How to do Binary Random-Access Lists Simply

Posted on November 2, 2019
Part 1 of a 2-part series on Random Access Lists

“Heterogeneous Random-Access Lists” by Wouter Swierstra (2019) describes how to write a simple binary random-access list (Okasaki 1995) to use as a heterogeneous tuple. If you haven’t tried to implement the data structure described in the paper before, you might not realise the just how elegant the implementation is. The truth is that arriving at the definitions presented is difficult: behind every simple function is a litany of complex and ugly alternatives that had to be tried and discarded first before settling on the final answer.

In this post I want to go through a very similar structure, with special focus on the “wrong turns” in implementation which can lead to headache.

Two Proofs on ℕ, and How to Avoid Them

Here are a couple of important identities on ℕ:

+0 :  n  n + zero  n
+0 zero    = refl
+0 (suc n) = cong suc (+0 n)

+-suc :  n m  n + suc m  suc n + m
+-suc zero    m = refl
+-suc (suc n) m = cong suc (+-suc n m)

These two show up all the time as proof obligations from the compiler (i.e. “couldn’t match type n + suc m with suc n + m”). The solution is obvious, right? subst in one of the proofs above and you’re on your way. Wait! There might be a better way.

We’re going to look at reversing a vector as an example. We have a normal-looking length-indexed vector:

infixr 5 _∷_
data Vec (A : Set a) :   Set a where
  [] : Vec A zero
  _∷_ : A  Vec A n  Vec A (suc n)

Reversing a list is easy: we do it the standard way, in 𝒪(n)\mathcal{O}(n) time, with an accumulator:

list-reverse : List A  List A
list-reverse = go []
  go : List A  List A  List A
  go acc [] = acc
  go acc (x  xs) = go (x  acc) xs

Transferring over to a vector and we see our friends +-suc and +0.

vec-reverse₁ : Vec A n  Vec A n
vec-reverse₁ xs = subst (Vec _) (+0 _) (go [] xs)
  go : Vec A n  Vec A m  Vec A (m + n)
  go acc [] = acc
  go acc (x  xs) = subst (Vec _) (+-suc _ _) (go (x  acc) xs)

The solution, as with so many things, is to use a fold instead of explicit recursion. Folds on vectors are a little more aggressively typed than those on lists:

vec-foldr : (B :   Type b)
           (∀ {n}  A  B n  B (suc n))
           B zero
           Vec A n
           B n
vec-foldr B f b [] = b
vec-foldr B f b (x  xs) = f x (vec-foldr B f b xs)

We allow the output type to be indexed by the list of the vector. This is a good thing, bear in mind: we need that extra information to properly type reverse.

For reverse, unfortunately, we need a left-leaning fold, which is a little trickier to implement than vec-foldr.

vec-foldl : (B :   Set b)
           (∀ {n}  B n  A  B (suc n))
           B zero
           Vec A n
           B n
vec-foldl B f b [] = b
vec-foldl B f b (x  xs) = vec-foldl (B  suc) f (f b x) xs

With this we can finally reverse.

vec-reverse : Vec A n  Vec A n
vec-reverse = vec-foldl (Vec _)  xs x  x  xs) []

The real trick in this function is that the type of the return value changes as we fold. If you think about it, it’s the same optimisation that we make for the 𝒪(n)\mathcal{O}(n) reverse on lists: the B type above is the “difference list” in types, allowing us to append on to the end without 𝒪(n2)\mathcal{O}(n^2) proofs.

As an aside, this same trick can let us type the convolve-TABA (Danvy and Goldberg 2005; Foner 2016) function quite simply:

convolve : Vec A n  Vec B n  Vec (A × B) n
convolve =
     n  Vec _ n  Vec _ n)
     { k x (y  ys)  (x , y)  k ys})
     _  [])

Binary Numbers

Binary numbers come up a lot in dependently-typed programming languages: they offer an alternative representation of ℕ that’s tolerably efficient (well, depending on who’s doing the tolerating). In contrast to the Peano numbers, though, there are a huge number of ways to implement them.

I’m going to recommend one particular implementation over the others, but before I do I want to define a function on ℕ:

2* :   
2* zero = zero
2* (suc n) = suc (suc (2* n))

In all of the implementations of binary numbers we’ll need a function like this. It is absolutely crucial that it is defined in the way above: the other obvious definition (2* n = n + n) is a nightmare for proofs.

Right, now on to some actual binary numbers. The obvious way (a list of bits) is insufficient, as it allows multiple representations of the same number (because of the trailing zeroes). Picking a more clever implementation is tricky, though. One way splits it into two types:

module OneTerminated where
  infixl 5 _0ᵇ _1ᵇ
  infixr 4 𝕓_

  data 𝔹⁺ : Set where
    1ᵇ : 𝔹⁺
    _0ᵇ _1ᵇ : 𝔹⁺  𝔹⁺

  data 𝔹 : Set where
    𝕓0ᵇ : 𝔹
    𝕓_ : 𝔹⁺  𝔹

𝔹⁺ is the strictly positive natural numbers (i.e. the naturals starting from 1). 𝔹 adds a zero to that set. This removes the possibility for trailing zeroes, thereby making this representation unique for every natural number.

Evaluation is pretty standard
  ⟦_⇓⟧⁺ : 𝔹⁺  
   1ᵇ   ⇓⟧⁺ = 1
   x 0ᵇ ⇓⟧⁺ =      2*  x ⇓⟧⁺
   x 1ᵇ ⇓⟧⁺ = suc (2*  x ⇓⟧⁺)

  ⟦_⇓⟧ : 𝔹  
   𝕓0ᵇ  ⇓⟧ = 0
   𝕓 x  ⇓⟧ =  x ⇓⟧⁺

The odd syntax lets us write binary numbers in the natural way:

  _ :  𝕓 1ᵇ 0ᵇ 1ᵇ ⇓⟧  5
  _ = refl

  _ :  𝕓 1ᵇ 0ᵇ 0ᵇ 1ᵇ ⇓⟧  9
  _ = refl

I would actually recommend this representation for most use-cases, especially when you’re using binary numbers “as binary numbers”, rather than as an abstract type for faster computation.

Another clever representation is one I wrote about before: the “gapless” representation. This is far too much trouble for what it’s worth.

Finally, my favourite representation at the moment is zeroless. It has a unique representation for each number, just like the two above, but it is still a list of bits. The difference is that the bits here are 1 and 2, not 0 and 1. I like to reuse types in combination with pattern synonyms (rather than defining new types), as it can often make parallels between different functions clearer.

Bit : Set
Bit = Bool

pattern 1ᵇ = false
pattern 2ᵇ = true

𝔹 : Set
𝔹 = List Bit

Functions like inc are not difficult to implement:

inc : 𝔹  𝔹
inc [] = 1ᵇ  []
inc (1ᵇ  xs) = 2ᵇ  xs
inc (2ᵇ  xs) = 1ᵇ  inc xs

And evaluation:

_∷⇓_ : Bit    
1ᵇ ∷⇓ xs =      suc (2* xs)
2ᵇ ∷⇓ xs = suc (suc (2* xs))

⟦_⇓⟧ : 𝔹  
⟦_⇓⟧ = foldr _∷⇓_ zero

Since we’re working in Cubical Agda, we might as well go on and prove that 𝔹 is isomorphic to ℕ. I’ll include the proof here for completeness, but it’s not relevant to the rest of the post (although it is very short, as a consequence of the simple definitions).

Proof that 𝔹 and ℕ are isomorphic
⟦_⇑⟧ :   𝔹
 zero  ⇑⟧ = []
 suc n ⇑⟧ = inc  n ⇑⟧

2*⇔1ᵇ∷ :  n  inc  2* n ⇑⟧  1ᵇ   n ⇑⟧
2*⇔1ᵇ∷ zero = refl
2*⇔1ᵇ∷ (suc n) = cong (inc  inc) (2*⇔1ᵇ∷ n)

𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 :  n    n ⇓⟧ ⇑⟧  n
𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 [] = refl
𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 (1ᵇ  xs) =           2*⇔1ᵇ∷  xs ⇓⟧  ; cong (1ᵇ ∷_) (𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 xs)
𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 (2ᵇ  xs) = cong inc (2*⇔1ᵇ∷  xs ⇓⟧) ; cong (2ᵇ ∷_) (𝔹→ℕ→𝔹 xs)

inc⇔suc :  n   inc n ⇓⟧  suc  n ⇓⟧
inc⇔suc [] = refl
inc⇔suc (1ᵇ  xs) = refl
inc⇔suc (2ᵇ  xs) = cong (suc  2*) (inc⇔suc xs)

ℕ→𝔹→ℕ :  n    n ⇑⟧ ⇓⟧  n
ℕ→𝔹→ℕ zero    = refl
ℕ→𝔹→ℕ (suc n) = inc⇔suc  n ⇑⟧ ; cong suc (ℕ→𝔹→ℕ n)

𝔹⇔ℕ : 𝔹  
𝔹⇔ℕ = iso ⟦_⇓⟧ ⟦_⇑⟧ ℕ→𝔹→ℕ 𝔹→ℕ→𝔹

Binary Arrays

Now on to the data structure. Here’s its type.

infixr 5 _1∷_ _2∷_
data Array (T :   Type a) : 𝔹  Type a where
  []  : Array T []
  _∷_ : T (bool 0 1 d)  Array (T  suc) ds  Array T (d  ds)

pattern _1∷_ x xs = _∷_ {d = 1ᵇ} x xs
pattern _2∷_ x xs = _∷_ {d = 2ᵇ} x xs

So it is a list-like structure, which contains elements of type T. T is the type of trees in the array: making the array generic over the types of trees is a slight departure from the norm. Usually, we would just use a perfect tree or something:

module Prelim where
  Perfect : Set a    Set a
  Perfect A zero = A
  Perfect A (suc n) = Perfect (A × A) n

By making the tree type a parameter, though, we actually simplify some of the code for manipulating the tree. It’s basically the same trick as the type-changing parameter in vec-foldl.

As well as that, of course, we can use the array with more exotic tree types. With binomial trees, for example, we get a binomial heap:

  data BinomNode (A : Set a) :   Set a where
    binom-leaf   : BinomNode A 0
    binom-branch : Binomial A n  BinomNode A n  BinomNode A (suc n)

  Binomial : Set a    Set a
  Binomial A n = A × BinomNode A n

But we’ll stick to the random-access lists for now.

Top-down and Bottom-up Trees

The perfect trees above are actually a specific instance of a more general data type: exponentiations of functors.

_^_ : (Set a  Set a)    Set a  Set a
(F ^ zero ) A = A
(F ^ suc n) A = (F ^ n) (F A)

Nest : (Set a  Set a)  Set a    Set a
Nest F A n = (F ^ n) A

Pair : Set a  Set a
Pair A = A × A

Perfect : Set a    Set a
Perfect = Nest Pair

It’s a nested datatype, built in a bottom-up way. This is in contrast to, say, the binomial trees above, which are top-down.


Our first function on the array is cons, which inserts an element:

cons : (∀ n  T n  T n  T (suc n))
      T 0  Array T ds  Array T (inc ds)
cons branch x [] = x 1∷ []
cons branch x (y 1∷ ys) = branch 0 x y 2∷ ys
cons branch x (y 2∷ ys) = x 1∷ cons (branch  suc) y ys

Since we’re generic over the type of trees, we need to pass in the “branch” constructor (or function) for whatever tree type we end up using. Here’s how we’d implement such a branch function for perfect trees.

perf-branch :  n  Perfect A n  Perfect A n  Perfect A (suc n)
perf-branch zero = _,_
perf-branch (suc n) = perf-branch n

One issue here is that the perf-branch function probably doesn’t optimise to the correct complexity, because the n has to be scrutinised repeatedly. The alternative is to define a cons for nested types, like so:

nest-cons : (∀ {A}  A  A  F A)  A  Array (Nest F A) ds  Array (Nest F A) (inc ds)
nest-cons _∙_ x [] = x  []
nest-cons _∙_ x (y 1∷ ys) = (x  y) 2∷ ys
nest-cons _∙_ x (y 2∷ ys) = x  nest-cons _∙_ y ys

perf-cons : A  Array (Perfect A) ds  Array (Perfect A) (inc ds)
perf-cons = nest-cons _,_


Again, we’re going to keep things general, allowing multiple index types. For those index types we’ll need a type like Fin but for binary numbers.

data Fin𝔹 (A : Set a) : 𝔹  Type a where
  here₁ :                       Fin𝔹 A (1ᵇ  ds)
  here₂ : (i : A)              Fin𝔹 A (2ᵇ  ds)
  there : (i : A)  Fin𝔹 A ds  Fin𝔹 A (d   ds)

lookup : (∀ {n}  P  T (suc n)  T n)
        Array T ds
        Fin𝔹 P ds
        T 0
lookup ind (x  xs) here₁ = x
lookup ind (x  xs) (here₂ i) = ind i x
lookup ind (x  xs) (there i is) = ind i (lookup ind xs is)

nest-lookup : (∀ {A}  P  F A  A)
             Array (Nest F A) ds
             Fin𝔹 P ds
nest-lookup ind (x  xs) here₁ = x
nest-lookup ind (x  xs) (here₂ i) = ind i x
nest-lookup ind (x  xs) (there i is) = ind i (nest-lookup ind xs is)

We’ll once more use perfect to show how these generic functions can be concretised. For the index types into a perfect tree, we will use a Bool.

perf-lookup : Array (Perfect A) ds  Fin𝔹 Bool ds  A
perf-lookup = nest-lookup (bool fst snd)


This next function is quite difficult to get right: a fold. We want to consume the binary array into a unary, cons-list type thing. Similarly to foldl on vectors, we will need to change the return type as we fold, but we will also need to convert from binary to unary, as we fold. The key ingredient is the following function:

2^_*_ :     
2^ zero  * n = n
2^ suc m * n = 2* (2^ m * n)

It will let us do the type-change-as-you-go trick from foldl, but in a binary setting. Here’s foldr:

array-foldr : (B :   Type b)
             (∀ n {m}  T n  B (2^ n * m)  B (2^ n * suc m))
             B 0  Array T ds  B  ds ⇓⟧
array-foldr B c b []        = b
array-foldr B c b (x 1∷ xs) = c 0 x (array-foldr (B  2*) (c  suc) b xs)
array-foldr B c b (x 2∷ xs) = c 1 x (array-foldr (B  2*) (c  suc) b xs)

And, as you should expect, here’s how to use this in combination with the perfect trees. Here we’ll build a binary random access list from a vector, and convert back to a vector.

perf-foldr : (B :   Type b)
            (∀ {n}  A  B n  B (suc n))
             n {m}
            Perfect A n
            B (2^ n * m)
            B (2^ n * suc m)
perf-foldr B f zero = f
perf-foldr B f (suc n) =
  perf-foldr (B  2*)  { (x , y) zs  f x (f y zs) }) n

toVec : Array (Perfect A) ds  Vec A  ds ⇓⟧
toVec = array-foldr (Vec _) (perf-foldr (Vec _) _∷_) []

fromVec : Vec A n  Array (Perfect A)  n ⇑⟧
fromVec = vec-foldr (Array (Perfect _)  ⟦_⇑⟧) perf-cons []


That’s the end of the “simple” stuff! The binary random-access list I’ve presented above is about as simple as I can get it.

In this section, I want to look at some more complex (and more fun) things you can do with it. First: lenses.

Lenses aren’t super ergonomic in dependently-typed languages, but they do come with some advantages. The lens laws are quite strong, for instance, meaning that often by constructing programs using a lot of lenses gives us certain properties “for free”. Here, for instance, we can define the lenses for indexing.

open import Lenses
Lenses into the head and tail of an array
head : Lens (Array T (d  ds)) (T (bool 0 1 d))
head .into (x  _ ) .get = x
head .into (_  xs) .set x = x  xs
head .get-set (_  _) _ = refl
head .set-get (_  _) = refl
head .set-set (_  _) _ _ = refl

tail : Lens (Array T (d  ds)) (Array (T  suc) ds)
tail .into (_  xs) .get = xs
tail .into (x  _ ) .set xs = x  xs
tail .get-set (_  _) _ = refl
tail .set-get (_  _) = refl
tail .set-set (_  _) _ _ = refl
nest-lens : (∀ {A}  P  Lens (F A) A)
           Fin𝔹 P ds
           Lens (Array (Nest F A) ds) A
nest-lens ln here₁        = head
nest-lens ln (here₂ i)    = head  ln i
nest-lens ln (there i is) = tail  nest-lens ln is  ln i
Top-down version
ind-lens : (∀ {n}  P  Lens (T (suc n)) (T n))
          Fin𝔹 P ds
          Lens (Array T ds) (T 0)
ind-lens ln here₁        = head
ind-lens ln (here₂ i)    = head  ln i
ind-lens ln (there i is) = tail  ind-lens ln is  ln i

Fenwick Trees

Finally, to demonstrate some of the versatility of this data structure, we’re going to implement a tree based on a Fenwick tree. This is a data structure for prefix sums: we can query the running total at any point, and update the value at a given point, in 𝒪(logn)\mathcal{O}(\log n) time. We’re going to make it generic over a monoid:

module _ {} (mon : Monoid ) where
  open Monoid mon

  record Leaf : Set  where
    constructor leaf
    field val : 𝑆
  open Leaf

    SumNode :   Set 
    SumNode zero = Leaf
    SumNode (suc n) = Summary n × Summary n

    Summary :   Set 
    Summary n = Σ 𝑆 (fiber (cmb n))

    cmb :  n  SumNode n  𝑆
    cmb zero = val
    cmb (suc _) (x , y) = fst x  fst y

  Fenwick : 𝔹   Set 
  Fenwick = Array Summary

So it’s an array of perfect trees, with each branch in the tree containing a summary of its children. Constructing a tree is straightforward:

  comb :  n  Summary n  Summary n  Summary (suc n)
  comb n xs ys = _ , (xs , ys) , refl

  sing : 𝑆  Summary 0
  sing x = _ , leaf x , refl

  fFromVec : Vec 𝑆 n  Fenwick  n ⇑⟧
  fFromVec = vec-foldr (Fenwick  ⟦_⇑⟧) (cons comb  sing) []

Updating a particular point involves a good bit of boilerplate, but isn’t too complex.

Lenses into a single level of the tree
  upd-lens : Bool  Lens (Summary (suc n)) (Summary n)
  upd-lens b .into (_ , xs , _) .get = ⦅pair⦆ b .into xs .get
  upd-lens b .into (_ , xs , _) .set x = _ , ⦅pair⦆ b .into xs .set x , refl
  upd-lens b .get-set _ = ⦅pair⦆ b .get-set _
  upd-lens false .set-get (t , xs , p) i .fst = p i
  upd-lens false .set-get (t , xs , p) i .snd .fst = xs
  upd-lens false .set-get (t , xs , p) i .snd .snd j = p (i  j)
  upd-lens true  .set-get (t , xs , p) i .fst = p i
  upd-lens true  .set-get (t , xs , p) i .snd .fst = xs
  upd-lens true  .set-get (t , xs , p) i .snd .snd j = p (i  j)
  upd-lens false .set-set _ _ _ = refl
  upd-lens true  .set-set _ _ _ = refl

  top : Lens (Summary 0) 𝑆
  top .into x .get = x .snd .fst .val
  top .into x .set y .fst = y
  top .into x .set y .snd .fst .val = y
  top .into x .set y .snd .snd = refl
  top .get-set _ _ = refl
  top .set-get (x , y , p) i .fst = p i
  top .set-get (x , y , p) i .snd .fst = y
  top .set-get (x , y , p) i .snd .snd j = p (i  j)
  top .set-set _ _ _ = refl
  update : Fin𝔹 Bool ds  Lens (Fenwick ds) 𝑆
  update is = ind-lens upd-lens is  top

Finally, here’s how we get the summary up to a particular point in 𝒪(logn)\mathcal{O}(\log n) time:

  running : (∀ n  Bool  T (suc n)  𝑆 × T n)
           (∀ n  T n  𝑆)
           Array T ds
           Fin𝔹 Bool ds
           𝑆 × T 0
  running l s (x  xs) (there i is) =
    let y , ys = running (l  suc) (s  suc) xs is
        z , zs = l _ i ys
    in s _ x  y  z , zs
  running l s (x 1∷ xs) here₁ = ε , x
  running l s (x 2∷ xs) (here₂ i) = l _ i x

  prefix : Fenwick ds  Fin𝔹 Bool ds  𝑆
  prefix xs is = let ys , zs , _ = running ind  _  fst) xs is in ys  zs
    ind :  n  Bool  Summary (suc n)  𝑆 × Summary n
    ind n false (_ , (xs , _) , _) = ε , xs
    ind n true  (_ , ((x , _) , (y , ys)) , _) = x , (y , ys)


Danvy, Olivier, and Mayer Goldberg. 2005. “There and Back Again.” BRICS Report Series 12 (3). doi:10.7146/brics.v12i3.21869.
Foner, Kenneth. 2016. “’There and Back Again’ and What Happened After.” New York.
Okasaki, Chris. 1995. “Purely Functional Random-access Lists.” In Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Functional Programming Languages and Computer Architecture, 86–95. FPCA ’95. New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/224164.224187.
Swierstra, Wouter. 2019. “Heterogeneous random-access lists.”