# Instance Arguments¶

Instance arguments are the Agda equivalent of Haskell type class
constraints and can be used for many of the same purposes. In Agda
terms, they are implicit arguments that
get solved by a special instance
resolution algorithm, rather than by the
unification algorithm used for normal implicit arguments. In
principle, an instance argument is resolved, if a unique *instance* of
the required type can be built from declared
instances and the current context.

## Usage¶

Instance arguments are enclosed in double curly braces `{{ }}`

, e.g. `{{x : T}}`

.
Alternatively they can be enclosed, with proper spacing, e.g. `⦃ x : T ⦄`

, in the
unicode braces `⦃ ⦄`

(`U+2983`

and `U+2984`

, which can be typed as
`\{{`

and `\}}`

in the Emacs mode).

For instance, given a function `_==_`

```
_==_ : {A : Set} {{eqA : Eq A}} → A → A → Bool
```

for some suitable type `Eq`

, you might define

```
elem : {A : Set} {{eqA : Eq A}} → A → List A → Bool
elem x (y ∷ xs) = x == y || elem x xs
elem x [] = false
```

Here the instance argument to `_==_`

is solved by the corresponding argument
to `elem`

. Just like ordinary implicit arguments, instance arguments can be
given explicitly. The above definition is equivalent to

```
elem : {A : Set} {{eqA : Eq A}} → A → List A → Bool
elem {{eqA}} x (y ∷ xs) = _==_ {{eqA}} x y || elem {{eqA}} x xs
elem x [] = false
```

A very useful function that exploits this is the function `it`

which lets you
apply instance resolution to solve an arbitrary goal:

```
it : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : A}} → A
it {{x}} = x
```

Note that instance arguments in types are always named, but the name can be `_`

:

```
_==_ : {A : Set} → {{Eq A}} → A → A → Bool -- INVALID
```

```
_==_ : {A : Set} {{_ : Eq A}} → A → A → Bool -- VALID
```

### Defining type classes¶

The type of an instance argument must have the form `{Γ} → C vs`

,
where `C`

is a bound variable or the name of a data or record type,
and `{Γ}`

denotes an arbitrary number of (ordinary) implicit
arguments (see Dependent instances below for an example where
`Γ`

is non-empty). Other than that there are no requirements on the
type of an instance argument. In particular, there is no special
declaration to say that a type is a “type class”. Instead,
Haskell-style type classes are usually defined as record types. For instance,

```
record Monoid {a} (A : Set a) : Set a where
field
mempty : A
_<>_ : A → A → A
```

In order to make the fields of the record available as functions taking instance arguments you can use the special module application

```
open Monoid {{...}} public
```

This will bring into scope

```
mempty : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Monoid A}} → A
_<>_ : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Monoid A}} → A → A → A
```

Superclass dependencies can be implemented using Instance fields.

See Module application and Record modules for details about how
the module application is desugared. If defined by hand, `mempty`

would be

```
mempty : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Monoid A}} → A
mempty {{mon}} = Monoid.mempty mon
```

Although record types are a natural fit for Haskell-style type classes, you can use instance arguments with data types to good effect. See the Examples below.

### Declaring instances¶

A seen above, instance arguments in the context are available when solving
instance arguments, but you also need to be able to
define top-level instances for concrete types. This is done using the
`instance`

keyword, which starts a block in
which each definition is marked as an instance available for instance
resolution. For example, an instance `Monoid (List A)`

can be defined as

```
instance
ListMonoid : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} → Monoid (List A)
ListMonoid = record { mempty = []; _<>_ = _++_ }
```

Or equivalently, using copatterns:

```
instance
ListMonoid : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} → Monoid (List A)
mempty {{ListMonoid}} = []
_<>_ {{ListMonoid}} xs ys = xs ++ ys
```

Top-level instances must target a named type (`Monoid`

in this case), and
cannot be declared for types in the context.

You can define local instances in let-expressions in the same way as a top-level instance. For example:

```
mconcat : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Monoid A}} → List A → A
mconcat [] = mempty
mconcat (x ∷ xs) = x <> mconcat xs
sum : List Nat → Nat
sum xs =
let instance
NatMonoid : Monoid Nat
NatMonoid = record { mempty = 0; _<>_ = _+_ }
in mconcat xs
```

Instances can have instance arguments themselves, which will be filled in recursively during instance resolution. For instance,

```
record Eq {a} (A : Set a) : Set a where
field
_==_ : A → A → Bool
open Eq {{...}} public
instance
eqList : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Eq A}} → Eq (List A)
_==_ {{eqList}} [] [] = true
_==_ {{eqList}} (x ∷ xs) (y ∷ ys) = x == y && xs == ys
_==_ {{eqList}} _ _ = false
eqNat : Eq Nat
_==_ {{eqNat}} = natEquals
ex : Bool
ex = (1 ∷ 2 ∷ 3 ∷ []) == (1 ∷ 2 ∷ []) -- false
```

Note the two calls to `_==_`

in the right-hand side of the second clause. The
first uses the `Eq A`

instance and the second uses a recursive call to
`eqList`

. In the example `ex`

, instance resolution, needing a value of type ```
Eq
(List Nat)
```

, will try to use the `eqList`

instance and find that it needs an
instance argument of type `Eq Nat`

, it will then solve that with `eqNat`

and return the solution `eqList {{eqNat}}`

.

Note

At the moment there is no termination check on instances, so it is possible
to construct non-sensical instances like
`loop : ∀ {a} {A : Set a} {{_ : Eq A}} → Eq A`

.
To prevent looping in cases like this, the search depth of instance search
is limited, and once the maximum depth is reached, a type error will be
thrown. You can set the maximum depth using the `--instance-search-depth`

flag.

#### Constructor instances¶

Although instance arguments are most commonly used for record types,
mimicking Haskell-style type classes, they can also be used with data
types. In this case you often want the constructors to be instances,
which is achieved by declaring them inside an `instance`

block. Typically arguments to constructors are not instance arguments,
so during instance resolution explicit arguments are treated as
instance arguments. See Instance resolution below for the
details.

A simple example of a constructor that can be made an instance is the reflexivity constructor of the equality type:

```
data _≡_ {a} {A : Set a} (x : A) : A → Set a where
instance refl : x ≡ x
```

This allows trivial equality proofs to be inferred by instance resolution,
which can make working with functions that have preconditions less of a burden.
As an example, here is how one could use this to define a function that takes a
natural number and gives back a `Fin n`

(the type of naturals smaller than
`n`

):

```
data Fin : Nat → Set where
zero : ∀ {n} → Fin (suc n)
suc : ∀ {n} → Fin n → Fin (suc n)
mkFin : ∀ {n} (m : Nat) {{_ : suc m - n ≡ 0}} → Fin n
mkFin {zero} m {{}}
mkFin {suc n} zero = zero
mkFin {suc n} (suc m) = suc (mkFin m)
five : Fin 6
five = mkFin 5 -- OK
```

In the first clause of `mkFin`

we use an absurd pattern to discharge the impossible assumption ```
suc m ≡
0
```

. See the next section for
another example of constructor instances.

Record fields can also be declared instances, with the effect that the corresponding projection function is considered a top-level instance.

### Examples¶

#### Proof search¶

Instance arguments are useful not only for Haskell-style type classes, but they can also be used to get some limited form of proof search (which, to be fair, is also true for Haskell type classes). Consider the following type, which models a proof that a particular element is present in a list as the index at which the element appears:

```
infix 4 _∈_
data _∈_ {A : Set} (x : A) : List A → Set where
instance
zero : ∀ {xs} → x ∈ x ∷ xs
suc : ∀ {y xs} → x ∈ xs → x ∈ y ∷ xs
```

Here we have declared the constructors of `_∈_`

to be instances, which allows
instance resolution to find proofs for concrete cases. For example,

```
ex₁ : 1 + 2 ∈ 1 ∷ 2 ∷ 3 ∷ 4 ∷ []
ex₁ = it -- computes to suc (suc zero)
ex₂ : {A : Set} (x y : A) (xs : List A) → x ∈ y ∷ y ∷ x ∷ xs
ex₂ x y xs = it -- suc (suc zero)
ex₃ : {A : Set} (x y : A) (xs : List A) {{i : x ∈ xs}} → x ∈ y ∷ y ∷ xs
ex₃ x y xs = it -- suc (suc i)
```

It will fail, however, if there are more than one solution, since instance arguments must be unique. For example,

```
fail₁ : 1 ∈ 1 ∷ 2 ∷ 1 ∷ []
fail₁ = it -- ambiguous: zero or suc (suc zero)
fail₂ : {A : Set} (x y : A) (xs : List A) {{i : x ∈ xs}} → x ∈ y ∷ x ∷ xs
fail₂ x y xs = it -- suc zero or suc (suc i)
```

#### Dependent instances¶

Consider a variant on the `Eq`

class where the equality function produces a
proof in the case the arguments are equal:

```
record Eq {a} (A : Set a) : Set a where
field
_==_ : (x y : A) → Maybe (x ≡ y)
open Eq {{...}} public
```

A simple boolean-valued equality function is problematic for types with dependencies, like the Σ-type

```
data Σ {a b} (A : Set a) (B : A → Set b) : Set (a ⊔ b) where
_,_ : (x : A) → B x → Σ A B
```

since given two pairs `x , y`

and `x₁ , y₁`

, the types of the second
components `y`

and `y₁`

can be completely different and not admit an
equality test. Only when `x`

and `x₁`

are *really equal* can we hope to
compare `y`

and `y₁`

. Having the equality function return a proof means
that we are guaranteed that when `x`

and `x₁`

compare equal, they really
are equal, and comparing `y`

and `y₁`

makes sense.

An `Eq`

instance for `Σ`

can be defined as follows:

```
instance
eqΣ : ∀ {a b} {A : Set a} {B : A → Set b} {{_ : Eq A}} {{_ : ∀ {x} → Eq (B x)}} → Eq (Σ A B)
_==_ {{eqΣ}} (x , y) (x₁ , y₁) with x == x₁
_==_ {{eqΣ}} (x , y) (x₁ , y₁) | nothing = nothing
_==_ {{eqΣ}} (x , y) (.x , y₁) | just refl with y == y₁
_==_ {{eqΣ}} (x , y) (.x , y₁) | just refl | nothing = nothing
_==_ {{eqΣ}} (x , y) (.x , .y) | just refl | just refl = just refl
```

Note that the instance argument for `B`

states that there should be
an `Eq`

instance for `B x`

, for any `x : A`

. The argument `x`

must be implicit, indicating that it needs to be inferred by
unification whenever the `B`

instance is used. See
Instance resolution below for more details.

## Instance resolution¶

Given a goal that should be solved using instance resolution we proceed in the following four stages:

- Verify the goal
First we check that the goal is not already solved. This can happen if there are unification constraints determining the value, or if it is of singleton record type and thus solved by eta-expansion.

Next we check that the goal type has the right shape to be solved by instance resolution. It should be of the form

`{Γ} → C vs`

, where the target type`C`

is a variable from the context or the name of a data or record type, and`{Γ}`

denotes a telescope of implicit arguments. If this is not the case instance resolution fails with an error message[1].Finally we have to check that there are no

*unconstrained*metavariables in`vs`

. A metavariable`α`

is considered constrained if it appears in an argument that is determined by the type of some later argument, or if there is an existing constraint of the form`α us = C vs`

, where`C`

inert (i.e. a data or type constructor). For example,`α`

is constrained in`T α xs`

if`T : (n : Nat) → Vec A n → Set`

, since the type of the second argument of`T`

determines the value of the first argument. The reason for this restriction is that instance resolution risks looping in the presence of unconstrained metavariables. For example, suppose the goal is`Eq α`

for some metavariable`α`

. Instance resolution would decide that the`eqList`

instance was applicable if setting`α := List β`

for a fresh metavariable`β`

, and then proceed to search for an instance of`Eq β`

.- Find candidates
- In the second stage we compute a set of
*candidates*. Let-bound variables and top-level definitions in scope are candidates if they are defined in an`instance`

block. Lambda-bound variables, i.e. variables bound in lambdas, function types, left-hand sides, or module parameters, are candidates if they are bound as instance arguments using`{{ }}`

. Only candidates that compute something of type`C us`

, where`C`

is the target type computed in the previous stage, are considered. - Check the candidates
We attempt to use each candidate in turn to build an instance of the goal type

`{Γ} → C vs`

. First we extend the current context by`Γ`

. Then, given a candidate`c : Δ → A`

we generate fresh metavariables`αs : Δ`

for the arguments of`c`

, with ordinary metavariables for implicit arguments, and instance metavariables, solved by a recursive call to instance resolution, for explicit arguments and instance arguments.Next we unify

`A[Δ := αs]`

with`C vs`

and apply instance resolution to the instance metavariables in`αs`

. Both unification and instance resolution have three possible outcomes:*yes*,*no*, or*maybe*. In case we get a*no*answer from any of them, the current candidate is discarded, otherwise we return the potential solution`λ {Γ} → c αs`

.- Compute the result
From the previous stage we get a list of potential solutions. If the list is empty we fail with an error saying that no instance for

`C vs`

could be found (*no*). If there is a single solution we use it to solve the goal (*yes*), and if there are multiple solutions we check if they are all equal. If they are, we solve the goal with one of them (*yes*), but if they are not, we postpone instance resolution (*maybe*), hoping that some of the*maybes*will turn into*nos*once we know more about the involved metavariables.If there are left-over instance problems at the end of type checking, the corresponding metavariables are printed in the Emacs status buffer together with their types and source location. The candidates that gave rise to potential solutions can be printed with the show constraints command (

`C-c C-=`

).

[1] | Instance goal verification is buggy at the moment. See issue #1322. |