Monad transformers, free monads, mtl, laws and a new approach

If you’ve been following the hot topics of Haskell over the last few years, you’ll probably have noticed a lot of energy around the concepts of effects. By effects, we are generally talking about the types of computations we traditionally express using monads in Haskell – IO, non-determinism, exceptions, and so on. I believe the main reason that this has been a popular topic is that none of the existing solutions are particularly nice. Now “nice” isn’t a particularly well defined concept, but for something to fit in well with Haskell’s philosophy we’re looking for a system that is:

  1. Extensible. The approach we take should be open, allowing us to define new effects.
  2. Composable. It should be possible to mix different effects with well defined, predictable behaviour.
  3. Efficient. We should only have to pay a minimal cost for the use of the abstraction.
  4. Terse. Haskell is generally not verbose, and whatever system we use should allow us to avoid excessive verbosity. The system should work with us, we should not have to work for it.

I would also add in a 5th point

  1. Inferable. Type annotations should not be required for successful compilation.

With this list in mind, what are the current solutions, and how do they measure up?

Monad Transformers

Starting with the most basic, we can simply choose a concrete monad that does everything we need and work entirely in that – which is usually going to be IO. In a sense this is composable – certainly all programs in one monad compose together – but it’s composable in the same sense that dynamically typed languages fit together. Often choosing a single monad for each individual computation is too much, and it becomes very difficult to work out exactly what effects are being used in our individual functions: does this computation use IO? Will it throw exceptions? Fork threads? You don’t know without reading the source code.

Building a concrete monad can also be a lot of work. Consider a computation that needs access to some local state, a fixed environment and arbitrary IO. This has a type such as

newtype M a = M (Environment -> State -> IO (a, State))

However, to actually interact with the rest of the Haskell ecosystem we need to define (at least) instances of Functor, Applicative and Monad. This is boilerplate code and entirely determined by the choice of effects – and that means we should strive to have the compiler write it for us.

To combat this, we can make use of monad transformers. Unlike monads, monad transformers compose, which means we can build larger monads by stacking a collection of monad transformers together. The above monad M can now be defined using off-the-shelf components, but crucially we can derive all the necessary type classes in one fell swoop with the GeneralizedNewtypeDeriving language extension

{-# LANGUAGE GeneralizedNewtypeDeriving #-}

newtype M a = M (ReaderT Environment (StateT State IO) a)
  deriving (Functor, Applicative, Monad)

This saves typing considerably, and is a definite improvement. We’ve achieved more of points 1 and 2 (extenability and composability) by having both programs and effects compose. Point 4 (terseness) is improved by the use of GeneralizedNewtypeDeriving. There is a slight risk in terms of efficiency, but I believe if transformers would just INLINE a few more definitions, the cost can be entirely erased. All of this code will infer as we’d expect, as we’re working entirely with explicit types

However, while we had to type less to define the effects, we have to type more to use the effects! If we want to access the environment for example, we can use the ask operation from Control.Monad.Trans.Reader, but we have to wrap this up in the M newtype:

env :: M Environment
env = M ask

However, if we want to retrieve the current state in the computation, we can use get from Control.Monad.Trans.State, but we also have to lift that into the ReaderT monad that is wrapping StateT:

currentState :: M State
currentState = M (lift get)

This is unfortunate – lift is mostly noise that we don’t want to be concerned with. There is also the problem in that the amount of lifts to perform is tied directly to the underlying definition of M. If I later decide I want to layer in the chance of failure (perhaps with MaybeT), I now have to change almost all code using lift, by adding an extra one in!

lift is a mechanical operation that is determined by the type of monad transformer stack and the operation that we want to perform. As we noted, for different stacks, the amount of lifting will vary, but it is determined by the type of stack. This suggests that these lifts could be inferred by the use of type classes, and this is the purpose of the monad transformer library – mtl.

The Monad Transformer Library (mtl)

The mtl is a library consisting of type classes that abstract over the operations provided by each monad transformer. For ReaderT, we have the ask operation, and likewise for StateT we have get and put operations. The novelty in this library is that the instances for these type classes are defined inductively over monad transformer stacks. A subset of the instances for MonadReader for example, show

class MonadReader r m | m -> r where
  ask :: m r

instance Monad m => MonadReader r (ReaderT r m) where
  ask = Control.Monad.Trans.ReaderT.ask

instance (MonadReader r m) => MonadReader r (StateT s) where
  ask = lift ask

We can read this as:

With these instances the lifting now becomes automatic entirely at the use of the respective operations. But not only does it become easier to use the operations, our programs also become more generic and easier to reason about. For example, while env previously had the type M Environment, it could now generalise to simply

env :: (MonadReader Environment m) => m Environment
env = ask

Stating that env is reusable in any computation that has access to Environment. This leads to both more options for composition (we’re not tied to working in M), but also types that are more expressive of what effects are actually being used by the computation. In this case, we didn’t use StateT, so we didn’t incur a MonadState type class constraint on m.

Type classes open up a risk of losing type inference, and the approach in mtl is to use functional dependencies. mtl makes use of functional dependencies in order to retain type inference, but this comes at a compositional cost – the selected effect proceeds by induction from the outer most monad transformer until we reach the first matching instance. This means that even if there are multiple possible matches, the first one encountered will be selected. The following program demonstrates this, and will fail to type check:

getTheString :: ReaderT Int (ReaderT String IO) String
getTheString = ask
    Couldn't match type ‘Int’ with ‘[Char]’
    arising from a functional dependency between:
      constraint ‘MonadReader String (ReaderT Int (ReaderT String IO))’
        arising from a use of ‘ask’

When we used ask induction proceeded from the outermost transformer - ReaderT Int. This is an instance of MonadReader, and due to the functional dependency will be selected even though it doesn’t contain the String that we’re looking for. This manifests as a type error, which can be frustrating.

In practice, I’m not convinced this is really a problem, but in the scenario where environments don’t match up we have a few options:

  1. Adapt the environment with tools like mapReaderT or magnify (from lens).

  2. Use monad-classes which uses a little more type level computation to allow this to work. I’m not entirely sure what the story for inference is here, but I think there may be a risk of less inference.

  3. Forgo the functional dependencies, as in mtl-unleashed. In this case you really do give up type inference, and I don’t consider it a viable option (it fails to satisfy point 5 in my criteria in the intro).

Interestingly, the generality we gained by being polymorphic over our choice of monad also opens the door to something we couldn’t do with monad transformers, which is to choose a different implementation of the type class. For example, here’s a different implementation of MonadReader for M:

instance MonadReader Environment M where
  ask = do
    env <- M ask
    liftIO (putStrLn "Requesting environment")
    liftIO (putStrLn ("It is currently " ++ show env)
    return env

While a slightly contrived example, we see that we now have the ability to provide a different interpretation for ask which makes use of the underlying IO in M by logging whenever a computation looks at the environment. This technique is even more useful when you start defining domain specific effects, as it gives you the option to provide a pure variant that uses mock data, which can be useful for unit testing.

Free monads

Let’s move away from monad transformer stacks and see what the other options are. One option that’s getting a lot of attention is the use of free monads. A free monad is essentially a type of construction that adds just enough structure over some data in order to have the structure of a monad – and nothing extra. We spend our days working with monads, and the reason the approach afforded by free monads is appealing is due to the way that we build them – namely, we just specify the syntax! To illustrate this, let me the consider the almost traditional example of free monads, the syntax of “teletype” programs.

To begin with, I have to define the syntax of teletype programs. These programs have access to two operations - printing a line to the screen, and reading a line from the operator.

data TeletypeF a = PrintLine String a
                 | GetLine (String -> a)
  deriving (Functor)

This functor defines the syntax of our programs - namely programs that read and write to the terminal. The parameter a allows us to chain programs together, such as this echo program that prints whatever the user types:

echo :: TeletypeF (TeletypeF ())
echo = GetLine (\line -> PrintLine line ())

However, this is kind of messy. The free monad construction allows us to generate a monad out of this functor, which provides the following presentation:

echo :: Free TeletypeF ()
echo = do
  l <- getLine
  printLine l

getLine :: Free TeletypeF String
getLine = liftF (GetLine id)

printLine :: String -> Free TeletypeF ()
printLine l = liftF (PrintLine l ())

This definition of echo looks much more like the programs we are used to writing.

The remaining step is to provide an interpretation of these programs, which means we can actually run them. We can interpret our teletype programs by using STDOUT and STDIN from IO:

runTeletype :: Free TeletypeF a -> IO a
runTeletype =
  iterM (\op ->
           case op of
             GetLine k -> readLine >>= k
             PrintLine l k -> putStrLn l >> k)

This rather elegant separation between syntax and semantics suggests a new approach to writing programs – rather than working under a specific monad, we can instead work under a free monad for some suitable functor that encodes all the operations we can perform in our programs.

That said, the approach we’ve looked at so far is not particularly extensible between different classes of effects, as everything is currently required to be in a single functor. Knowing that free monads are generated by functors, we can start to look at the constructions we can perform on functors. One very nice property of functors is that given any two functors, we can compose them. The following functors below witness three possible ways to compose functors:

data Sum f g a = InL (f a) | InR (g a) deriving (Functor)
data Product f g a = Product (f a) (g a) deriving (Functor)
data Compose f g a = g (f a) deriving (Functor)

Assuming f and g are Functors, all of these are also Functors - which means we can use them to build monads with Free.

The most interesting of these constructions (for our purposes) is Sum, which lets us choose between two different Functors. Taking a more concrete example, I’ll repeat part of John A. De Goes “Modern FP” article. In this, he defines two independent functors for programs that can access files in the cloud, and another for programs that can perform basic logging.

data CloudFilesF a
  = SaveFile Path Bytes a
  | ListFiles Path (List Path -> a)
  deriving (Functor)

data LoggingF a
  = Log Level String a
  deriving (Functor)

Both of these can now be turned into monads with Free as we saw before, but we can also combine both of these to write programs that have access to both the CloudFilesF API and LoggingF:

type M a = Free (Sum CloudFilesF LoggingF) a

However, in order to use our previous API, we’ll have to perform another round of lifting:

-- API specific to individual functors
log :: Level -> String -> Free LoggingF ()
log l s = liftF (Log l s ())

saveFile :: Path -> Bytes -> Free CloudFilesF ()
saveFile p b = lift (SaveFile p b ())

-- A program using multiple effects
saveAndLog :: Free (Sum CloudFilesF LoggingF) ()
saveAndLog = do
  liftLeft (log Info "Saving...")
  liftRight (saveFile "/data" "\0x42")

-- Lifting operations
liftLeft :: Free f a -> Free (Sum f g) a
liftLeft = hoistFree InL

liftRight :: Free g a -> Free (Sum f g) a
liftRight = hoistFree InR

This is a slightly unfortunate outcome - while we’ve witnessed that there is extensiblity, without more work the approaches don’t compose particularly well.

To solve the problem of having to lift everything leads us to the need for an mtl-like solution in the realm of free monads - that is, a system that automatically knows how to lift individual functors into our composite functor. This is essentially what’s happening in the extensible-effects library - as a user you define each individual Functor, and then extensible-effects provides the necessary type class magic to combine everything together.

We should also mention something on efficiency while we’re here. Free monads have at least two presentations that have different use cases. One of these is extremely easy to inspect (that is, write interpters) but has a costly implementation of >>=. We know how to solve this problem, but the trade off switches over to being costly to inspect. Recently, we learnt how to perform reads and binds in linear time, but the constant factors are apparently a little too high to be competative with raw transformers. So all in all, there is an efficiency cost of just working with a free monad approach.

mtl and laws

I want to now return to the monad transformer library. To recap, the definition of MonadReader is –

class MonadReader r m | m -> r where
  ask :: m r

But this alone makes me a little uneasy. Why? I am in the class of Haskellers who consider a type class without a law a smell, as it leaves us unable to reason about what the type class is even doing. For example, it doesn’t require much imagination to come up with nonsense implementations of ask:

newtype SomeM a = SomeM (StateT Int IO a)
  deriving (Functor, Applicative, Monad)

instance MonadReader Int SomeM where
  ask = SomeM $ do
    i <- get
    put (i + 1)
    return i

But then again – who’s to say this is nonsense? Given that we were never given a specification for what ask should do in the first place, this is actually perfectly reasonable! For this reason, I set out searching for a way to reason about mtl-style effects, such that we could at least get some laws.

A different approach

The transformers library also give us mtl-like type classes, one of which is MonadIO. However, this type class does have laws as well:

-- liftIO . return = return
-- liftIO (f >>= g) = liftIO f >>= liftIO . g
class MonadIO m where
  liftIO :: IO a -> m a

This law is an example of a homomorphism. To quote Wikipedia on the subject:

A homomorphism is a structure-preserving map between two algebraic structures (such as groups, rings, or vector spaces).

In this case the algebraic structure is the monad structure of IO. We see that any monad that is an instance of MonadIO has the ability to lift IO operations, and as this is a homomorphism, the laws state that it will preserve the underlying structure of IO.

It’s currently unclear how to apply this type of reasing to MonadReader, given its current definition – ask is just a value, it doesn’t even take an argument – so how can we even try and preserve anything?

Let’s take some inspiration from free monads, and consider the effect language for MonadReader. If we only have (Monad m, MonadReader r m), then the only thing we can do on top of the normal monad operations is ask the environment. This suggests a suitable functor would be:

data AskF r a = Ask (r -> a)
  deriving (Functor)

I can now wrap this up in Free in order to write programs with the ability to ask:

type Ask r a = Free (AskF r) a

Now we have an algebraic structure with properties (Ask r is a Monad) that we would like to preserve, so we can write this alternative form of MonadReader:

-- liftAsk . return = return
-- liftAsk (f >>= g) = liftAsk f >>= liftAsk . g
class Monad m => MonadReader r m | m -> r where
  liftAsk :: Ask r a -> m a

ask :: MonadReader r m => m r
ask = liftAsk (liftF (Ask id))

Et voilà! We now have an equally powerful MonadReader type class, except this time we have the ability to reason about it and its instances. If we return to the instance that I was questioning earlier, we can redefine it under the new API:

instance MonadReader Int SomeM where
  liftAsk askProgram = SomeM $ do
    x <- get
    out <- iterM (\(Ask k) -> return (k t)) askProgram
    put (x + 1)
    return out

Now that we have some laws, we can ask: is this a valid definition of MonadReader? To check, we’ll use equational reasoning. Working through the first law, we have

liftAsk (return a)
  = { definition of return for Free }
liftAsk (Pure a)
  = { definition of liftAsk for SomeM }
SomeM $ do
  x <- get
  out <- iterM (\(Ask k) -> return (k t)) (Pure a)
  put (x + 1)
  return out
  = { evaluate iterM for Pure a }
SomeM $ do
  x <- get
  out <- return a
  put (x + 1)
  return out
  = { monad laws }
SomeM $ do
  x <- get
  put (x + 1)
  return a

Already we have a problem. While we can see that this does return the original a it was given, it does so in a way that also incurred some side effects. That is, liftAsk (return a) is not the same as return a, so this isn’t a valid definition of MonadReader. Back to the drawing board… Now, it’s worth noting that there is an instance that is law abiding, but might still be considered as surprising:

instance MonadReader Int SomeM where
  liftAsk askProgram =
    iterM (\(Ask k) -> SomeM $ do
      x <- get
      put (x + 1)
      k x )

Applying the same equational reasoning to this is much easier, and shows that the first law is satisfied

liftAsk (return a)
  = { definition of liftAsk }
iterM (\(Ask k) -> SomeM $ do
  x <- get
  put (x + 1)
  k x)
  (return a)
  = { definition of return for Free }
iterM (\(Ask k) -> SomeM $ do
  x <- get
  put (x + 1)
  k x)
  (Pure a)
  = { definition of iterM given Pure}
return a

For the second law, I’ll omit the proof, but I want to demonstrate to sessions in GHCI:

> let runSomeM (M m) = evalState m 0

> runSomeM (liftAsk (ask >>= \r1 -> ask >>= \r2 -> return (r1, r2))
(1, 2)

> runSomeM (liftAsk ask >>= \r1 -> liftAsk >>= \r2 -> return (r1, r2)
(1, 2)

So while the answers agree - they probably don’t agree with your intuition! This is only surprising in that we have some assumption of how =Ask= programs should behave. Knowing more about =Ask=, we might seek this further law:

ask >> ask = ask

This law can also be seen as a reduction step in the classification of our Ask programs, but a Free monad is not powerful enough to capture that. Indeed, the documentation of Free mentions exactly this:

A free Monad is one that does no work during the normalisation step beyond simply grafting the two monadic values together. [] is not a free Monad (in this sense) because join [[a]] smashes the lists flat.

The law ask >> ask = ask follows by normalisation of our “reader” programs, so a free monad will be unable to capture that by construction – the best we can do is add an extra law to our type class. However, what we can also do is play a game of normalisation by evaluation. First, we write an evaluator for Free (AskF r) programs:

runAsk :: Free (AskF r) a -> (r -> a)
runAsk f r = iterM (\(AskF k) -> k r) f

and then witness that we can reify these r -> a terms back into Free (Ask r) a:

reify :: (r -> a) -> Free (Ask r) a
reify = AskF

You should also convince yourself that (r -> a) really is a normal form, and you may find the above linked article on this useful for formal proofs (search for “normalisation”). What we’ve essentially shown is that every Free (AskF r) a program can be expressed as a single r -> a function. The normal form of ask >> ask is now - by definition - a single ask, which is the law we were originally having to state.

As we’ve witnessed that r -> a is the normal form of Free (AskF r) a, this suggests that we could just as well write:

-- liftAsk . return = return
-- liftAsk (f >>= g) = liftAsk f >>= liftAsk . g
class MonadReader r m | m -> r where
  liftAsk :: (r -> a) -> m a

(The structure being preserved by the homomorphism is assuming that (r -> a) is a reader monad).

Our strange instance now becomes

instance MonadReader UTCTime SomeM where
  liftAsk f = SomeM $ do
    x <- get
    put (x + 1)
    return (f x)

With a little scrutiny, we can see that this is not going to satisfy the homomorphism laws. Not only does it fail to satisfy the return law (for the same reason), the second law states that liftAsk (f >>= g) = liftAsk f >>= liftAsk . g. Looking at our implementation this would mean that we would have to increase the state based on the amount of binds performed in f >>= g. However, we also know that >>= for r -> a simply reduces to another r -> a function - the implication being that it’s impossible to know how many binds were performed.

Here a counter example will help convince us that the above is wrong. First, we know

liftAsk (ask >> ask) = liftAsk ask

because ask >> ask = ask by definition.

By the homomorphism laws, we must also have

liftAsk (ask >> ask) = liftAsk ask >> liftAsk ask

Combining these, we expect

liftAsk ask = liftAsk (ask >> ask) = liftAsk ask >> liftAsk ask


> runSomeM (liftAsk ask)

> runSomeM (liftAsk (ask >> ask))

> runSomeM (liftAsk ask >> liftAsk ask)

Now we can see that SomeM’s current definition of MonadReader fails. It’s much harder to write a law abiding form of MonadReader Int SomeM - but it will essentially require some fixed data throughout the scope of the computation. The easiest is of course to change the definition of SomeM:

newtype SomeM a = SomeM (ReaderT Int IO a)

instance MonadReader UTCTime SomeM where
  liftAsk f = SomeM (fmap f ask)

You should convince yourself that this instance is now law abiding - for example by considering the above counter-example, or by performing equational reasoning.

A pattern for effect design

The process we underwent to reach the new form of a =MonadReader= type class, extends well to many different type classes and suggests a new pattern for mtl-like type class operations. Here’s a rough framework that I’m having a lot of success with:

1. Define the operations as data

To begin, think about the language that your effect will talk about. For the reader monad, we defined the AskF functor, and the same can be done for the exception monad, the failure monad, the state monad, and so on. For more “domain specific” operations, a free monad also scales well - one could imagine a language for interacting with general relational databases, with operations to SELECT, UPDATE, DELETE, and so on.

2. Find a suitable way to compose operations

Individual operations are not enough, we also need a way to write programs using this language. This amounts to finding a suitable way to compose these operations together. An easy first approximation is to use a free structure, again – as we started with for the reader monad. In the case of the aforementioned domain specific relational database example, the free monad might be as far as we want to go.

It’s also worth exploring if there is a normal form that more succinctly captures the operations in your language along with equational reasoning. We saw that the normal form of Free (AskF r) a was r -> a, and the same process can be ran for Free (StateF s) a - reaching s -> (a, s) as a normal form. It’s important to note that if you go through the process of normalisation by evaluation, that you also make sure you can reify your evaluation result back into the original language. To illustrate why, consider the hypothetical relational database language:

data DatabaseF a = Query SqlQuery (Results -> a)

runDb :: Free DatabaseF a -> (DatabaseHandle -> IO a)
runDb h = iterM (\(Query q k) -> query h q >>= k)

This is fine for an interpreter, but DatabaseHandle -> IO a is not a normal form because we can’t reify these terms back into DatabaseF. This is important, because by working with a normal form it means that you can define a whole range of interpreters that see the necessary structure of the original programs. To illustrate one problem with DatabaseHandle -> IO a, if we attempted to write a pure interpreter, we would be unable to see which queries were performed in order to produce the data under a (not to mention the limitation that working in IO would cause).

3. Introduce a type class for homomorphisms

With your effect language defined, the next step is to define a type class for homomorphisms from this effect language into larger monad stacks. Often this will be a monad homomorphism – much as we saw with MonadReader and MonadIO – but the homomorphism need not be a monad homomorphism. For example, if your source effect language is a simple monoid, then the homomorphism will be a monoid homomorphism. We’ll see an example of this shortly.

4. Export polymorphic operations

With a type class of homomorphisms, we can now export a cleaner API. For MonadReader, this means exporting convenience ask operations that are defined in terms of liftAsk with the appropriate program in our AskF language.

5. Provide a reference implementation

I also suggest providing a “reference” implementation of this type class. For MonadReader, this reference implementation is ReaderT. The idea is that users can immediately take advantage of the effect we’re defining by introducing the appropriate monad transformer into their monad stack.

The type class allows them to more efficiently define the operations in terms of existing monadic capabilities (e.g., IO), but for many simply reusing a transformer will be sufficient.

A worked example for logging

To conclude this article I want to explore one more application of this pattern applied to building a logging effect. In fact, it is this very problem that motivated the research for this blog post, and so we’ll end up building the foundations of my logging-effect library.

The first step is to identify a language for programs that can perform logging. There’s not much involved here, simply the ability to append to the log at any point in time. Let’s formalise that idea with the appropriate functor:

data LoggingF message a = AppendLogMessage message a
  deriving (Functor)

This functor is parameterised by the type of log messages. The only constructor for LoggingF takes a log message and the rest of the computation to run. We could stop here and lift Free (LoggingF message) a programs, but I want to go a bit further and see are any other ways to express this. I’ll use normalisation by evaluation again, and see what happens.

runFreeLogging :: Free (LoggingF message) a -> (a, [message])
runFreeLogging (Pure a) = (a, [])
runFreeLogging (Free (AppendLogMessage m next)) =
  case runFreeLogging next of
    (a, messages) -> (a, m:messages)

We can also take a (a, [message]) and turn it back into the equivalent Free (LoggingF message) a, so (a, [message]) is another candidate for the language of our logging programs.

But this a bothers me. It occurs only in LoggingF message to capture the rest of the computation, but never does the result of logging affect the choice of what that next computation is. This suggests that it’s mostly noise, and maybe we can just erase it. This would lead us to have logging programs of the type [message]. This type is no longer the right kind for our lifting operation to be a monad homomorphism, which means we have to identify another algebraic structure. Well, lists are certainly a composable structure - they have all the properties of a monoid.

With that in mind, we need to consider what it means to be a monoid homomorphism into some monad. First, observe that monads also have a monoid-like operations:

monadMempty :: Monad m => ()
monadMempty = return ()

monadMappend :: Monad m => m () -> m () -> m ()
monadMappend l r = l >> r

We can now write our lifting type class with the laws of a monoid homomorphism:

liftLog mempty   = mempty                 -- = return ()
liftLog (x <> y) = liftLog x <> liftLog y -- = liftLog x >> liftLog y
class MonadLog message m | m -> message where
  liftLog :: [message] -> m ()

While we reached this type by normalisation-by-evaluation and then a little bit of fudging, there is another way we could have got here. In a sense, [] can be seen as another construction like Free - given any type a, [a] is a free monoid generated by a. An easier route to this type class would have been to describe the individual operations in our logging programs by:

data LoggingOp message = LogMessage message

and then using [] as our free construction. As LoggingOp message ~ Identity message ~ message, we know we could also use [message], and we’re back at the type class above.

(In my logging-effect library I chose a slightly different representation of the free monoid. Theoretically, this is a sounder way to talk about free monoids, but I’m mostly interested in the slight efficiency win by not having to build up lists only to immediately deconstruct them.)

The last steps are to provide polymorphic operations and a reference implementation that satisfies the laws:

logMessage :: (MonadLog message m) => message -> m ()
logMessage message = liftLog [message]

newtype LoggingT message m a = LoggingT (ReaderT (message -> IO ()) m a)

instance MonadIO m => MonadLog message (LoggingT message m) where
  liftLog messages = LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ messages dispatchLog))

Does this reference implementation satisfy the monoid homomorphism laws that is required by MonadLog?

liftLog mempty
  = { definition of mempty for lists }
liftLog []
  = { definition of liftLog for LoggingT }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ [] dispatchLog))
  = { definition of for_ for [] }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (return ()))
  = { liftIO . return = return }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> return ())
  = { definition of return for LoggingT }
return ()

So far so good!

liftLog (x <> y)
  = { definition of liftLog for LoggingT }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ (x ++ y) dispatchLog))
  = { for_ distributes over ++ }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ x dispatchLog >> for_ y dispatchLog)
  = { liftIO (f >>= g) = liftIO f >>= liftIO . g }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ x dispatchLog) >> liftIO (for_ y dispatchLog))
  = { definition of (>>=) for LoggingT }
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ x dispatchLog)) >>
LoggingT (\dispatchLog -> liftIO (for_ y dispatchLog)) >>
  = { definition of liftLog for LoggingT }
liftLog x >> liftLog y


Further thoughts

In this post I presented a pattern for building mtl-like type classes in a mechanical fashion, and this suggests that maybe some of the details can be automatically dealt with. In the next few days I’ll be presenting my algebraic-transformers library which will show exactly that.

You can contact me via email at or tweet to me @acid2. I share almost all of my work at GitHub. This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.