pipes-like conduit

March 26, 2012

GravatarBy Michael Snoyman

Note: the post below was written from a train and a bus, without internet access. Keep that in mind. Since I got home, I've uploaded the relevant Haddocks for conduit 0.4.0.

I don't think people will accuse me of being shy with my opinions. I've been pretty outspoken that- while pipes certainly seems very elegant- I'm concerned that it hasn't been designed from the ground up to deal with the same issues that conduit has always been targeted at. As a quick review:

  • Resource handling. There's a claim that resource management is completely orthogonal to pipes, and can be achieved by using ResourceT. I disagree: while this may ensure that resources are eventually released, there's no guarantee that resources will be freed as early as possible.
  • Nonstandard control flow is not supported. This is a huge pain point we had with enumerator: you have to make sure that the entirety of your code lives in the Iteratee monad to have access to the data stream. conduit introduced the concept of BufferedSource, which allowed us to greatly simplify many packages (WAI, http-conduit, persistent...).
  • I could be wrong here, but I don't think pipes has any support for lazy I/O. This isn't really a big deal, but it is a nice feature in conduit that I'd like to keep. (I'm referring to the Data.Conduit.Lazy module, which has the lazyConsume function.)

Many of you probably saw a blog post a few days ago (sorry, I'm writing offline, no links) analyzing the types in the conduit 0.3 release, and pointing out that it would be possible to unify all three main datatypes (Source, Sink, and Conduit) into a single type.

What followed was a very thorough discussion/debate on Reddit. My side of the discussion basically came down to:

  • As seemingly obvious as this translation may appear, I won't believe it works properly until I see the code. I'm stubborn like that.
  • The blog post completely ignored BufferedSource, which is central to conduit.
  • Even if everything went perfectly for the first two points, we can't simply declare it more elegant because we did away with two types. Elegance is far too subjective, and particularly when comparing a concrete implementation to an abstract recommendation, it's a meaningless concept.

In other words: this idea seems interesting, but it's far too early to claim victory. It needs more research. (I was a bit disappointed that this sentiment seemed ungrounded to others on Reddit, but I digress.)

As it turned out, I was sitting on trains and busses for about 6 hours today, and was sufficiently curious about this question to spend some time researching. I implemented Twan's type (with one minor tweak, if I remember correctly, to get the Monad instance to work) and got to work. Here are my findings:

  • It is certainly possible to reimplement conduit using this modified type, and the resource semantics all seem to work correctly (i.e., all tests pass).
  • There is the possibility for a unified connect/fuse function that composes Pipes together. All of the original connect/fuse operators (excluding BufferedSource) can be implemented on top of that.
  • For the most part, implementation is greatly simplified by this approach. The only exceptions I noticed were the need to call absurd for the HaveOutput constructor of Sinks, and the need to deal with a meaningless NeedInput constructor for Source.


OK... but what about BufferedSource? It's actually possible to leave it in the package precisely as it appears in conduit 0.3. However, while working on this, I came up with a different approach with I'm actually quite taken with. To start, let's review the problem.

Imagine you're writing a webserver. You want it to work something like:

let src = sourceSocket socket
headers <- src $$ getHeaders
let req = makeRequest headers src
app req

What's the problem? The makeRequest function needs to provide a way for the application to read the request body. However, on line 2, when we connected the source to getHeaders, some of the request body may have been included in the data chunk read for the headers. As written, our code will discard that data, and our application will not get a valid request body! Instead, with BufferedSource, we would write:

bsrc <- bufferSource $ sourceSocket socket
headers <- bsrc $$ getHeaders
let req = makeRequest headers bsrc
app req

A BufferedSource is able to keep track of its state, and keep track of any leftover chunks from previous calls. This means that our previously discarded bytes will be kept in a mutable variable inside bsrc, and provided for makeRequest.

Instead, I'd like to introduce a new approach:

let src1 = sourceSocket socket
(src2, headers) <- src $$& getHeaders
let req = makeRequest headers src2
app req

The difference is $$&, what I call the connect-and-resume operator (names open for bikeshedding). The idea is to connect the source to the sink until the sink terminates, then capture the final state of the source, combine it with any leftovers provided by the sink, and return it, together with the return value of the sink.

I haven't yet tested this in Warp and http-conduit, but I'm fairly optimistic that it can completely supplant BufferedSource in both.

Elegance is in the eye of the beholder

So we're done, right? We got rid of two extra datatypes, plus got rid of BufferedSource, and everything works. Time to release and go home.

Not quite. I still have one concern: is this actually a better solution? Do people look at this new single type and say, "Hey, it's just a single type, I can understand that!" or get confused as to why we need to use Void in a Sink. Or how about the fact that Source and Conduit are now both Monads, but they contain the result type instead of the output type?

In other words, I want input. I think I prefer the new formulation, though I think having separate types has distinct advantages. One possibility that came up today with Yitz Gale was using newtype wrappers for Source, Sink, and Conduit. This would let us define only meaningful instances for all three, and make sure that error messages stay simple. But will it result in too much wrapping and unwrapping?

Thank you

I think I gave off the wrong impression in the discussion on Reddit. Some people believed I wasn't interested in hearing their opinions. I hope this post shows that this was not the case: I value input very much, and clearly what you were saying has a lot of merit. So thank you.

Don't be surprised or offended when I respond to ideas with skepticism. I believe that the issues at play here are more complicated than most people appreciate. When I see an idea that has not yet been fully fleshed out, my initial reaction is to challenge it, to see if it stands up to the test.


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