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Programming language: Haskell
License: MIT License
Tags: Data     Assoc    
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Association lists

An association list is a simple representation of a key-value mapping as a list of key-value pairs. The assoc-list package provides functions for working with these kinds of data structures.

Use case

We usually prefer to use Map or HashMap to represent finite mappings, because they have better performance characteristics and enforce the often-desirable requirement that each key be mapped to at most one value. But some use cases call for preserving the list-like aspect of data that has the semantics of a mapping.

For example, take the list of header fields in an HTTP message. Each header field is a key-value pair (the key is called the field name). Some field names may appear at most once among a message's header fields; others may appear repeatedly. The ordering of the header fields is significant only when a field name appears repeatedly.

What data structure should we use to represent a collection of header fields? Since we often need to perform lookups by field name, we might consider Map String [String] (where the field names have been normalized to all upper or lower case, since HTTP field names are case-insensitive). If we are only consuming HTTP messages, this might be suitable. But what if we are writing a proxy server that consumes a request, makes some modifications to the header fields, then forwards the modified message to another server? We would have to convert the client's list of header fields to a Map, perform the manipulations on the Map, and then convert back to a list. In the process, we lose the original ordering of the lists, as well as the capitalization of the field names. This does not affect the semantics of the message, but may nevertheless be an undesirable side effect. If we do not want this to happen, then we can keep the data in list format. But we need Map-like operations over it, which is where the assoc-list library comes in.


This project consists of two packages whose contents are nearly the same:

  • assoc-list
    • Defines an association list as [(a, b)]
    • Module names take the form Data.AssocList.List.[___]
  • assoc-listlike
    • Defines an association list more generally as ListLikel (a, b) => l
    • A concrete type for AssocList a b can be something like Seq(a, b)
    • Module names take the form Data.AssocList.ListLike.[___]

For example, compare the following two type signatures for mapFirst:

  • Data.AssocList.List.Eq.mapFirst :: Eq a => a -> (b -> b) -> [(a, b)] -> [(a, b)]
  • Data.AssocList.ListLike.Eq.mapFirst :: (ListLike l (a, b), Eq a) => a -> (b -> b) -> l -> l


  • Data.AssocList.[___].Concept
    • Introduces foundational concepts
    • For example, the definition of the AssocList type
  • Data.AssocList.[___].Eq
    • Functions that involve Eq constraints on the keys
    • For example, lookupFirst :: Eq a => a -> AssocList a b -> Maybe b
  • Data.AssocList.[___].Equivalence
    • Most of the same functions as the Eq module, but with an Equivalence parameter instead of an Eq constraint
    • For example, lookupFirst :: Equivalence a -> a -> AssocList a b -> Maybe b
    • An example use case for this module might be the list of header fields in an HTTP message, which is an association list where the keys are case-insensitive
  • Data.AssocList.[___].Predicate
    • Most of the same functions as the Eq module, but specifying keys using a Predicate rather than a particular key
    • For example, lookupFirst :: Predicate a -> AssocList a b -> Maybe b
  • Data.AssocList.[___].Ord
    • Functions that involve Ord constraints on the keys
    • For example, sortKeys :: Ord a => AssocList a b -> AssocList a b
  • Data.AssocList.[___].Comparison
    • The same functions as the Ord module, but with a Comparison parameter instead of an Ord constraint
    • For example, sortKeys :: Comparison a -> AssocList a b -> AssocList a b

Related libraries

  • The base package has some very limited support for association lists:
  • The hxt (Haskell XML Toolbox) package defines a handful of functions in its Data.AssocList module.