Handling local state with global state

Koen Pauwels, Tom Schrijvers and Shin-Cheng Mu. In Mathematics of Program Construction (MPC), Graham Hutton, editor, pp. 18-44. Springer, October 2019.

Equational reasoning is one of the most important tools of functional programming. To facilitate its application to monadic programs, Gibbons and Hinze have proposed a simple axiomatic approach using laws that characterise the computational effects without exposing their implementation details. At the same time Plotkin and Pretnar have proposed algebraic effects and handlers, a mechanism of layered abstractions by which effects can be implemented in terms of other effects.

This paper performs a case study that connects these two strands of research. We consider two ways in which the nondeterminism and state effects can interact: the high-level semantics where every nondeterministic branch has a local copy of the state, and the low-level semantics where a single sequentially threaded state is global to all branches. We give a monadic account of the folklore technique of handling local state in terms of global state, provide a novel axiomatic characterisation of global state and prove that the handler satisfies Gibbons and Hinze’s local state axioms by means of a novel combination of free monads and contextual equivalence. We also provide a model for global state that is necessarily non-monadic.

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