Step-wise evaluation of simple Haskell code to hpaste (via Stepeval)

By Chris Done

I recently discovered stepeval, a program (and now library since I patched it) written by Ben Millwood for evaluating simple Haskell expressions step-wise, from a simple Prelude1. In my fork, I merely add a Library interface and rename the hierarchy to Language.Haskell.Stepeval. See the example web service of stepeval here. For example, try tail (map (const 'z') "ab").

I thought this library was a really neat idea. Especially given that I’d recently read in The Risks and Benefits of Teaching Purely Functional Programming in First Year, the claim that being able to evaluate Haskell code stepwise is a useful teaching tool following nicely into equational reasoning, correctness proof and derivation.2

I added it to hpaste, here is an example. I added an “about” page to explain what library I’m using and display the current Prelude. Any Haskell paste will display a “Steps” link at the top right, which allows one to run an expression given the source paste. Another nice example a la SICP order of growth demonstration is ackermann.

  1. The README of the stepeval Github project explains: “stepeval is a tool that can operate as a command-line utility or CGI script. In either case, it is given a Haskell expression in string form, applies a single evaluation operation (e.g. pattern matching, lambda application), and prints the result, while also feeding it back into its evaluation mechanism until the expression cannot be evaluated any further, or in the case of the CGI script a time limit has expired.”

  2. Manuel M. T. Chakravarty and Gabriele Keller write, p4: “As already mentioned, the clean semantics of functional languages leads to a good integration of the teaching of programming techniques with computing concepts and theory. For example, we encourage students from the start to get a feeling for what a program does by way of stepwise evaluation of expressions on a piece of paper. This neatly provides a starting point for the introduction of equational reasoning by performing stepwise evaluation on expressions that are not closed, which brings us to correctness proofs and program derivation. In our opinion, this is signicantly [sic] easier to motivate and implement than the calculus of weakest preconditions or the Hoare calculus that would be the corresponding theory for imperative languages.”