Ghosts of Departed Proofs (Functional Pearl)
Library authors often are faced with a design choice: should a function with
preconditions be implemented as a partial function, or by returning a failure
condition on incorrect use? Neither option is ideal. Partial functions lead
to frustrating run-time errors. Failure conditions must be checked
at the use-site,
placing an unfair tax on the users who have ensured that the function's
preconditions were correctly met.
In this paper, we introduce an API design concept called ``ghosts of departed
proofs'' based on the following observation: sophisticated preconditions can be
encoded in Haskell's type system with no run-time overhead, by using proofs
that inhabit phantom type parameters attached to newtype wrappers.
The user expresses correctness arguments by constructing proofs to inhabit
these phantom types.
Critically, this technique allows the
library user to decide when and how to validate that the API's preconditions
The ``ghosts of departed proofs'' approach to API design can achieve many of the benefits
of dependent types and refinement types, yet only requires some minor and well-understood
extensions to Haskell 2010. We demonstrate the utility of this approach
through a series of case studies, showing how to enforce novel invariants for lists,
maps, graphs, shared memory regions, and more.