Inspired by this article about natural numbers from first principles in swift I implemented integers from scratch in Haskell.

Besides obviously being extremely inefficient, is this code idiomatic Haskell?

import Data.List
import GHC.Real

data ℤ = Pred ℤ | Zero | Succ ℤ

toNat = toEnum :: Int -> ℤ
fromNat = fromEnum :: ℤ -> Int  

toInteger' :: ℤ -> Integer
toInteger' Zero = 0
toInteger' (Succ n) = toInteger' n + 1
toInteger' (Pred n) = toInteger' n - 1

instance Show ℤ where

  show = ((++) "Nat: ") . show . toInteger'

data SimpleNat = MinusOne | One deriving (Eq, Ord, Show)

toList :: ℤ -> [SimpleNat]
toList Zero = []
toList (Succ n) = One : toList n
toList (Pred n) = MinusOne : toList n

fromList :: [SimpleNat] -> ℤ
fromList [] = Zero
fromList (One:xs) = Succ (fromList xs)
fromList (MinusOne:xs) = Pred (fromList xs)

normaliseList :: [SimpleNat] -> [SimpleNat]
normaliseList xs = normaliseSorted $ sort xs
                   where normaliseSorted xs = map fst filtered
                         filtered = filter (uncurry (==)) $ zip xs (reverse xs)

normalise :: ℤ -> ℤ
normalise = fromList . normaliseList . toList

instance Enum ℤ where

  succ (Pred n) = n
  succ n = Succ n

  pred (Succ n) = n
  pred n = Pred n

  toEnum n | n < 0 = Pred $ toEnum (n+1)
           | n > 0 = Succ $ toEnum (n-1)
           | otherwise = Zero

  fromEnum Zero = 0
  fromEnum (Succ n) = fromEnum n + 1
  fromEnum (Pred n) = fromEnum n - 1

instance Num ℤ where

  Zero + n = n
  n + Zero = n
  (Succ n) + m = Succ (n + m)
  (Pred n) + m = Pred (n + m)

  abs n = abs' $ normalise n
          where abs' (Pred n) = Succ (abs' n)
                abs' n = n

  signum n = signum' $ normalise n
             where signum' Zero = Zero
                   signum' (Succ n) = Succ Zero
                   signum' (Pred n) = Pred Zero

  negate n = negate' $ normalise n
             where negate' Zero = Zero
                   negate' (Succ n) = Pred (negate' n)
                   negate' (Pred n) = Succ (negate' n)

  fromInteger n | n < 0 = Pred $ fromInteger (n+1)
                | n > 0 = Succ $ fromInteger (n-1)
                | otherwise = Zero

  Zero * _ = Zero
  _ * Zero = Zero
  (Succ n) * m = n*m + m
  (Pred n) * m = n*m - m

instance Eq ℤ where

  n == m = normalise n `eq` normalise m
           where Zero `eq` Zero = True
                 (Succ n) `eq` (Succ m) = n `eq` m
                 (Pred n) `eq` (Pred m) = n `eq` m
                 _ `eq` _ = False

instance Ord ℤ where

  a `compare` b = normalise a `comp` normalise b
                  where Zero `comp` Zero = EQ
                        Zero `comp` (Succ _) = LT
                        Zero `comp` (Pred _) = GT
                        (Succ _) `comp` Zero = GT
                        (Succ _) `comp` (Pred _) = GT
                        (Pred _) `comp` Zero = LT
                        (Pred _) `comp` (Succ _) = LT
                        (Succ n) `comp` (Succ m) = n `comp` m
                        (Pred n) `comp` (Pred m) = n `comp` m

instance Real ℤ where

  toRational n = toInteger' n % 1

instance Integral ℤ where

  toInteger = toInteger'

  quotRem _ Zero = error "divide by zero"
  quotRem Zero _ = (Zero, Zero)
  quotRem n d | n == d = (Succ Zero,0)
              | n < d = (Zero, n)
              | otherwise = (Succ (fst foo), snd foo)
                          where foo = (n-d) `quotRem` d

2 Answers 2


This is some good looking code, there are just a few things that throw me. The first is that you're defining the integers but occasionally referring to them as "Nat"s. The natural numbers are non-negative integers, don't confuse the two.

toNat = toEnum :: Int -> ℤ
fromNat = fromEnum :: ℤ -> Int

This is a strange construction, give the type signature before the definition of the function and GHC will figure out which version of toEnum and fromEnum to use. Anything else is unusual and unnecessary.

Your Show instance should really just punt to the instance for Integers. Again, naturals numbers aren't integers so your "Nat: " tag is incorrect, it doesn't really add anything, and it makes writing a Read instance more difficult. Also there's no need to section infix functions by writing them prefix style. Thus:

instance Show ℤ where
    show = show . toInteger

instance Read ℤ where
    read = fromInteger . read

Your normalization function is more complex than it needs to be, but consider what having to normalize says about the representation you picked. Here's one version that doesn't change anything about your data types.

normalise = fromList . uncurry tailOfLonger . partition isOne . toList
          isOne :: SimpleNat -> Bool
          isOne One = True
          isOne _   = False

          tailOfLonger :: [a] -> [a] -> [a]
          tailOfLonger    []     ys  = ys
          tailOfLonger    xs     []  = xs
          tailOfLonger (_:xs) (_:ys) = tailOfLonger xs ys

You have some unnecessary pattern match cases, such as n + Zero = n in the Num instance declaration. There's nothing wrong operationally with that case of course, but it's superfluous and the beauty of the inductive construction of the integers encourages me at least to be ruthless with flensing redundant code.

Here is an alternate construction that could obviate the need for all of the expensive normalization your version incurs. Writing the Num instance is pretty fun.

data Nat = Zero | Succ Nat

data Z = Negative Nat | NonNegative Nat
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the alternate construction at the end is parallel to the way a mathematician might define integers. That is, one generates the non-negative integers (natural numbers) using Succ, then one assumes additive inverses. Pred is not required when generating numbers in this way. \$\endgroup\$
    – David K
    Feb 6, 2015 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I started with implementing Natural numbers and later extended to Integers, I forgot to rename the functions. I'll try to implement the alternate construction, I thought of that before, but wasn't sure if it would actually complicate things. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sebastian
    Feb 7, 2015 at 2:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have to take some care around zeros, but I was able to write a fairly elegant version. Fair warning, spoilers. ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – bisserlis
    Feb 8, 2015 at 3:01

Why have toNat and fromNat in the first place?

Your SimpleNat is really the sign of an integral number (without zero). So, I think, Sign or even Unit would be a more appropriate identifier.

There is no need to define toInteger' up front and then later define the toInteger of the Integral class as toInteger = toInteger'. You can put the definition right into the class instance for Integral and not define toInteger' at all. The order of definitions in a Haskell module is completely irrelevant (to the compiler) — with one exception involving Template Haskell. I'm saying this mostly because you asked whether the code is idiomatic, and in my experience, it takes a bit of getting used to that declarations including data types and classes can be in any order and mutually dependent.

Also, Haskell programmers tend to line up their = in multiple one line equations belonging to the same function — like @bisserlis did in their answer.


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