Today I Learned

Some of the things I've learned every day since Oct 10, 2016

Category Archives: language

212: fromIntegral (Haskell)

In Haskell, fromIntegral is a handy function for getting ints and floats (or other Num types) to play nice together. (Ints can automatically be converted to floats in some cases, such as evaluating the expression 3 + 0.0 which returns the float 3.0, but this is not always the case.)

The type declaration of fromIntegral is

fromIntegral :: (Num b, Integral a) => a -> b.

That is, as long as a is an Integral type (a number that acts like an integer), it returns it as the equivalent Num object, the type of which the compiler infers from context. This enables you to safely evaluate expressions like fromIntegral (length [0, 1, 2]) + 0.0, which again returns the float 3.0.


211: Typeclasses (Haskell)

In Haskell, typeclasses are roughly the equivalent of interfaces in languages like Java.

Consider what happens when we inspect the type of the < operator with :t (<). We get

(<) :: Ord a => a -> a -> Bool.

The Ord a => bit coming before the type of the operator is called a class constraint, and just means that the type a which the less-than operator operates on must be in the Ordinal typeclass. That is, it must have some sort of interface for determining whether one element of the class is less than another.

A type can belong to many different typeclasses (similarly to interfaces in Java), so for other functions you might instead see multiple typeclass constraints for a function, e.g. (Ord a, Num a) => if the type a is required to be an ordinal number type.

Here are some common typeclasses in Haskell:

  • Eq: types whose members can be tested against each other for equality
  • Show: types whose members can be represented as strings
  • Enum: types whose members can be enumerated (and thus can be used in list ranges)
  • Num: types whose members can act like numbers


210: Type Variables (Haskell)

In Haskell, type variables are roughly the equivalent of generics in languages like Java. They enable a function to operate on and return different types, so long as the function doesn’t depend on any specific behavior of the types involved. (These are called polymorphic functions.)

For instance, if in GHCI we use :t head to examine the type of the head function which returns the first element of a list, we see it has the type head :: [a] -> a. a is a type variable, meaning it could be any type. This just means head takes a list with elements of any type a and returns a single element of that same type.

As another example, :t fst gives fst :: (a, b) -> a. Since pairs in Haskell aren’t homogenous, it’s possible that a pair’s first and second elements have different types a and b respectively (although they could be the same). fst just returns a single element of type a.

209: Intro To Haskell Types

In Haskell, everything’s an expression, and every expression has a type.

Haskell has a static type system, so it knows everything’s type at compile time. In GHCI, you can use :t expr to get the type of expr. For instance, the :t (True, 'a') gives (True'a') :: (BoolChar) . (The notation ‘::’ is read as “has type”.)

Haskell also has type inference, meaning the Haskell compiler infers the type from context, unlike languages like Java where you have to explicitly state the type of everything. Despite this, you can still explicitly declare the type of functions, which is considered good practice. The type is typically declared on the line before the function definition, also using ‘::’ notation.

As an example, this line would go before a function removeNonUppercase which filters a string to include only uppercase characters:

removeNonUppercase :: [Char] -> [Char].

To clarify, [Char] -> [Char] is itself the type of the function: that of functions which map lists of Chars to lists of Chars.

As a less trivial example, the following could be the definition of a function which adds 3 numbers:

addThree :: Int -> Int -> Int -> Int

addThree x y z = x + y + z

The last Int refers to the return type and the first 3 are the input parameters. (The notation seems to imply currying, but I’ll have to get into the details of that another time.)


207: Haskell Tuples

Continuing with learning Haskell, here are some of the basic points defining the behavior of tuples.

  • Unlike lists in Haskell, tuples are not homogenous structures and can contain elements of different types. That is, (5, "five") is a valid tuple.
  • The type of a tuple depends on its number of elements. To illustrate this point, since lists are homogenous [(0, 1), (1, 0)] is a valid list, since all its elements are pairs (tuples with 2 elements), but [(0, 1), (1, 0, 0)] is not, since it contains both a pair and a triple.
  • The type of a tuple also depends on the type of its elements. This means [(0, 1), ("one", 0)] is not a valid list either.
  • Singleton tuples and empty tuples aren’t allowed.

Two methods which are specific to 2-tuples are fst and snd, which respectively return the first and second elements of a pair.

Finally, a list method which involves tuples in its return type is zip. The expression zip a b, where a and b are lists, returns a list of 2-tuples containing the lists respective 1st elements, 2nd elements, and so on. For instance, zip [1, 2, 3] ["one", "two", "three"] returns the list [(1, "one"), (2, "two"), (3, "three")]. If the two lists aren’t the same length, the method behaves true to the lazy nature of Haskell and stops with the last element of the shorter list, meaning you can safely use zip when one of the lists is infinite.

206: Haskell List Methods

Continuing with learning Haskell, here are some functions you can operate on lists with:

  • head returns the first element of a list
  • tail returns everything except the first element
  • last returns the last element
  • init returns everything except the first element

[Note: all 4 of the above methods give errors when handed empty lists.]

  • null xs returns True iff xs is empty (i.e. length xs == 0)
  • take n xs returns the sublist of the first n elements of xs . (If length xs < n the function call is still valid and just returns xs itself.)
  • drop n xs returns the sublist of xs without the first n elements
  • elem x xs or equivalently x `​elem` xs returns True iff x is an element of xs
  • ranges have convenient notation in Haskell: [1..5] is equivalent to the list [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Note that 2 dots are used, not 3, and also that the endpoints of the range are inclusive.
  • You can also use step sizes other than the default 1 in ranges. For instance, [1, 4 .. 20] is equivalent to the list [1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19]. This comes in handy when you want to specify a range in descending order, e.g. [5, 4..1] gives [5, 4, 3, 2, 1].
  • Since Haskell evaluates things like ranges lazily, you can also specify finite subsets of infinite ranges, e.g. take 3 [1, 2..] gives [1, 2, 3].
  • One possible use of the above is using it on the infinite list range cycle xs which just concatenates xs onto itself indefinitely.
  • List comprehensions have a very set-builder-notation-inspired syntax in Haskell. For instance, the comprehension [2*x | x <- [1..10], 2*x >= 12] is equivalent to the Python list comprehension [2*x for x in range(1, 11) where 2*x >= 12]and gives the list [12, 14, 16, 18, 20].


205: More Haskell Syntax

Continuing to familiarize myself with the basics of Haskell syntax, so here are some of the oddities thereof I came across today:

  • if statements are expressions, and thus must evaluate to a value, and thus require an else clause. Contrast this with imperative languages like Python and Java where if clauses are instructions, not expressions, and the else bit is optional.
  • Lists are homogenous, which isn’t that weird but is worth noting. For instance, you can’t have ints and strings in the same list. Also [1, 2, 3.0] will evaluate to the list [1.0, 2.0, 3.0]: since the list has to be homogenous the ints must be converted to equivalent floats.
  • There’s a really nice consistency in the syntax between variable definition (x = 0) and function definition (f x = 2*x). Both x and f are just expressions dependent on 0 or more arguments after all, so Haskell syntax reflects this view that values are just 0-ary functions.
  • ++ is used for list concatenation, e.g. [1, 2] ++ [3, 4] evaluates to [1, 2, 3, 4]. You can use sloppy infix notation without parentheses, so that "f" ++ "o" ++ "o" is a valid expression resulting in the string "foo". Concatenating lists s and t with s ++ t takes O(m) time, where m is the length of s. (Haskell walks through the entire first argument to ++.)
  • : is the symbol for the cons operator. For instance, 1 : [2, 3] evaluates to the list [1, 2, 3](and in fact [1, 2, 3] is just syntactic sugar for 1 : 2 : 3 : [].



204: Some Introductory Haskell Syntax

Picking up Haskell again. I taught myself a little bit of its syntax years ago, but I’d forgotten all of it so I’m starting from scratch. Here’s some of the basics of Haskell syntax I learned today:

  • /= is used for ‘not equal’.
  • &&  is used for logical AND, || for logical OR, but not is used for logical negation.
  • single quotes denote characters, while double quotes denote strings. For instance, 'h' == "h" results in error because you can’t compare the types Char and [Char].
  • You need to surround a negative number by parentheses (e.g. (-5)), otherwise the compiler thinks you’re trying to apply subtraction.
  • 5 + 4.0 is a valid expression because 5 can be treated as a float. However, the converse isn’t true: floats can’t act as ints in the same way.
  • Function application is typically in prefix notation and doesn’t require (or allow) parentheses surrounding arguments, as is common in other languages. For instance, min 4 5 is a valid expression and results in the value 4.
  • Function evaluations like that of min also have the highest priority in arithmetic/logical expressions. For instance, succ 3 * 10 gives 40 while succ (3 * 10) gives 31.
  • For convenience and readability, functions with exactly 2 arguments can be called in infix notation if the function name is sandwiched by backticks. For instance, div 9 4 and 9 `div` 4 both return 2.




125: Duck Typing

Duck typing is a term used to describe programming languages in which, when a method is called on an object, it’s never formally confirmed that the object is of a specific type acceptable as input to the method, just that the object has whatever properties are required to perform the needed operations. In other words, it isn’t formally checked what an object is but rather what it can do.

The name is a reference to the saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck”, which echoes this same principle.

119: and, or vs &&, || (Ruby)

In the Ruby programming language, the logical operators && and || have the slight variations \texttt{and} and \texttt{or}. These plain-English operators do not behave exactly the same as their counterparts — the difference lying in their priority. While && and || have higher evaluation priority than the assignment operator \texttt{=}\texttt{and} and \texttt{or} actually have lower priority. This difference makes them useful as control-flow operators, akin to \texttt{if} or \texttt{unless}.