More Random Access Lists

Posted on May 2, 2020
Part 2 of a 2-part series on Random Access Lists
Tags: Haskell, Agda

Imports and Pragmas

{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds              #-}
{-# LANGUAGE PolyKinds              #-}
{-# LANGUAGE GADTs                  #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeFamilyDependencies #-}
{-# LANGUAGE ConstraintKinds        #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeOperators          #-}
{-# LANGUAGE UndecidableInstances   #-}
{-# LANGUAGE RankNTypes             #-}
{-# LANGUAGE MultiParamTypeClasses  #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances      #-}
{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleContexts       #-}
{-# LANGUAGE AllowAmbiguousTypes    #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeApplications       #-}
{-# LANGUAGE ScopedTypeVariables    #-}

{-# OPTIONS_GHC -Wall -fno-warn-unticked-promoted-constructors #-}

module Post where

import Data.Kind
import Prelude hiding (lookup)
import GHC.TypeLits
import Control.Lens hiding (Cons, index)

Numerical Representations

One of the common techniques for building purely functional data structures is to base the structure on some numerical representation (Hinze 1998). Most recently, I read Swierstra (2020), where the binary numbers were used to implement a heterogeneous random-access list (effectively a generic tuple).

I’m going to look today at using the zeroless binary system to implement a similar structure, and see what the differences are.

Zeroless Binary

I have talked about this representation before, so I won’t go into it in huge depth, but put simply the zeroless binary system represents a binary number as a string of 1s and 2s (i.e. no zeroes). The vast majority of the normal binary operations (addition, multiplication, etc.) can be implemented with the same broad efficiency, but this system has one key advantage in that every single number is uniquely represented. Since we’re going to use these numbers to index our data types, this is actually extremely useful.

Before we get started, we’ll first define the peculiar type of lists we’re going to use.

infixr 5 :-
data Plus a = a :- Star a
data Star a
  = Nil
  | Some (Plus a)

Star a is isomorphic to [a], so we’ve not lost any expressive power or anything like that. The usefulness of this definition is that we have a non-empty list type built in to our list type, so we don’t have to do conversion back and forth which can be cumbersome.

Next on to the number itself:

data Bit = B1 | B2

type family Inc (xs :: Star Bit) = (ys :: Plus Bit) | ys -> xs where
  Inc Nil = B1 :- Nil
  Inc (Some (B1 :- xs)) = B2 :- xs
  Inc (Some (B2 :- xs)) = B1 :- Some (Inc xs)

We’re straight into the type-level operations here, and there’s an interesting bit of syntax worth pointing out before we move on. ys -> xs is a type family dependency: it means that we can uniquely determine xs given ys. This is very handy for type inference and so on, and is perhaps the main benefit of the zeroless binary numbers.

A Braun Tree

Next, we’ll build a tree indexed by these numbers. Now that we’re jumping in to indexing, we’ll need some singletons. Here’s my preferred way to do them:

type family The k = (s :: k -> Type) | s -> k

class Known (x :: a) where sing :: The a x

data SBit b where
  SB1 :: SBit B1
  SB2 :: SBit B2
type instance The Bit = SBit
instance Known B1 where sing = SB1
instance Known B2 where sing = SB2

The type family defines the singleton GADTs themselves. The class Known is for automatically generating singleton values.

On to the tree. We’re actually going to build a Braun tree here, as they are actually particularly clean to implement on the type level.

type family Carry (x :: Bit) (xs :: Star Bit) :: Star Bit where
  Carry B1 xs = xs
  Carry B2 xs = Some (Inc xs)
data Tree (xs :: Star Bit) a where
  Leaf   :: Tree Nil a
  Branch :: Forest xs a -> Tree (Some xs) a

data Forest (xs :: Plus Bit) a where
  Root :: a
       -> The Bit x 
       -> Tree (Carry x xs) a 
       -> Tree xs a 
       -> Forest (x :- xs) a

We first have a type family which increments a binary number if its first argument is B2: this will maintain the Braun tree’s invariant.

Next, we have the tree definition itself, which is split into two mutual definitions, in much the same way as the Star and Plus lists previously. Next, to cons something onto the tree:

type family Cons (x :: a) (xs :: Tree ns a) = (ys :: Forest (Inc ns) a) | ys -> x xs where
  Cons x Leaf = Root x SB1 Leaf Leaf
  Cons x (Branch (Root y SB1 ls rs)) = Root x SB2 (Branch (Cons y rs)) ls
  Cons x (Branch (Root y SB2 ls rs)) = Root x SB1 (Branch (Cons y rs)) ls

You’ll notice that we can again annotate this type family with injectivity.

A Heterogeneous Tree

So far all we have is a size-indexed tree. We want a heterogeneous tree, meaning that we must next construct a tree indexed by the previous tree. In order to do this, we’ll first need singletons on the type level:

type family Sing (x :: a) = (y :: The a x) | y -> x
type instance Sing B1 = SB1
type instance Sing B2 = SB2

This kind of nonsense we’re doing here is precisely the kind of thing obsolesced by dependent types, by the way. If you’re already doing type-level heavy stuff (as we are here) the extra power afforded by full dependent types often means that hacky special cases just turn into standard functions, greatly simplifying things like the above type families.

But anyway, back to the tree:

data HTree (xs :: Tree ns Type) where
  HLeaf :: HTree Leaf
  HNode :: x 
        -> !(The Bit b) 
        -> !(HTree ls)
        -> !(HTree rs)
        -> HTree (Branch (Root x (Sing b) ls rs))

And we can cons on an element in much the same way we did with the homogeneous tree:

infixr 5 <:
(<:) :: x -> HTree xs -> HTree (Branch (Cons x xs))
x <: HLeaf = HNode x SB1 HLeaf HLeaf
x <: HNode y SB1 yl yr = HNode x SB2 (y <: yr) yl
x <: HNode y SB2 yl yr = HNode x SB1 (y <: yr) yl


The real use of this data structure is quick indexing. As with the previous functions, we will first need to construct the type-level version of what we want to do.

type family Lookup (i :: Star Bit) (xs :: Tree sz a) :: a where
  Lookup Nil              (Branch (Root x _ _  _)) = x
  Lookup (Some (B1 :- i)) (Branch (Root _ _ ls _)) = Lookup i ls
  Lookup (Some (B2 :- i)) (Branch (Root _ _ _ rs)) = Lookup i rs

While this function is partial, the value-level one should not be: it should be provably in-bounds for lookups. As a result we’ll need a slightly complex type to represent the indices:

data Position (xs :: Star Bit) (ys :: Star Bit) where
  P0 :: Position Nil (Some ys)
  P1 :: !(Position xs (Carry y ys)) -> Position (Some (B1 :- xs)) (Some (y :- ys))
  P2 :: !(Position xs ys) -> Position (Some (B2  :- xs)) (Some (y :- ys))

A value of type Position xs ys is actually a proof that xs is smaller than ys, but we’re using it here just as a pointer to an entry in the tree. Here’s the actual lookup function itself.

lookup :: forall is (ts :: Tree sz Type). Position is sz -> HTree ts -> Lookup is ts
lookup P0     (HNode x _ _  _) = x
lookup (P1 i) (HNode _ _ ls _) = lookup i ls
lookup (P2 i) (HNode _ _ _ rs) = lookup i rs

Just having pointers isn’t much use: we also need a way to build them. The key function here is push: this increments the index pointed to by one.

Singletons for lists

infixr 5 ::-
data SPlus xs where
  (::-) :: The a x -> The (Star a) xs -> SPlus (x :- xs)
data SStar xs where
  Nily :: SStar Nil
  Somy :: The (Plus a) xs -> SStar (Some xs)
type instance The (Plus a) = SPlus
type instance The (Star a) = SStar

instance Known Nil where sing = Nily
instance Known xs => Known (Some xs) where sing = Somy sing
instance (Known x, Known xs) => Known (x :- xs) where sing = sing ::- sing
push :: Known ys => Position xs ys -> Position (Some (Inc xs)) (Some (Inc ys))
push p = go p sing
    go :: Position xs ys -> The (Star Bit) ys -> Position (Some (Inc xs)) (Some (Inc ys))
    go P0     (Somy (SB1 ::- _ )) = P1 P0
    go P0     (Somy (SB2 ::- _ )) = P1 P0
    go (P2 i) (Somy (SB1 ::- ys)) = P1 (go i ys)
    go (P2 i) (Somy (SB2 ::- ys)) = P1 (go i ys)
    go (P1 i) (Somy (SB1 ::- _ )) = P2 i
    go (P1 i) (Somy (SB2 ::- _ )) = P2 i

Type-Level Lists for A Nicer Interface

Everything above is pretty much all you need for many use cases, but it’s pretty ugly stuff. To actually use this thing as a generic tuple we’ll need a lot of quality-of-life improvements.

First of all, we should use type-level lists to indicate the tuple itself:

Type families for building a tree from a list.

type family Length (xs :: [a]) :: Star Bit where
  Length '[] = Nil
  Length (_ : xs) = Some (Inc (Length xs))
type family FromList (xs :: [a]) = (ys :: Tree (Length xs) a) | ys -> xs where
  FromList '[] = Leaf
  FromList (x : xs) = Branch (Cons x (FromList xs))
type family Tuple (xs :: [Type]) = (ys :: Type) | ys -> xs where
  Tuple xs = HTree (FromList xs)

Because the type family here is injective, we won’t get any of the usual weird errors when we use the type Tuple [Bool,String] or whatever: passing that around will function almost exactly the same as passing around the tree representation itself directly.

example :: Tuple [Bool,String,Int,(),String]
example = True <: "True" <: 1 <: () <: "T" <: HLeaf


We can fold over the tree itself (using the Braun tree folding algorithm from a previous post) if every element in the tree conforms to some class. Using this we can generate a nice string representation of the tree.

Implementation of folding over tree and Show instance.

type family All (c :: a -> Constraint) (xs :: Tree ns a) :: Constraint where
  All c Leaf = ()
  All c (Branch (Root x _ ls rs)) = (c x, All c ls, All c rs)
newtype Q2 a
  = Q2
  { unQ2 :: (Q2 a -> Q2 a) -> (Q2 a -> Q2 a) -> a

foldrTree :: forall c xs b. All c xs => (forall x. c x => x -> b -> b) -> b -> HTree xs -> b
foldrTree g' n' t = unQ2 (f @c g' n' t b) id id
    f :: forall c' ys b'. All c' ys => (forall x. c' x => x -> b' -> b') -> b' -> HTree ys -> Q2 b' -> Q2 b'
    f g n (HNode x _ l r) xs = Q2 (\ls rs -> g x (unQ2 xs (ls . f @c' g n l) (rs . f @c' g n r)))
    f _ n HLeaf           _  = Q2 (\_  _  -> n)

    b = Q2 (\ls rs -> unQ2 (ls (rs b)) id id)

instance All Show xs => Show (HTree xs) where
  showsPrec _ tr = showChar '(' . go (foldrTree @Show (\x xs -> shows x : xs) [] tr)
      go :: [ShowS] -> ShowS
      go []     = showChar ')'
      go (x:xs) = x . foldr (\y ys -> showChar ',' . y . ys)  (showChar ')') xs
>>> example

Using a Different Approach For Building Indices

The approach used in Swierstra (2020) had a specific goal in mind: using the heterogeneous list to implement a lookup table for evaluating lambda calculus. As such, efficiently being able to “increment” an index was vital.

If we wanted to use the type as a generic tuple, though, we would have no such requirement. Instead, we might expect all accesses to be resolved and inlined at compile-time (as in Martinez, Viera, and Pardo 2013). We also would want a nice syntax for accessing parts of the tuple.

We can accomplish all of this with some type classes, as it happens. If we replace pattern-matching on data types with typeclass resolution we can be all but guaranteed that the function calls and so on will be inlined entirely at compile-time (we also would need to add INLINE pragmas to every instance, which I haven’t done here for readability’s sake). The main class we’ll use is the following:

class (xs :: Star Bit) < (ys :: Star Bit) where
  pull :: forall (t :: Tree ys Type). HTree t -> Lookup xs t

Interface for building indices.

instance Nil < Some ys where
  pull (HNode x _ _ _) = x
instance xs < ys => Some (B1 :- xs) < Some (B1 :- ys) where
  pull (HNode _ _ ls _) = pull @xs ls
instance xs < Some (Inc ys) => Some (B1 :- xs) < Some (B2 :- ys) where
  pull (HNode _ _ ls _) = pull @xs ls

instance xs < ys => Some (B2 :- xs) < Some (y :- ys) where
  pull (HNode _ _ _ rs) = pull @xs rs

instance TypeError (Text "Index out of range") => xs < Nil where 
  pull = error "unreachable"

data Peano = Z | S Peano

type family FromPeano (n :: Peano) = (m :: Star Bit) | m -> n where
  FromPeano Z     = Nil
  FromPeano (S n) = Some (Inc (FromPeano n))
type family FromLit (n :: Nat) :: Peano where
  FromLit 0 = Z
  FromLit n = S (FromLit (n - 1))

get :: forall n xs (t :: Tree xs Type). FromPeano (FromLit n) < xs
    => HTree t -> Lookup (FromPeano (FromLit n)) t
get = pull @(FromPeano (FromLit n))

Some other details out of the way we get the following nice interface:

>>> get @4 example

You even get a type error for out-of-range indices:

>>> get @7 example
    • Index out of range
    • In the expression: get @7 example

Or we could even add a lens interface:

Implementation of Lenses for the Tuple

type family Replace (i :: Star Bit) (x :: a) (xs :: Tree sz a) :: Tree sz a where
  Replace Nil              x (Branch (Root _ b ls rs)) = Branch (Root x b ls rs)
  Replace (Some (B1 :- i)) x (Branch (Root y b ls rs)) = Branch (Root y b (Replace i x ls) rs)
  Replace (Some (B2 :- i)) x (Branch (Root y b ls rs)) = Branch (Root y b ls (Replace i x rs))

class (xs :: Star Bit) <! (ys :: Star Bit) where
  index :: forall (t :: Tree ys Type) b. Lens (HTree t) (HTree (Replace xs b t)) (Lookup xs t) b
instance Nil <! Some ys where
  index f (HNode x b ls rs) = fmap (\x' -> HNode x' b ls rs) (f x)
instance xs <! ys => Some (B1 :- xs) <! Some (B1 :- ys) where
  index f (HNode x b ls rs) = fmap (\ls' -> HNode x b ls' rs) (index @xs f ls)
instance xs <! Some (Inc ys) => Some (B1 :- xs) <! Some (B2 :- ys) where
  index f (HNode x b ls rs) = fmap (\ls' -> HNode x b ls' rs) (index @xs f ls)

instance xs <! ys => Some (B2 :- xs) <! Some (y :- ys) where
  index f (HNode x b ls rs) = fmap (\rs' -> HNode x b ls rs') (index @xs f rs)

instance TypeError (Text "Index out of range") => xs <! Nil where 
  index = error "unreachable"

ind :: forall n xs (t :: Tree xs Type) a. FromPeano (FromLit n) <! xs
    => Lens (HTree t) (HTree (Replace (FromPeano (FromLit n)) a t)) (Lookup (FromPeano (FromLit n)) t) a
ind = index @(FromPeano (FromLit n))
>>> over (ind @1) length example

As a Nested Datatype

The approach I’ve taken here is actually a little unusual: in both Hinze (1998) and Swierstra (2020) the tree is defined as a nested data type. Let’s take a look at that approach, while also switching to Agda.

𝔹 : Set
𝔹 = List Bool

pattern 1ᵇ = false
pattern 2ᵇ = true

data When (A : Set a) : Bool  Set a where
  O⟨⟩ : When A false
  I⟨_: A  When A true

infixl 4 _×2
record _×2 (A : Set a) : Set a where
  constructor _,_
    fst snd : A
open _×2

infixr 5_⟩+_+2×_
data Array (A : Set a) : 𝔹  Set a where
  O : Array A []
_⟩+_+2×_ :  {n ns}  A  When A n  Array (A ×2) ns  Array A (n ∷ ns)

The cons function here is really no more complex than the previous cons:

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

cons :  {ns}  A  Array A ns  Array A (inc ns)
cons x O = ⟨ x ⟩+ O⟨⟩ +2× O
cons x₁ (⟨ x₂ ⟩+ O⟨⟩ +2× xs) = ⟨ x₁ ⟩+ I⟨ x₂ ⟩ +2× xs
cons x₁ (⟨ x₂ ⟩+ I⟨ x₃ ⟩ +2× xs) = ⟨ x₁ ⟩+ O⟨⟩ +2× cons (x₂ , x₃) xs

But what I’m really interested in, again, is indexing. In particular, I’m interested in using an actual binary number to index into this structure, rather than the weird GADT we had to use in Haskell. One of the advantages of using full dependent types is that we can write functions like the following:

lookup :  is  Array A xs  is < xs  A
lookup = {!!}

In other words, we can pass the proof term separately. This can help performance a little, but mainly it’s nice to use the actual number type one intended to use along with all of the functions we might use on that term.

So let’s get writing! The first thing to define is the proof of <. I’m going to define it in terms of a boolean function on the bits themselves, i.e.:

_<ᴮ_ : 𝔹  𝔹  Bool
_<ᴮ_ = {!!}

T : Bool  Set
T true   =
T false  =

_<_ : 𝔹  𝔹  Set
x < y = T (x <ᴮ y)

This will mean the proofs themselves are easy to pass around without modification. In fact, we can go further and have the compiler definitionally understand that the proof of x < y is proof irrelevant, with Agda’s Prop.

record: Prop where constructor tt
data: Prop where

T : Bool  Prop
T true   =
T false  =

_<_ : 𝔹  𝔹  Prop
x < y = T (x <ᴮ y)

Next, the functions which compute the actual comparison.

_&_≲ᵇ_ : Bool  Bool  Bool  Bool
s & false ≲ᵇ y = s or  y
s & true  ≲ᵇ y = s and y

_&_≲ᴮ_ : Bool  𝔹  𝔹  Bool
s & []       ≲ᴮ []       = s
s & []       ≲ᴮ (y ∷ ys) = true
s & (x ∷ xs) ≲ᴮ []       = false
s & (x ∷ xs) ≲ᴮ (y ∷ ys) = (s & x ≲ᵇ y) & xs ≲ᴮ ys

_<ᴮ_ _≤ᴮ_ : 𝔹  𝔹  Bool
_<ᴮ_ = false &_≲ᴮ_
_≤ᴮ_ = true  &_≲ᴮ_

These functions combine the definitions of and <, and do them both at once. We pass whether the comparison is non-strict or not as the first parameter: this is worth doing since both < and can be defined in terms of each other:

(1ᵇ ∷ xs) < (2ᵇ ∷ ys) = xs ≤ ys
(2ᵇ ∷ xs)(1ᵇ ∷ ys) = xs < ys

Finally the function itself:

sel-bit :  {b}  When A b  A ×2  A
sel-bit {b = 1ᵇ} _ = snd
sel-bit {b = 2ᵇ} _ = fst

  index :  xs {ys}  Array A ys  xs < ys  A
  index []        (⟨ x ⟩+ _ +2× _ ) p = x
  index (1ᵇ ∷ is) (_ ⟩+ x +2× xs) p = index₂ is x xs p
  index (2ᵇ ∷ is) (_ ⟩+ x +2× xs) p = sel-bit x (index is xs p)

  index₂ :  xs {y ys}  When A y  Array (A ×2) ys  1ᵇ ∷ xs < y ∷ ys  A
  index₂ is       O⟨⟩    xs p = fst (index  is xs p)
  index₂ []       I⟨ x ⟩ xs p = x
  index₂ (i ∷ is) I⟨ _ ⟩ xs p = snd (index₃ i is xs p)

  index₃ :  x xs {ys}  Array A ys  x ∷ xs ≤ ys  A
  index₃ 2ᵇ is       (_ ⟩+ x +2× xs) p = index₂ is x xs p
  index₃ 1ᵇ []       (⟨ x ⟩+ _ +2× _ ) p = x
  index₃ 1ᵇ (i ∷ is) (_ ⟩+ x +2× xs) p = sel-bit x (index₃ i is xs p)


I think Braun trees are a fascinating data structure with lots of interesting aspects. In practice they tend to be much slower than other comparable structures, but they’re extremely simple and have many properties which make them particularly well-suited to type-level programming.


Hinze, Ralf. 1998. Numerical Representations as Higher-Order Nested Datatypes. Institut für Informatik III, Universität Bonn.

Martinez, Bruno, Marcos Viera, and Alberto Pardo. 2013. “Just Do It While Compiling!: Fast Extensible Records in Haskell.” In Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN 2013 Workshop on Partial Evaluation and Program Manipulation - PEPM ’13, 77. Rome, Italy: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/2426890.2426908.

Swierstra, Wouter. 2020. “Heterogeneous Binary Random-Access Lists.” Journal of Functional Programming 30: e10. doi:10.1017/S0956796820000064.