Defining kinds without an associated datatype

This page tracks feature requests for declaring closed data kinds without associated data types (#6024) and declaring open data kinds that can be freely extended after they are declared (#11080). What comes below is a design proposal that is not yet implemented (as of Jan 2015). Main person responsible for working on the implementation is Jan Stolarek (JS).

Motivation for closed data kinds (#6024)

When using -XDataKinds GHC automatically promotes every datatype to a kind, and its constructors to types. This forces us to declare a datatype for every kind. However, sometimes we are not interested in the datatype at all, only on the kind. Consider the following data kind that defines a small universe for generic programming:

data Universe star = Sum  (Universe star) (Universe star)
                   | Prod (Universe star) (Universe star)
                   | K star

This universe comes with an associated interpretation:

data Interpretation :: Universe * -> * where
  L    :: Interpretation a -> Interpretation (Sum a b)
  R    :: Interpretation b -> Interpretation (Sum a b)
  Prod :: Interpretation a -> Interpretation b -> Interpretation (Prod a b)
  K    :: a -> Interpretation (K a)

In this case, having to declare a datatype for Universe has two disadvantages:

  1. We cannot use kinds (such as *) while defining a datatype, so we are forced to make Universe a parametrised datatype, and later always instantiate this parameter to * (like in the kind of Interpretation). Note: this is no longer the case - see below.
  1. We lose constructor name space, because the datatype constructor names will be taken, even though we will never use them to construct terms. So Prod and K cannot be used as constructors of Interpretation as above, because those are also constructors of Universe.

Motivation for open data kinds (#11080)

Users might want to create type-level symbols for the purpose of indexing types. In the past one way of doing this was by using -XEmptyDataDecls. But symbols created in this way were always placed in * and that does not allow to use kinds to limit what types are admitted as indices. -XDataKinds allows to create symbols that are assigned a kind other than * but these kinds are closed and adding new symbols is not possible. Thus:

  1. We want a way of defining open kinds that can be later extended with new inhabitants.


I (JS) propose that the mechanism for declaring closed and open data kinds becomes part of -XDataKinds. The proposal is backwards compatible.

Closed kinds

Starting with GHC 8.0 users can use -XTypeInType extension to write:

data Universe = Sum  Universe Universe
              | Prod Universe Universe
              | K (*)

This addresses disadvantage (1) but still leaves us with disadvantage (2). So the idea behind #6024 is to let users define things like:

-- closed kind using H98 syntax
data kind Universe = Sum  Universe Universe
                   | Prod Universe Universe
                   | K (*)

-- closed kind using GADTs syntax
data kind Universe where
  Sum  :: Universe -> Universe -> Universe
  Prod :: Universe -> Universe -> Universe
  K    :: *                    -> Universe

By using data kind, we tell GHC that we are only interested in the Universe kind, and not the datatype. Consequently, Sum, Prod, and K will be valid only in types only, and not in terms.

Open kinds

Open data kinds would be declared using following syntax:

-- open kind
data kind open Universe
data kind member Sum  :: Universe -> Universe -> Universe
data kind member Prod :: Universe -> Universe -> Universe
data kind member K    :: *                    -> Universe

Note that open kinds can be parametrized just like closed kinds:

data kind open Dimension :: *
data kind member Length :: Dimension

data kind open Unit :: Dimension -> *
data kind member Meter :: Unit 'Length
data kind member Foot  :: Unit 'Length


Kind and Type Namespaces

Currently GHC has separate namespaces for types and data constructors. We have a simple rule: all data constructors go into data namespace. With -XDataKinds promoted data constructors still live in data constructor namespace and there is a hack in the renamer: when renaming types it first looks for a symbol in type namespace and if that fails then it searches for the symbol in the data namespace.

Assume we have:

data kind Foo = MkFoo

In order to resolve disadvantage (2), ie. not pollute data constructor namespace with MkFoo, we would have to put MkFoo in the type namespace. This means that our simple rule "data constructors go into data namespace" would have to be broken. Richard Eisenberg argues that this is bad and in the case of above declaration MkFoo should go into data namespace. But that does not solve disadvantage (2) and thus misses the point of #6024 (given that disadvantage (1) is already solved by -XTypeInType). Richard also argues that members of an open data kind should also be placed in data namespace. Putting MkFoo into data namespace will also allow us to have quite good error messages from the typechecker, rather than cryptic error messages from the renamer about things being out of scope.

Non-promotable data types?

Let's assume for a moment that we decide to place kind-only constructors in the type namespace (ie. not follow Richard's proposal). Consider again the example of Universe kind and Interpretation data type. Enabling -XTypeInType makes GADTs promotable. This means that data constructors K and Prod if Interpretation data type could be validly used in types. But this would lead to name collission with K and Prod constructors of Universe kind. There would be no way of disambiguating whether K refers to constructor of Universe or promoted constructor of Interpretation. We don't want to end up in a situation where some of the data constructors can be promoted (L, R) and some can't (K, Prod). So we would need to make Interpretation data type unpromotable. But detecting that seems Real Hard.

Recursive Groups

We need to be careful about recursive groups. For example, this is valid:

data S = S T
data T = T S

but this is not:

data kind S = S T
data T = T S

Future-proofing the design

GHC is growing more and more type level symbols. These symbols vary in their properties like generativity, injectivity, matchability or being open/closed - see 9840#comment:6 for an overview. Here we propose adding yet another way of defining symbols. Can we introduce more order into world of type-level symbols? Can we have some unifying syntax? Can we anticipate what kind of symbols we might want to have in the future?

Alternative Notations

  • Use data only instead of data type.
  • Use 'data instead of data kind
  • Use type data instead of data kind
  • Use data constructor instead of data kind member
  • Use data extension Unit where { Meter :: Unit; Foot :: Unit } instead of data kind member
Last modified 4 years ago Last modified on Jan 3, 2016 1:21:43 PM