Why is there a distinction between co and contravariant functors in Haskell but not Category Theory?

  • A+
Category:Languages

This answer from a Category Theory perspective includes the following statement:

...the truth is that there's no real distinction between co and contravariant functor, because every functor is just a covariant functor.

...

More in details a contravariant functor F from a category C to a category D is nothing more than a (covariant) functor of type F : Cop→D, from the opposite category of C to the category D.

On the other hand, Haskell's Functor and Contravariant merely require fmap and contramap, respectively, to be defined for an instance. This suggests that, from the perspective of Haskell, there exists objects that are Contravariant but are not Functors (and vice versa).

So it seems that in Category Theory "there's no real distinction between co and contravariant functors" while in Haskell there is a distinction between Contravariant and Functor.

I suspect that this difference has something to with all implementation in Haskell happening in Hask, but I'm not sure.

I think I understand each of the Category Theory and Haskell perspectives on their own, but I'm struggling to find an intuition that connects the two.

 


It's for convenience.

One could get by with a more general Functor class, and define instances for endofunctors on Hask (corresponding to our existing Functor) and functors from Hask^op to Hask (corresponding to our existing Contravariant). But this comes at a figurative cognitive cost and a quite literal syntactical cost: one must then rely on type inference or type annotations to select an instance, and there are explicit conversions (named Op and getOp in the standard library) into and out of Hask^op.

Using the names fmap and contramap relaxes both costs: readers do not need to run Hindley-Milner in their head to decide which instance is being selected when it is unambiguous, and writers do not need to give explicit conversions or type annotations to select an instance in cases where it is ambiguous.

(I am actually rewriting history a little bit here. The real reason is because the language designers thought the specialized Functor would be useful and hadn't imagined or didn't see a need for a more general Functor. People came along later and noticed it would be useful, sometimes. But experience with the generalized Functor class shows that can be tedious, and that specialized classes for the most common cases turns out to be a surprisingly good fit after all, for the reasons described above.)

Comment

:?: :razz: :sad: :evil: :!: :smile: :oops: :grin: :eek: :shock: :???: :cool: :lol: :mad: :twisted: :roll: :wink: :idea: :arrow: :neutral: :cry: :mrgreen: