error-message-1.0: Composable error messages.





This philosophy behind this package is that it is often better to find out all of the errors that have occured in a computation and report them simultaneously, rather than aborting as soon as the first error is encountered. Towards this end, this module supplies a type of combinable error messages so that all of the errors from subcomputations can be gathered and presented together.

The following provides an example of how these can be used:

 sqrtWithError :: Float -> Either ErrorMessage Float
 sqrtWithError x
     | x < 0
         = leftErrorMessageText
             ("Error computing the square root of " ++ (show x) ++ ":")
             "Square roots cannot be taken of negative numbers."
     | otherwise
         = Right (sqrt x)
 sumWithError :: Either ErrorMessage Float -> Either ErrorMessage Float -> Either ErrorMessage Float
 sumWithError (Left error1) (Left error2) = Left (error1 `mappend` error2)
 sumWithError (Left error) _ = Left error
 sumWithError _ (Left error) = Left error
 sumWithError (Right value1) (Right value2) = Right (value1 + value2)
 showSumOrErrorOf :: Float -> Float -> String
 showSumOrErrorOf x y =
     case sumWithError (sqrtWithError x) (sqrtWithError y) of
         Right value -> "The value is " ++ show value
         Left error -> show . formatErrorMessage $ error

The result of showSumOrErrorOf (-1) (-2) is the string,

 Error computing the square root of -1:
     Square roots cannot be taken of negative numbers.
 Error computing the square root of -2:
     Square roots cannot be taken of negative numbers.

whereas the result of showSumOrErrorOf (-1) (-1) is the string,

 Error computing the square root of -1:
     Square roots cannot be taken of negative numbers.

Note how the error message only appears once; this is because the process of combining the error messages automatically eliminates all identical headings under the assumption that they came from the same original computation, as was the case here.

Currently, the definition of sumWithError is largely boilerplate. Happily, the Haskell community has done a lot of work to identify patterns such as these and to write libraries that allow us to express them concisely. In particular, a standard trick when working with errors like this is to express the calculation as a Monad, such as by using the following definition:

 sumWithError_2 argument1 argument2 = do
     value1 <- argument1
     value2 <- argument2
     return (value1 + value2)

Or, even more concisely:

 sumWithError_3 = liftM2 (+)

Unfortunately though, neither of these definitions have the same semantics as the original sumWithError, as using both we get the following error message for showSumOrErrorOf (-1) (-2):

 Error computing the square root of -1:
     Square roots cannot be taken of negative numbers.

That is, we have lost the second of the two error messages. The reason for this is that Monad-style error processing expresses the computation as a sequence, and gives up as soon as it sees any error. In this case of sumWithError, however, the evaluation of the second argument can proceed even if there was an error in the first argument. Thus, rather than using a Monad pattern, we use an Applicative pattern:

 sumWithError_4 = liftA2 (+)

Now both error messages are displayed.


The ErrorMessage Type

The ErrorMessage type is simply a map from String to Doc; the reason why the values are Doc is because this allows us to compose them using the combinators in Leijen's pretty-printing library.

The reason why the internal type is a Map rather than a List is because we assume that error message headings are unique, and so if we see the same heading it must have come from the same error. If we did not make such an assumption, then we would have no way of preventing the same error from appearing several times in the message in the case that many sub-computations all depended on the same erroneous result.

Instances for ErrorMessage

In some respects, the most important part of the ErrorMessage type are its instances:

  • The Monoid instance says that we can take any two error messages and combine them using mappend and/or mconcat; the implementation for this is just that of the underlying Map type.
  • The Error instance allows us to work inside the ErrorT monad using ErrorMessage as the error type. Although it was mentioned earlier that using Applicative is generally preferable since it finds as many errors as possible before halting, there are times when a later computation really does need the result of an earlier computation, and in this case the sequential structure of Monads exactly fits the bill.

Note that in order for ErrorMessage to be an instance of Error, I needed to define how to create an ErrorMessage without a heading (strMsg) and possibly without even a body (noMsg); however, if this ever happens, it means that the error was not handled properly --- e.g., when there is a pattern match failure. Thus, the heading of errors created by noMsg and strMsg is Error caused by the programmer:

Instances for Doc

Unfortunately, it does not show up in the API documentation that this module also defines the following two instances for Doc:

Applicative Instances

Unfortunately, it does not show up in the API documentation that this module also defines the following two Applicative instances:

 instance (Monoid e) => Applicative (Either e) where ...

This instance declaration allows you to lift pure functions into functions that work with values that might have errors, since both Doc and ErrorMessage are instances of Monoid. For example, we can use liftA2 (+) to lift the (+) function into a function that checks both of its arguments for errors before computing the sum. As was described earlier, the advantage of liftA2 (+) over liftM2 (+) is that the former checks for errors in both arguments and will combine them if present, whereas the latter will ignore errors in the second argument if there is an error in the first argument.

 instance (Monoid e, Error e, Monad m) => Applicative (ErrorT e m) where
     pure = return
     e_fn <*> e_arg = ErrorT $ liftM2 (<*>) (runErrorT e_fn) (runErrorT e_arg)

This instance definition lifts the Applicative (Either e) so that it works for values obtained from monadic computations. Note that the definition first executes the monad e_fn and then the monad e_arg, and only after both monads have been executed in this sequence does it apply the operator (<*>) to the values in order to possibly combine their error messages.

These instances allow you to write code like the following:

 data Point = Point { x :: Int, y :: Int, z :: Int }

 pOrError = Point <$> xOrError <*> yOrError <*> zOrError

The value pOrError is either a Point, or a combination of the error messages in xOrError, yOrError, and zOrError.

Creation of Error Messages

Up to now we have spent a lot time discussing how to combine ErrorMessages, but little time discussing how to produce them. The provided functions for doing this are as follows:

errorMessage :: String -> Doc -> ErrorMessageSource

The function errorMessage takes a heading and a body and produce an ErrorMessage object from them; this can be considered to be a thin wrapper around Data.Map.singleton.

errorMessageText :: String -> String -> ErrorMessageSource

The function errorMessageText is similar to the function errorMessage, but for the body it takes a String instead of a Doc. It is provided for convenience.

errorMessageTextFromMultilineString :: String -> String -> ErrorMessageSource

Use this function when you want to create an error message from a multi-line string.

Although one could alternatively use errorMessageText, if one were to do this then one would only see only the first line of be indented when the error message is formatted for output. For example,

 errorMessageText "A poem:" "Roses are red.\nViolets are blue."

produces the following (formatted) error message:

 A poem:
     Roses are red.
 Violets are blue.

The reason for this is because the line breaks are not known to the Doc combinators, and so the indentation is not handled properly. The function errorMessageTextFromMultilineString takes care of this for you. For example,

 errorMessageTextFromMultilineString "A poem:" "Roses are red.\nViolets are blue."

produces the following (formatted) error message:

 A poem:
     Roses are red.
     Violets are blue.

leftErrorMessage :: String -> Doc -> Either ErrorMessage aSource

Since one usually wants to return not just an ErrorMessage, but a value of the form Left error_message, the function leftErrorMessage is provided as a convenience; it creates the error message, and then wraps it inside of Left.

leftErrorMessageText :: String -> String -> Either ErrorMessage aSource

The function leftErrorMessageText is errorMessageText composed with the Left constructor for convenience.

Formatting of Error Messages

The end purpose of ErrorMessage 's existence is to be displayed to the user. Towards this end, the following functions format an ErrorMessage into a Doc.

formatErrorMessage :: ErrorMessage -> DocSource

This function takes an ErrorMessage and formats it into a Doc. It does this by converting the headings into text objects, merging them with their respective bodies (the latter having been indented by four spaces), and then concatenating the result.

formatMessageWithHeading :: String -> Doc -> DocSource

This is the utility function used by formatErrorMessage to format a Doc given a heading and a body; it indents the body by four spaces and then appends it after the heading.

Gathering Results with Errors

Although there are many combinators available (such as liftA and <$>) for lifting pure functions to functions that handle errors, there are times when one wants to gather together a list of results which might possibly contain some errors. The following functions assist in doing this.

gatherResultsOrErrors :: [Either e a] -> Either [e] [a]Source

This function takes a list of values which might contain errors and returns either a list of the errors found in the values or the full list of results. Note that there is no restriction on the type of the errors.

gatherResultsOrError :: Monoid e => [Either e a] -> Either e [a]Source

This function is similar to gatherResultsOrErrors, but instead of returning a list of errors it combines them into a single error. Note that only restriction on the type of the error is that it be an instance of Monoid, so this operation is not limited to ErrorMessages but could also be used for, say, Docs, as in the following example:

 dictionary_mapping_words_to_lengths :: [(String,Int)]
 dictionary_mapping_words_to_lengths =

 getWordLengthsOrError :: [String] -> Either ErrorMessage [Int]
 getWordLengthsOrError =
             "Error looking up the following words in the dictionary:"
     map lookupAndReturnResultOrError

The function call

 getWordLengthsOrError ["foo","apple","cat","bar"]

results in the following error message:

 Error looking up the following words in the dictionary: