b
    instance C a Bool
    Similarly the "most specific" test is applied to instances (though not as cleverly as it could be).
  • GHC only requires -fallow-overlapping-instances if it needs to resolve a constraint that overlaps with both, e.g. C Int Char is fine, but C a Bool overlaps. Similarly a most specific instance is needed only for constraints encountered in type checking.

An alternative to what GHC implements would be to declare whether a class may be overlapping on a class by class basis, perhaps with something like

class overlapping Foo a where
Last modified 13 years ago Last modified on Apr 18, 2006 8:24:50 AM