Functional reactive programming library

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Netwire

Netwire is a functional reactive programming (FRP) library with signal inhibition. It implements three related concepts, wires, intervals and events, the most important of which is the wire. To work with wires we will need a few imports:

import FRP.Netwire
import Prelude hiding ((.), id)

The FRP.Netwire module exports the basic types and helper functions. It also has some convenience reexports you will pretty much always need when working with wires, including Control.Category. This is why we need the explicit Prelude import.

In general wires are generalized automaton arrows, so you can express many design patterns using them. The FRP.Netwire module provides a proper FRP framework based on them, which strictly respects continuous time and discrete event semantics. When developing a framework based on Netwire, e.g. a GUI library or a game engine, you may want to import Control.Wire instead.

Introduction

The following type is central to the entire library:

data Wire s e m a b

Don't worry about the large number of type arguments. They all have very simple meanings, which will be explained below.

A value of this type is called a wire and represents a reactive value of type b, that is a value that may change over time. It may depend on a reactive value of type a. In a sense a wire is a function from a reactive value of type a to a reactive value of type b, so whenever you see something of type Wire s e m a b your mind should draw an arrow from a to b. In FRP terminology a reactive value is called a behavior.

A constant reactive value can be constructed using pure:

pure 15

This wire is the reactive value 15. It does not depend on other reactive values and does not change over time. This suggests that there is an applicative interface to wires, which is indeed the case:

liftA2 (+) (pure 15) (pure 17)

This reactive value is the sum of two reactive values, each of which is just a constant, 15 and 17 respectively. So this is the constant reactive value 32. Let's spell out its type:

myWire :: (Monad m, Num b) => Wire s e m a b
myWire = liftA2 (+) (pure 15) (pure 17)

This indicates that m is some kind of underlying monad. As an application developer you don't have to concern yourself much about it. Framework developers can use it to allow wires to access environment values through a reader monad or to produce something (like a GUI) through a writer monad.

The wires we have seen so far are rather boring. Let's look at a more interesting one:

time :: (HasTime t s) => Wire s e m a t

This wire represents the current local time, which starts at zero when execution begins. It does not make any assumptions about the time type other than that it is a numeric type with a Real instance. This is enforced implicitly by the HasTime constraint.

The type of this wire gives some insight into the s parameter. Wires are generally pure and do not have access to the system clock or other run-time information. The timing information has to come from outside and is passed to the wire through a value of type s, called the state delta. We will learn more about this in the next section about executing wires.

Since there is an applicative interface you can also apply fmap to a wire to apply a function to its value:

fmap (2*) time

This reactive value is a clock that is twice as fast as the regular local time clock. If you use system time as your clock, then the time type t will most likely be NominalDiffTime from Data.Time.Clock. However, you will usually want to have time of type Double or some other floating point type. There is a predefined wire for this:

timeF :: (Fractional b, HasTime t s, Monad m) => Wire s e m a b
timeF = fmap realToFrac time

If you think of reactive values as graphs with the horizontal axis representing time, then the time wire is just a straight diagonal line and constant wires (constructed by pure) are just horizontal lines. You can use the applicative interface to perform arithmetic on them:

liftA2 (\t c -> c - 2*t) time (pure 60)

This gives you a countdown clock that starts at 60 and runs twice as fast as the regular clock. So it after two seconds its value will be 56, decreasing by 2 each second.

Testing wires

Enough theory, we wanna see some performance now! Let's write a simple program to test a constant (pure) wire:

import Control.Wire
import Prelude hiding ((.), id)

wire :: (Monad m) => Wire s () m a Integer
wire = pure 15

main :: IO ()
main = testWire (pure ()) wire

This should just display the value 15. Abort the program by pressing Ctrl-C. The testWire function is a convenience to examine wires. It just executes the wire and continuously prints its value to stdout:

testWire ::
    (MonadIO m, Show b, Show e)
    => Session m s
    -> (forall a. Wire s e Identity a b)
    -> m c

The type signatures in Netwire are known to be scary. =) But like most of the library the underlying meaning is actually very simple. Conceptually the wire is run continuously step by step, at each step increasing its local time slightly. This process is traditionally called stepping.

As an FRP developer you assume a continuous time model, so you don't observe this stepping process from the point of view of your reactive application, but it can be useful to know that wire execution is actually a discrete process.

The first argument of testWire needs some explanation. It is a recipe for state deltas. In the above example we have just used pure (), meaning that we don't use anything stateful from the outside world, particularly we don't use a clock. From the type signature it is also clear that this sets s = ().

The second argument is the wire to run. The input type is quantified meaning that it needs to be polymorphic in its input type. In other words it means that the wire does not depend on any other reactive value. The underlying monad is Identity with the obvious meaning that this wire cannot have any monadic effects.

The following application just displays the number of seconds passed since program start (with some subsecond precision):

wire :: (HasTime t s) => Wire s () m a t
wire = time

main :: IO ()
main = testWire clockSession_ wire

Since this time the wire actually needs a clock we use clockSession_ as the second argument:

clockSession_ ::
    (Applicative m, MonadIO m)
    => Session m (Timed NominalDiffTime ())

It will instantiate s to be Timed NominalDiffTime (). This type indeed has a HasTime instance with t being NominalDiffTime. In simpler words it provides a clock to the wire. At first it may seem weird to use NominalDiffTime instead of something like UTCTime, but this is reasonable, because time is relative to the wire's start time. Also later in the section about switching we will see that a wire does not necessarily start when the program starts.

Constructing wires

Now that we know how to test wires we can start constructing more complicated wires. First of all it is handy that there are many convenience instances, including Num. Instead of pure 15 we can simply write 15. Also instead of

liftA2 (+) time (pure 17)

we can simply write:

time + 17

This clock starts at 17 instead of zero. Let's make it run twice as fast:

2*time + 17

If you have trouble wrapping your head around such an expression it may help to read a*b + c mathematically as a(t)b(t) + c(t) and read time as simply t.

So far we have seen wires that ignore their input. The following wire uses its input:

integral 5

It literally integrates its input value with respect to time. Its argument is the integration constant, i.e. the start value. To supply an input simply compose it:

integral 5 . 3

Remember that 3 really means pure 3, a constant wire. The integral of the constant 3 is 3t + c and here c = 5. Here is another example:

integral 5 . time

Since time denotes t the integral will be $\frac{1}{2} t^2 + c$, again with c = 5. This may sound like a complicated, sophisticated wire, but it's really not. Surprisingly there is no crazy algebra or complicated numerical algorithm going on under the hood. Integrating over time requires one addition and one division each frame. So there is nothing wrong with using it extensively to animate a scene or to move objects in a game.

Sometimes categorical composition and the applicative interface can be inconvenient, in which case you may choose to use the arrow interface. The above integration can be expressed the following way:

proc _ -> do
    t <- time -< ()
    integral 5 -< t

Since time ignores its input signal, we just give it a constant signal with value (). We name time's value t and pass it as the input signal to integral.

Intervals

Wires may choose to produce a signal only for a limited amount of time. We refer to those wires as intervals. When a wire does not produce, then it inhibits. Example:

for 3

This wire acts like the identity wire in that it passes its input signal through unchanged:

for 3 . "yes"

The signal of this wire will be "yes", but after three seconds it will stop to act like the identity wire and will inhibit forever.

When you use testWire inhibition will be displayed as "I:" followed by a value, the inhibition value. This is what the e parameter to Wire is. It's called the inhibition monoid:

for :: (HasTime t s, Monoid e) => t -> Wire s e m a a

As you can see the input and output types are the same and fully polymorphic, hinting at the identity-like behavior. All predefined intervals inhibit with the mempty value. When the wire inhibits, you don't get a signal of type a, but rather an inhibition value of type e. Netwire does not interpret this value in any way and in most cases you would simply use e = ().

Intervals give you a very elegant way to combine wires:

for 3 . "yes" <|> "no"

This wire produces "yes" for three seconds. Then the wire to the left of <|> will stop producing, so <|> will use the wire to its right instead. You can read the operator as a left-biased "or". The signal of the wire w1 <|> w2 will be the signal of the leftmost component wire that actually produced a signal. There are a number of predefined interval wires. The above signal can be written equivalently as:

after 3 . "no" <|> "yes"

The left wire will inhibit for the first three seconds, so during that interval the right wire is chosen. After that, as suggested by its name, the after wire starts acting like the identity wire, so the left side takes precedence. Once the time period has passed the after wire will produce forever, leaving the "yes" wire never to be reached again. However, you can easily combine intervals:

after 5 . for 6 . "Blip!" <|> "Look at me..."

The left wire will produce after five seconds from the beginning for six seconds from the beginning, so effectively it will produce for one second. When you animate this wire, you will see the string "Look at me..." for five seconds, then you will see "Blip!" for one second, then finally it will go back to "Look at me..." and display that one forever.

Events

Events are things that happen at certain points in time. Examples include button presses, network packets or even just reaching a certain point in time. As such they can be thought of as lists of values together with their occurrence times. Events are actually first class signals of the Event type:

data Event a

For example the predefined never event is the event that never occurs:

never :: Wire s e m a (Event b)

As suggested by the type events contain a value. Netwire does not export the constructors of the Event type by default. If you are a framework developer you can import the Control.Wire.Unsafe.Event module to implement your own events. A game engine may include events for key presses or certain things happening in the scene. However, as an application developer you should view this type as being opaque. This is necessary in order to protect continuous time semantics. You cannot access event values directly.

There are a number of ways to respond to an event. The primary way to do this in Netwire is to turn events into intervals. There are a number of predefined wires for that purpose, for example asSoonAs:

asSoonAs :: (Monoid e) => Wire s e m (Event a) a

This wire takes an event signal as its input. Initially it inhibits, but as soon as the event occurs for the first time, it produces the event's last value forever. The at event will occur only once after the given time period has passed:

at :: (HasTime t s) => t -> Wire s e m a (Event a)

Example:

at 3 . "blubb"

This event will occur after three seconds, and the event's value will be "blubb". Using asSoonAs we can turn this into an interval:

asSoonAs . at 3 . "blubb"

This wire will inhibit for three seconds and then start producing. It will produce the value "blubb" forever. That's the event's last value after three seconds, and it will never change, because the event does not occur ever again. Here is an example that may be more representative of that property:

asSoonAs . at 3 . time

This wire inhibits for three seconds, then it produces the value 3 (or a value close to it) forever. Notice that this is not a clock. It does not produce the current time, but the time at the point in time when the event occurred.

To combine multiple events there are a number of options. In principle you should think of event values to form a semigroup (of your choice), because events can occur simultaneously. However, in many cases the actual value of the event is not that interesting, so there is an easy way to get a left- or right-biased combination:

(at 2 <& at 3) . time

This event occurs two times, namely once after two seconds and once after three seconds. In each case the event value will be the occurrence time. Here is an interesting case:

at 2 . "blah" <& at 2 . "blubb"

These events will occur simultaneously. The value will be "blah", because <& means left-biased combination. There is also &> for right-biased combination. If event values actually form a semigroup, then you can just use monoidal composition:

at 2 . "blah" <> at 2 . "blubb"

Again these events occur at the same time, but this time the event value will be "blahblubb". Note that you are using two Monoid instances and one Semigroup instance here. If the signals of two wires form a monoid, then wires themselves form a monoid:

w1 <> w2 = liftA2 (<>) w1 w2

There are many predefined event-wires and many combinators for manipulating events in the Control.Wire.Event module. A common events is the now event:

now :: Wire s e m a (Event a)

This event occurs once at the beginning.

Switching

We still lack a meaningful way to respond to events. This is where switching comes in, sometimes also called dynamic switching. The most important combinator for switching is -->:

w1 --> w2

The idea is really straightforward: This wire acts like w1 as long as it produces. As soon as it stops producing it is discarded and w2 takes its place. Example:

for 3 . "yes" --> "no"

In this case the behavior will be the same as in the intervals section, but with two major differences: Firstly when the first interval ends, it is completely discarded and garbage-collected, never to be seen again. Secondly and more importantly the point in time of switching will be the beginning for the new wire. Example:

for 3 . time --> time

This wire will show a clock counting to three seconds, then it will start over from zero. This is why we usually refer to time as local time.

Recursion is fully supported. Here is a fun example:

netwireIsCool =
    for 2 . "Once upon a time..." -->
    for 3 . "... games were completely imperative..." -->
    for 2 . "... but then..." -->
    for 10 . ("Netwire 5! " <> anim) -->
    netwireIsCool

  where
    anim =
        holdFor 0.5 . periodic 1 . "Hoo..." <|>
        "...ray!"