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Custom error messages in Wipple

March 29, 2024

Previously, Wipple used attributes for custom error messages and other diagnostics. The new compiler doesn’t support attributes, though, so now there’s a new way that uses Wipple’s powerful type system! It looks like this:

-- Produce a piece of `Text` describing the value.
Describe : (Value : Text) => trait (Value -> Text)

Value where (Error ("cannot describe a _ value" Value)) =>
default instance (Describe Value) : ...

instance (Describe Text) : ...

Describe "Hello, world!" -- ✅
Describe (1 , 2 , 3) -- ❌ cannot describe a `List Number` value

Here’s another example:

Carnivore : type
Herbivore : type

Meat : type
Plants : type

Eats? : Animal Food => trait ()

Animal Food where (Error ("_s do not eat _" Animal Food)) =>
default instance (Eats? Animal Food) : ()

instance (Eats? Carnivore Meat) : ()
instance (Eats? Herbivore Plants) : ()

test :: Animal Food where (Eats? Animal Food) => Animal Food -> ()
test : ...

test Carnivore Meat -- ✅
test Herbivore Plants -- ✅
test Carnivore Plants -- ❌ `Carnivore`s do not eat `Plants`
test Herbivore Meat -- ❌ `Herbivore`s do not eat `Meat`

You can even use this system to correct misspellings:

print :: (Value : Text) where (Error "use `show` to display on the screen") => Value -> ()
print : ...

print "Hello, world!" -- ❌ use `show` to display on the screen

Custom error messages are available for testing on the new Wipple Playground — try it out at preview.wipple.dev!

How does it work?

Custom error messages rely on three new features: default instances, type-level Text, and the Error trait. Let’s look at how they work!

First, default is a new keyword that can be applied to an instance to reduce its priority. Wipple will first check all non-default instances, and if none apply, it will use the default instance if available:

Do-Something : A => trait (A -> ())

A => default instance (Do-Something A) : _ -> show "using default instance"
instance (Do-Something Text) : text -> show ("using specific instance: _" text)

Do-Something 42 -- using default instance
Do-Something "Hello, world!" -- using specific instance: Hello, world!

Default instances have two main use cases — first, it allows for specialization, meaning you can "override" the default behavior of a trait with an implementation specific to your type. For example, the count function currently takes a Sequence, but we could instead have it depend on a Count trait. This Count trait would have a default instance that works for all sequences, as well as a specialized implementation for Ranges, Lists, and other collections that already know their size. The other use case, of course, is custom error messages! If none of the other instances match, we can produce a custom error message when Wipple tries to use the default instance.

To make custom error messages work, Wipple now supports text at the type level. Normally, the compiler will display types to the user in code format (ie. Text rather than "Text"). Type-level text is always rendered as-is instead. You can even do formatting with _ placeholders!

And finally, the Error trait looks like this:

Error : Message => trait Message
Message => instance (Error Message) : unreachable

The Wipple compiler knows about Error, and whenever it appears in the where clause of a function or constant, Wipple will produce an error message. That instance (Error Message) on the second line is needed to prevent additional errors from appearing — we want Error itself to be implemented for all types so that the compiler always succeeds in producing a message.

Create your own messages

Putting all of this together, here are the steps to creating your own error messages:

  • If you want to produce a message when a trait isn’t implemented, add a default instance:

    Value where (Error ("_ has no empty value" Value)) =>
    default instance (Empty Value) : ...
  • If you want to produce a message when you encounter a specific type, add a regular instance:

    Right Sum where (Error ("cannot add _ to `()`; are you missing parentheses?" Right)) =>
    instance (Add () Right Sum) : ...
  • If you want to produce an error for a deprecated function or a common misspelling of a function, use Error directly:

    turn :: A where (Error "use `left` or `right` to turn") => Angle -> ()
    turn : ...
Made by Wilson Gramer