A Queue for Effectful Breadth-First Traversals

Posted on November 23, 2020
Part 10 of a 10-part series on Breadth-First Traversals
Tags: Haskell

We pick up the story again at the question of a breadth-first (Applicative) traversal of a rose tree (Gibbons 2015). In the last post, I finally came up with an implementation I was happy with:

data Tree a = a :& [Tree a]

bft :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> Tree a -> f (Tree b)
bft f (x :& xs) = liftA2 (:&) (f x) (bftF f xs)

bftF :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> [Tree a] -> f [Tree b]
bftF t = fmap head . foldr (<*>) (pure []) . foldr f [pure ([]:)]
    f (x :& xs) (q : qs) = liftA2 c (t x) q : foldr f (p qs) xs
    p []     = [pure ([]:)]
    p (x:xs) = fmap (([]:).) x : xs

    c x k (xs : ks) = ((x :& xs) : y) : ys
      where (y : ys) = k ks

It has the correct semantics and asymptotics.

tree =
    1 :&
      [ 2 :&
          [ 5 :&
              [ 9  :& []
              , 10 :& []]
          , 6 :& []]
      , 3 :& []
      , 4 :&
          [ 7 :&
              [ 11 :& []
              , 12 :& []]
          , 8 :& []]]
>>> bft print tree
() :&
   [ () :&
        [ () :&
             [ () :& []
             , () :& []]
        , () :& []]
   , () :&   []
   , () :&
        [ () :&
             [ () :& []
             , () :& []]
        , () :& []]]

But it’s quite difficult to understand, and doesn’t lend much insight into what’s going on with the whole “breadth-first” notion. The technique the function uses also isn’t reusable.

A much nicer function uses the Phases Applicative (Easterly 2019):

bft :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> Tree a -> f (Tree b)
bft f = runPhases . go
    go (x :& xs) = liftA2 (:&) (Lift (f x)) (later (traverse go xs))

But this function is quadratic.

So the task for this post today is to derive a type like the Phases type with a later operation, but which has the appropriate performance characteristics. At the end I’ll look into what the theoretical properties of this type are.

A Free Applicative

At its core, the Phases type is basically a free Applicative (Capriotti and Kaposi 2014). I’ll reimplement it here as a slightly different free Applicative (one that’s based on liftA2 rather than <*>):

data Free f a where
  Pure :: a -> Free f a
  Lift :: (a -> b -> c) -> f a -> Free f b -> Free f c
lower :: Applicative f => Free f a -> f a
lower (Pure x) = pure x
lower (Lift f x xs) = liftA2 f x (lower xs)

The key with the Phases type is to observe that there’s actually two possible implementations of Applicative for the Free type above: one which makes it the “correct” free applicative:

instance Applicative (Free f) where
  pure = Pure

  liftA2 c (Pure x) ys = fmap (c x) ys
  liftA2 c (Lift f x xs) ys = Lift (\x (y,z) -> c (f x y) z) x (liftA2 (,) xs ys)

And then one which zips effects together:

instance Applicative f => Applicative (Free f) where
  pure = Pure
  liftA2 c (Pure x) ys = fmap (c x) ys
  liftA2 c xs (Pure y) = fmap (flip c y) xs
  liftA2 c (Lift f x xs) (Lift g y ys) = 
      (\(x,y) (xs,ys) -> c (f x xs) (g y ys)) 
      (liftA2 (,) x y) 
      (liftA2 (,) xs ys)

This second instance makes the Free type into not a free Applicative at all: instead it’s some kind of Applicative transformer which we can use to reorder effects. Since effects are combined only when they’re at the same point in the list, we can use it to do our breadth-first traversal.

As an aside, from this perspective it’s clear that this is some kind of FunList (van Laarhoven 2009): this opens up a lot of interesting curiosities about the type, since that type in particular is quite well-studied.

Anyway, we’re able to do the later operation quite simply:

later :: Free f a -> Free f a
later = Lift (const id) (pure ())

Making it Efficient

The problem at the moment is that the Applicative instance has an 𝒪(n)\mathcal{O}(n) liftA2 implementation: this translates into an 𝒪(n2)\mathcal{O}(n^2) traversal overall.

If we were working in a more simple context of just enumerating the contents of the tree, we might at this point look to something like difference lists: these use the cayley transform on the list monoid to turn the append operation from 𝒪(n)\mathcal{O}(n) to 𝒪(n2)\mathcal{O}(n^2). It turns out that there is a similar cayley transformation for Applicative functors (Rivas and Jaskelioff 2014; Rivas, Jaskelioff, and Schrijvers 2015):

newtype Day f a = Day { runDay ::  b. f b -> f (a, b) }

instance Functor f => Functor (Day f) where
  fmap f xs = Day (fmap (first f) . runDay xs)
instance Functor f => Applicative (Day f) where
  pure x = Day (fmap ((,) x))
  liftA2 c xs ys =
    Day (fmap (\(x,(y,z)) -> (c x y, z)) . runDay xs . runDay ys)

And with this type we can implement our queue of applicative effects:

type Queue f = Day (Free f)

runQueue :: Applicative f => Queue f a -> f a
runQueue = fmap fst . lower . flip runDay (Pure ())

now :: Applicative f => f a -> Queue f a
now xs = Day \case
  Pure x      -> Lift (,) xs (Pure x)
  Lift f y ys -> Lift (\(x,y) z -> (x, f y z)) (liftA2 (,) xs y) ys

later :: Applicative f => Queue f a -> Queue f a
later xs = Day \case
  Pure x      -> Lift (const id) (pure ()) (runDay xs (Pure x))
  Lift f y ys -> Lift (\x (y,z) -> (y, f x z)) y (runDay xs ys)

As expected, this gives us the clean implementation of a breadth-first traversal with the right asymptotics (I think):

bft :: Applicative f => (a -> f b) -> Tree a -> f (Tree b)
bft f = runQueue . go
    go (x :& xs) = liftA2 (:&) (now (f x)) (later (traverse go xs))

(it’s worth pointing out that we haven’t actually used the applicative instance on the free applicative at any point: we have inlined all of the “zipping” to make it absolutely clear that everything has stayed linear).

So what’s the Theory?

I have yet to really dive deep on any of the theory involved in this type, I just quickly wrote up this post when I realised I was able to use the cayley transform from the mentioned papers to implement the proper breadth-first traversal. It certainly seems worth looking at more!


Capriotti, Paolo, and Ambrus Kaposi. 2014. “Free Applicative Functors.” Electronic Proceedings in Theoretical Computer Science 153 (June): 2–30. doi:10.4204/EPTCS.153.2. http://www.paolocapriotti.com/assets/applicative.pdf.

Easterly, Noah. 2019. “Functions and Newtype Wrappers for Traversing Trees: Rampion/Tree-Traversals.” https://github.com/rampion/tree-traversals.

Gibbons, Jeremy. 2015. “Breadth-First Traversal.” Patterns in Functional Programming. https://patternsinfp.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/breadth-first-traversal/.

Rivas, Exequiel, and Mauro Jaskelioff. 2014. “Notions of Computation as Monoids.” arXiv:1406.4823 [cs, math] (May). http://arxiv.org/abs/1406.4823.

Rivas, Exequiel, Mauro Jaskelioff, and Tom Schrijvers. 2015. “From Monoids to Near-Semirings: The Essence of MonadPlus and Alternative.” In Proceedings of the 17th International Symposium on Principles and Practice of Declarative Programming, 196–207. ACM. doi:10.1145/2790449.2790514. http://www.fceia.unr.edu.ar/~mauro/pubs/FromMonoidstoNearsemirings.pdf.

van Laarhoven, Twan. 2009. “A Non-Regular Data Type Challenge.” Twan van Laarhoven’s Blog. https://twanvl.nl/blog/haskell/non-regular1.