O'Reilly logo

Real World Haskell by Donald Bruce Stewart, Bryan O'Sullivan, John Goerzen

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Pattern Matching

Now that we’ve seen how to construct values with algebraic data types, let’s discuss how we work with these values. If we have a value of some type, there are two things we would like to be able to do:

  • If the type has more than one value constructor, we need to be able to tell which value constructor was used to create the value.

  • If the value constructor has data components, we need to be able to extract those values.

Haskell has a simple, but tremendously useful, pattern matching facility that lets us do both of these things.

A pattern lets us look inside a value and bind variables to the data it contains. Here’s an example of pattern matching in action on a Bool value; we’re going to reproduce the not function:

-- file: ch03/add.hs
myNot True  = False
myNot False = True

It might seem that we have two functions named myNot here, but Haskell lets us define a function as a series of equations: these two clauses are defining the behavior of the same function for different patterns of input. On each line, the patterns are the items following the function name, up until the = sign.

To understand how pattern matching works, let’s step through an example—say, myNot False.

When we apply myNot, the Haskell runtime checks the value we supply against the value constructor in the first pattern. This does not match, so it tries against the second pattern. That match succeeds, so it uses the righthand side of that equation as the result of the function application.

Here is a slightly ...

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required