In this lab, we cover type classes and ad hoc polymorphism, and how we can use these concepts to generalise functions that require some assumptions about the input type. We also continue the topic of trees from last lab, and introduce binary search trees, which are trees with a special ordering constraint that gives them a great advantage over binary trees in terms of computational efficiency.

Pre-Lab Checklist

  • You have completed Lab 9, understand binary trees, and how to write recursive functions over them.
  • You are comfortable with the concept of parametric polymorphism.
  • You are comfortable with the recursive data type Nat from Lab 06

Getting Started

  1. Go to the project’s dashboard under the Project tab and click on the Fork button. The gitlab url for this lab is

  2. You will be asked where to fork the repository. Click on the user or group to where you’d like to add the forked project. You should see your own name here. Once you have successfully forked a project, you will be redirected to a new webpage where you will notice your name before > project-name. This means you are now the owner of this repository. The url in your browser should reflect the change:

  3. Finally, clone your forked repository to your computer according to the instructions in the Week 2 Lab.

  4. Put your exercise solutions in the file Lab10.hs. This file is pre-filled with unfinished functions that match the exercises below.

This lab contains additional exercises for COMP1130 students. COMP1100 students are encouraged to attempt them once they have completed the compulsory exercises to receive the participation marks for the lab.

This is a long lab, and there are two main topics, both of which are of high importance. If you are still working on exercises 1-3 after the first hour, it is recommended that you skip to Exercise 4. Don’t stress though! This is just so you have a chance to ask your tutor questions about both type-classes, and binary search trees. As always, you can finish up any remaining questions afterwards before next week’s lab.


We’ve seen before in Lab06 that some functions can be written to work on an arbitrary type, like length:

length :: [a] -> Integer
length list = case list of
    [] -> 0
    _:xs -> 1 + length xs

The actual values of the elements in the list do not concern us, we only want to know how many there are, which is why this function can be written in a way that’s parametrically polymorphic, that is, it will work regardless of the type of the elements in the list.

Now we would like to generalise other functions. Consider the following function sumInteger:

sumInteger :: [Integer] -> Integer
sumInteger list = case list of
    [] -> 0
    x:xs -> x + sumInteger xs

It’s possible to write the same function for types other than Integer, like Double.

sumDouble :: [Double] -> Double
sumDouble list = case list of
    [] -> 0
    x:xs -> x + sumDouble xs

Clearly this function cannot be made parametrically polymorphic, as the addition operator + isn’t defined for all types. (We can’t add together strings or Boolean’s, for example.)

So we want a way to define the sum function to operate over all lists that contain types that “act like numbers”, that is, types where addition is well defined. This is a weaker form of polymorphism, called ad-hoc polymorphism.

If we had just tried to make the type of sum as general as possible by changing the type signature to

sumEverything :: [a] -> a

then we get the error message

No instance for (Num a) arising from a use of `+'

This is a rather cryptic way of saying “The input type can be anything, but addition is only defined on things that are numbers, that is, types that belong to the type class of Num.” To solve this problem, we need to introduce type classes.

Type Classes

Haskell handles ad-hoc polymorphism by using type classes, grouping types together into classes that all share similar properties, (they all act like numbers, they all have equality defined, etc.)

The main type classes you’re likely to see in Haskell are as follows:

Type Class (some of the) functions defined Description Depends on?
Show show Can be printed as a string N/A
Eq (==), (/=) Has equality defined N/A
Ord <=, max, compare Has ordering defined Eq
Num (+), (*), (-), abs, negate, signum, fromInteger Numbers, can perform arithmetic N/A
Fractional (/), etc. Fractional numbers, can be divided Num
Floating sqrt, exp, log, sin,cos, pi, etc. Acts like real numbers, many mathematical functions defined Fractional
Real toRational Numeric types that can be written as a rational Num,Ord
Enum succ, pred, toEnum, fromEnum, etc. Sequentially ordered types N/A
Integral div, mod, etc. Acts like whole numbers, with integer division Real, Enum

Some types depend on others, and the type classes form a hierarchy, as shown in the following diagram.


We’ve left out some functions here, if you want to see the full list, or if you ever want to know more about a type, you can type in :info TypeName into GHCi. It will also tell you what other types are instances, or belong to, this type class.

ghci> :info Eq
class Eq a where
  (==) :: a -> a -> Bool
  (/=) :: a -> a -> Bool
  instance Eq a => Eq [a] -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Word -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Ordering -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Int -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Float -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Double -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Char -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
  instance Eq Bool -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’

Here, we can see that members of the type class Eq have the functions (==) and (/=) defined. We can also see that a few familiar types, Double, Char, Bool, Int all have equality defined on them. Digging deeper, we find the interesting lines

instance Eq a => Eq [a] -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’
instance (Eq a, Eq b) => Eq (a, b) -- Defined in ‘GHC.Classes’

which tell us that if a type a has equality defined, then so too does the type [a]. This is very powerful, as it saves on extra code that we don’t need to write. As soon as you’ve told haskell how to compare integers, it can automatically work out that [1,2] == [1,3] should evaluate to False.

The same goes for tuples: since Integer and Char both have equality defined, so does (Integer, Char) without any further work.

Applications of Type Classes

Consider the following function:

sum :: Num a => [a] -> a
sum list = case list of
    [] -> 0
    x:xs -> x + sum xs

The notation

Num a => [a] -> a

means that the function has type [a] as input, and returns an element of type a as output, where a is any type from the type class Num a. So [Integer] -> Integer, or [Double] -> Double are special cases of Num a => [a] -> a, but [Double] -> Integer or [Bool] -> Bool is not.

If we want a type to be a member of two or more type classes, we can enforce this.

areTheyEqual :: (Eq a, Show a) => a -> a -> String
areTheyEqual x y
    |x == y = (show x) ++ " is equal to " ++ (show y)
    |otherwise = (show x) ++ " is not equal to " ++ (show y)

Here, we are enforcing that the input type has equality defined, and can be turned into a string. Sometimes specifying two type classes is redundant, e.g. (Ord a, Eq a) => ... is the same as Ord a => ... as Ord is a subclass of Eq.

Exercise 1 (Optional)

This exercise is optional, and is here just to help you further get your head around type classes. If you feel confident, feel free to skip ahead to Exercise 2.

See if you can work out what type classes the following types belong to. You might like to experiment and try out some operations in GHCi (like trying to compare two elements with <=, or trying to add two elements together) to see what is defined.

(Integer, Integer)
(Integer, Double)
Integer -> Integer
Maybe Integer

Exercise 2

Try and work out the type of the following functions. Try to make the type as general as possible.

You can check your answers by asking GHCi what it had inferred the type to be, by entering :type functionName.

-- cow :: ???
cow x y z = x && (y `elem` z)

-- foo :: ???
foo x y z = x `elem` y && y `elem` z

-- bar :: ???
bar x y = case y of
    Nothing -> x
    Just z  -> x + z

-- snap :: ???
snap x y
    |x > y = show x
    |otherwise = show y

Submission required: Exercise 2 inferring types


When we create a new type, we would like to tell Haskell what type class our new type shall belong to. We use the following code,

instance TypeClass MyNewType where

which breaks down as:

  • instance is a reserved keyword indicating we are adding a new type to a type class
  • TypeClass is the type class we want our new type to belong to
  • MyNewType is the name of our new type

We then have to define all the functions that a member of that type class should have defined.

  • For the Eq type class, we need only (==), (and we get (/=) for free.)
  • For Ord, we need to already be in Eq, and then also define either (<=) or compare (and Haskell can work out all the other operators like (<), (>), (>=) for free.)

If you’re interested, you can look at the documentation for the Prelude, and under each type class, the minimal complete definition tells you the fewest functions that you need to define, and then the rest are automatically derived for you.

For example, (see Fruit.hs) suppose we define a new type for fruit,

data Fruit = Apple | Banana | Orange

and we wanted to define equality on our fruit. We need to tell Haskell what (==) means for fruit.

instance Eq Fruit where
    Apple == Apple = True
    Banana == Banana = True
    Orange == Orange = True
    _ == _           = False

So we define equality in the obvious way. All fruits are equal to themselves, and any fruit is not equal to a different fruit.

Note that there was nothing forcing me to define equality in this way, I could have defined Apple == Banana to be True but Banana == Apple to be False. This doesn’t mean that we should, though. To do so would be very poor style, and go against the Haskell standard.

I can also define what it means to show a Fruit.

instance Show Fruit where
    show fruit = case fruit of
        Apple -> "An apple."
        Banana -> "A banana! Yum!"
        Orange -> "Yuck, an orange."

So when I type Banana into GHCi, a Banana is printed to the terminal using my custom definition for show.

> Banana
A banana! Yum!

I can also define ordering on fruit. I’m going to order fruit by how much I enjoy eating them: Banana being the best, Apple being okay, and Orange is the worst. (Deepest apologies to those that love oranges.)

If we give a full definition of the (<=) function:

instance Ord Fruit where
    (<=) Orange Apple = True
    (<=) Apple Banana = True
    (<=) Orange Banana = True

    (<=) Banana Apple = False
    (<=) Apple Orange = False
    (<=) Banana Orange = False

    (<=) Banana Banana = True
    (<=) Apple Apple = True
    (<=) Orange Orange = True

then Haskell can use that to define all the usual ordering operators:

> (Banana > Orange)

You’ll note how tedious it is to write out all the cases. Surely if Orange <= Apple and Apple <= Banana, then Orange <= Banana, right?

Sadly, Haskell doesn’t place any sensible constraints on the <= function we define. It’s up to the user to define <= in such a way that the usual ordering properties you would expect, are satisfied.

Deriving Type Classes

Rather than doing the hard work ourselves, we can ask Haskell to define a lot of these properties for us, using the deriving keyword.

data Fruit = Orange | Apple | Banana
    deriving (Ord, Show)

Haskell will assume the equality you wanted is the “obvious” implementation, that every fruit is equal to itself, and that no two different fruits are equal.

It will also place a ordering on fruit, on the order they appear in the definition of Fruit, so Orange is less than Apple, which is in turn less than Banana. The default definitions of equality and ordering Haskell provides satisfy all the nice properties you would expect them to. The default implementation of show will also print each fruit exactly as they are defined.

> show Banana

Type classes where you can ask Haskell to do the hard work (defining all the functions automatically) for you are called derivable classes. Not all type classes are derivable. If we tried to add arithmetic to our fruit by making it a member of the type class Num,

data Fruit = Orange | Apple | Banana
    deriving (Ord, Show, Num)

then Haskell will throw an error

    Can't make a derived instance of `Num Fruit':
      `Num' is not a derivable class

and inform you that it doesn’t know how to define arithmetic on Fruit. What should Apple + Banana be? What about Banana * Orange? There’s no obvious way to define it.

Exercise 3A

Recall our definition of Nat from Lab 06.

data Nat = Z | S Nat
    deriving Show

We’d like to define equality on natural numbers: Two arbitrary natural numbers are equal if they have the successor S applied the same number of times.

Using the template given, define the function (==) for the type Nat.

Do not use deriving Eq here. You should define equality yourself.

Exercise 3B

It’s possible to place an ordering on natural numbers as follows:

Z < (S Z) < S (S Z) < ...

So if we want to ensure Nat belongs to the type class Ord, we need only to define a definition of (<=), and Haskell can work out corresponding definitions for all the other operators defined on Ord: (<), (>), max, min, compare.

Using the template given, define the function (<=) for the type Nat.

Do not use deriving Ord here. You should define equality yourself.

> Z >= (S Z)
> max (S Z) (S (S Z))
(S (S Z))
> (S Z) == (S Z)
> (S Z) == (S (S Z))

Submission required: Exercise 3A, 3B, instance Eq, Ord

Binary Search Trees

We saw in Lab 9 how we can write functions over binary trees, and over rose trees, but we haven’t yet seen how efficient the tree data structure can be. You might have noticed that for the exercises in last lab, you were forced to look through all the elements in a tree to check if something was there, or to find the maximum/minimum element, as you would have to do with a list. So far, trees appear to just be lists, but more annoying to deal with.

We need to add one extra property to provide trees with much more power than they currently have, a property we call the binary search ordering constraint.

A binary tree satisfies the binary search ordering constraint, if either:

  • It is a Null tree
  • Every element in the left hand sub-tree is strictly less than the root, and every element in the right hand sub-tree is strictly more than the root. Furthermore, both sub-trees also satisfy the binary search ordering constraint.

Binary trees that meet this constraint are called binary search trees.

Note that it is very important for the sub-trees to also pass the ordering constraint, given the following example tree. (This tree is included for you as notBStree.)


See how on the left sub-tree, it is true that all elements \(\{1,3,2\}\) are less than the root node of 5. But if we consider the left sub-tree in isolation:


We can see that the left sub-tree does not satisfy the ordering constraint, as the root node 3, is bigger than the biggest element in the right sub-tree, 2.

This means the original tree is not a binary search tree.

In Haskell, binary search trees are no different structurally from binary trees, and so we define them appropriately

type BSTree a = BinaryTree a

while keeping in mind that any instance of a BSTree had better satisfy the ordering constraint, as there’s no easy way to enforce that property in the type itself.

This also means the type a that a BSTree contains must be a member of the type class Ord.

This ordering property is what gives binary search trees a huge improvement in performance on lists. We can search through the tree, moving left if the root node is too large, and moving right if it’s too small. To see an example, see the appendix at the end of this lab. Otherwise, you can move on with the exercises.

Exercise 4

Rewrite the elemTree function from Lab 9 but this time you may assume that the input tree satisfies the binary search ordering constraint.
elemBSTree :: (Ord a) => a -> (BSTree a) -> Bool

Do not use the same function as before, you should be able to search more efficiently. As a reminder, this function should take an element, and a binary search tree, and check if that element is present in the tree.

> elemBSTree 5 goodTree
> elemBSTree 30 goodTree

Submission required: Exercise 4 elemBSTree

Exercise 5

Rewrite the treeMaximum and treeMinimum functions, again assuming the input tree is a binary search tree. Be efficient!
treeBSMax :: (Ord a) => BSTree a -> a
treeBSMin :: (Ord a) => BSTree a -> a
> treeBSMax goodTree
> treeBSMin goodTree

Submission required: Exercise 5 treeMaximum, treeMinimum

Exercise 6

Write a function isBSTree that takes a binary tree as input, and checks if the binary search constraint holds.
isBSTree :: (Ord a) => BinaryTree a -> Bool
> isBSTree goodTree
> isBSTree unbalancedTree
> isBSTree notBSTree

Submission required: Exercise 6 isBSTree

Exercise 7

Write a function treeInsert that takes a binary search tree, and an element, and inserts that element into the tree, ensuring the binary search ordering constraint still holds.
treeInsert :: (Ord a) => BSTree a -> a -> BSTree a

(If the element is already in the tree, leave the tree unchanged.)

You may find the printTree function useful for this exercise, so that you can verify that the function inserts a new element into the correct place.

> treeInsert smallTree 3
Node (Node Null 1 (Node Null 3 Null)) 5 (Node Null 10 Null)
> treeInsert smallTree 20
Node (Node Null 1 Null) 5 (Node Null 10 (Node Null 20 Null))
> treeInsert smallTree 1
Node (Node Null 1 Null) 5 (Node Null 10 Null)

Submission required: Exercise 7 treeInsert

Exercise 8

Write a function flattenTreeOrd that flattens a binary tree, but preserves the ordering.

(That is, when a binary search tree is flattened, the resulting list should be sorted.)

flattenTreeOrd :: BinaryTree a -> [a]
> flattenTreeOrd smallTree
> flattenTreeOrd notBSTree

Submission required: Exercise 8 flattenTreeOrd

Extensions (Optional)

Extension 1


Write a function

treeDelete :: (Ord a) => (BSTree a) -> a -> (BSTree a)

that takes a binary search tree, and an element, and removes it from the tree (if it is present).

Note that this is much harder than insertion. Take the example tree above. Deleting 5 is obvious, as we just trim off that sub-tree and replace it will Null. But what should we do if I wanted to delete 4, or even worse, delete the root note, 3? The entire tree falls into two pieces, and must be restructured into a new tree that contains the remaining elements, while maintaining the ordering property. I recommend drawing out a few examples by hand to get your head around it first.

Submission required: Extension 1 treeDelete

Extension 2 (Tricky)

Depending on how much you care about efficiency, this problem can be very difficult to implement efficiently, and may require some external research. Many different kinds of trees (Red-Black, AVL, etc.) are specifically defined to make certain operations like balancing easier to do.

Write a function

treeBalance :: (Ord a) => BSTree a -> BSTree a

that takes a binary search tree of integers, and rearranges the structure of the tree so it is now balanced. You may have to do some research as to how to implement this. (Really Tricky: Do it without rebuilding the entire tree from scratch.)

Submission optional: Extension 2 treeBalance

Extension 3

Nat acts like a number, so we’d also like it to be a member of the type class Num.

For those that are mathematically inclined, the operators (+) and (*) can actually be far more general than just addition and multiplication. The general term for any structure containing a set of values, a definition for \(+\) and for \(\times\) is called an algebraic ring, which you may see if you go on to study formal mathematics. In general, (+) and (*) can be any operator that satisfies a set of “nice proprieties”, such as the law of distributivity: x * (y + z) == (x * y) + (x * z). The full set of laws that (+) and (*) should satisfy is available here. As an example, if we choose (+) to be logical exclusive or, and (*) to be logical and, then we can define Bool as an instance of Num, and all the nice properties hold.

Using the template given, define the functions (+),(-),(*),abs,signum,fromInteger for the Nat type.

Note that for an instance a of Num:

  • abs :: a -> a is the absolute value function
  • signum :: a -> a returns the sign of a number, \(+1\) if the number is positive, \(0\) if the number is zero, and \(-1\) if it is negative.
  • fromInteger :: Integer -> a takes an Integer, and converts it to the new number type a.

You can get away without a definition for negate, as once (-) is defined, Haskell can work out negate for free. (Given that natural numbers cannot be negative anyway, the negate function is not very useful to us.)

Note that some of the functions required to make Nat an instance of Num may be sometimes undefined. There is no “minus one” in Nat, after all. Try to ensure as many functions are defined as possible, for as many inputs as possible. You should throw an error for attempting to perform any operation undefined in the natural numbers, like trying to compute 2 - 3.

> (S Z) + (S (S Z))
(S (S (S Z)))
> (S Z) - (S Z)
> (S (S Z)) * (S (S (S Z)))
S (S (S (S (S (S Z)))))
> (fromInteger 2) :: Nat
S (S Z)
> (S Z) - (S (S Z))
*** Exception: Can't have negative natural numbers

Submission optional: Extension 3 Nat as an instance of Num

Extension 4

We’d like to be able to define equality on binary trees based on the elements in the tree. If we just used deriving Eq, then two trees would be identical if they have precisely the same elements and structure.

For the purposes of this question, we will define equality on binary trees to be the following weaker definition: Two trees are defined to be equal if they share the same elements, with the same ordering (although the structure need not be the same).

Add an instance of equality for binary trees that satisfies this weaker definition of equality.

Since we want this definition to work on any tree with elements who have equality defined on them, we use the following notation.

instance (Eq a) => Eq (BinaryTree a) where
    -- (==) ...

which means that we are defining what == means for anything of type BinaryTree a, where a must be a member of the type class Eq.

> goodTree == unbalancedTree

Try come up with some other test cases to verify this function works. You may wish to draw them out by hand first.

Submission optional: Extension 4 instance (Eq a) => Eq (BinaryTree a)

Imagine you were trying to find a name in the telephone book, and it was stored as a list. You’d have to go through the names, one by one, till you found the one you were looking for. Not very efficient. In practise when we are trying to find a name in the telephone book, we go to the middle of the book, and see if the name we are looking for comes before or after the letter M, which is in the middle of the alphabet. We then take the section that’s left over, and divide it in half too. By using this method of bisection search, so called because we are halving, or bisecting, the search space in half each time, we can find a single name in a book of millions, in only a minute or so. Not bad. As we will see, binary search trees share some of these properties, which makes them very useful for quick retrieval of data.

Take for example the binary search tree below, included as goodTree. (The dashed circles represent nodes that we haven’t explored yet.)


If we were searching to see if the number 16 was present or not, we would look at the root node, and see if it was 16 (which it isn’t). 16 is bigger than 15, so if 16 was in the tree, it must be to the right, by the ordering constraint. So we can immediately discard the entire left subtree, and only check the right.


Is 23 the element we are looking for? No, it’s too big, so that means if 16 exists, it has to be to the left.


17 is still bigger, so we keep looking left.


There it is! And look at how much of the tree we never needed to look at! Had we been looking for 26, we could abandon the search even earlier, as we would not need to go down to the deepest layer. Had these numbers been in a list instead, we would have to manually check every single element until we found 16.

This is an ideal case however, as our tree was perfectly balanced, that is, this tree cannot be restructured in any other way without increasing the depth. We could have the same elements arranged in the following tree (included as unbalancedTree):


This tree is still a valid binary search tree, all elements to the left are smaller, all elements to the right are bigger. It’s just not a very useful tree, as we’d have to go through half of the elements in the tree to find 31, much more than the balanced tree. However, 1 is much easier to find, only after a single comparison.

Might there be circumstances when we would we want an unbalanced tree in this fashion? Think about this and discuss with a neighbour.

In the absolute worst case, all the elements are listed one by one in the right subtrees, and all left subtrees are always Null. We call such a tree a degenerate tree, as it’s essentially the same as a list.

Usually, we want our trees to be balanced, to minimise the access time of any element.

For a balanced tree with \(n\) elements, on average, how many lookups would you have to perform to check if a particular element is present? What if the tree was degenerate? We will revisit these questions in more depth in Lab 11.

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