Most people who start looking at Haskell come from a background of one of the more established languages. Be it Java, Ruby, Python or something else; most often in those method signatures very clearly define the way in which the methods can be called.
Not only does Haskell do things a bit differently, the differences allow for increased flexibility when it comes to usage of functions in general.
A simple intro
(+) function takes two arguments and returns the sum of those two
arguments (provided it’s actually possible to sum the two). You can both invoke
it the “infix” way:
Prelude> 2 + 3 5
…or by using the usual function application syntax (function first, arguments later):
Prelude> (+) 2 3 5
In the case of
+ we need to surround it with parentheses for it not to be
treated as an infix function.
Let’s look at the type of
Prelude> :type (+) (+) :: Num a => a -> a -> a
Num a part indicates that the type variable a must implement the
Num. That’s a fancy way of saying that our arguments (represented
a’s) must work like numbers. The fact that they’re all
means that the arguments and the return value must all have the same type. For
people coming from languages like Java, think of
Num as an interface that
a must implement.
When you see that type declaration you might be thinking thinking “Why does it
use the same arrow
(->) for both arguments and return values?”
The reason for this is that functions in Haskell actually take only one
argument and either return a result or a new function. For our
this could be shown as follows:
Prelude> :type (+) 2 (+) 2 :: Num a => a -> a
Note that this new function takes one
a and returns an
a (once again, as
long as they’re
Num). It’s the same syntax as before, but this time since
we’re at the end of the line, we don’t get a function but a result back.
These functions which return “intermediate” functions due to having more than
one argument are called curried functions. The interesting thing about this
is (as you might have figured out from the
(+) 2 example) that we can create
so called partially applied functions with great ease.
We could use that previous example to create a handy
Prelude> let plusTen = (+) 10 Prelude> :type plusTen plusTen :: Integer -> Integer Prelude> plusTen 10 20 Prelude> plusTen 1 11
As said, this is a very simple example, but I think we can see some potential here!
Partial application in bulk
So in the example with
(+) we created the more rigid
plusTen function as an
alternative to being able to add any number to any other number. As you might
have guessed, this comes in handy when you have a useful general function, from
which you can spawn various utility functions, just by setting one or two
arguments to fixed values.
The fact that Haskell considers these partially applied functions as valid constructs that we can pass around means that you could incorporate them into more complex structures.
Let’s imagine that we’ve got an apple salesman, standing in the middle of a town square and he needs to attract the attention of people around him. He’s got red and green apples, and he can either be really loud and obnoxious or just quietly announce what he has to sell.
Here’s some code:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
We’re using pattern matching in this case to handle the various
Loudness combinations, but it could have been implemented any other
We can try to load this module and make the salesman peddle his apples:
Prelude> :load apples.hs [1 of 1] Compiling Apples ( apples.hs, interpreted ) Ok, modules loaded: Apples. *Apples> shouting Green Loud "GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE!" *Apples> shouting Red Quiet "Ruby red apples; get your Red Delicious here!"
OK, so that works, but it would get tedious quick. I mean, we’ve got a basket full of apples to sell:
*Apples> let basket = [Red, Red, Green, Red, Green, Red] *Apples> :t basket basket :: [Apple]
So what if we just generated a lot of functions which already have their Apple set?
zipWith function takes two lists, takes the head of both of the lists and
apply a given function to both of the values. The result is put into a new
array, then this is repeated until one of the first two lists have run out of
elements. An example:
*Apples> zipWith (+) [1,1,1,1] [1,2,3,4] [2,3,4,5]
There’s another function which is generally used as an infix operator that’s
$. It serves the purpose of eliminating parentheses. Look at the
following example and see that the two calls are equivalent:
*Apples> head $ reverse $ "Hello!" '!' *Apples> head ( reverse ( "Hello!" ) ) '!'
We’ll bring in a final function to help us,
repeat. It creates an infinite
list of whatever you give it. Since Haskell is lazily evaluated, as long as you
only take a fixed number of elements from this list, having an infinite list is
*Apples> take 4 $ repeat 1 [1,1,1,1]
Putting it all together
Let’s combine them all and generate some “Apple-fixed” functions!
*Apples> let basketShouting = zipWith ($) (repeat shouting) basket *Apples> :t basketShouting basketShouting :: [Loudness -> String]
Lots of stuff going on here so let’s take it piece by piece.
We take the function
($) and give its first argument from the first list.
This list is an infinite list that looks like this:
[shouting, shouting, shouting...]
As the second argument for the
$ function we take the first element from the
second list. The second list looks like this:
[Red, Red, Green, Red, Green]
Do this until one list runs out of elements (hint: it’s not the infinite one), and our resulting list will look something like this:
[shouting Red, shouting Red, shouting Green, shouting Red, shouting Green]
You see, we used
$ to “bind” the function and the argument together. Since
function argument is the same thing as function $ argument we can use that
operator to tie things together as nicely as we’ve done here.
I should mention that the more experienced readers might be saying “Hey, why
not just use a
map instead of
Good point, but where’s the fun in that? :-P
To continue: with this collection of partially applied functions, it’s as if
the peddler is holding the apples, just having to decide whether he wants to be
Quiet. He could for instance decide that he wants to start
with the first apple:
*Apples> (head basketShouting) Quiet "Ruby red apples; get your Red Delicious here!"
Then he might want to
Loudly sell his third apple:
*Apples> (basketShouting !! 2) Loud "GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE!"
!! function takes a list index (starting with zero).
Finally we could go ahead and have the guy sell all of the apples:
*Apples> zipWith ($) basketShouting (repeat Loud) ["RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'!","RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'!","GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE!","RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'!","GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE!"]
Let’s turn this into a newline separated string and have it look like some real output:
*Apples> putStrLn $ unlines $ zipWith ($) basketShouting (repeat Loud) RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'! RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'! GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE! RED APPLES DAMMIT, BUY EM'! GREEN APPLES, YOU NEED ONE!
And there we have it! Loud and clear.