Upgrading to Hakyll 4

April 21, 2013

So, I lied a little in my last post. I didn’t quite get to go off right away and update my Beeminder totals, because I had a bit a problem with my blogging software. I use Jasper Van der Jeugt’s Hakyll, a Haskell static site generator. Jasper recently (well, not that recently…) released a new major version of Hakyll, Hakyll 4. I had been putting off upgrading because I have so much custom code that it’s kind of a big job – my blog is a little different to most Hakyll sites, so I had to write quite a bit of extra stuff to work around that.

When I tried to rebuild the blog with the Beeminder article though, I started off down an amusing little path. I’d upgraded my version of GHC, so needed to reinstall things. No problem. Well, maybe. The version of Pandoc that Hakyll 3 uses no longer seems to build, even in a completely clean sandbox. I’d guess that there’s some inconsistent version bound resulting from one of Pandoc’s many dependencies in that version (1.9.4.5, if anyone cares).

So, I had a choice. I could try to track down the dependency problem in this old version of Pandoc (it’s now at version 1.11.1, so that would be an exercise of purely historical interest for most people), or I could upgrade to Hakyll 4. Cue much rolling up of sleeves and girding of loins. I jumped in. It wasn’t so bad, though it took me all day plus a little bit.

In the end, I had far less custom code than before: the new Hakyll is quite a bit more flexible than the old one and Jasper has made some really good design choices this time around. Two things stand out:

Arrows be gone!

First, Hakyll 3 used arrows for its main sequencing mechanism for the steps required to turn a Markdown (or whatever) blog post into its final HTML incarnation. Arrows are great, and can be really neat if you learn and use the special proc syntax for them. I’ve never got around to learning that though, so I had a lot of code that looked a little like this:

Urgh. I felt a bit like this guy writing this sort of thing. In Hakyll 4, the arrows are gone, and there’s a Compiler monad for sequencing. That processTikZs function now looks like this:

No more arrowised tuple juggling. You can actually see what’s going on. For sure, you can do exactly the same thing using proc with GHC’s Arrows extension enabled, but that’s nowhere near as familiar to most Haskell programmers as a monad. It’s also pretty clear that the additional flexibility of arrows compared to monads just isn’t needed in this case.

Contexts

The second major change in Hakyll 4 is the introduction of “contexts”, which are a monoidal interface for packaging up information about posts, either as constant values, or as functions for extracting values from page metadata or whatever you like. This replaces the old system of carrying this stuff around with the Page type, which led to all sorts of one-hand-behind-the-back arrow tricks.

Everything is much clearer and cleaner now, and it’s easy to write extra context field functions to pick bits out of pages (for example, I have a thing called teaserField which pulls out the text from the body of a post up to the “Read more” link and puts it into a named field in the context that can be used for rendering index page entries). It’s much easier than the old way of doing this stuff.

Summary

There are other things that are good (snapshots are cool, for instance), but those are the two that struck me most as I was upgrading my blog.

All in all, I think Jasper has done a great job with this. Hakyll is now much easier for new users to get into, and it’s far easier to customise the behaviour of Hakyll now.

I’m actually kind of disappointed with myself now that I didn’t do the upgrade earlier! You can see my new code on GitHub.