Writing and using proofs in Haskell

Posted on September 27, 2018

This post has an accompanying github repo.


Haskell’s type system has long been sort of a lab rat for experiments on many concepts relevant to type theory. Especially lately there has been quite a lot of interest in type-level programming and dependent types.

What initially piqued my interest in trying to use Haskell to prove mathematical theorems at the type level was a blog post called “Proving stuff in Haskell” by Mads Buch. It is quite fun to follow so I’m not going to go into detail, but the gist is to use propositional equality to prove a theorem by showing that two haskell types are actually the same type. So for example, if we wanted to prove that \(a + b = b + a\) (commutativity of addition of natural numbers) then we’ll have a function whose type reflects exactly that property, rather than using actual values to prove it (more on that later).

Writing proofs using the type system is nothing new. What I describe in this post is first of all a way to write readable proofs by induction using the same steps we would use if the proof was done on paper, and then how to actually use these proofs to “nudge” the type system to compile code that could not be compiled otherwise.

One disclaimer: I am definitely not an expert so many things might not be correct. This post’s style is informal and more of a braindump, much like some of my favourite posts out there. If you find any errors or if you have any question or comment, feel free to drop me an email (alexpeitsinis [at] gmail [dot] com) or find me at fpslack (@alexpeits). What follows is also most definitely not suitable for “production use”. However I believe it’s a good application of using dependent types and some more exotic language extensions.

Setting up

Unless I am completely mistaken, code should compile along the way. Here are the required language extensions:

{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds            #-}
{-# LANGUAGE GADTs                #-}
{-# LANGUAGE PolyKinds            #-}
{-# LANGUAGE ScopedTypeVariables  #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeApplications     #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeFamilies         #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeOperators        #-}

I’ll also try to note why and when an extension should be enabled.

Dependent types

I’ve already given some spoilers, so here it is: to achieve what we want to do I’m going to use whatever Haskell offers to simulate a dependently typed language. To better understand the what and how of dependent types, I suggest taking a look at any work by Richard Eisenberg, especially the extremely well written Stitch functional pearl (Eisenberg 2020). Another great resource for everything type-level related is the book “Thinking with Types” by Sandy Maguire (consider buying it, it’s awesome). Finally, the Idris language tutorial is a great resource, especially to understand what needs to be done differently in Haskell and how.

Many of the following do not require dependent types and can probably be modeled using e.g. type classes, but I’m going to use dependent types here.

Natural numbers

To prove theorems on natural number operations we first need a way to represent natural numbers at the type level. The canonical way to do this is to use Peano numbers:

data Nat = Z | S Nat

We have the base case which is the number zero (here Z for brevity later), and then we recursively define the successor (S). So to represent the number 1 we would write S Z (at the type level), to represent the number 2 we would write S (S Z) and so on. The thing is, we’d not use the value Z or S Z, because they have the same type, Nat, which is not very useful for type-level programming. On the other hand, because the types Z and S Z have kind Nat and not *, they cannot have any inhabitants, meaning that there is no value x so that x :: Z or x :: S Z. But there is a way to circumvent that restriction, which will be described later.

In the above explanation we can use Z and S as types thanks to the DataKinds extension. What it does is “promote” data constructors to types and types to kinds. One thing to note is that there is no way to get a value of one of those types, as their kinds is Nat and not *. We could also have written something like this:

data Z
data S a

What we lose from this definition is the way to unite those two types under a kind. Our definition allows writing Nat in GADT and type family declarations, which adds a layer of type safety. Otherwise we’d have to use *, which, in some cases, would allow for ill-formed types.

Type equality

There is a ridiculously simple way to convince the type system that two types are equal using propositional equality in the module Data.Type.Equality.

data a :~: b where
  Refl :: a :~: a

What this means is that, if somewhere in our code we have the type a :~: b and somehow manage to give it the value Refl, we have convinced the type checker that types a and b are exactly the same, which is exactly what we want to achieve in our proofs.

Type-level functions

In order to actually have something to prove, we’ll define addition at the type level as per the Peano axiom for addition.

\[ \begin{align} a + 0 = a && \text{(1)}\\ a + S(b) = S (a + b) && \text{(2)}\\ \end{align} \]

This can be achieved using a closed type family:

type family a + b where
  a + Z   = a          -- (1)
  a + S b = S (a + b)  -- (2)

(from now on I’ll refer to those two properties as (1) and (2) respectively)

We don’t need to specify a kind for this type family explicitly, as it is deduced to be Nat -> Nat -> Nat since the type family is closed (no more instances can be defined). Also, the symbol + does not clash with the addition function, for the same reason the type Z does not clash with the value Z (if there is an ambiguity in that case we can tell the type system that we’re talking about the type Z by writing 'Z).

First proof

Now let’s try to combine this type family definition with propositional equality:

testEquality :: (Z + Z) :~: Z
testEquality = Refl

This type checks because Refl says “ok, I need Z + Z to be the same as Z. But when the type checker sees Z + Z, it uses (1) to say that Z + Z = Z, where a = Z, and our equality stands. This is the first proof! The fact that we don’t need to give any values or”nudge” the type system in any way means that the elaboration happens automatically, and this equality stands every time. Let’s also try not with concrete types, but with a type variable:

testEquality' :: (a + Z) :~: a
testEquality' = Refl

This type checks, again thanks to (1). Let’s try (2):

testEquality'' :: (a + S b) :~: S (a + b)
testEquality'' = Refl

And yet again, this type checks, this time thanks to (2). Now let’s try something that is not immediately apparent. With testEquality', we proved the right identity property of addition. What about left identity?

plusLeftId :: (Z + a) :~: a
plusLeftId = Refl

Which, when compiled, unfortunately fails:

• Couldn't match type ‘a’ with ‘'Z + a’
    ‘a’ is a rigid type variable bound by
    the type signature for:
        plusLeftId :: forall (a :: Nat). ('Z + a) :~: a
    at ...
    Expected type: ('Z + a) :~: a
    Actual type: a :~: a
• In the expression: Refl
    In an equation for ‘plusLeftId’: plusLeftId = Refl
• Relevant bindings include
    plusLeftId :: ('Z + a) :~: a
        (bound at ...)
70 | plusLeftId = Refl
|       ^^^^

However simple it seems, the type checker knows nothing about natural number addition, so we have to convince it that this is indeed correct. To prove that Z + a = a we need to do induction on a. By induction, I mean that we need to prove a base case, then assume that our hypothesis holds for \(a\) and prove that it holds for \(S (a)\). If we prove that, we have proven the theorem for all natural numbers. That’s because if we substitute \(a\) for Z then our hypothesis holds because we’ve already proven for Z. So if we manage to prove for S Z, then we do the same for S (S Z) and so on. We could try something like this:

baseCase :: (Z + Z) :~: Z
baseCase = Refl

induction :: (Z + S a) :~: S a
induction = ???

But we find a dead end. We need to be able to use one proof in order to prove another one.

Long story short, looking in Data.Type.Equality again, there is a function that seems like it does exactly that: gcastWith.

gcastWith :: (a :~: b) -> (a ~ b => r) -> r

In simple terms, what gCastWith says is: give me a Refl that proves a is the same type as b, and something of type r that could use the knowledge that a is b, and I will tell your type checker that r is well typed. This seems like the same logic used in one step of a mathematical proof. So we could do things like:

helper :: (S Z + S Z) :~: S (S Z + Z)
helper = Refl

stupid :: (S Z + S Z) :~: S (S Z)
stupid = gcastWith helper Refl

What this says is: “I know that S Z + S Z is S (S Z + Z), now use that”. Then the Refl in stupid says “ok, I have S Z + S Z and the other guy says that this is S (S Z + Z), can I use it? Ah, of course, from (1) I know that S Z + Z is S Z, so what I have is S (S Z), that’s it!” (or as mathematicians say, Q.E.D.). OK, to be fair this is not necessary as stupid is proven directly: it’s 2 reduction steps of the + type family.

Still, we are talking about concrete values, whereas what we need to prove has a type variable a. We need to somehow recurse until we reach the base case, which means we’ll need to reflect the exact type we have in the signature of plusLeftId to a value. If you peeked at the Idris tutorial, you might say something like {a:Nat} -> (Z + S a) :~: S a. There is a way to do this in Haskell, using singletons.


Singletons, as their name implies, are values that have a 1-1 mapping with their relevant types. This means that, when we have a singleton value v of type T then we know for sure that v always has the type T (that makes sense), but also that type T has only one inhabitant (only one possible value), and that is v. This is the singleton definition for our Nat:

data SNat :: Nat -> * where
  SZ :: SNat Z
  SS :: SNat a -> SNat (S a)

Now, if we ask for the type of SZ we get SNat Z, and SS (SS (SZ)) gives SNat (S (S Z)). It goes without saying that we cannot write SS (SS (SZ)) :: SNat Z or something similar, because that gets rejected by the definition of the SNat GADT.

Revisiting the proof

Let’s try to prove left identity again, this time using an SNat to help us with the induction by allowing recursion:

plusLeftId :: SNat a -> (Z + a) :~: a

The base case will be for a ~ Z (~ is type equality):

plusLeftId :: SNat a -> (Z + a) :~: a
plusLeftId SZ = Refl

This type checks because, according to the Refl value, (Z + Z) ~ Z which is true from (1). The reason that a is assumed to be Z is that the first parameter is SZ :: SNat Z, so a ~ Z. That’s very similar to the type signature in Idris: {a:Nat} -> (Z + S a) :~: S a, only with some indirection via the singleton type for Nat!

Now for the induction step. Recall that we need to now prove for every type S a, assuming that the proof stands for a. So we’ll use the singleton for the successor, SS:

plusLeftId :: SNat a -> (Z + a) :~: a
plusLeftId SZ     = Refl
plusLeftId (SS n) = Refl

But this fails:

• Could not deduce: ('Z + n) ~ n
  from the context: m ~ 'S n
    bound by a pattern with constructor:
               SS :: forall (m :: Nat). SNat m -> SNat ('S m),
             in an equation for ‘plusLeftId’

(I have made the error message a bit more readable)

Which makes sense: we have to tell the type checker that the equality holds for n. So, as described earlier, we’ll use gcastWith:

plusLeftId :: SNat a -> (Z + a) :~: a
plusLeftId SZ     = Refl
plusLeftId (SS n) = gcastWith ??? Refl

Recall that gcastWith :: (a :~: b) -> (a ~ b => r) -> r. Here, Refl is the r, and, according to the error message, we need a ~ (Z + n) and b ~ n, or even better (Z + n) :~: n. But that’s the result type of plusLeftId itself, if we called it with n:

plusLeftId :: SNat a -> (Z + a) :~: a
plusLeftId SZ     = Refl
plusLeftId (SS n) = gcastWith (plusLeftId n) Refl

And it type checks (try calling the function with any SNat value)!

Let’s also rewrite the proof for right identity, as well as the axioms we automatically get from the type family, to use values:

given1 :: SNat a -> (a + Z) :~: a
given1 _ = Refl

given2 :: SNat a -> SNat b -> (a + S b) :~: S (a + b)
given2 _ _ = Refl

plusRightId :: SNat a -> (a + Z) :~: a
plusRightId = given1

Of course the first two don’t need anything further to be proved. The same applies for right identity, but here I used given1 to demonstrate the use of a proof in another proof. This would work too:

plusRightId' :: SNat a -> (a + Z) :~: a
plusRightId' n = gcastWith (given1 n) Refl

Proofs with multiple steps

The proof for left identity was a relatively simple one. Here it is in mathematical notation, copied from here. (I’ll refer to the addition axiom as \((1)\) and \((2)\)):

\[ \begin{align} & 0 + S(a)\\ =\ & S(0 + a) && \text{by (2)}\\ =\ & S(a) && \text{by the induction hypothesis}\\ \end{align} \]

This means that in the proof we went from Z + (S n) to S (Z + n) by using the type family definition, and then proved what’s inside the S inductively. It makes sense that we want to work on Z + n, since the error we first got said exactly that:

• Could not deduce: ('Z + n) ~ n
  from the context: m ~ 'S n

Proving the associativity of addition

Let’s now try a proof that’s a bit more complex: associativity of addition. So we’ll prove that \((a + b) + c = a + (b + c)\). I am going to copy the mathematical notation for the proof here and follow that verbatim, rather than explaining each step.

For the base case c = 0:

\[ \begin{align} & (a + b) + 0\\ =\ & a + b && \text{by (1) for}\ a + b\\ =\ & a + (b + 0) && \text{by (1) for}\ b\\ \end{align} \]

For the induction, assuming \((a + b) + c = a + (b + c)\):

\[ \begin{align} & (a + b) + S(c)\\ =\ & S((a + b) + c) && \text{by (2)}\\ =\ & S(a + (b + c)) && \text{by the induction hypothesis}\\ =\ & a + S(b + c) && \text{by (2)}\\ =\ & a + (b + S(c)) && \text{by (2)}\\ \end{align} \]

Let’s try to prove that in Haskell. First I’m going to take the long path and not assume that (1) and (2) are resolved automatically. This will help build some groundwork for later proofs. This will not typecheck for now so I’m going to use undefined in several places, but the intermediate steps are correct and correspond 1-1 with the steps above. Let’s also define addition for the singleton datatype, which will be useful because its type can directly reflect to the + type family:

(!+) :: SNat n -> SNat m -> SNat (n + m)
n !+ SZ     = n
n !+ (SS m) = SS (n !+ m)

We’ll use this function to construct, for example, the \(a + b\) in the base case of the proof given \(a\) and \(b\). Here it goes:

  :: SNat a
  -> SNat b
  -> SNat c
  -> ((a + b) + c) :~: (a + (b + c))
plusAssoc a b SZ =
    step1 :: SNat x -> SNat y -> ((x + y) + Z) :~: (x + y)
    step1 x y = gcastWith (given1 (x !+ y)) Refl -- (1)

    step2 :: SNat x -> SNat y -> (x + y) :~: (x + (y + Z))
    step2 x y = gcastWith (given1 y) Refl -- (1)
  in undefined

What we do in those 2 steps is exactly what we do in the base case for \(c = 0\). I used x and y to make it clear that we’re not talking about a and b, but just defining steps based on two numbers, even though we’re going to pass a and b in those methods. In the first step, just as in the first step of the proof, we want to say that ((x + y) + Z) ~ (x + y). It’s the first time we’ve seen a more complex argument in the proofs so far. Given that we need to use (1) to prove this, we have to pass something of type SNat n where n is of type x + y. That’s why the addition for singletons (!+) is used here. The resulting type of this addition, if we pass in x :: x and y :: y is x + y. The second step is a bit easier to understand. The main trick here is to extract the part of the expression that we want to “transform” to something else, and then use another proof function to drive the process.

It’s clear what needs to be done now. We want the type ((a + b) + Z) :~: (a + (b + Z)), and we have the types (I substitute x and y for a and b for clarity) ((a + b) + Z) :~: (a + b) and (a + b) :~: (a + (b + Z)). Fortunately, this is like saying “if type x is the same as type y, and type y is the same as type z, then is type x the same as type z”? Of course it is! Let’s prove it (I’ll also use a fancy symbol to make the process clearer later):

(==>) :: a :~: b -> b :~: c -> a :~: c
Refl ==> Refl = Refl

Since the above type checks, the proof stands. This is the transitive property of :~: (propositional equality).

Let’s see how this helps:

  :: SNat a
  -> SNat b
  -> SNat c
  -> ((a + b) + c) :~: (a + (b + c))
plusAssoc a b SZ =
    step1 :: SNat x -> SNat y -> ((x + y) + Z) :~: (x + y)
    step1 x y = gcastWith (given1 (x !+ y)) Refl -- (1)

    step2 :: SNat x -> SNat y -> (x + y) :~: (x + (y + Z))
    step2 x y = gcastWith (given1 y) Refl -- (1)
  in step1 a b ==> step2 a b

Voilà! Onward to the next step, the induction.

  :: SNat a
  -> SNat b
  -> SNat c
  -> ((a + b) + c) :~: (a + (b + c))
plusAssoc a b SZ     = ...
plusAssoc a b (SS c) =

      :: SNat x -> SNat y -> SNat (S z) -> ((x + y) + S z) :~: S ((x + y) + z)
    step1 x y (SS z) = gcastWith (given2 (x !+ y) (SS z)) Refl -- (2)

      :: SNat x -> SNat y -> SNat z -> S ((x + y) + z) :~: S (x + (y + z))
    step2 x y z = gcastWith (plusAssoc x y z) Refl -- induction

      :: SNat x -> SNat y -> SNat z -> S (x + (y + z)) :~: (x + S (y + z))
    step3 x y z = gcastWith (given2 x (y !+ z)) Refl -- (2)

      :: SNat x -> SNat y -> SNat z -> (x + S (y + z)) :~: (x + (y + S z))
    step4 x y z = gcastWith (given2 y z) Refl -- (2)

  in step1 a b (SS c) ==> step2 a b c ==> step3 a b c ==> step4 a b c

To be fair, none of this is needed for both stages of the proof. Since all but the induction step are inferred automatically by the + type family, the proof can be written more compactly:

  :: SNat a
  -> SNat b
  -> SNat c
  -> ((a + b) + c) :~: (a + (b + c))
plusAssoc a b SZ     = Refl
plusAssoc a b (SS c) = gcastWith (plusAssoc a b c) Refl

In this case, only the induction step is needed to help the second step type-check. But the long proof shows a lot on how to take a mathematical proof and directly apply it in Haskell.

Bonus: using ScopedTypeVariables we can make it much prettier. We’ll use a forall in the let block to bring some fresh variables in scope, and define the steps inside it, using the same names in the types so that we don’t have to pass variables to each step:

  :: SNat a
  -> SNat b
  -> SNat c
  -> ((a + b) + c) :~: (a + (b + c))
plusAssoc a b SZ =
  let proof :: forall x y. SNat x -> SNat y -> ((x + y) + Z) :~: (x + (y + Z))
      proof x y = step1 ==> step2
          step1 :: ((x + y) + Z) :~: (x + y)
          step1  = gcastWith (given1 (x !+ y)) Refl

          step2 :: (x + y) :~: (x + (y + Z))
          step2 = gcastWith (given1 y) Refl
  in proof a b
plusAssoc a b (SS c) =
  let proof ::
        forall x y z.
        SNat x -> SNat y -> SNat z ->
        ((x + y) + S z) :~: (x + (y + S z))
      proof x y z = step1 ==> step2 ==> step3 ==> step4
          step1 :: ((x + y) + S z) :~: S ((x + y) + z)
          step1 = gcastWith (given2 (x !+ y) (SS z)) Refl

          step2 :: S ((x + y) + z) :~: S (x + (y + z))
          step2 = gcastWith (plusAssoc x y z) Refl

          step3 :: S (x + (y + z)) :~: (x + S (y + z))
          step3 = gcastWith (given2 x (y !+ z)) Refl

          step4 :: (x + S (y + z)) :~: (x + (y + S z))
          step4 = gcastWith (given2 y z) Refl
  in proof a b c


Here’s the proof (in mathematical notation) for the property of commutativity of addition. What we want to prove is \(a + b = b + a\):

The base case \(b = 0\) is the left identity property.

For the second base case \(b = 1\):

  • First we prove it for \(a = 0\), which gives \(0 + 1 = 1 + 0\), the right identity property.
  • Then we prove inductively, assuming \(a + 1 = 1 + a\):

\[ \begin{align} & S(a) + 1\\ =\ & S(a) + S(0) && \text{by definition of natural numbers}\\ =\ & S(S(a) + 0) && \text{by (2)}\\ =\ & S((a + 1) + 0) && \text{by definition of natural numbers}\\ =\ & S(a + 1) && \text{as proved by the base case for}\ b = 0 \\ =\ & S(1 + a) && \text{by the induction hypothesis}\\ =\ & 1 + S(a) && \text{by (2)}\\ \end{align} \]

For the induction, assuming \(a + b = b + a\):

\[ \begin{align} & a + S(b)\\ =\ & a + (b + 1) && \text{by definition of natural numbers}\\ =\ & (a + b) + 1 && \text{by associativity}\\ =\ & (b + a) + 1 && \text{by the induction hypothesis}\\ =\ & b + (a + 1) && \text{by associativity}\\ =\ & b + (1 + a) && \text{by the base case for}\ b = 1 \\ =\ & (b + 1) + a && \text{by associativity}\\ =\ & S(b) + a && \text{by definition of natural numbers}\\ \end{align} \]

The proof is left as an exercise, but using the same pattern as in the associativity proof it should be pretty straightforward. The signature should be:

plusComm :: SNat a -> SNat b -> (a + b) :~: (b + a)

The proof (and even more proofs) can be found in the repo.

Using the proofs

It was a bit difficult to find a use case for the proofs on addition, but I quickly found an issue trying to append two length-indexed vectors. The vector definition and several operations are more or less the same as the ones in the Stitch paper:

data Vec :: Nat -> * -> * where
  V0   :: Vec Z a
  (:>) :: a -> Vec n a -> Vec (S n) a

infixr 5 :>

I’m not going to go into detail here, but the most important part is that this vector type has its length in its type as extra information, and we need to reason about the length when manipulating it.

One common example is appending two vectors. It is apparent that if one has length n and the other has length m, then the resulting vector will have length n + m. A naive first attempt would be the following:

append :: Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append V0      ys = ys
append (x:>xs) ys = undefined -- let's wait for now

But even the base case fails to typecheck:

• Could not deduce: ('Z + m) ~ m
      from the context: n ~ 'Z

The error says that the only concrete information we have is n ~ Z, because the first vector is the empty vector. And because we return ys, which has length m, the resulting type Z + m should be the same as m, but the type checker is not convinced. Let’s notice that what we need is to use the left identity property, and convince the checker:

append :: Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append V0      ys = gcastWith (plusLeftId ?) ys
append (x:>xs) ys = undefined -- let's wait for now

There is one important part missing: the actual length. All our proofs used singletons to help drive the checking process, but here there is no mention of a singleton. So let’s add it for now, and later we’ll try to make this process implicit. We’ll explicitly pass the lengths of both vectors:

append :: SNat n -> SNat m -> Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append SZ m V0      ys = gcastWith (plusLeftId m) ys
append n  m (x:>xs) ys = undefined -- let's wait for now

OK, this works. Let’s try to do the next case where the first vector is nonempty. We’ll make it fail just to see the error message:

append :: SNat n -> SNat m -> Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append SZ m V0      ys = gcastWith (plusLeftId m) ys
append n  m (x:>xs) ys = x :> append ? m xs ys

Uh-oh. How do we get the length of the first vector after we remove the first element? Luckily, that’s just n - 1. Let’s create a helper function to get the predecessor number of a singleton of Nat:

spred :: SNat (S n) -> SNat n
spred (SS n) = n

This function is total, because there is no need for the case spred SZ. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t type check because it would mean trying to do SZ :: SNat (S n) which doesn’t make sense. And because the first vector in the second case of append is not empty, we know that n is not SZ but SS ....

append :: SNat n -> SNat m -> Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append SZ m V0      ys = gcastWith (plusLeftId m) ys
append n  m (x:>xs) ys = x :> append (spred n) m xs ys

This time we get this error:

• Could not deduce: ('S n1 + m) ~ 'S (n1 + m)
  from the context: n ~ 'S n1

Where n1 is the type of the result of spred n. Let’s construct a proof for that:

We need to prove \(S(a) + b = S(a + b)\). We can do an inductive proof which will be quicker (in the repo I use an inductive proof), but let’s try to do it in one pass:

\[ \begin{align} & S(a) + b\\ =\ & b + S(a) && \text{by commutativity}\\ =\ & S(b + a) && \text{by (2)}\\ =\ & S(a + b) && \text{by commutativity}\\ \end{align} \]

And in Haskell:

append :: SNat n -> SNat m -> Vec n a -> Vec m a -> Vec (n + m) a
append SZ m V0 ys
  = gcastWith (plusIdenL m) ys
append n m (x:>xs) ys
  = gcastWith (proof pn m) $ x :> app (spred n) m xs ys
      pn = spred n
      proof :: forall x y. SNat x -> SNat y -> (S x + y) :~: S (x + y)
      proof x y = step1 ==> step2 ==> step3
          step1 :: (S x + y) :~: (y + S x)
          step1 = gcastWith (plusComm (SS x) y) Refl

          step2 :: (y + S x) :~: S (y + x)
          step2 = gcastWith (given2 y (SS x)) Refl

          step3 :: S (y + x) :~: S (x + y)
          step3 = gcastWith (plusComm y x) Refl

And that’s the proof. Now appending two vectors should work. First, here’s an instance of Show for Vec:

instance (Show a) => Show (Vec n a) where
  show v = "[" ++ go v
      go :: (Show a') => Vec n' a' -> String
      go v = case v of
        V0 -> "]"
        (x :> xs) -> show x ++ sep ++ go xs
            sep = case xs of
              V0 -> ""
              _  -> ", "

And two example vectors:

x = 1 :> 2 :> 3 :> 4 :> V0
lengthX = SS (SS (SS (SS SZ)))

y = 5 :> 6 :> 7 :> 8 :> 9 :> V0
lengthY = SS (SS (SS (SS (SS SZ))))
> append lengthX lengthY x y
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
> :t append lengthX lengthY x y
append lengthX lengthY x y
  :: Vec ('S ('S ('S ('S ('S ('S ('S ('S ('S 'Z))))))))) Integer

We can also remove the need to have the length in a variable beforehand. To do that, we have to resort to type classes (again, this is described in the Stitch paper). We will construct a type class with a single method that can magically give an SNat depending on the instance we are using:

class IsNat (n :: Nat) where nat :: SNat n

instance IsNat Z where
  nat = SZ

instance IsNat n => IsNat (S n) where
  nat = SS nat

Then we can just use nat to get the length. The instance of IsNat to use is resolved thanks to the fact that the n in the constraint IsNat is the same n that is the vector length:

vlength :: IsNat n => Vec n a -> SNat n
vlength _ = nat
> append (vlength x) (vlength y) x y
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

But I promised that we can have the length passed implicitly. Again, we’ll use the typeclass with some help from TypeApplications and ScopedTypeVariables:

(+++) :: forall n m a. (IsNat n, IsNat m)
      => Vec n a
      -> Vec m a
      -> Vec (n + m) a
(+++) = append (nat @n) (nat @m)
> x +++ y
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]



This was a lengthy blog post, and the ideas presented fall into the obscure side of things. Should there be a need to resort to dependent types, the above might prove useful. Nevertheless, it’s a fun way to explore both dependent types and translating mathematical proofs to Haskell. After all, as someone said in the functional programming slack,

A relatively large number of people making zygosynchroid semi-applicative plesiofunctors, one madman pushing the type system to its limits, and like three people concerning themselves with practical software engineering using Haskell.


Eisenberg, Richard A. 2020. “Stitch: The Sound Type-Indexed Type Checker (Functional Pearl).” In Proceedings of the 13th ACM SIGPLAN International Symposium on Haskell, 39–53. Haskell 2020. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3406088.3409015.