Programming Languages in Haskell

Support for EECS 662 at KU

\[\newcommand\calc{\mathsf{calc}\;} \newcommand\parse{\mathsf{parse}\;} \newcommand\typeof{\mathsf{typeof}\;} \newcommand\interp{\mathsf{interp}\;} \newcommand\eval{ \Downarrow } \newcommand\NUM{\mathsf{NUM}\;} \newcommand\ID{\mathsf{ID}\;} \newcommand\iif{\mathsf{if}\;} \newcommand\tthen{\;\mathsf{then}\;} \newcommand\eelse{\;\mathsf{else}\;} \newcommand\iisZero{\mathsf{isZero}\;} \newcommand\bbind{\mathsf{bind}\;} \newcommand\iin{\mathsf{in}\;} \newcommand\aand{\;\mathsf{\&\&}\;} \newcommand\lleq{\;\mathtt{<=}\;} \newcommand\ttrue{\;\mathsf{true}} \newcommand\ffalse{\;\mathsf{false}} \newcommand\tnum{\;\mathsf{TNum}} \newcommand\tbool{\;\mathsf{TBool}}\]

Adding Booleans Redux

Before moving ahead to functions, let’s spend a bit of time looking at type checking when adding Booleans to BAE. Let’s define a new language BAE with Booleans (BBAE) that simply adds the same boolean operators added to AE to get ABE. Let’s quickly walk through our standard methodology for extending a language and add at the same time add type checking. We’ll treat this almost like an exercise with some quick commentary, but not a great deal of detail.

Concrete Syntax and Values

The first step is extending concrete syntax and adding new values if necessary. The concrete syntax for BBAE is literally the concrete syntax of ABE and BAE composed:

\[\begin{align*} t ::= & \NUM \mid t + t \mid t - t \\ & \mid \bbind \ID=t\; \iin t \\ & \mid \ttrue \mid \ffalse \mid \iif t \tthen t \eelse t \\ & \mid t \lleq t \mid t \aand t \mid \iisZero t \\ \end{align*}\]

Similarly, there are no new values that do not appear in ABE and BAE. We simply compose the values from those to languages:

\[\begin{align*} v := \NUM \mid \ttrue \mid \ffalse \\ \end{align*}\]

We now have a syntax for BBAE to work from. On to the parser and pretty printer.

Abstract Syntax, Parser, Pretty Printer, and Generator Definition

The abstract syntax of BBAE follows immediately from its concrete syntax. One can simply copy-and-paste the elements of ABE and BAE into a single AST resulting in:

data BBAE where
  Num :: Int -> BBAE
  Plus :: BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  Minus :: BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  Bind :: String -> BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  Id :: String -> BBAE
  Boolean :: Bool -> BBAE
  And :: BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  Leq :: BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  IsZero :: BBAE -> BBAE
  If :: BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE -> BBAE
  deriving (Show,Eq)

A quick check (no pun intended) reveals that we have an abstract syntax element for each language element. One can literally walk through the concrete syntax and map constructs to their constructors.

The parser, pretty printer, and generator for BBAE are simple extensions of ABE and BAE. For brevity, we’ll move on without including them in the discussion. However, you’ll find code for all three in the BBAE source files. Note that the ABE generator must be modified to account for keeping track of generated identifiers. This is a simple addition, but easy to miss.

Evaluation Rules

Like the syntax definition, the definition for eval composes rules from ABE and BAE. Literally nothing changes:

\[\frac{}{\eval v = v}\; [NumE]\] \[\frac{t_1 \eval v_1,\; t_2 \eval v_2}{t_1 + t_2 \eval v_1+v_2}\; [PlusE]\] \[\frac{t_1 \eval v_1,\; t_2 \eval v_2}{t_1 - t_2 \eval v_1-v_2}\; [MinusE]\] \[\frac{t_1 \eval v_1,\; t_2 \eval v_2}{t_1 \aand t_2 \eval v_1 \wedge v_2}\; [AndE]\] \[\frac{t_1 \eval v_1,\; t_2 \eval v_2}{t_1 \lleq t_2 \eval v_1\leq v_2}\; [LeqE]\] \[\frac{t \eval v}{\iisZero t \eval v==0}\; [isZeroE]\] \[\frac{t_0 \eval true,\; t_1 \eval v_1}{\iif t_0 \tthen t_1 \eelse t_2 \eval v_1}\;[IfTrueE]\] \[\frac{t_0 \eval false,\; t_2 \eval v_2}{\iif t_0 \tthen t_1 \eelse t_2 \eval v_2}\;[IfFalseE]\] \[\frac{a \eval v,\; [i\mapsto v]s \eval v'}{(\bbind\; i\; = a\;\iin s) \eval v'}\;[BindE]\]

How does this work? We’ve combined two languages with their own constructs by simply combining rules. How do they know about each other during interpretation? The trick is in the definition of t and its associated abstract syntax. As long as we have a rule for every abstract syntax element, recursive calls to the interpreter take care of integrating the languages. Said differently, in virtually every rule we can interpret subterms of terms by simply calling the interpreter without regard to the specifics of the subterm. Recursion is your friend here.

The property that allows us to compose languages in this way is orthogonality. The valuation rules for one expression do not interact with other specific expressions. For example, while isZero uses the value of its argument expression, that expression can be any properly formed language expression. Orthogonality is an important design principle that dramatically simplifies language design and implementation.

We now have a mathematical definition for the evaluation relation.

Eval Definition

Now the implementation details for the evaluator. Here things are not quite as simple as composing previous interpreters. We’ll need to spend some time thinking through how we want our interpreters to behave before diving into the code.

What should the interpreter return? Previously we’ve implemented interpreters that return:

  1. Haskell values
  2. AST values
  3. Maybe AST values

The plan is to eventually write a type checker for this language. AST values are sufficient for this eval implementation because we hope to predict success before execution. Haskell values would be fine, but we want to use our earlier technique for implementing error messages. The Maybe implementation was specifically for catching errors at runtime and that is not required for a type checking interpreter.

What about the environment? Env remains unchanged from previous implementations because the environment remains a simple list of identifier/value pairs. Nothing changes other than the type stored in the environment changing to BBAE:

type Env = [(String,BBAE)]

This gives us the expected type signature for the eval function:

eval :: Env -> BBAE -> BBAE

eval will accept an environment and abstract syntax term and produce an abstract syntax term.

Evaluation cases for each AST element are defined by evaluation rules and taken verbatim from the ABE and BAE interpreters. Again, orthogonality helps us out. The resulting function looks like this:

type Env = [(String,BBAE)]
type Cont = [(String,TBBAE)]
eval ::  Env -> BBAE -> (Maybe BBAE)
eval env (Num x) = (Just (Num x))
eval env (Plus l r) = do { (Num l') <- (eval env l) ;
                           (Num r') <- (eval env r) ;
                           return (Num (l'+r')) }
eval env (Minus l r) = do { (Num l') <- (eval env l) ;
                            (Num r') <- (eval env r) ;
                            return (Num (l'-r')) }
eval env (Bind i v b) = do { v' <- eval env v ;
                             eval ((i,v'):env) b }
eval env (Id id) = (lookup id env)
eval env (Boolean b) = (Just (Boolean b))
eval env (And l r) = do { (Boolean l') <- (eval env l) ;
                          (Boolean r') <- (eval env r) ; 
                          return (Boolean (l' && r')) }
eval env (Leq l r) = do { (Num l') <- (eval env l) ;
                          (Num r') <- (eval env r) ;
                          return (Boolean (l' <= r')) }
eval env (IsZero v) = do { (Num v') <- (eval env v) ;
                           return (Boolean (v' == 0)) }
eval env (If c t e) = do { (Boolean c') <- (eval env c) ;
                           (if c' then (eval env t) else (eval env e)) }

Interestingly, eval will only return Nothing when variable lookup fails. Nothing doesn’t even appear directly in the code. Even more interesting is type checking will assure that all variables are bound and lookup will never retrn Nothing. We use the monad simply for sequencing eval steps.

The interpretation final function that composes the interpreter and parser is identical to that for BAE. Specifically, call the parser and evaluate the result with an initial, empty environment:

interp = (eval []) . parseBBAE

Testing Eval

We now have an interpreter for BBAE that requires testing. By defining interp in the same manner as BAE, the test function for eval literally does not change:

testEval :: Int -> IO ()
testEval n = quickCheckWith stdArgs {maxSuccess=n}
  (\t -> (interp $ pprint t) == (eval [] t))

With everything in place, we evaluate over just a few cases and quickly learn that eval without any dynamic error checking or static type checking fails. Hopefully this is not surprising to you. The next step is defining and implementing a type checker to statically determine if a BBAE expression will execute.

Type Rules

Type rules for BAE and ABE expressions remain largely unchanged in BBAE until we get to identifiers. Numbers remain of type $\tnum$ and Booleans $\tbool$:

\[\frac{}{\NUM : \tnum}\; [NumT]\] \[\frac{}{\ttrue : \tbool}\; [TrueT]\] \[\frac{}{\ffalse : \tbool}\; [FalseT]\]

Unary and binary operations similarly remain the same:

\[\frac{t_1 : \tnum,\; t_2 : \tnum}{t_1 + t_2 : \tnum}\; [PlusT]\] \[\frac{t_1 : \tnum,\; t_2 : \tnum}{t_1 - t_2 : \tnum}\; [MinusT]\] \[\frac{t_1 : \tbool,\; t_2 : \tbool}{t_1 \aand t_2 : \tbool}\; [AndT]\] \[\frac{t_1 : \tnum,\; t_2 : \tnum}{t_1 \lleq t_2 : \tbool}\; [LeqT]\] \[\frac{t : \tnum}{\iisZero t : \tbool}\; [isZeroT]\] \[\frac{t_0 : \tbool,\; t_1 : T,\; t_2 : T}{\iif t_0 \tthen t_1 \eelse t_2 : T}\;[IfT]\]

The new concept in this language is identifiers introduced by bind and used anywhere in expressions. How do we determine the type of identifiers? To get an idea, recall how eval handles bind using an environment. when evaluating a bind:

bind x = v in b

x takes the value v in b. We use an environment to hold bindings of identifiers to values. Can we do the same thing with types of identifiers? Specifically, create a environment-like structure that maintains bindings of identifiers to types and simply look up type in that structure?

The environment-like structure that contains types will be called a context and is frequently represented by $\Gamma$. Like the environment, it is a list of pairs and behaves in exactly the same fashion. The difference is each pair consists of an identifier and type rather than identifier and value.

We will use the notation $(x,T)$ to represent the binding of a variable to some type and the Haskell list append $(x,T):\Gamma$ to represent addition of new binding to a context. $(x,T)\in\Gamma$ represents finding the first instance of $(x,T)$ in $\Gamma$. Finally, $\Gamma$ is included in type inference rules using the notation $\Gamma\vdash t : T$. This notation is read “$\Gamma$ derives $t$ is of type $T$.” It is interpreted as using $\Gamma$ to define the types of identifiers in term $t$.

Using this new machinery the rule for bind adds the newly bound identifier with its type to the context and finds the type of the bind body:

\[\frac{\Gamma\vdash v : T_1, ((i,T_1):\Gamma)\vdash b : T_2}{\Gamma\vdash\bbind i=v\; \iin b : T_2}\;[BindT]\]

The type of the body becomes the type of the bind. This makes sense as the body is what gets evaluated when the bind is evaluated. It is also interesting to think of bind as a special expression that simply adds to the environment or context.

One more type rule for identifiers is needed to finish the definition. It simply looks up a type binding $(v,T)$ in $\Gamma$ and asserts that $v:T$ is true when the type binding is found:

\[\frac{(i,T)\in \Gamma}{\Gamma\vdash i : T}\;[IdT]\]

This lookup is quite similar to the lookup used when the environment is used. In fact, the functions for manipulating the environment and context are identical.

To integrate our new type rules for bind and identifiers we need to include the context in all type rules. Thus, the previous rules for terms become:

\[\frac{}{\Gamma\vdash\NUM : \tnum}\; [NumT]\] \[\frac{}{\Gamma\vdash\ttrue : \tbool}\; [TrueT]\] \[\frac{}{\Gamma\vdash\ffalse : \tbool}\; [FalseT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t_1 : \tnum,\; \Gamma\vdash t_2 : \tnum}{\Gamma\vdash t_1 + t_2 : \tnum}\; [PlusT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t_1 : \tnum,\; \Gamma\vdash t_2 : \tnum}{\Gamma\vdash t_1 - t_2 : \tnum}\; [MinusT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t_1 : \tbool,\; \Gamma\vdash t_2 : \tbool}{\Gamma\vdash t_1 \aand t_2 : \tbool}\; [AndT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t_1 : \tnum,\; \Gamma\vdash t_2 : \tnum}{\Gamma\vdash t_1 \lleq t_2 : \tbool}\; [LeqT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t : \tnum}{\Gamma\vdash \iisZero t : \tbool}\; [isZeroT]\] \[\frac{\Gamma\vdash t_0 : \tbool,\; \Gamma\vdash t_1 : T,\; \Gamma\vdash t_2 : T}{\Gamma\vdash \iif t_0 \tthen t_1 \eelse t_2 : T}\;[IfT]\]

Typeof Definition

Now we implement the typeof function. First the standard data type for the two types expressions defined for BBAE:

data TBBAE where
  TNum :: TBBAE
  TBool :: TBBAE
  deriving (Show,Eq)

Now we build out the type checker from the type checking rules. Like the eval function earlier, virtually all type checking code comes from the BAE and ABE type checkers.

typeof accepts a context and AST and returns either an error message or a type:

typeof :: Cont -> BBAE -> Maybe TBBAE

Note that we’re again using the Maybe construct to return the type or Nothing to indicate en error. The typeof signature is eerily similar to the eval signature. We’ll come back to that later, but it’s worth thinking about why that’s the case.

Here’s the complete code for the typeof function:

typeof cont (Num x) = (Just TNum)
typeof cont (Plus l r) = do { l' <- (typeof cont l) ;
                              r' <- (typeof cont r) ;
                              if l'==TNum && r'==TNum
                              then return TNum
                              else Nothing }
typeof cont (Minus l r) = do { l' <- (typeof cont l) ;
                               r' <- (typeof cont r) ;
                               if l'==TNum && r'==TNum
                               then return TNum
                               else Nothing }
typeof cont (Bind i v b) = do { v' <- typeof cont v;
                                typeof ((i,v'):cont) b }
typeof cont (Id id) = (lookup id cont)
typeof cont (Boolean b) = Just TBool
typeof cont (And l r) = do { TBool <- (typeof cont l) ;
                             TBool <- (typeof cont r) ;
                             return TBool }
typeof cont (Leq l r) = do { TNum <- (typeof cont l) ;
                             TNum <- (typeof cont r) ;
                             return TBool }
typeof cont (IsZero v) = do { TNum <- (typeof cont v) ;
                              return TBool }
typeof cont (If c t e) = do { c' <- (typeof cont c) ;
                              t' <- (typeof cont t) ;
                              e' <- (typeof cont e) ;
                              if t'==e' then return t' else Nothing }

There’s really nothing to see here. Our technique for defining languages and specifying their evaluation and type characteristics makes it simple to compose orthogonal language elements. Things will get harder as we add other constructs, but for now things are pretty easy.


Could it be that testing the BBAE evaluator is as simple as composing the ABE and BAE QuickCheck capabilities? Fortunately, it is. We simply need to generate arbitrary terms that include terms from both the ABE and BAE language subsets.

As usual, we first make the BBAE data type an instance of Arbitrary and define the arbitrary function. The use of genBBAE is where the generator for BBAE is integrated:

instance Arbitrary BBAE where
  arbitrary =
    sized $ \n -> genBBAE (rem n 10) []

The hard work for the generator itself is already done. First, we’ll define generators for the numeric elements of BBAE:

genNum =
  do t <- choose (0,100)
     return (Num t)

genPlus n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     t <- genBBAE n e
     return (Plus s t)

genMinus n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     t <- genBBAE n e
     return (Minus s t)

genAnd n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     t <- genBBAE n e
     return (And s t)

Now the elements that involve both numbers and booleans:

genBool =
  do t <- choose (True,False)
     return (Boolean t)

genLeq n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     t <- genBBAE n e
     return (Leq s t)

genIsZero n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     return (IsZero s)

genIf n e =
  do s <- genBBAE n e
     t <- genBBAE n e
     u <- genBBAE n e
     return (If s t u)

Finally, the elements that involve identifiers and their values:

genBind n e =
  do i <- genName
     v <- genBBAE n e
     b <- genBBAE n (i:e)
     return (Bind i v b)

genName =
  do i <- choose ('v','z')
     return [i]

genId e =
  do n <- elements e
     return (Id n)

Now we simply put everything together into a single generator:

genBBAE :: Int -> [String] -> Gen BBAE
genBBAE 0 e = 
  do term <- oneof (case e of
                      [] -> [genNum,genBool]
                      _ -> [genNum
                           , genBool
                           , (genId e)])
     return term
genBBAE n e =
  do term <- oneof [genNum
                   , (genPlus (n-1) e)
                   , (genMinus (n-1) e)
                   , (genAnd (n-1) e)
                   , (genLeq (n-1) e)
                   , (genIsZero (n-1) e)
                   , (genIf (n-1) e)]
     return term

What changes here from the previous generators is the list of generators passed to oneof. Instead of choosing only expressions from the numeric expression or the boolean expressions, we now choose from both. For values, things work similarly choosing from both Boolean and numeric values.


Three things worth thinking about are happening in this chapter. First, we are going from beginning to end defining a new language. We started with syntax, defined evaluation and implemented an evaluation function, defined a type system and implemented a type checker, and concluded with QuickCheck functions for testing. This is the methodology we use for defining languages at work.

Second, we see how composition of orthogonal language constructs makes this reasonably simple. How many times in the chapter did we talk about composing elements of previous interpreters? Usually that was a simple cut-and-past operation. The only real exception being the arbitrary test case generator where we had to compose the language subsets.

Finally, we introduced the concept of a context that behaves like an environment for types. An interesting difference is the environment is a runtime construct while the context is used during static analysis. The reason is values cannot be known until runtime, but types are known statically. This is not true for all languages, but is true for our languages.

Remember these things moving forward. The step-by-step approach for defining a language and the composition of orthogonal language constructs are important design concepts. Context is something we will continue to use throughout our study.



  1. Write the function evalErr :: Env -> BBAE -> Either String BBAE for for BBAE that returns either a string error message or a value following interpretation.
  2. Compare the evalErr function with the evalType function using the same techniques used for ABE
  3. Prove that the error function will never be called in eval given that all expressions given to eval successfully type check.
  4. Rewrite typeof using Either as a monad.


Download source for all interpreter code from this chapter.