The basic linked list is a data structure that every aspiring computer programmer comes to know and love at some point early in their career. Haskell is no different here - the linked list is baked right into the language, including its own special syntax for construction and pattern matching. In fact, Haskell’s linked list could be seen as even more powerful than those in other languages as lazy evaluation allows us to construct lists of infinite length.
With all that said, lists are not the end all of data structures - often we have specific needs, such as O(1) retrieval, specific data access patterns to optimize for, or perhaps just more speed. The
containers library is one of the answers to this problem.
Containers is a library in the Haskell platform which provides implementations of maps, sets, sequences, graphs and trees. The current maintainer is Johan Tibbel - so you know its going to be fast! (Johan has blogged about performance a few times, and regularly talks on the topic)
So, how does the API look? After all - we spent all this time learning how to
map in our Haskell infancy, it would be a pain if this knowledge doesn’t carry forward. Luckily, it does. All the structures provided by
containers feature instances of various Haskell type classes, such as
Foldable. Of course, each structure offers something new to the table, so while there are a few more functions to be aware of the documentation is fantastic and easy to navigate.
As a quick example, lets assume we have a function that does some IO to give us a mapping from a
Person to a
Set of their favourite
Now, what if we want to find a
Set of all favourite colours? Presumably, we just take all the
Colours for all people and “smash” them together into a new set. Hmm, this “smashing” together sounds exactly like something a
fold, perhaps with a
Map k is an instance of
Set is an instance of
Monoid, we can simply
Map Person (Set Colour) down into a single
Set Colour; the
Monoid Set instance for combining multiple
Sets together is simply the union of them.
Finally, what if we wanted to print out each of these colours, one per line? Iteration with side effects sounds like something we could do with a function like
mapM_. Again, the trusty
Foldable type class can help us out, with
mapM_ :: (Foldable t, Monad m) => (a -> m b) -> t a -> m ():
Foldable - so this code is identical to the code to do this for a list! Talk about reusable knowledge.
As mentioned before,
containers is part of the Haskell platform and you most likely already have it installed. It takes very little effort to get started, and almost every application will find a need for these data structures at some point.
Go on, have a play!
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