# Haskell/Type basics II

In this chapter, we will show how numerical types are handled in Haskell and introduce some important features of the type system. Before diving into the text, though, pause for a moment and consider the following question: what should be the type of the function `(+)`

?^{[1]}

## The `Num`

class[edit]

Standard mathematics puts few restrictions on which kind of numbers we can add together. (two natural numbers), (a negative integer and a rational number), (a rational and an irrational)... all of these are valid – indeed, any two real numbers can be added together. In order to capture such generality in the simplest way possible we need a general `Number`

type in Haskell, so that the signature of `(+)`

would be simply

```
(+) :: Number -> Number -> Number
```

However, that design fits poorly with the way computers perform arithmetic. While computers can handle integer numbers in programs as straightforward sequences of binary digits in memory, that approach does not work for non-integer real numbers,^{[2]} thus making it necessary for a more involved encoding to support them: floating point numbers. While floating point provides a reasonable way to deal with real numbers in general, it has some inconveniences (most notably, loss of precision) which make using the simpler encoding worthwhile for integer values. So, we have at least two different ways of storing numbers: one for integers and another for general real numbers. Each approach should correspond to different Haskell types. Furthermore, computers are only able to perform operations like `(+)`

on a pair of numbers if they are in the same format.

So much for having a universal `Number`

type – it seems that we can't even have `(+)`

mix integers and floating-point numbers. However, Haskell *can* at least use the same `(+)`

function with either integers or floating point numbers. Check this yourself in GHCi:

Prelude>3 + 4 7 Prelude>4.34 + 3.12 7.46

When discussing lists and tuples, we saw that functions can accept arguments of different types if they are made *polymorphic*. In that spirit, here's a possible type signature for `(+)`

that would account for the facts above:

```
(+) :: a -> a -> a
```

With that type signature, `(+)`

would take two arguments of the same type `a`

(which could be integers or floating-point numbers) and evaluate to a result of type `a`

(as long as both arguments are the same type). But this type signature indicates *any* type at all, and we know that we can't use `(+)`

with two `Bool`

values, or two `Char`

values. What would adding two letters or two truth-values mean? So, the *actual* type signature of `(+)`

uses a language feature that allows us to express the semantic restriction that `a`

can be any type *as long as it is a number type*:

```
(+) :: (Num a) => a -> a -> a
```

`Num`

is a **typeclass** — a group of types which includes all types which are regarded as numbers.^{[3]} The `(Num a) =>`

part of the signature restricts `a`

to number types – or, in Haskell terminology, *instances* of `Num`

.

## Numeric types[edit]

So, which are the *actual* number types (that is, the instances of `Num`

that the `a`

in the signature may stand for)? The most important numeric types are `Int`

, `Integer`

and `Double`

:

`Int`

corresponds to the plain integer type found in most languages. It has fixed maximum and minimum values that depend on a computer's processor. (In 32-bit machines the range goes from -2147483648 to 2147483647).

`Integer`

also is used for integer numbers, but it supports arbitrarily large values – at the cost of some efficiency.

`Double`

is the double-precision floating point type, a good choice for real numbers in the vast majority of cases. (Haskell also has`Float`

, the single-precision counterpart of`Double`

, which is usually less attractive due to further loss of precision.)

Several other number types are available, but these cover most in everyday tasks.

### Polymorphic guesswork[edit]

If you've read carefully this far, you know that we don't need to specify types always because the compiler can *infer* types. You also know that we cannot mix types when functions require matched types. Combine this with our new understanding of numbers to understand how Haskell handles basic arithmetic like this:

Prelude> (-7) + 5.12 -1.88

This may seem to add two numbers of different types – an integer and a non-integer. Let's see what the types of the numbers we entered actually are:

Prelude> :t (-7) (-7) :: (Num a) => a

So, `(-7)`

is neither `Int`

nor `Integer`

! Rather, it is a *polymorphic constant*, which can "morph" into any number type. Now, let's look at the other number:

Prelude> :t 5.12 5.12 :: (Fractional t) => t

`5.12`

is also a polymorphic constant, but one of the `Fractional`

class, which is a subset of `Num`

(every `Fractional`

is a `Num`

, but not every `Num`

is a `Fractional`

; for instance, `Int`

s and `Integer`

s are not `Fractional`

).

When a Haskell program evaluates `(-7) + 5.12`

, it must settle for an actual matching type for the numbers. The type inference accounts for the class specifications: `(-7)`

can be any `Num`

, but there are extra restrictions for `5.12`

, so that's the limiting factor. With no other restrictions, `5.12`

will assume the default `Fractional`

type of `Double`

, so `(-7)`

will become a `Double`

as well. Addition then proceeds normally and returns a `Double`

*. ^{[4]}*

The following test will give you a better feel of this process. In a source file, define

```
x = 2
```

Then load the file in GHCi and check the type of `x`

. Then, change the file to add a `y`

variable,

```
x = 2
y = x + 3
```

reload it and check the types of `x`

and `y`

. Finally, modify `y`

to

```
x = 2
y = x + 3.1
```

and see what happens with the types of both variables.

### Monomorphic trouble[edit]

The sophistication of the numerical types and classes occasionally leads to some complications. Consider, for instance, the common division operator `(/)`

. It has the following type signature:

```
(/) :: (Fractional a) => a -> a -> a
```

Restricting `a`

to fractional types is a must because the division of two integer numbers will often result in a non-integer. Nevertheless, we can still write something like

Prelude> 4 / 3 1.3333333333333333

because the literals `4`

and `3`

are polymorphic constants and therefore assume the type `Double`

at the behest of `(/)`

. Suppose, however, we want to divide a number by the length of a list.^{[5]} The obvious thing to do would be using the `length`

function:

Prelude> 4 / length [1,2,3]

Unfortunately, that blows up:

<interactive>:1:0: No instance for (Fractional Int) arising from a use of `/' at <interactive>:1:0-17 Possible fix: add an instance declaration for (Fractional Int) In the expression: 4 / length [1, 2, 3] In the definition of `it': it = 4 / length [1, 2, 3]

As usual, the problem can be understood by looking at the type signature of `length`

:

```
length :: [a] -> Int
```

The result of `length`

is an `Int`

, not a polymorphic constant. As an `Int`

is not a `Fractional`

, Haskell won't let us use it with `(/)`

.

To escape this problem, we have a special function. Before following on with the text, try to guess what this does only from the name and signature:

```
fromIntegral :: (Integral a, Num b) => a -> b
```

`fromIntegral`

takes an argument of some `Integral`

type (like `Int`

or `Integer`

) and makes it a polymorphic constant. By combining it with `length`

, we can make the length of the list fit into the signature of `(/)`

:

Prelude> 4 / fromIntegral (length [1,2,3]) 1.3333333333333333

In some ways, this issue is annoying and tedious, but it is an inevitable side-effect of having a rigorous approach to manipulating numbers. In Haskell, if you define a function with an `Int`

argument, it will never be converted to an `Integer`

or `Double`

, unless you explicitly use a function like `fromIntegral`

. As a direct consequence of its refined type system, Haskell has a surprising diversity of classes and functions dealing with numbers.

## Classes beyond numbers[edit]

Haskell has typeclasses beyond arithmetic. For example, the type signature of `(==)`

is:

```
(==) :: (Eq a) => a -> a -> Bool
```

Like `(+)`

or `(/)`

, `(==)`

is a polymorphic function. It compares two values of the same type, which must belong to the class `Eq`

and returns a `Bool`

. `Eq`

is simply the class for types of values which can be compared for equality, and it includes all of the basic non-functional types.^{[6]}

Typeclasses add a lot to the power of the type system. We will return to this topic later to see how to use them in custom ways.

## Notes

- ↑ If you followed our recommendations in "Type basics", chances are you have already seen the rather exotic answer by testing with
`:t`... if that is the case, consider the following analysis as a path to understanding the meaning of that signature. - ↑ Among other issues, between any two real numbers there are infinitely many real numbers – and that fact can't be directly mapped into a representation in memory no matter what we do.
- ↑ This is a loose definition, but will suffice until we discuss typeclasses in more detail.
- ↑ For seasoned programmers:
*This appears to have the same effect that programs in C (and many other languages) manage with an*implicit cast*(where an integer literal is silently converted to a double). In C, however, the conversion is done behind your back, while in Haskell it only occurs if the variable/literal is a polymorphic constant. This distinction will become clearer shortly, when we show a counter-example.* - ↑ A reasonable scenario – think of computing an average of the values in a list.
- ↑ Comparing two functions for equality is considered intractable