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Types, lambda functions and type classes

Function types

  • Ordinary data types are for primitive data (like and ) and basic data structures (like and ).
  • Algebraic data types are types that combine other types either as records (‘products’), e.g.

      data Pair = Pair Int Double

    or as variants (‘sums’), e.g.

      data Bool = False | True
  • Functions have types containing an arrow, e.g. .
  • We now look at function types in more detail.

Lambda expressions

  • Lambda expressions (named after the greek letter ) play a very important role in functional programming in general and Haskell in particular.

Named and anonymous expressions

  • You can give a name to an expression :
    sum = 2+2
  • But you can also write anonymous expressions — expressions that just appear, but are not given names.
    (-b) + sqrt (b^2 - 4*a*c)
  • Without anonymous expressions, writing this would almost be like assembly language:
    e1 = (-b)
    e2 = b^2
    e3 = 4*a
    e4 = e3*c
    e5 = e2-e4
    e6 = e1+e5

Some background

  • Sometimes in a mathematics or physics book, there are statements like “the function is continuous

  • This is ok when the context makes it clear what is.

  • But it can lead to problems. What does mean?

    • Is it a constant, because both and have fixed values?

    • Is it a function of , with a fixed value of ?

    • Is it a function of , with a fixed value of ?

    • Is it a function of both and ?

  • In mathematical logic (and computer programming) we need to be precise about this!

  • A lambda expression contains

    • An explicit statement that the formal parameter is , and

    • the expression that defines the value of the function.

Anonymous functions

  • A function can be defined and given a name using an equation:
    f :: Int -> Int
    f x = x+1
  • Since functions are “first class”, they are ubiquitous, and it’s often useful to denote a function anonymously.

  • This is done using lambda expressions.

    \x -> x+1

Pronounced “lambda x arrow x+1”.

There may be any number of arguments:

    \x y z -> 2*x + y*z

Using a lambda expression

Functions are first class: you can use a lambda expression wherever a function is needed. Thus

    f = \x -> x+1

is equivalent to

    f x = x+1

But lambda expressions are most useful when they appear inside larger expressions.

    map (\x -> 2*x + 1) xs

Monomorphic and polymorphic functions

Monomorphic functions

Monomorphic means “having one form”.

    f :: Int -> Char
    f i = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz" !! i

    x :: Int
    x = 3

    f x :: Char
    f x -- > 'd'

Polymorphic functions

Polymorphic means “having many forms”.

    fst :: (a,b) -> a
    fst (x,y) = x

    snd :: (a,b) -> b
    snd (x,y) = y

    fst :: (a,b) -> a
    fst (a,b) = a

    snd :: (a,b) -> b
    snd (a,b) = b


  • Most programming languages allow functions to have any number of arguments.

  • But this turns out to be unnecessary: we can restrict all functions to have just one argument, without losing any expressiveness.

  • This process is called Currying, in honor of Haskell Curry.

    • The technique makes essential use of higher order functions.

    • It has many advantages, both practical and theoretical.

A function with two arguments

You can write a definition like this, which appears to have two arguments:

    f :: Int -> Int -> Int
    f x y = 2*x + y

But it actually means the following:

    f :: Int -> (Int -> Int)
    f 5 :: Int -> Int

The function takes its arguments one at a time:

    f 3 4 = (f 3) 4

    g :: Int -> Int
    g = f 3
    g 10 -- > (f 3) 10 -- > 2*3 + 10

Grouping: arrow to the right, application left

  • The arrow operator takes two types , and gives the type of a function with argument type and result type

  • An application applies a function to an argument

  • Note that for both types and applications, a function has only one argument

  • To make the notation work smoothly, arrows group to the right, and application groups to the left.

    f :: a -> b -> c -> d
    f :: a -> (b -> (c -> d))

    f x y z = ((f x) y) z

Type classes and ad-hoc polymorphism

The type of

Note that has the following type, and there is no restriction on what types and could be.

    fst :: (a,b) -> a

What is the type of ? Could it be

    (+) :: Int -> Int -> Int
    (+) :: Integer -> Integer -> Integer
    (+) :: Ratio Integer -> Ratio Integer -> Ratio Integer
    (+) :: Double -> Double -> Double

    (+) :: a -> a -> a  -- Wrong! has to be a number

Type classes

Answer: has type for any type that is a member of the type class .

    (+) :: Num a => a -> a -> a
  • The class is a set of types for which is defined

  • It includes , , , and many more.

  • But does not contain types like , , , and many more.

Two kinds of polymorphism

  • Parametric polymorphism.

    • A polymorphic type that can be instantiated to any type.

    • Represented by a type variable. It is conventional to use , , ,

    • Example: can take the length of a list whose elements could have any type.

  • Ad hoc polymorphism.

    • A polymorphic type that can be instantiated to any type chosen from a set, called a “type class

    • Represented by a type variable that is constrained using the notation.

    • Example: says that can add values of any type , provided that is an element of the type class .

Type inference

  • Type checking takes a type declaration and some code, and determines whether the code actually has the type declared.

  • Type inference is the analysis of code in order to infer its type.

  • Type inference works by

    • Using a set of type inference rules that generate typings based on the program text

    • Combining all the information obtained from the rules to produce the types.

Type inference rules

The type system contains a number of type inference rules, with the form


  • Statements about types are written in the form similar to

  • This means ``if you are given a set of types, then it is proven that has type .

Type of constant

If we know the type of a constant (for example, we know that ), then this is expressed by saying that there is a given theorem that . Furthermore, this holds given any context .

Type of application

If is a function with type , then the application of to an argument of type gives a result of type .

Type of lambda expression

We have a context . Suppose that if we’re also given that , then it can be proven that an expression . Then we can infer that the function has type .

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