Drawbacks of MTL

The following lists some of the issues one will face when using MTL.


  • Some of the below flaws may be specific only to Haskell and not Purescript.
  • In the below sources, any mention of Haskell's IORef is equivalent to Purescript's Ref: a global mutable variable.

MonadState Allows Only One State Manipulation Type

First, due to the functional dependency from m to s in MonadState's definition, it's impossible to do two different state manipulations within the same function. For example...

f :: forall m ouput.
  => MonadState Int m
  => MonadState String m
  -> m output
f = do
  whichValue <- get

The compiler will complain because it doesn't know which value it should 'get'. See the answer to Haskell -- Chaining two states using StateT monad transformer

One solution to this is to store all states in one larger state type and then use a Lens to access/change it:

type IntAndString = { i :: Int, s :: String }
f :: forall m output.
  => MonadState IntAndString m
  -> m output

The second solution is to use type-level programming to specify which MonadState we are referring to via an id Symbol. This would force us to change MonadState's definition to:

class (Monad m) <= MonadState (id :: Symbol) state m | m -> state
  state :: forall a. Proxy id -> (s -> m (Tuple a s)) -> m a

_i :: Proxy "i"
_i = Proxy

_s :: Proxy "s"
_s = Proxy

f :: forall m ouput.
  => MonadState "i" Int m
  => MonadState "s" String m
  -> m output
f = do
  theInt <- get _i
  theString <- get _s

However, I'm not sure what are the pros/cons of this approach, but this is similar to how Run (explained in the Free folder) enables two different state manipulations.

MonadState & MonadWriter lose their state on a runtime error

If a runtime error occurs in a computation that uses MonadState or MonadWriter, then the states in both MonadState and MonadWriter are lost (because the computation halts).

WriterT & RWST has a "space leak" problem

This is largely due to WriterT's usage of Monoid. The 'fix' is to drop some of its features and use a StateT instead. See Writer Monads and Space Leaks - Infinite Negative Utility

Since RWST also encodes things via WriterT, it also suffers from this problem.

N-squared-ish Monad Transformer Instances

Whenever one wants to define a new monad transformer (e.g. MonadAuthenticate) to encode some effect, one must define ~n^2 instances:

  • 1 MonadAuthenticate instance for each [Word]T type via MonadTrans to lift the monadic newtyped AuthenticateT function.
-- Given this stack of monad transformers
runCode :: AuthenticateT Credentials (StateT state (ReaderT value Identity Unit))

-- Each monadic function type (e.g. StateT, ReaderT, etc.) must
-- have an instance for MonadAuthenticate so it can lift the
-- AuthenticateT computation into the next monad.
  • n instances for the monadic newtyped AuthenticateT function, so that it can lift its computation into all the other monad transformer type classes (e.g. AuthenticateT -> MonadState, MonadWriter, etc.)
-- Given this stack of monad transformers
runCode :: ReaderT Value (StateT state (AuthenticateT Credentials Identity Unit))

-- AuthenticateT must lift ReaderT and StateT into an AuthenticateT
-- monadic type.

In short, we define that many instances so that the order of the monad stack does not matter as much. If our stack has an ExceptT somewhere in there, where that type occurs will change the final output.

Note: I say roughly ~n^2 because apparently there are some cases where "lifting" a function would break a law (or something).

Monad transformer stacks' type signatures get complicated quickly

Related to the previous point, but the type signatures start getting crazy very quickly. For new beginners who are just learning about monad transformers, this can be quite offsetting:

-- as an example using pseudo-syntax...
f :: StateT State (ReaderT reader (WriterT writer (ExceptT error Effect output) output))

The Order of the Monad Transformer Stack Matters

We mentioned this previously when covering how to use a monad transformer:

type Output = Int
type StateType = Int
type NonOutputData = String
computation :: forall m
          . MonadState StateType m
         => MonadAsk NonOuputData m
         => m Output
computation = do
  modify_ (_ + 1)
  tell "Modified state by adding 1"
  currentState <- modify (_ * 10)
  tell $ "Modified state by multiplying by 10. It is now "
    <> show currentState
  modify_ (_ + 1)

-- Both `program1` and `program2` support the necessary
-- capabilities to run `computation`.
runProgram1 :: WriterT NonOutputData (State state) Output
            -> state
            -> Tuple (Tuple Output NonOuputData) state
runProgram1 initialState =
  runState (runWriterT computation) initialState

runProgram2 :: StateT state (Writer NonOutputData) Output
            -> state
            -> Tuple (Tuple Output state) NonOuputData
runProgram2 initialState =
  runWriter (runStateT computation initialState)

Imagine if one of these was ExceptT. That monad transformer's location in the stack can affect how the computation works and whether it works as expected.