Unifying Monoids and Monads with Polymorphic Kinds.

A monad is just a monoid in the category of endofunctors, what’s the problem? — James Iry.

Building on the work of sigfpe’s From Monoids to Monads and monoidal’s Kind polymorphism in action (which demonstrates kind polymorphism in the Ultrecht Haskell Compiler), we can unify Monoid and Monad under one type class in GHC 7.4.

So, the quote at the beginning is true, but with a few qualifications. As most beginning functional programmers know it, the monoid is a structure that has an identity element \(id\) and a binary operator \(\otimes\):

\(\begin{aligned} \text{class} &\textbf{Monoid}\ (m : \star) \text{ where}\\ & id: m\\ & \otimes: m \to m \to m \end{aligned}\)

For the monoid \(m\) to be valid, the \(id\) must be the identity with respect to the operator \(\otimes\), like \(0\) is to \(+\) on natural numbers, or \(1\) to \(\times\), etc; the binary operator must also be associative:

\(\begin{aligned} \forall x &: m.\ &x\otimes id &\equiv id\otimes x \equiv x\\ \forall a,b,c &: m.\ &(a\otimes b)\otimes c &\equiv a\otimes (b\otimes c) \end{aligned}\)

This kind of monoid does not bear the sort of abstraction required to unify it with Monad, which is rather different:

\(\begin{aligned} \text{class} &\textbf{Functor}\ m \Rightarrow \textbf{Monad}\ (m : \star\to\star) \text{ where}\\ & \eta: \forall\alpha:\star. (\textbf{Id}\ \alpha \to m\,\alpha) \\ & \mu: \forall\alpha:\star. (m\, (m\,\alpha) \to m\,\alpha) \end{aligned}\)

In fact, \(\eta\) is a natural transformation1 from the Identity functor to another functor \(m\); \(\mu\) is a natural transformation from \(m^2\) to \(m\) (that is, from \(m\) applied twice to \(m\) applied once).

A Difference of Kinds

You’ll note that our \(\textbf{Monad}\) and \(\textbf{Monoid}\) operate in totally different worlds: a difference of kinds. That is, an instance of the former is a type of values (\(m :\star\)), whereas an instance of the latter is an arrow from one type to another (a type constructor, \(m :\star\to\star\)). By analogy, then, the former’s functions should be natural transformations in the latter.

This makes fine sense, but the question of what to do with \(id\) remains: why does it have an input in \(\textbf{Monad}\), but not in \(\textbf{Monoid}\)? If we are going to understand these functions as arrows between objects in a category, then \(id\) must have an input. As a natural transformation in \(\textbf{Monad}\), its input is the identity functor; as a simple function in \(\textbf{Monoid}\), its input should be \(\varnothing\), nothing.

If we uncurry \(\otimes\), then its type becomes (\(m\times m\to m\)); this adjustment brings its type in line with that of \(\mu\). So, we can build the following (incomplete and flawed) generalization over an identity element \(id\) and a type-operator \(\times\):

\(\begin{align} \text{class} &\textbf{Monoid}\ (id: k)\ (\times : k\to k\to \star)\ (m : k)\ \text{ where}\\ & id: id \to m\\ & \otimes: m\times m \to m \end{align}\)

\(\begin{align} \text{instance} &\textbf{Num}\ \alpha \Rightarrow \textbf{Monoid}\ \varnothing\ (\Lambda x\,y. (x,y))\ \alpha\ \text{ where}\\ & id = const\ 0\\ & \otimes = uncurry\ (+) \end{align}\)

\(\begin{align} \text{instance} &\textbf{Monoid}\ \textbf{Id}\ (\Lambda f\,g\,\alpha. f\ (g\,\alpha))\ [\,]\ \text{ where}\\ & id\ (\textbf{Id}\ x) = [x]\\ & \otimes [xs] = xs \end{align}\)

But this doesn’t work, since the type of \(id\) for our second (monadic) instance reduces to \(Id\to []\), which doesn’t type-check: that is, the kind of \((\to)\) is \(\star\to\star\to\star\), but the kind of each of its operands in \(id\) is already (\(\star\to\star\)). What this means is that for monadic instances of \(\textbf{Monoid}\), we need an arrow type constructor of kind \((\star\to\star)\to(\star\to\star)\to\star\). So we need to abstract over kind of arrow constructor:

\(\begin{align} \text{class} &\textbf{Monoid}\ (\leadsto\;: k\to k\to\star)\ (id: k)\ (\times : k\to k\to \star)\ (m : k)\ \text{ where}\\ & id: id \leadsto m\\ & \otimes: m\times m \leadsto m \end{align}\)

A normal monoid deals with function arrows and pairs:

\(\begin{align} \text{instance} &\textbf{Num}\ \alpha \Rightarrow \textbf{Monoid}\ (\to)\ \varnothing\ (\Lambda x\,y. (x,y))\ \alpha\ \text{ where}\\ & id = const\ 0\\ & \otimes = uncurry\ (+) \end{align}\)

A monadic monoid deals with natural transformations and composed functors:

\(\begin{align} \text{instance} &\textbf{Monoid}\ (\Lambda f\,g\,\alpha. f\,\alpha\to g\,\alpha)\ \textbf{Id}\ (\Lambda f\,g\,\alpha. f\ (g\,\alpha))\ [\,]\ \text{ where}\\ & id\ (\textbf{Id}\ x) = [x]\\ & \otimes [xs] = xs \end{align}\)

The Haskell Version

We’ll need to turn on a bunch of GHC extensions.

> {-# LANGUAGE PolyKinds #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE MultiParamTypeClasses #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE FlexibleInstances, FlexibleContexts #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE UndecidableInstances #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE FunctionalDependencies #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE RankNTypes #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE TypeOperators #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE DeriveFunctor #-}
> {-# LANGUAGE UnicodeSyntax #-}
> module GeneralizedMonoid where
> import Control.Monad (Monad(..))
> import Data.Monoid (Monoid(..))

First we define the type class Monoidy:

> class Monoidy (~>) comp id m | m (~>)  comp id where
>   munit :: id ~> m
>   mjoin :: m `comp` m ~> m

We use functional dependencies to help the typechecker understand that m and ~> uniquely determine comp (\(times\)) and id.

This kind of type class would not have been possible in previous versions of GHC; with the new kind system, however, we can abstract over kinds!2 Now, let’s create types for the additive and multiplicative monoids over the natural numbers:

> newtype Sum a = Sum a deriving Show
> newtype Product a = Product a deriving Show
> instance Num a  Monoidy () (,) () (Sum a) where
>   munit _ = Sum 0
>   mjoin (Sum x, Sum y) = Sum $ x + y
> instance Num a  Monoidy () (,) () (Product a) where
>   munit _ = Product 1
>   mjoin (Product x, Product y) = Product $ x * y

It will be slightly more complicated to make a monadic instance with Monoidy. First, we need to define the identity functor, a type for natural transformations, and a type for functor composition:

> newtype Id α = Id { runId :: α } deriving Functor

A natural transformation (\(\Lambda f\,g\,\alpha. (f\,\alpha)\to(g\,\alpha)\)) may be encoded in Haskell as follows:

> newtype NT f g = NT { runNT ::  α. f α  g α }

Functor composition (\(\Lambda f\,g\,\alpha. f\ (g\,\alpha)\)) is encoded as follows:

> newtype FC f g α = FC { runFC :: f (g α) }

Now, let us define some type T which should be a monad:

> newtype Wrapper a = Wrapper { runWrapper :: a } deriving (Show, Functor)
> instance Monoidy NT FC Id Wrapper where
>   munit = NT $ Wrapper . runId
>   mjoin = NT $ runWrapper . runFC

With these defined, we can use them as follows:

ghci> mjoin (munit (), Sum 2)
      Sum 2
ghci> mjoin (Product 2, Product 3)
      Product 6
ghci> runNT mjoin $ FC $ Wrapper (Wrapper "hello, world")
      Wrapper {runWrapper = "hello, world" }

We can even provide a special binary operator for the appropriate monoids as follows:

> (<+>) :: Monoidy () (,) () m  m  m  m
> (<+>) = curry mjoin
ghci> Sum 1 <+> Sum 2 <+> Sum 4
      Sum 7

Now, all the extra wrapping that Haskell requires for encoding this is rather cumbersome in actual use. So, we can give traditional Monad and Monoid instances for instances of Monoidy:

> instance Monoidy () (,) () m  Monoid m where
>   mempty = munit ()
>   mappend = curry mjoin
> instance (Functor m, Monoidy NT FC Id m)  Monad m where
>   return x = runNT munit $ Id x
>   x >>= f = runNT mjoin $ FC (f `fmap` x)

And so the following works:

ghci> mappend mempty (Sum 2)
      Sum 2
ghci> mappend (Product 2) (Product 3)
      Product 6
ghci> join $ Wrapper $ Wrapper "hello"
      Wrapper {runWrapper = "hello" }
ghci> Wrapper "hello, world" >>= return
      Wrapper {runWrapper = "hello, world" }

If you got this far…

I hope you enjoyed that! I can’t express enough my thanks to the people who came before me and helped me indirectly to refine my ideas and understanding of the relationship between monads and monoids. Additionally, a shout-out to the GHC team for adding kind polymorphism!


  1. A natural transformation is an arrow from one functor to another.

  2. Caveat: you cannot use kind variables in annotations (like m :: k, as you can with type variables). Hopefully this will be fixed soon.

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I’m @jonsterling on Twitter and App.net.