SideEffects
Warning
Understand monads, donotation, and in particular the State
and Except
monads in advance will make the content of this page more transparent.
In imperative programming languages, it is straightforward to write code which performs "side effects", like:
 throwing an error
 reading from a file
 reading from an environment variable
 writing to a log
 mutating a local variable
 nondeterminism: multiple computation paths are taken
A standard way in Haskell to have these abilities in a pure functional setting is with the use of types like Maybe
, State
or Reader
. Because these have Monad
instances, one can write imperative style code like:
{# LANGUAGE OverloadedStrings #}
import Control.Monad.State
import Control.Monad.Reader
import Control.Monad.Except
import Data.Text (Text)
example :: State Bool ()
example = do
flag < get
put (not flag)
Transformers¶
Simple monads tend to only express one of the above effects, so a system for combining them is needed. One approach is to build more complex types modularly, like StateT Bool (Except Text)
and define the corresponding Monad
instances in a library.
This is what the transformers library does, thus called because StateT
, ExceptT
, ReaderT
and so on are known as monad transformers. Here are some of their definitions:
data StateT s m a = StateT {runStateT :: s > m (a, s)}
newtype ExceptT e m a = ExceptT {runExceptT :: m (Either e a)}
Note
StateT
(like ExceptT
) is parametrized by three types:
 the type of the state
s
 the type of the underlying monad
m
 the return type of the whole monad,
a
.
It has kind: * > (* > *) > * > *
.
For example, StateT Bool (Except Text) Int
is equivalent to:
so represents an Int
value or failure that results from a boolean state (which could change).
Note
Meanwhile, ExceptT Text (State Bool) Int
is equivalent to:
which is similar, except that the new state is obtained whether or not there is a failure.
However, these types (sometimes referred to as monad transformer stacks) tend to be cumbersome to work with, and involve the ungainly use of a lift
function to coerce types into the right shapes.
Abstracting the typeclasses¶
mtl
^{1} is a widely used library designed to make the experience smoother, which supplies typeclasses that work in conjunction with transformers
. Here is an example with error throwing and local variable updating:
The type of example
is abstracted over the concrete monad transformer stack, which could either be ExceptT Text (State Bool)
or StateT Bool (Except Text)
.
Depending on how example
is called, either of these can end up being the concrete type that is inferred and used:
errorOverState :: Bool > IO ()
errorOverState flagVal =
let (result, state) = flip runState flagVal $ runExceptT example2
in do
putStrLn ("Result: " <> show result)
putStrLn ("State: " <> show state)
main :: IO ()
main = do
errorOverState True
errorOverState False
results in:
Note
Except
is a type synonym for ExceptT Identity
, where Identity
is the monad which does nothing whatsoever.
Gotcha
Alternatives to mtl
have become popular in recent years, such as Polysemy and cleff. These are often experimental, or require slightly more advanced use of types (e.g. type level lists) and so are recommended for experienced Haskellers only.

Short for: monad transformer library ↩
Created: January 12, 2023