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Using Lenses in PureScript

I believe we all have come across interesting problems while programming and once we found the solution or an easier way to do it, we had our minds blown away. I had a similar feeling when I discovered lenses and started using them. No, I am not talking about my glasses or eye lenses. I am talking about lenses in Haskell or PureScript. Incase you didn't know, we use PureScript at Juspay and after looking at the code for one of our projects, someone came up with a suggestion to use lenses. I had heard of the term, however never found a reason to use it. And now seemed like a good chance to do that.

Update: If you've read this post already then you should check out the end as I've updated the post to describe a shorter way to define lenses.

So let's start with the problem we have and how we would solve it. Let's say we have a lot of records which are wrapped in a constructor. Something like the following:

newtype Person = Person
  { id :: String
  , name :: String
  , location :: String

derive instance newtypePerson :: Newtype Person _

newtype Tweet = Tweet
  { id :: String
  , content :: String
  , location :: String

derive instance newtypeTweet :: Newtype Tweet _

And now to access the field location in a Person record, we might do something like this:

getLocFromPerson :: Person -> String
getLocFromPerson (Person person) = person.location

getLocFromPerson' :: Person -> String
getLocFromPerson' (Person {location}) = location

personRec = Person {id: "1", name: "Luke Skywalker", location: "Ahch-To"}
location = getLocFromPerson personRec
location' = getLocFromPerson' personRec

Or as we have a newtype instance for the Person type we could do this:

getLocFromPerson'' :: Person -> String
getLocFromPerson'' person = unwrap >>> _.location $ person

What if we want to access location from a Tweet type record?

getLocFromTweet :: Tweet -> String
getLocFromTweet (Tweet tweet) = tweet.location

getLocFromTweet' :: Tweet -> String
getLocFromTweet' (Tweet {location}) = location

getLocFromTweet'' :: Tweet -> String
getLocFromTweet'' tweet = unwrap >>> _.location $ tweet

Feels a bit redundant, doesn't it? Having to type the same thing again and again? There's a solution to this.

getLocation :: forall a b c. Newtype a { location :: c | b } => a -> c
getLocation = unwrap >>> _.location -- A

Now this is generic enough which will work on all records which have a Newtype instance and have a location field in the record. Also, if you notice the type signature of the function, you will find that we don't specify the type of location which means this would work for any type of the location field.

This is still not intuitive enough, and imagine every time having to write:

location' = getLocation personRecord
location'' = getLocation tweetRecord

But imagine writing something along the lines of

location' = personRecord.location
location'' = tweetRecord.location

This is how you would do in JavaScript or Python and it feels natural, right?

Here is where lenses come in. At this point you don't need to know how they work underneath. So we will get into how to use them right away.

Basically, you create a lens for the record, the fields, with the getters and setters and then you can use the functions lens provides for getting a field and setting a field. So how to create a lens for the Person type and Tweet type?

_locationPerson = lens (\(Person person) -> person.location)
                  (\(Person person) newValue -> Person person {location = newValue})

_locationTweet = lens (\(Tweet tweet) -> tweet.location)
                 (\(Tweet tweet) newValue -> Tweet tweet {location = newValue})

The first argument to the lens function is the getter for the location field and second is another function which is setter for the location field.

There's another way to create lenses for a field rather than writing the complete getters and setters. What we do is, we create a lens for the type with the getter and setter and compose the same to get lenses for the fields.

personLens = lens (\(Person person) -> person) (\_ -> Person)
tweetLens = lens (\(Tweet tweet) -> tweet) (\_ -> Tweet)

locationProp = prop (SProxy :: SProxy "location")

locationPersonLens = personLens <<< locationProp
locationTweetLens = tweetLens <<< locationProp

And now you can use something along the lines of: ^. which is an alias for viewOn

locationPerson = personRecord ^. _locationPerson
locationTweet = tweetRecord ^. _locationTweet

-- or
locationPerson' = viewOn _personRecord locationPerson
locationTweet' = viewOn _tweetRecord locationTweet

-- or
locationPerson'' = view _locationPerson personRecord
locationTweet'' = view _locationTweet tweetRecord

Or if we want to use the lens defined using prop it's the same.

locationPerson = personRecord ^. locationPersonLens
locationTweet = tweetRecord ^. locationTweetLens

-- or
locationPerson' = viewOn _personRecord locationPersonLens
locationTweet' = viewOn _tweetRecord locationTweetLens

-- or
locationPerson'' = view locationPersonLens personRecord
locationTweet'' = view locationTweetLens tweetRecord

However, if you notice, you will find that we are creating a lot of lenses which are redundant. Creating a lens for the same field in different types of records is useless and goes against why we want to use lenses. So let's resuse our solution up in A and make this generic so we can use it in our lens definition.

_location :: forall a b c. Newtype a {location :: c | b} => Lens' a c
_location = lens (unwrap >>> _.location)
            (\record newValue -> wrap $ (unwrap record) { location = newValue })

Now, does this not look generic enough? This would work for any record which has a Newtype instance and also has the field location and as our type definition is generic enough this can be used for any type of field location. And our accessor functions change to:

locationPerson = personRecord ^. _location
locationTweet = tweetRecord ^. _location

And to set a value in a record, we would usually do:

setLocPerson :: Person -> String -> Person
setLocPerson (Person person) newLocation = Person person {location = newLocation}

setLocTweet :: Tweet -> String -> Tweet
setLocTweet (Tweet tweet) newLocation = Tweet tweet {location = newLocation}

Instead, now we can use the functionality lens provides and use the setter function:

newPerson = set _location "Tatooine" personRecord
newTweet = set _location "Dagobah" tweetRecord

-- or
newPerson' = personRecord # _location .~ "Tatooine"
newTweet' = tweetRecord # _location .~ "Dagobah"

So, that's it for a bit of basics on how to get started with lens and hope you understood. And if not, let me know in the comments and I will try to clarify them out.


Thanks to the functionalprogramming Slack group I came across an interesting and shorter way to define our lenses and what we did is basically the more verbose way. The shorter solution is just using helper functions which do the work of what we are doing above.

_location :: forall a b c. Newtype a {location :: c | b} => Lens' a c
_location = _Newtype <<< prop (SProxy :: SProxy "location")

And that's it. The prop function gives us a getter and setter for the field location and the _Newtype function gives us an iso which does unwrap and wrap for us which we were performing in our older solution.

Curious about what else lenses could do? Thomas Honeyman wrote a wonderful article on the practical approach to using lenses. Read more about it here.


  1. Lenses by Simon Peyton Jones: Skills Matter
  2. John Weigley: Putting lenses to work: YouTube
  3. PureScript explanation of John Weigley's video by Dominick Gendill: Blog
  4. Functional Programming Slack: Invite link and Team


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