I love profunctors. They're so easy.

I love profunctors. They're so easy.” —beaky on #haskell

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Covariant Functors

I hope we can all agree that functors are useful, and that we are all familiar with them. Just for the record, the Functor typeclass can be thought of as follows:

class Functor f where
    fmap ∷ (a → b) → f a → f b

Given a value x ∷ f a and a function g ∷ a → b, then fmap g x ∷ f b. Simples!

However, Haskell's Functor is only one of many functors in the mathematical sense. It is in fact a covariant functor, meaning that fmap preserves the direction of the arrows:

     g ∷   a →   b
fmap g ∷ f a → f b

See? Both arrows point to the right.

Contravariant Functors

Let's start with a motivational example. We call a function returning a Bool and taking one argument a Predicate, indicating the truthiness of its argument:

type Predicate a = a → Bool

Is Predicate a Functor?

Is Predicate a functor?

From Data.Functor.Contravariant:

class Contravariant f where
    contramap ∷ (b → a) → f a → f b

This characterises contravariant functors. Note that contramap swaps the direction of the arrow, in contrast to fmap:

          g ∷   a ←   b
contramap g ∷ f a → f b

Let's make a Contravariant Predicate:

{-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}
import Control.Applicative
import Data.Functor.Contravariant (Contravariant (..))
-- show
newtype Predicate a = Predicate { getPredicate ∷ a → Bool }

instance Contravariant Predicate where
    contramap g (Predicate p) = Predicate (p . g)

veryOdd ∷ Predicate Integer
veryOdd = contramap (`div` 2) (Predicate odd)

main ∷ IO ()
main = print $ getPredicate veryOdd <$> [0 .. 11]
-- /show

Can you tell what the output is yet?

Examples of Contravariant Functors

{-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}
import Data.Function
import Data.Functor.Contravariant (Contravariant (..))
-- show
newtype Const a b = Const a
instance Contravariant (Const a) where
    contramap _ (Const a) = Const a

newtype Comparison a = Comparison (a → a → Ordering) -- e.g. compare
instance Contravariant Comparison where
    contramap g (Comparison comp) = Comparison (comp `on` g)

newtype Op b a = Op (a → b)
instance Contravariant (Op b) where
    contramap g (Op f) = Op (f . g)
-- /show
main = return ()

The above (and more) are already provided by Data.Functor.Contravariant.


A bifunctor in the mathematical sense is a functor of two arguments; three arguments would make trifunctors…

In Haskell this means a parametric type of kind * → * → *. Familiar bifunctors include Either, (,) or even (→)

However, the Bifunctor typeclass correspond only to bifunctors that are covariant in both arguments:

class Bifunctor f where
    bimap ∷ (a → c) → (b → d) → f a b → f c d
      g   ∷   a    →   c
        h ∷     b  →     d
bimap g h ∷ f a b  → f c d

Both Either and (,) are Bifunctors. There are also Biapplicative, Bifoldable and Bitraversable classes, if you feel inclined to investigate. Watch out for Clowns and Jokers popling out around the corner though.

Exercise: instance Bifunctor Either

Exercise: instance Bifunctor (,)


A Profunctor is just a bifunctor that is contravariant in the first argument and covariant in the second. What's the problem?

class Profunctor f where
    dimap ∷ (c → a) → (b → d) → f a b → f c d
      g   ∷   a    ←   c
        h ∷     b  →     d
dimap g h ∷ f a b  → f c d

If we only want to map over one of the two type arguments, there are:

{-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}
import Data.Profunctor (Profunctor (dimap))
-- show
lmap ∷ Profunctor f ⇒ (c → a) → f a b → f c b
lmap = (`dimap` id)

rmap ∷ Profunctor f ⇒ (b → d) → f a b → f a d
rmap = (id `dimap`)
-- /show
main = return ()

The simplest and most common Profunctor is (→). The specialised type of dimap would be:

dimap :: (c → a) → (b → d) → (a → b) → (c → d)

Exercise: instance Profunctors (→)

My First Profunctor

If you really hate someone, teach them to recognise Profunctors.

This is where I recognised my first Profunctor:

data Limits a = Limits
    { step ∷ a → (a, a)
    , check ∷ a → a → Bool } 

This was part of the user-facing code we used in production that lets the user adjust various parameters: she can either click an up/down button—or supply a new value directly. The check function then validates the new input with respect to the old.

If we generalise over the positive and negative argument positions,

{-# LANGUAGE RecordWildCards #-}
{-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}
import Control.Arrow
import Data.Function
import Data.Profunctor
-- show
type Limits a = Limits' a a
data Limits' a b = Limits
    { step ∷ a → (b, b)
    , check ∷ a → a → Bool } 

instance Profunctor Limits' where
    dimap g h Limits {..} = Limits
        { step = (h *** h) . step . g
        , check = check `on` g }

maybeLimit ∷ a → Limits a → Limits (Maybe a)
maybeLimit d = dimap (maybe d id) Just

millionsLimit ∷ Limits Double → Limits Double
millionsLimit = dimap (1.0e6 *) (/ 1.0e6)
-- /show
main = return ()

Example: Containers with Keys

Consider the plethora of *WithKey functions one comes across when working with various containers, for example:

Map.map        ∷     (a → b) → Map i a → Map i b
Map.mapWithKey ∷ (i → a → b) → Map i a → Map i b

Can we unify the two functions above?

<lambdabot> The answer is: Yes! Profunctors can do that.

The Control.Lens.Indexed module provides the Indexed Profunctor:

newtype Indexed i a b = Indexed { runIndexed ∷ i → a → b }

Exercise: instance Profunctor (Indexed i)

Together with the Indexable class,

{-# LANGUAGE MultiParamTypeClasses #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances #-}
{-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}

newtype Indexed i a b = Indexed { runIndexed ∷ i → a → b }
-- show
class Indexable i p where
    indexed ∷ p a b → i → a → b

instance Indexable i (Indexed i) where indexed = runIndexed
instance Indexable i (→)         where indexed = const
-- /show
main = return ()

we can now give a unified story for Map.map and Map.mapWithKey:

mapIndexable ∷ Indexable i p ⇒ p a b → Map i a → Map i b
mapIndexable ∷         Indexed i a b → Map i a → Map i b
mapIndexable ∷               (a → b) → Map i a → Map i b

Exercise: mapIndexable


Profunctors, Profunctors everywhere.

The UpStar and DownStar Profunctors are also worth investigating, as are the concepts of Strong and Choice. Homework for the reader… or let me know if you want me to extend this tutorial. :) Other comments are welcome too &c. &c. Reddit G+

Further Reading