Static Smart Constructors with Double Splices

I plan on using this technique in at least one library, and so thought it would be worth giving a name and a page dedicated to it, so it can be linked to, instead of explained all over again.


Sometimes you’re making a DSL and you need a way to make a smart constructor that is static. You want to validate a value at compile-time (possibly because the validation logic is harder to do in the type-system or not ergonomic enough), and also return the run-time value, without having to lift the whole structure from TH-land to real-land. Perhaps your data type is a funky GADT with functions in it, and therefore has no Lift instance anyway!

One pattern to achieve the desired result is using a double splice.

Here’s a really trivial example with strings:

> :t $$($$(notNull [|| thename ||]))
$$($$(notNull [|| thename ||])) :: NonEmptyString
> $$($$(notNull [|| thename ||]))
"Hello!"

> :t $$($$(notNull [|| thename_empty ||]))

<interactive>:1:4: error:
Exception when trying to run compile-time code:
        String is not empty.

Note that the notNull validator is well-typed (which is commonly lacking in Template-Haskell, but here works well):

> :t notNull
notNull :: Q (TExp String) -> Q (TExp (Q (TExp NonEmptyString)))

The above uses typed splices $$( ... ) and typed quotes [|| ... ||]. However, you can implement the same technique with regular $(..) and [| .. |] if typed splices are too long for you.1

Here is the implementation:

{-# LANGUAGE TemplateHaskell #-}
import Language.Haskell.TH
import Language.Haskell.TH.Instances ()
import Language.Haskell.TH.Syntax
import Language.Haskell.TH.Lift ()

-- Here is a simple validator.

valueFine :: String -> Bool
valueFine = not . null

-- The static smart constructor with the nested expressions returned.

notNull :: Q (TExp String) -> Q (TExp (Q (TExp NonEmptyString)))
notNull q = do
  TExp expr <- q
  let name = 'NonEmptyString
  [|| if valueFine $$(q)
      then TExp <$> (appE (conE name) (pure expr))
      else error "String is not empty." ||]

-- A smart constructor.

data NonEmptyString = NonEmptyString String
 deriving (Show)

-- Some example values.

thename :: [Char]
thename = "Hello!"

thename_empty :: [Char]
thename_empty = ""

Thanks to Michael Sloan for the idea to have an expression return another expression.


  1. In my case, the length doesn’t matter too much, just the correctness properties, because it’ll be used once or twice per codebase to validate a much larger DSL AST.