Monads in Haskell – Part II

In this second post about Monads in Haskell, we’ll talk about the three new types of Monads introduced in the chapter For a Few Monads More, from the Learn You A Haskell for Good: the Writer, the Reader and the State Monads.

Writer Monad

The writer monad is useful when we want to attach some kind of logging to our value. The monadic type we’re going to work with takes a value of type a and the “logging” type w.

newtype Writer w a = Writer {runWriter :: (a, w)}

The definition of the Writer Monad is:

import Data.Monoid

instance (Monoid w) => Monad (Writer w) where
  return x = Writer (x, mempty)
  (Writer (x, v)) >>= f = let (Writer (y, v')) = f x 
                           in Writer (y, v `mappend` v')

Monoid is a typeclass with a set of common functions that a monoid type must implement, which are, mempty, mappend and mconcat.

class Monoid m where  
  mempty :: m  

  mappend :: m -> m -> m  

  mconcat :: [m] -> m  
  mconcat = foldr mappend mempty  

The mempty function returns an empty instance of the type m, mappend is any binary function over 2 instances of type m and mconcat is a generalization of mappend, a function over a list of instance of type m. The Monoid typeclass provides a default implementation of this function consisting of a foldr.

For example, the list type [] is can be seen as a monoid with the following implementation:

instance Monoid [a] where
  mempty = []
  mappend = (++)

So going back to the Writer monad definition, we have that the “logging” type must be a monoid type. And we define the monad over the type (Writer w) which can be seem as wapper on the type a.

The return function consists in wrapping an instance of the type a into the type (Writer w), so the simplest one is to just have an empty instance of type w. Since it’s a monoid, we can use the functiion mempty.

The chain operator (>>=) takes an instance of type a wrapped into the (Wrapper w) and pass it to a function that operates on the type a and wraps the resulting type into (Wrapper w) again. In our implementation of the monad for (Writer w), we extract the element x, apply f on it and compose a new log message combining the incoming log message and the one returned by function f, using the mappend function.

This implementation is available in the Control.Monad.Writer module. One simple example that uses the Writer Monad is a function that operates over numbers and log them:

import Control.Monad.Writer  
logNumber :: Int -> Writer [String] Int  
logNumber x = Writer (x, ["Got number: " ++ show x])  
multWithLog :: Writer [String] Int  
multWithLog = do  
  a <- logNumber 3  
  b <- logNumber 5  
  return (a*b) 

Which will return

ghci> runWriter multWithLog  
(15,["Got number: 3","Got number: 5"])  

State Monad

The state monad when we want to carry some internal state along our computation. One example is a parser code presented in [2], where the authors use the partial parsed code as an internal state.

In the same fashion as the writer monadic type, we have a type that depends on two type parameters, one of them representing the wrapped value and the other the type of the state.

The difference here is that instead of a pair of the two types, our new type is actually a function that receives a value of type s and wraps it into a tuple together with an instance of type a.

newtype State s a = State { runState :: s -> (a,s) }

The definition of the State Monad is given by:

instance Monad (State s) where  
  return x = State $ \s -> (x,s)  
  (State h) >>= f = State $ \s -> let (a, newState) = h s  
                                      (State g) = f a  
                                    in  g newState  

The implementation of the return function is straightforward, it just returns a function that receives a state and returns a pair of x with this state. This function is then wrapped into the type State.

The chain operator is more involved. To extract the value of type a from a State type, we first need to extract the function h from it (by pattern matching (State h)), and then extracting the value a by providing an state to it. Note that we can assume this state s because this is done within a lambda that receives a state.

After extracting the value a from the first parameter of (>>=), we can finally apply the function f to it. This will return an instance of State, from which we extract yet another function g that receives an state and returns a pair. We use the state that resulted after applying the state s to function h and return the pair resulting from applying the new state to this function.

The State Monad is also useful when we’re dealing with random number generation. In Haskell you have to keep a reference to the random number generator otherwise it will always generate the same number. The following example uses the random genetor as a state, which makes it simple to generate multiple random numbers:

import System.Random  
import Control.Monad.State  
randomSt :: (RandomGen g, Random a) => State g a  
randomSt = State random  

threeCoins :: State StdGen (Bool,Bool,Bool)  
threeCoins = do  
    a <- randomSt  
    b <- randomSt  
    c <- randomSt  
    return (a,b,c)  

Reader Monad

The Reader Monad [3] is similar to the State monad but in this case we have a state that is immutable, which we can see as an environment. The Reader type is a wrapper of a function that receives the environment e and returns an instance of type a. Since the environment is immutable, there’s no need to return it along with our value.

newtype Reader e a = Reader { runReader :: e -> a }

The definition of the Reader Monad is then:

instance Monad (Reader e) where
  return a = Reader $ \_ -> a
  (Reader g) >>= f = Reader $ \e -> let (Reader h) = f (g e)
                                     in h e

For the return function, we have an analogous function as for the State Monad, but since in this case the function doesn’t need to return the environment, we return a function that doesn’t care about the parameter.

The chain operator is also a special case of the State Monad chain operator. We first extract the function g via pattern matching, within the lambda function we provide the environment e to g in order to retrieve our value of type a and apply the function f.

The function f will return another function h wrapped inside a Reader instance which we can extract using pattern matching again. This function wrapped back into a Reader instance is essentially the result of the chain operator.


[1] Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! – For a Few Monads More
[2] Real World Haskell – Chapter 10. Code case study: parsing a binary data format
[3] Real World Haskell – Chapter 15. Programming with monads


Leave a Reply (sorry, due to SPAM, the blog requires users to be logged in)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s