Alternative Proposal for Packages (with explicit namespaces)

This proposal is an alternative to Commentary/Packages/GhcPackagesProposal. Large parts overlap with that proposal. To motivate this new proposal, let's consider another proposed and desirable feature of the import/export language, which may interact in interesting ways with packages.

A different, but related, problem

A problem that has been mentioned several times on mailing lists, is grafting part of a directory hierarchy into an arbitrary location elsewhere in the hierarchy. (See

Another way of expressing a similar wish is the ability to re-export imports with a different qualified name, as in the scenario suggested by the developers of the package gtk2hs:

There are several desires in play here:

  • a desire to minimise typing of long qualified names
  • a desire to refer to "leaf" nodes of the hierarchy in a way that makes it easy to relocate those modules in the hierarchy, without needing to edit every import declaration that uses them
  • a desire to partially-qualify names for disambiguation


We introduce the new concept of namespace as something that can be declared in source code. A namespace can contain only module names. (The specification of what module names are contained in a namespace is rather like our current concept of a package, i.e. not declared in the source code, but rather by some external mechanism e.g. grouping of files in a filesystem hierarchy.)

There are now two separate kinds of import.

  • import namespace "foo-1.3" Data.Foo
  • import Bar

The new semi-reserved word namespace is introduced, having special meaning only directly after the import keyword. There is a level difference in what this new form of import means. The declaration import namespace brings into availability the subset of the hierarchy of module names rooted in the package "foo-1.3", at the position Data.Foo. That is, if the package foo version 1.3 contains the modules

  • Data.Foo.Bar
  • Data.Foo.Baz
  • Data.Bar

then the namespace import brings into the "importable" namespace only the modules

  • Data.Foo.Bar
  • Data.Foo.Baz

However, for the program to use those modules, it is still necessary to go ahead and actually import them in the normal way, although the names used to import them will now be relative to the available namespaces, rather than absolute. So the declaration import Bar brings into scope all the entities defined in Data.Foo.Bar. Like any normal import, these can be qualified or hidden.


  • import namespace brings into scope a bunch of names for modules from the given provenance.
  • import brings into scope a bunch of entities from the given module.

Naming a namespace

Are namespaces first class? Can we give them a name? Indeed, why not?

  • import namespace "foo-1.3" Data.Foo as OldFoo
  • import OldFoo.Bar

Here, we have declared that we want to be able to refer to the namespace as OldFoo, and so, a subsequent import OldFoo.Bar specifically asks for the Data.Foo.Bar from the package foo-1.3, just in case there might be a Bar module also available from another namespace.

What namespaces are available by default?

If no namespaces are explicitly brought into scope, what modules are implicitly available?

  • Anything in the current package, i.e. the executable or library whose modules are all physically rooted at the same location in the filesystem as this module.
  • Is there an implicit import namespace "base", just as there is an implicit import Prelude?

Namespace resolution

In essence, namespaces take over the role formerly played by commandline arguments like -Iproject and -package foo. The search path used by the compiler for finding modules is now partially declared in the source code itself. (Note however that that the search path is declared symbolically, involving package names, not directories. This is a very important separation of the thing itself from where it is stored.)

Resolution of which module is referred to by an import statement (taking into account the namespaces) is just like the current process of resolving which entity is referred to by program text (taking into account the imported modules). The source text may import multiple namespaces. If any module import is ambiguous (i.e. the module exists in more than one namespace), it is a static error. Resolution is lazy, in the sense that there is no error if namespaces contain the same module name, only if the program tries to import that module name.

So when you say "import A.B.C", from what package does A.B.C come?

There must be a single namespace in scope containing a module called A.B.C. (Sidenote: or in fact a namespace called A, containing a module named B.C)


The precise syntax can be debated. New keywords like use or from could be substituted for import namespace. The key important features however are the inclusion of:

  • the package name (mandatory)
  • an optional package version, if several are available
  • an optional path to use as the root of the available namespace
  • an optional renaming


One might wonder whether it is now either necessary or desirable to permit namespaces to be re-exported in the same way that modules can be? For instance:

module Aggregate
  ( module Aggregate
  , namespace OldFoo
  ) where
import namespace "foo-1.3" Data.Foo as OldFoo

The idea is that any module saying import Aggregate would thereby implicitly open the namespace of package "foo-1.3" at the root Data.Foo, in addition to having access to entities defined in Aggregate itself.

Note that, just as with a current module re-export it is no longer possible for the importing location to use the original module name as a qualifier; so with a namespace re-export, there is no way to refer to the namespace in the importing location either. It is purely a signal to the compiler telling it where to look for modules when resolving imports.

I argue that namespace export is desirable, because it allows (but does not require) all package (namespace) dependencies to be gathered together in a single module for an entire project. With such an organising principle, when dependencies change, there is only one source file to update. But without namespace re-exports, it would be impossible to localise those dependencies to a single file.

Note how this feature addresses several of the initial stated desires, of reducing the verbosity of imports, and of referring to leaf modules conveniently. For instance:

module Gtk (namespace AllOfGtk) where
import namespace "gtk-2.4" Graphics.UI.Gtk as AllOfGtk

module MyGUI where
import Gtk
import Button
..... Button.label .....

Implicit imports

One could go further. If I write a qualified name M.e in the source text, must I also write import M at the top? The qualified entity is unambiguous, whether or not there is an explicit import for it, because the module qualification M must be unambiguous within the current namespaces. In the Gtk example above, this would eliminate the need for import Button, and who knows how many other imports, leaving a single import Gtk to bring all of the qualified entities into scope.

Exposed vs Hidden packages

GHC's scheme of exposed vs hidden packages can now be replaced with full source-code control of namespace visibility. To setup a default set of exposed packages, you just write a module to export their namespaces:

module ExposedPackages
  ( namespace FGL
  , namespace Parsec
  , namespace HaXml
  ) where

import namespace "fgl" as FGL
import namespace "parsec-0.1" as Parsec
import namespace "HaXml" as HaXml

and import it in every module of your project. Or if importing it everywhere sounds too painful, one can even imagine that a compiler might provide a command-line option (or use a configuration file) to specify one distinguished module to be implicitly imported everywhere:

$ ghc --make -implicit-prelude=ExposedPackages MyProject.hs

$ cat .ghci
set -implicit-prelude ExposedPackages

What if you wanted to import A.B.C from P1 and A.B.C from P2 into the same module?

module C1 (module A.B.C) where
import namespace "P1"
import A.B.C

module C2 (module A.B.C) where
import namespace "P2"
import A.B.C

module User where
import qualified C1
import qualified C2
Last modified 9 years ago Last modified on Sep 28, 2010 8:53:36 PM