Haskell FFT 15: Some small Haskell things

2 Feb 2014data-analysishaskell

After releasing the arb-fft package last week, a couple of issues were pointed out by Daniel Díaz, Pedro Magalhães and Carter Schonwald. I’ve made another couple of releases to fix these things. They were mostly little Haskell things that I didn’t know about, so I’m going to quickly describe them here. (I’m sure these are things that most people know about already...)

Generic vectors

The first thing was the API. I had given the main fft function the following type:

fft :: Vector (Complex Double) -> IO (Vector (Complex Double))

where Vector was the usual boxed vector type from Data.Vector. This was obviously not so convenient if you already had an unboxed vector you wanted to transform–all of the arb-fft code uses unboxed vectors internally, so you would have to do some useless conversions between vector types.

The main fft function now has the type:

fft :: Vector v (Complex Double) =>
       v (Complex Double) -> IO (v (Complex Double))

Here, Vector is a typeclass imported from Data.Vector.Generic, which allows you to use write functions that work with both boxed and unboxed vectors transparently. The fftWith function now looks like this:

fftWith :: Vector v (Complex Double) =>
           Plan -> v (Complex Double) -> v (Complex Double)
fftWith p = convert . execute p Forward . convert

The execute function uses unboxed vectors for both its parameter and return types, so if you call fftWith with an unboxed vector, the calls to convert are no-ops and should get optimised away. If you have a boxed vector, then the calls to convert are needed anyway, to get things into the form used inside execute.

This generic approach is nice and I hadn’t seen it before. After Daniel asked about using unboxed vectors, the word “generic” in the documentation for the vector package sounded kind of intriguing and it became obvious pretty quickly that this was the way to do things.

Cabal build

Because I saw significantly better performance using the LLVM backend for GHC in my benchmarking, I’d set the -fllvm flag in the ghc-options field in the Cabal file for arb-fft. That was silly, since it meant that the package wouldn’t build if you didn’t have the LLVM tools installed.

The obvious solution was to add a Cabal flag to control whether or not the LLVM backend was used. Then I got ambitious, and decided that I wanted to have some slightly intelligent behaviour for managing this flag: if the LLVM tools are installed, you should be able to specify whatever value you want for the flag; if the LLVM tools aren’t installed, then the flag shouldn’t be set, whatever the user says, and there ought to be some sort of message warning that the native backend is being used and that the code is likely to be slower.

That’s a bit more than you can specify in the Cabal file. However, because Cabal is a Haskell library that you can do more or less anything with if you want, all you need to do is change the build-type field in the Cabal file to Custom, and write a custom Setup.hs program to do the relevant checking and flag twiddling.

I’ve played a little with the Cabal API for some other tasks in the past, and I’m always pleasantly surprised how easy it is to do things with it. The same was true this time out: the default build process in Cabal has hooks that you can use to perform custom actions at any point in the build process. In my case, a simple function to check for the presence of LLVM during configuration was enough.

Images in Haddocks

Because I’d written all those blog articles, I rather neglected the Haddock documentation for the package, to the extent that there wasn’t any way of telling from the documentation what the main FFT and inverse FFT functions actually calculated... Oops.

Fixing the documentation for the main APIs was pretty trivial, of course, except that I wanted formulae in my Haddock pages! There were some good suggestions on the Haskell Cafe a few weeks ago, and I ended up using LaTeX and the dvisvgm program to generate SVG images that I could include in the Haddock pages using the <<image-url>> syntax.

The only slight annoyance with this was that Cabal 1.18 has a new extra-doc-files field that allows you to specify things like image files that need to be made available within the generated HTML documentation, but this isn’t yet supported on Hackage. I just dropped the SVGs on another server and made links to point there, but once Hackage has this feature set up, including images in Haddocks will become really easy.


The last thing was licensing. I’d originally released arb-fft under the GPL-3 license, but after a little discussion with Carter Schonwald and others, I’ve now re-released things under the BSD3 license. Carter’s idea is that releasing code under permissive licenses is a way to funnel businesses into using things, which hopefully leads, one way or another, to requirements for further development and possibly even the Holy Grail of paid work.

I’ve been contracting for just over a year now, and it’s not been going too badly, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to be able to do interesting work and get paid for it. I know I’m not the only one in this situation!