### Yet Another Monad Tutorial (part 6: more on error-handling monads)

In the previous
article we discussed error-handling strategies in Haskell and derived the
`Either e`

monad for structured error handling. In this article
we'll continue our discussion of error handling by introducing some new type
classes that will enable us to write code which recovers from errors in a
selective way (which is called *exception handling* in most computer
languages). Interestingly, exception handling doesn't have to be built-in in
Haskell; you get it for free once you have monads!

I also promise (threaten?) that there will be one absolutely jaw-droppingly awful pun in what follows. You have been warned.

## The `MonadError`

type class

In the `Control.Monad.Error`

module, there is a type class called `MonadError`

with the following definition:

```
class Monad m => MonadError e m | m -> e where
throwError :: e -> m a
catchError :: m a -> (e -> m a) -> m a
```

There is a lot to discuss here. First off, notice that (unlike the type classes
we've seen so far, which all had one type parameter) the `MonadError`

type class
is a two-parameter type class. (Don't confuse this with a two-parameter type
*constructor* like `Either`

— they're completely different things.) The
parameters are `e`

, the error type, and `m`

, a (unary) type constructor
representing a monad. The `Monad m =>`

part is a context; it says that the type
constructor `m`

must be an instance of the `Monad`

type class, as we want. The
`| m -> e`

part is a *functional dependency*, which I'll get back to below.

The purpose of the `MonadError`

type class is to allow us to define what
exception handling means for a particular kind of error (say, `ArithmeticError`

)
and a particular kind of error-handling monad (say, the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad). The exception-handling functions are the usual "throw"- and
"catch"-type functions, here called `throwError`

and `catchError`

.

Side note:In most languages, "throw" and "catch" are built-in features, but in Haskell they are just methods of a type class. This is a good thing because it gives you the ability to define exactly what they mean for any given monad. Put differently, you can have an arbitrary number of different "throw" and "catch" functions, and defining "throw" and "catch" with special behaviors for a particular monad requires nothing more than defining a new instance of`MonadError`

.

It will be easier to understand these functions in terms of a specific example,
so let's see what this looks like in the context of the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad used in the previous article. (Note that the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad is just a more specific version of the `Either e`

monad; the same `Monad`

instance definition is used for both.) We'll also assume that the type `a`

is
always `Int`

. We will assume that we have defined an instance of the
`MonadError`

type class for the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad.

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where
-- throwError :: ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int
throwError err = {- to be defined -}
-- catchError :: Either ArithmeticError Int ->
-- (ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int)
-- -> Either ArithmeticError Int
catchError mval handler = {- to be defined -}
```

What `throwError`

does is to "lift" an error (here, of type `ArithmeticError`

)
into an error-handling monadic value (here, of type ```
Either ArithmeticError
Int
```

) that represents the error. So if a computation in the ```
Either
ArithmeticError
```

monad is happening and the `throwError`

function is called,
that causes the entire computation to fail with the specified error value. This
is pretty much the same thing that "throw" does in most computer languages that
have exception handling built in.

For instance, using `throwError`

, our `safe_divide`

function from last time can
be rewritten as:

```
safe_divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero -- use throwError instead of Left
safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError NotDivisible
safe_divide i j = Right (i `div` j)
```

For this to mean the same thing as the previous version, `throwError`

must be
the same as `Left`

, which gives us part of our instance definition:

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where
throwError err = Left err
catchError mval handler = {- to be defined -}
```

We can write this even more simply by leaving off the `err`

argument in
`throwError`

:

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where
throwError = Left
catchError mval handler = {- to be defined -}
```

We can improve `safe_divide`

still further by noting that `return`

in our monad
is just `Right`

. This leads to this definition:

```
safe_divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero
safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError NotDivisible
safe_divide i j = return (i `div` j)
```

Why is this an improvement? Our function now doesn't contain any `Left`

or
`Right`

constructors; we've completely abstracted away from the concrete details
of our error-handling type (other than in the type signature). Now our function
says, in effect, that in the first two cases we "throw" an exception, while in
the third (non-exceptional) case we just "return" the correct value. We could
conceivably change our error-handling strategy completely (using a different
monad) and the only thing we'd have to change in this function is the type
signature. And we could even abstract *that* away:

```
safe_divide :: MonadError ArithmeticError m => Int -> Int -> m Int
safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero
safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError NotDivisible
safe_divide i j = return (i `div` j)
```

Now, even if we change the error-handling monad we don't have to change this
code, assuming that the correct instance for `MonadError ArithmeticError m`

has
been defined for the monad `m`

. This is pretty darned generic code — the
kind Haskell programmers love to write. (Despite this, we'll stick to the
version with `m`

as `Either ArithmeticError`

for the rest of the examples to
keep things simple.)

You might wonder why this version of

`safe_divide`

isn't written as:`safe_divide :: (Monad m, MonadError ArithmeticError m) => Int -> Int -> m Int safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError NotDivisible safe_divide i j = return (i `div` j)`

Although this would be a perfectly valid definition, it isn't necessary. For

`MonadError ArithmeticError m`

to be a valid instance,`m`

must be an instance of`Monad`

, so there is no need to repeat the constraint.

If we can "throw" errors, it makes sense that we should be able to "catch" them
somehow, and that's what `catchError`

is for. Specifically, what `catchError`

does is take a monadic value `mval`

of type `m a`

(for some error-handling monad
`m`

and any type `a`

) and "handle" the errors (monadic values which represent
errors) using the `handler`

function, which has the type `e -> m a`

where `e`

and `m`

are (together) an instance of the `MonadError`

type class.

Let's look at what `catchError`

does step by step using the types in our
specific example (`ArithmeticError`

, `Either ArithmeticError Int`

), instead of
the most general types (`e`

, `m a`

). The first argument to our `catchError`

function will be a monadic value of type `Either ArithmeticError Int`

. This
will generally be the result of some error-handling computation, and can either
be

`Left err`

with`err`

being an error value of type`ArithmeticError`

(if an error occurred), or`Right val`

with`val`

being a non-error value of type`Int`

(if no error occurred).

If no error occurs, the `handler`

function isn't called, and the first argument
is also the result of `catchError`

. If an error *does* occur, then the error
value of type `ArithmeticError`

is unpacked from the `Left err`

value and passed
as the argument to `handler`

. The `handler`

function has the specific type
`ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int`

, and when passed the error value
of type `ArithmeticError`

it will compute the return value of `catchError`

,
which (as in the non-error case) will have the type ```
Either ArithmeticError
Int
```

. This means that, depending on what the `handler`

function does with
particular errors, errors that occur in a computation can either be passed
through or replaced with values of type `Int`

. Typically the `handler`

function
will handle some errors and let others pass through.

Surprisingly, the last paragraph gives us the definition of `catchError`

we'll
need for our `Either ArithmeticError`

monad:

```
-- catchError :: Either ArithmeticError Int ->
-- (ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int)
-- -> Either ArithmeticError Int
catchError (Right val) _ = Right val -- pass through
catchError (Left err) h = h err -- handle error
```

That's pretty simple. Who says exception handling has to be complicated? ;-)

Of course, what's really happening is that all the hard stuff is being done by
the handler function `h`

. As we've defined it above, an `ArithmeticError`

can
either be `DivideByZero`

or `NotDivisible`

. Let's say we wanted to catch
`NotDivisible`

errors and divide them (throwing away the remainder, like in the
`divide`

function from last time), but pass through `DivideByZero`

errors (since
there really isn't any reasonable value we can give in that case). Our first
try looks like this:

```
arithmeticErrorHandler :: ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int
arithmeticErrorHandler DivideByZero = Left DivideByZero
arithmeticErrorHandler NotDivisible = Right ???
```

Before we finish this, let's improve it by replacing the `Left`

/`Right`

constructors with `throwError`

and `return`

(we saw this trick previously with
`safe_divide`

):

```
arithmeticErrorHandler :: ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int
arithmeticErrorHandler DivideByZero = throwError DivideByZero
arithmeticErrorHandler NotDivisible = return ???
```

In words, we are re-throwing `DivideByZero`

errors because we can't handle them,
but since we can handle `NotDivisible`

errors we are (hopefully) "returning" a
useful value in that case.

At this point, we realize that if we want to do anything useful with the
`NotDivisible`

error, we need to pass more information in the error value. So
we have to change our original definition of `ArithmeticError`

from:

```
data ArithmeticError =
DivideByZero
| NotDivisible
deriving Show
```

to:

```
data ArithmeticError =
DivideByZero
| NotDivisible Int Int -- save the indivisible values
deriving Show
```

Furthermore, we change the definition of `safe_divide`

yet again to:

```
safe_divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero
safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError (NotDivisible i j)
safe_divide i j = return (i `div` j)
```

Now, when we throw a `NotDivisible`

error, we pass along the values that we
couldn't divide evenly. With this done, we can write our
`arithmeticErrorHandler`

function as:

```
arithmeticErrorHandler :: ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int
arithmeticErrorHandler DivideByZero = throwError DivideByZero
arithmeticErrorHandler (NotDivisible i j) = return (i `div` j)
```

And now we can rewrite the `divide`

function as:

```
divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
divide i j = catchError (i `safe_divide` j) arithmeticErrorHandler
```

Notice that the first argument to `catchError`

is `i `safe_divide` j`

, which
has the type `Either ArithmeticError Int`

(*i.e.* it is a monadic value in the
`Either ArithmeticError`

monad). The second argument is the error handler,
which must have the type `ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int`

, and
does.

This looks nicer if we write `catchError`

as an operator:

```
divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
divide i j = (i `safe_divide` j) `catchError` arithmeticErrorHandler
```

Now we have a clean separation between the error-handling code (in
`arithmeticErrorHandler`

) and the non-error-handling code (```
i `safe_divide`
j
```

). We can improve this in two more ways. First, since it's likely that the
error handling in this function will be specific to this function only, we can
make the `arithmeticErrorHandler`

function local to `divide`

:

```
divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
divide i j = (i `safe_divide` j) `catchError` handler
where
handler :: ArithmeticError -> Either ArithmeticError Int
handler DivideByZero = throwError DivideByZero
handler (NotDivisible i j) = return (i `div` j)
```

Second, we can get rid of the name `handler`

altogether and just use an
anonymous function (lambda expression) together with a `case`

statement:

```
divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
divide i j = (i `safe_divide` j)
`catchError` \e ->
case e of
DivideByZero -> throwError DivideByZero
NotDivisible i j -> return (i `div` j)
```

At this point I want to contrast this with the way exception-handling code would be written in a more conventional language like Java. It would look something like this (I think; it's been a while since I programmed in Java):

```
public static int divide(int i, int j)
throws DivideByZeroException, NotDivisibleException
{
try
{
return safe_divide(i, j);
}
catch (DivideByZeroException e)
{
throw (DivideByZeroException e);
}
catch (NotDivisibleException e)
{
return (i / j);
}
}
```

(You could of course get rid of the explicit re-throwing by removing the first
`catch`

block.) The interesting this about this is that the Java version and
the Haskell version are essentially the same except for (a) the obvious
differences in syntax, and (b) the different type declarations. Syntactically,
in the Haskell version multiple `catch`

blocks are replaced by a single handler
function which pattern-matches on the error to give multiple cases, so there is
no essential difference (there is one Haskell case per one Java catch block).
The `try`

block is not needed at all; if the computation that corresponds to
what would be inside the `try`

block in Java is of an error-handling monadic
type in Haskell, that's all that's needed.

NOTE:This is a very simple example. Most of the time, the main computation would consist of more than just one expression. Typically you'd have a bunch of expressions in a`do`

statement, something like this:`foo :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int foo i j = do k <- i `safe_divide` j l <- return (i + j) return (k + 2 * l) `catchError` \e -> case e of DivideByZero -> throwError DivideByZero NotDivisible i j -> return (i `div` j)`

Of course, if you wanted to, you could use the

`>>=`

operator explicitly instead of using the`do`

notation:`foo :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int foo i j = (i `safe_divide` j >>= \k -> return (i + j) >>= \l -> return (k + 2 * l)) `catchError` \e -> case e of DivideByZero -> throwError DivideByZero NotDivisible i j -> return (i `div` j)`

In each case the monadic code (inside the

`do`

expression, or not) takes the place of what would be inside a`try`

block in Java. Or, as Yoda would put it: "`do`

or`do`

not, there is no`try`

" :-)By the way, this example is somewhat contrived (in order to get to the pun!). The

`NotDivisible i j`

case just causes the entire computation to return`i `div` j`

, wrapped up in a`Right`

constructor, which is not really the answer we want. It would be better if we could restart the computation at the point where it failed. One way to do this is to have a`catchError`

statement immediately surrounding the`i `safe_divide` j`

code (before the result gets bound to`k`

). I'll leave this as an exercise for the reader. That would still be a bit ugly, though. What would really be nice is if, from the`catchError`

clause in the code example (which sits outside of the`do`

block), you could catch the`NotDivisible`

error and restart the computationinsidethe`do`

block at the point at which it failed, with the value of`i `div` j`

bound to`k`

. This turns out to be beyond the capabilities of simple error-handling monads, but there is a very cool monad called thecontinuation monadwhich can accomplish this kind of magic, and which I hope to get to eventually.

To end this section, let's recall the `MonadError`

type class definition:

```
class Monad m => MonadError e m | m -> e where
throwError :: e -> m a
catchError :: m a -> (e -> m a) -> m a
```

I promised I'd explain the mysterious `| m -> e`

part of the first line, and so
I will. This is a *functional dependency*; it states that the error type `e`

in
some way "depends" upon the monad `m`

. Recall that in our example, `m`

is
`Either ArithmeticError`

and `e`

is `ArithmeticError`

. It should be plausible
that this example wouldn't work if `m`

was `Either ArithmeticError`

and `e`

was
(say) `String`

, because the methods of this class would then be expecting error
values of type `String`

which would be different from the error values of type
`ArithmeticError`

used in the monad. In general, for any instance of
`MonadError e m`

where `m`

is `Either e`

, the error type `e`

in the `Either e`

monad should be the *same* `e`

as the `e`

in `MonadError e m`

. So we can have
instances like

```
-- error type: ArithmeticError
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
-- error type: String
instance MonadError String (Either String) where ...
-- error type: Foobar (for some hypothetical type Foobar)
instance MonadError Foobar (Either Foobar) where ...
```

but not *e.g.*

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either String) where ...
instance MonadError String (Either Foobar) where ...
instance MonadError Foobar (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
```

This kind of invariant is hard to enforce, because `MonadError`

can be used with
monads that are not of the form `Either e`

. What we *can* enforce is that the
monad `m`

determines the error type `e`

, and that's what the functional
dependency `m -> e`

does. The way this works is that the first time Haskell
sees an instance declaration of the form

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
```

it says "OK, from now on, the *only* error type that I will allow with the monad
`Either ArithmeticError`

is `ArithmeticError`

. If later you try to add another
instance declaration using the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad, for instance:

```
instance MonadError Foobar (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
```

the compiler will reject it, because it already has an error type for the
`Either ArithmeticError`

monad. This is called a "functional dependency"
because the error type is a function of the monad type (one monad type yields
one and only one error type). Note, however, that there is nothing to require
you to define sensible instances; you could, for instance, start off by defining

```
instance MonadError Foobar (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
```

and then you wouldn't be allowed to later define the more sensible instance:

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where ...
```

It's up to you to make sure that your first instance is the correct one. (This is reminiscent of the way Haskell doesn't enforce the monad laws but requires you to make sure that your monad definitions don't violate them; if not, your code won't work the way you want it to.)

Functional dependencies are considered to be a moderately advanced aspect of Haskell's type system, but there's not really much to them. All they do is prevent you from defining useless instances of type classes.

## The `Error`

type class

Recall the monad definition for `(Either e)`

we derived previously:

```
instance Monad (Either e) where
return x = Right x
(Left x) >>= f = Left x
(Right x) >>= f = f x
```

Simplifying this a bit and removing unnecessary parentheses gives:

```
instance Monad (Either e) where
return = Right
Left x >>= _ = Left x
Right x >>= f = f x
```

Recall the `MonadError`

instance definition for the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad and the `ArithmeticError`

error type we derived above:

```
instance MonadError ArithmeticError (Either ArithmeticError) where
throwError = Left
catchError (Right val) _ = Right val
catchError (Left err) h = h err
```

This definition doesn't depend on the details of the `ArithmeticError`

error
type, so it can be generalized to:

```
instance MonadError e (Either e) where
throwError = Left
catchError (Right val) _ = Right val
catchError (Left err) h = h err
```

These instance definitions (`Monad (Either e)`

and `MonadError e (Either e)`

)
are so generally useful that you would probably expect them to be part of the
Haskell libraries. And they are, almost. In the module `Control.Monad.Error`

we have these definitions:

```
instance (Error e) => Monad (Either e) where
return = Right
Left x >>= _ = Left x
Right x >>= f = f x
fail msg = Left (strMsg msg)
```

and:

```
instance (Error e) => MonadError e (Either e) where
throwError = Left
catchError (Right val) _ = Right val
catchError (Left err) h = h err
```

The variable names have been changed slightly to agree with the previous definitions, and

`catchError`

is written as a function instead of as an operator, but otherwise these are the same definitions GHC uses.

The differences between the versions we derived above and the library versions are:

Both instances require the error type

`e`

to be an instance of a type class called`Error`

, which we haven't discussed yet.The

`Monad`

instance for`Either e`

also includes a custom definition for the`fail`

function.

These two differences are related. To understand them we first have to delve a
little more deeply into what the `fail`

function is for and how it works.

### Digression: the `fail`

function

`fail`

is a method of the `Monad`

type class which I glossed over in part 3. I
did mention that it was called on a pattern-match failure and had the type:

```
fail :: String -> a
```

`fail`

is called with an error message as an argument. In addition to being
automatically invoked upon a pattern-match failure, `fail`

can also be called
explicitly by user code if desired, though this is rare. `fail`

has the default
definition:

```
fail s = error s
```

How can a pattern-match failure occur so that `fail`

gets called in the first
place? Recall how the `>>=`

operator is used:

```
mx >>= (\x -> ...)
```

where `mx`

is some monadic value. The monadic value gets "unpacked" in some
monad-specific way into `x`

and then the code to the right of the `->`

is
evaluated with the new binding for `x`

. The version using the `do`

-notation is:

```
do x <- mx
...
```

but the meaning is the same.

In fact, as long as the right argument of the `>>=`

operator is a
lambda expression of the form `\x -> ...`

, there won't be a pattern-match error.
The operator will always extract a value from the monadic value `mx`

and bind
the entire value to the name `x`

. However, lambda expressions can do
destructuring during binding. For instance, consider this type:

```
data Foobar = Foo Int | Bar String
```

Using this type, we can write this function:

```
getFoo :: Foobar -> Int
getFoo (Foo i) = i
```

What's wrong with this function? It's not a total function! If you give the
function an argument of the form `Bar s`

where `s`

is some `String`

, it will be
type-correct but will fail at run time with a pattern-matching error (since the
pattern `Bar s`

can't match anything). For instance:

```
ghci> getFoo (Foo 10)
10
ghci> getFoo (Bar "xxx")
*** Exception: Non-exhaustive patterns in function getFoo
```

Now let's rewrite `getFoo`

in a slightly different (but equivalent) way:

```
getFoo :: Foobar -> Int
getFoo x = case x of
Foo i -> i
```

This is what the GHC compiler converts the original form into; all the
definitional equations of a particular function get turned into a single `case`

statement. Here there is only one case, but usually there are more.

We can rewrite it in an even more primitive form using a lambda expression:

```
getFoo :: Foobar -> Int
getFoo = \x -> case x of
Foo i -> i
```

We can also push the `case`

stuff into the lambda expression as follows:

```
getFoo :: Foobar -> Int
getFoo = \(Foo i) -> i
```

This means the same thing as the previous definition.

Now let's look at monads again. Say you had a monadic computation that involved
monadic values of the type `m Foobar`

for some monad `m`

. (For instance, it
could be `IO Foobar`

in the `IO`

monad, `Maybe Foobar`

in the `Maybe`

monad,
etc.). Some uses of the `>>=`

operator might then have the specialized type:

```
(>>=) :: m Foobar -> (Foobar -> m Int) -> m Int
```

and there might be computations like this:

```
return (Foo 42) >>= \(Foo i) -> return i
```

This will work fine, since the `Foo 42`

value will be unpacked into the `Foo i`

pattern, binding `i`

to the number `42`

. But what if this happened?

```
return (Bar "xxx") >>= \(Foo i) -> return i
```

We would have a pattern-match error, because there is no way to match a pattern
of the form `Foo i`

with a value of the form `Bar "xxx"`

. The error we would
get is:

```
*** Exception: Non-exhaustive patterns in lambda
```

This shouldn't be surprising. Now imagine that we re-wrote this using the
`do`

-notation based on the desugaring we've defined previously. It would look
like this:

```
do (Foo i) <- return (Bar "xxx")
return i
```

You'd expect that running this would give the exact same error message. In
fact, it doesn't, and what happens depends on the monad, or specifically, on the
definition of the `fail`

function for the monad. In the `IO`

monad, we have:

```
testIO :: IO Int
testIO = do (Foo i) <- return (Bar "xxx")
return i
ghci> testIO
*** Exception: user error (Pattern match failure in do expression)
```

In the `Maybe`

monad, we have:

```
testMaybe :: Maybe Int
testMaybe = do (Foo i) <- return (Bar "xxx")
return i
ghci> testMaybe
Nothing
```

Weird! But perhaps not so weird if we look at the definition of the `fail`

function for both monads. For `Maybe`

it is:

```
fail _ = Nothing
```

So a pattern-match failure just causes the entire computation to fail. For `IO`

we have (in GHC, anyway):

```
fail s = GHC.IO.failIO s
```

which will give rise to the "user error" error message shown above.

The point of all this is to show that the `fail`

function, which is not a
fundamental method of the `Monad`

type class, is still important and is somehow
called when a pattern-matching error occurs inside a `do`

-expression. But how
does this work?

The desugaring of a `do`

-expression I showed you before was this:

```
do x <- mx
...
-- desugars to:
mx >>= \x -> ...
```

But that's not true if `x`

has internal structure (*e.g.* if `x`

is something
like `(Foo i)`

as shown above). In that case, the desugaring is:

```
do (Foo i) <- mx
...
-- desugars to:
mx >>= \x -> case x of
Foo i -> ...
_ -> fail "Pattern match failure in do expression"
```

(Actually, the error message also has some file name and line number information
as well, but I've ignored that to keep things simple.) Since Haskell doesn't
know what you're going to put on the left-hand side of the arrows (`<-`

) in a
`do`

-expression, it's important to define the `fail`

function for a monad in an
appropriate way. If you don't care, you can just use the default definition of
`fail`

, which is:

```
fail s = error s
```

This is suitable for many monads, but not for error-handling monads. In an
error-handling monad, a pattern-match error is just one more error that can
occur, and it should yield a well-defined error value. And this is what the
`Error`

class is all about.

### From `fail`

to `Error`

Recall the library definition of the `Either e`

monad mentioned above:

```
instance (Error e) => Monad (Either e) where
return = Right
Left x >>= _ = Left x
Right x >>= f = f x
fail msg = Left (strMsg msg)
```

We derived the definitions for `return`

and `>>=`

in the previous article.
Let's look at the definition of `fail`

. As I just mentioned, it's not
appropriate in an error-handling monad to use the default definition of `fail`

(which means to just call the `error`

function) because the expectation is that
any error will become a value of the error type `e`

. And that's exactly what
this definition of `fail`

does: it takes the error message `msg`

, turns it into
a value of the error type `e`

using the `strMsg`

function (which I'll explain
shortly) and uses the `Left`

constructor to inject it into a value of type
`Either e a`

where type `a`

is whatever is being returned as the normal return
value.

The `strMsg`

function is a method of the `Error`

type class, which is defined in
the module `Control.Monad.Error`

as follows:

```
class Error a where
noMsg :: a
strMsg :: String -> a
-- default definitions:
noMsg = strMsg ""
strMsg _ = noMsg
```

Essentially, what the `Error`

type class defines is what an error type (such as
`ArithmeticError`

) has to be able to do in order to be usable with the `fail`

function in an error-handling monad. It has two methods: `noMsg`

and `strMsg`

,
and the default definitions mean that either can be defined in terms of the
other. However, at least one of the two has to be defined for each instance.
`noMsg`

is intended to be used for errors for which the error message is
irrelevant, and `strMsg`

is for errors in which the error message is relevant.
We'll just define `strMsg`

in what follows and use the default definition of
`noMsg`

.

Let's see how we can start to define `ArithmeticError`

as an instance of the
`Error`

class:

```
instance Error ArithmeticError where
strMsg msg = {- to be filled in -}
```

The type signature of `strMsg`

states that the return value of the function has
to be of type `a`

, which in this instance is `ArithmeticError`

. This leads us
to an interesting dilemma. The definition of `ArithmeticError`

we've been using
is:

```
data ArithmeticError =
DivideByZero
| NotDivisible Int Int
deriving Show
```

Somehow, whatever `strMsg msg`

returns must have this type. But since we know
that it will get invoked on a pattern match error, it doesn't make much sense to
return `DivideByZero`

or `NotDivisible`

errors, which aren't relevant.
Furthermore, it would be nice to be able to incorporate the `msg`

string into
the error value. Finally, `fail`

can be called in ordinary user code, again
with an error message. The best thing we can do is to add another constructor
to `ArithmeticError`

specifically for use with `strMsg`

(and thus, with `fail`

).
This leads to this revised definition:

```
data ArithmeticError =
DivideByZero
| NotDivisible Int Int
| OtherError String -- for Error instance
deriving Show
```

The `OtherError`

constructor is a catch-all constructor that can be used to put
an arbitrary error message string into a value of the `ArithmeticError`

type.
With this new definition it's easy to define the `Error`

instance for
`ArithmeticError`

:

```
instance Error ArithmeticError where
strMsg msg = OtherError msg
```

We can simplify this definition a tiny bit by leaving off `msg`

from both sides
to get:

```
instance Error ArithmeticError where
strMsg = OtherError
```

And that's all we need to do with the `Error`

class.

You might ask what this buys you. It's simple: if you define this trivial
instance of the `Error`

class, you no longer have to define the `MonadError`

instance at all, because it's defined automatically for *all* `Either e`

monads
where `e`

is an instance of the `Error`

class! That's what this code was all
about:

```
instance (Error e) => MonadError e (Either e) where
throwError = Left
catchError (Right val) _ = Right val
catchError (Left err) h = h err
```

So that's a chunk of code you don't have to write. Of course, you do have to
import the `Control.Monad.Error`

module where this definition comes from. When
you do that, you also get this:

```
instance (Error e) => Monad (Either e) where
return = Right
Left x >>= _ = Left x
Right x >>= f = f x
fail msg = Left (strMsg msg)
```

which is yet another chunk of code you don't have to write.

To summarize:

We imported the

`Control.Monad.Error`

module.We defined the error type

`ArithmeticError`

, with constructors corresponding to the kinds of errors that could occur in your computations, as well as the catch-all`OtherError`

constructor which takes an error message as its argument.We defined the instance of the

`Error`

type class for`ArithmeticError`

s.

And that's it. We get the `Monad`

instance definition for the `Either e`

monad
and the `MonadError`

instance definition for the `ArithmeticError`

error type
and the `Either ArithmeticError`

monad defined for us automatically. Then we
can write all the error-handling functions we wrote above.

Here's the final version of the code:

```
import Control.Monad.Error
data ArithmeticError =
DivideByZero
| NotDivisible Int Int
| OtherError String
deriving Show
instance Error ArithmeticError where
strMsg = OtherError
-- Division that checks for divide-by-zero and not-divisible errors.
safe_divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
safe_divide _ 0 = throwError DivideByZero
safe_divide i j | i `mod` j /= 0 = throwError (NotDivisible i j)
safe_divide i j = return (i `div` j)
-- Division that checks for divide-by-zero errors but that
-- allows not-divisible conditions (throwing away the remainder).
divide :: Int -> Int -> Either ArithmeticError Int
divide i j = (i `safe_divide` j)
`catchError` \e ->
case e of
-- Note: OtherErrors are just re-thrown.
OtherError s -> throwError (OtherError s)
DivideByZero -> throwError DivideByZero
NotDivisible i j -> return (i `div` j)
```

This is all we need to do in order to use the `Either e`

monad with a custom
error type. And we get "throw" and "catch" for free due to the `MonadError`

definition. Monads have allowed us to take something that is built-in and
mysterious in other languages (exception handling) and write it as a normal
library in Haskell. This is just another example of the great power of the
monad abstraction.

## Getting this code to work

Some of the features I've described above are not (yet) standard Haskell features, and as such require you to enable certain GHC optional extensions for them to work. There are three ways to do this:

Compile your code (or run

`ghci`

with the`-fglasgow-exts`

command-line option. This is the simplest way.Use the command-line options

`-XFlexibleContexts`

and`-XMultiParamTypeClasses`

. Actually, only the first is absolutely required, but I like to enable them both because it's obvious that we're actually using multi-parameter type classes. (I*think*that enabling`-XFlexibleContexts`

automatically enables`-XMultiParamTypeClasses`

but I haven't been able to confirm this yet.)Don't use command-line options, but instead add this comment at the beginning of the Haskell module containing your code:

{-# LANGUAGE FlexibleContexts, MultiParamTypeClasses #-}

I don't want to spend time explaining why this is necessary; see the GHC documentation for a thorough discussion.

## Next time

In the next installment I'll look at state monads, which are a way to simulate some aspects of imperative programming in a functional context.

mvanierRe: Typos in Functional Dependencies section + big thanks.Thanks for catching this! I'll fix it momentarily. Also, thanks for your kind comments! I need readers like you to motivate me to write more of these (and to catch the inevitable errors, hopefully minor ones). I think you'll like the forthcoming instalments on state monads.

mvanierRe: Typos in Functional Dependencies section + big thanks.