Phil Schumann, Berlin
Software Developer

13 Feb 2017 Any programmer often needs to output live data temporarily for inspection, serialized in a structured-but-human-readable format (think JSON) and in Haskell, using show on any Showable does this brilliantly. Alas it's missing indentation of course, its primary purpose being reproducable roundtrippable serialization. This is fine until it isn't (eg. with many 1000s of output "lines"-when-wrapped for just 4 Showables while interoperating with Cabal).

Auto-indent Show-ables with 43 deps..

(The actual Haskell code snippet at the bottom-of-page — but first, some ranty ruminations ;)

Any programmer often needs to output live data temporarily for inspection, serialized in a structured-but-human-readable format (think JSON) and in Haskell, using show on any Showable does this brilliantly. Alas it's missing indentation of course, its primary purpose being reproducable roundtrippable serialization. This is fine until it isn't (eg. with many 1000s of output "lines"-when-wrapped for just 4 Showables while interoperating with Cabal).

So you look for a lib

Something lean only for temporary-developer-debugging-diagnostics-troubleshooting purposes, to be discarded when the code in question has solidified. Luckily you find just such a thing: roughly paraphrased (I don't want to rain on anyone's open-source libraries after all! it's not about that), its description reads "this is simple-but-robust: we don't fully parse Haskell syntax of Showable outputs, instead we just insert line-breaks and indentation reacting on commas, parentheses etc. This makes it robust even in the face of non-Haskell-syntax Showable outputs". Sounds brilliant! Exactly what's needed, just the necessary mere modicum of readability that indentation and line-wrappings afford us, without needing to code Show instances for 3rd-party data types. Let's stack install it and give it a try!

Only 2 dependencies..

Wait first quickly look at the dependencies.. ah well, "only 2" besides base:

  • ansi-wl-pprint, "a pretty printing library based on Wadler's paper A Prettier Printer, enhanced with support for ANSI terminal colored output" — uh-huh.. well let's see how that plays with outputting on Windows to console windows, SublimeText's output log or temp files..
  • trifecta, "modern parser combinator library with slicing and Clang-style colored diagnostics" — booy, fancy that! Again with the colors and what, now we do need some parsing action after all?

..no wait, it's 43

Anyway, you forget to remember that these 2 dependencies mean many more cascading dependencies and you still give it a try in your fresh library project. Immediately, stack commands that you now list in the project's stack.yaml a whopping additional 43 extra-deps because they don't come out-of-box with the standard Haskell (Stack) distribution:

- StateVar-1.1.0.4
- adjunctions-4.3
- integer-logarithms-1.0.1
- prelude-extras-0.4.0.3
- primitive-0.6.2.0
- stm-2.4.4.1
- attoparsec-0.13.1.0
- base-orphans-0.5.4
- bifunctors-5.4.1
- contravariant-1.4
- distributive-0.5.2
- exceptions-0.8.3
- free-4.12.4
- kan-extensions-5.0.1
- parallel-3.2.1.0
- parsec-3.1.11
- reflection-2.1.2
- scientific-0.3.4.10
- semigroupoids-5.1
- tagged-0.8.5
- text-1.2.2.1
- transformers-compat-0.5.1.4
- vector-0.12.0.0
- void-0.7.1
- ansi-terminal-0.6.2.3
- blaze-builder-0.4.0.2
- blaze-html-0.9.0.1
- blaze-markup-0.8.0.0
- charset-0.3.7.1
- comonad-5
- fingertree-0.1.1.0
- hashable-1.2.5.0
- lens-4.15.1
- mtl-2.2.1
- parsers-0.12.4
- profunctors-5.2
- reducers-3.12.1
- semigroups-0.18.2
- unordered-containers-0.2.7.2
- utf8-string-1.0.1.1
- show-prettyprint-0.1.2
- ansi-wl-pprint-0.6.7.3
- trifecta-1.6.2.1

Why is this rantworthy

Now in how many ways might this impede perhaps not all or most, but certainly "some" (aka. me) —

  • Any downstream package that will depend on this library project (and you know today there will be numerous) will need all these too (at least when referenced from custom-setup or explicit-setup-deps — and you know today that will be so).
  • Once the code-base has stabilized and there's no need for Showable outputs, will you remember to remove these? Oh but by now some other dependency might depend on 1 of these 43! All doable, yes; all workable, sure; all a major annoyance with regards to "developer flow".
  • Of course you end up with some IO/buffering abort/error message situation half-way through the output. I know, I know, time to go Linux/Unix/Posix and ditch Windows. It would only take a day or so, after all, to go from my machine's currently fully well-known stability/solidity/robustness to a new, hard-to-predict state of things. And I do like the Unices (my Windows is a leftover from 3D / OpenGL hacking last few years — I know how to make it lean, fast, reliable and resilient). Anyway, mission failed, proper desired output not attainable.
  • Of course .stack-work blew up from under-1MB (for a fairly fresh library package) to over-100MB, but that's inconsequential nowadays — except for the utterly trivial use-case at hand, just seems so unnecessarily wasteful (not the original library author's fault of course! —my use-case certainly wasn't his job to predict). Once you go down this path, you soon lose all discipline and the more your code-base grows out of hand, the more ready you and others will be to abandon it (yes, I count many dozens of dependencies instead of a dozen LoC "a code-base growing out of hands", because there will be conflicts, install errors, support issues in the future as some of these grow stale and the rest of the ecosystem evolves further — 3rd-party deps are both assets and liabilities..)

Just code the thing

So one does what has always worked well in the past, get one's hands dirty and get coding. The trend for the last few years was of course "a personal blog / CMS / ERP / Facebook clone in 3 lines" but ignoring such tomfoolery, we end up with 20 lines for the most basic, brute-force, naive auto-indenting-and-line-wrapping of Showable outputs — geared towards record-dominant outputs, not parens-dominant (so not suited for such ADT structures).

autoIndent =
    ind (0::Int , False , False , False) where
    ind _ ""
        = ""
    ind (ind1 , instr1 , inchr1 , inesc1) (c:rest)
        = let inany = instr2||inchr2||inesc2
            inesc2 = (instr2||inchr2) && (not inesc1) && (c=='\\')
            instr2  | instr1    = c/='\"' || inesc1
                    | _         = c=='\"' && not (inchr1||inesc1)
            inchr2  | inchr1    = c/='\'' || inesc1
                    | _         = c=='\'' && not (instr1||inesc1)
            ind2    | inany     = ind1
                    | _         = i c where
                        i '{' = ind1 + 1 ; i '}' = ind1 - 1 ; i _ = ind1
            nuline  | inany     = False
                    | _         = n c where
                        n '{' = True ; n ',' = True ; n _ = False
            nuln = if not nuline then "" else
                    '\n' : Data.List.replicate ind2 '\t'
        in c : nuln ++ ind (ind2 , instr2 , inchr2 , inesc2) rest

Spot a bug? Let me know. Can make the same thing more succinct? Let me know! Have a "cool" feature idea, a way to generalize this or allow for more parameterization or react-on-parens-and-brackets-too-not-just-braces? Then how about you write a library package that needs ~43 dependencies and put it up on Hackage.. ;)

Outputs still look "mildy odd" (compared to "proper code" or hand-authored such representations) when you don't parse certain contexts and then especially-format with regards to those, but that's OK, at least not "majorly irritating" and I have what I actually needed (some basic indentation and appropriate line-breaks) and nothing else. And this is one of those coding needs that comes back again and again and again, so good to not need to carry these 43 unneeded, untested, unknown, unscrutinized (for now!) dependencies over to all kinds of current and upcoming projects — at least for such a mundane and transient purpose!

I know, of course: "Stack makes handling dependencies a non-issue" (except needing to manually list not just 2 immediate ones but also the other 41 indirect ones for this current library project and all downstream "importers"!) and most probably the compilation pipeline never links what isn't actually used in code, but still! "Leanness", frugality, "sucklessness" begins at home, in your backyard! Except for throwaway projects of course, there anything goes.

 
Cogent
Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.
Meister Eckhart
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