Writing Interpreters

So far we have discussed how to consume existing interpreters, this section is meant to serve as a guide as to how to write your own interpreter.

This is not necessary (or recommended) for day-to-day usage of Uniform but it opens up lots of possibilities should you have somewhat unusual requirements.

Unnatural Transformations

Uniform journeys are essentially tagless final programs with one important twist - the methods accept type parameters. As such we can call ask[Int] rather than needing askInt, askString, etc for every possible datatype we might want to consume.

If we did have hundreds of askN methods one for every possible datatype our interpreters would need to provide an implementation of every datatype we wanted, we would need to update the uniform language itself if we wanted to add a new type and therefore every interpreter (if all other users wanted to use your new datatype or not).

Using ask[T]: UF[T] presents its own problems however - when using tagless final we transform our UF[T] into our desired datatype, WebMonad[T] perhaps. UF ⇝ WebMonad is therefore the natural transformation that is being applied.

But natural transformations are total - for every possible A we must be able to convert UF[A] into WebMonad[A]. Therefore the only methods we would be able to invoke for A are ones that belong to Any such as toString.

Ordinarily we would add a typeclass to represent the support for a given datatype, for example ask[A: WebMonadSupport] but then our typeclasses are bound to the journey itself at compile time rather than being specific to a given interpreter.

We need something that is not quite a natural transformation. Our journey should be able to refer to any datatype it needs but the typeclass instance should be owned and retrieved by the interpreter.

The journey must declare the types it uses, and the interpreter must provide support for each datatype in the journey it interprets by way of a typeclass. The journey must know nothing of the typeclasses used by any given interpreter.

I found this to be a surprisingly difficult problem to solve, and several techniques were explored in different versions of uniform.

The three approaches I found were to use the Eff monad (which is effective but makes the syntax much more convoluted), using runtime reflection (which prevents ScalaJS from working correctly) and the current approach - using hetrogenous lists of typeclass instances together with custom macros to inhibit type erasure.

Using the latest approach we do need a typeclass on the ask method itself - simplified our language looks like this -

import shapeless.HList
import scala.language.higherKinds

trait Language[UF[_], SupportedAsk <: HList]{

  def ask[A](id: String)(
    implicit selectorAsk : IndexOf[SupportedAsk, A]
  ): UF[A]


The SupportedAsk type is a plain shapeless HList of supported types. The interpreter will map this into a HList of typeclass instances - one TC for every element of SupportedAsk.

The IndexOf allows the interpreter to find the index of the type A in SupportedAsk, this index is then used to find TC[A] in the mapped hetrogenous list.

Suppose we want an interpreter that returns dummy values - for any ask[A] it should return a canned value of type A.

We would create a typeclass like the following -

trait Example[A] { def value: A }

And we would now give some instances -

implicit val intExample = new Example[Int] { def value: Int = 12 }
implicit val stringExample = new Example[String] { def value: String = "test" }

We can now create an interpreter. First we must decide what higher kinded type our interpreter works with. To keep things simple we’re just going to use the Id monad here.

import ltbs.uniform._

import cats.implicits._
import cats.{Id, Monad}
import shapeless.{Id => _, _}
import scala.language.higherKinds

class ExampleValuesInterpreter[SupportedTell <: HList, SupportedAsk <: HList](
  implicit askSummoner: TypeclassList[SupportedAsk, Example]
) extends Language[Id, SupportedTell, SupportedAsk] {

  def interact[Tell, Ask](
    id: String,
    tell: Tell,
    default: Option[Ask] = None,
    validation: List[List[Rule[Ask]]] = Nil,
    customContent: Map[String,(String,List[Any])] = Map.empty
    implicit selectorTell : IndexOf[SupportedTell, Tell],
      selectorAsk : IndexOf[SupportedAsk, Ask]
  ): Id[Ask] = askSummoner.forType[Ask].value

Because ask and tell are actually just invoking interact we only need to define that method.

TypeclassList is a special construct in uniform, for any HList it will give you a mapped HList of its implicit typeclass instances. For example if we use Int and String -

scala> val summoner = TypeclassList[Int :: String :: HNil, Example]
summoner: ltbs.uniform.TypeclassList[Int :: String :: shapeless.HNil,Example] = ltbs.uniform.TypeclassList$$anon$2@123b23d4

scala> summoner.forType[Int].value
res0: Int = 12

scala> summoner.forType[String].value
res1: String = test

We can now create a simple program and test our new interpreter -

type TellTypes = NilTypes
type AskTypes = Int :: String :: HNil

def program[F[_]: Monad](
  interpreter: Language[F, TellTypes, AskTypes]
): F[(String, Int)] = {
  import interpreter._
  for {
    a <- ask[String]("astring")
    b <- ask[Int]("anint")
  } yield ((a, b + 1))
scala> program(
     |   new ExampleValuesInterpreter[TellTypes, AskTypes]
     | )
res2: cats.Id[(String, Int)] = (test,13)