Groundhog and Converters Tutorial

Groundhog is a library for mapping Haskell types to SQL schemas and operating on SQL-stored data from Haskell. It attaches to many common SQL databases, including MySQL, Sqlite, and PostgreSQL. Approaching it can be somewhat intimidating, but it is actually an excellent solution for persistence in Haskell.

We're going to walk through building a persistence layer for a Haskell application, using Groundhog with the Sqlite backend. This tutorial should translate readily to other SQL databases, but we've only tested it against Sqlite. Sqlite is ideal for local applications or microservices where you don't need to share data via the database with other processes. It's a widely used persistence backend in its own right, used by Android, Firefox, OS X, and Chrome, among many other projects.

This tutorial focuses on the converters functionality, and is not intended to replace the main Groundhog tutorial.

Example Application

Our business at Plow Technologies is automation and monitoring. But sometimes it's our hobby too. Your friendly author has a crawlspace under his house with a dirt floor. Groundwater often wells up through the floor, flooding the crawlspace. To combat this, the author has dug a pit in the floor and lowered a submersible pump (often called a "sump pump") into the pit. The sump pump quickly empties the pit of water, thus removing groundwater before it can reach the level of the floor. However, the pump can be damaged by leaving it to run unsubmerged, as it will overheat.

Instead of keeping one eye always on the pit to see when the pump should be plugged in, your friendly author is rigging an automation system (It's not done yet, thus the lack of a code link). The simple but boring way would be to rig a float switch (which closes when water reaches a certain level) to a relay which would switch the pump on and off. The fun way is to connect a couple of float switches (one for the high water mark at which we start pumping, and one for the low water mark at which the pump is switched off) to a Raspberry Pi. The automation system on the Pi will, of course, be written in Haskell. It will provide not just automation for the pump, but remote manual control, monitoring of when the pump engaged and disengaged, and measurement of the power used by the pump and the flow rate through the hose.

We need a way to store these measurements and the logs of the pump being engaged or disengaged. The automation system polls the state of both float switches every second, and sets the state of the pump accordingly. Independently, it also polls the flow meter and current meter.

Haskell Types

We'll just show the Types module

module Sump.Types where

We'll keep a table of switch positions.

-- | Mapping from switch ID (likely the IO pin it's connected to) to the switch's position
-- * True: Switch closed
-- * False: Switch open
type Switches = IntMap Bool

Some entries in the database will have timestamps. We'd like a uniform way of handling them:

-- | Provides a lens to get and set the time of something
class HasTimeStamp a where
  atTime :: (Functor f) => (UTCTime -> f UTCTime) -> a -> f a

The pump will be turning on and off throughout the day:

-- | Pump on/off state
data PumpToggle = PumpOn | PumpOff

-- | Pump state change
data PumpEvent
  = PumpEvent
  { pumpTimestamp :: UTCTime
  , pumpState     :: PumpToggle

And we'll want to know when that happened:

-- We're doing these manually so as not to pull in all of Lens
instance HasTimeStamp PumpEvent where
  atTime f p@(PumpEvent {..}) = fmap (\time -> PumpEvent time pumpState) $ f pumpTimestamp 

We have some newtypes for units:

newtype Amps = Amps { amps :: Float } deriving (Eq, Ord, Num, Show, Real, Fractional, RealFrac)

newtype GallonsPerMinute = GallonsPerMinute { gallonsPerMinute :: Float } deriving (Eq, Ord, Num, Show, Real, Fractional, RealFrac)

And records for when we poll the switches and instruments:

data SumpInstruments
  = SumpInstruments
  { sumpPumpState       :: PumpToggle
  , sumpPumpCurrentDraw :: Amps
  , sumpPumpFlow        :: GallonsPerMinute

data SumpPoll
  = SumpPoll
  { sumpPollTimestamp          :: UTCTime
  , sumpPumpWaterLevelSwitches :: Switches
  , sumpPumpInstruments        :: SumpInstruments

instance HasTimeStamp SumpPoll where
  atTime f p@(SumpPoll {..}) = fmap (\time -> SumpPoll time sumpPumpWaterLevelSwitches sumpPumpState sumpPumpCurrentDraw sumpPumpFlow) $ f sumpPollTimestamp

Groundhog Definitions

Working with all these types in Haskell will be straightforward, but we'd like to store this data persistently. We have to define how it's stored. If we're willing to read all the data at once or stream it in until we find the right data, we could write a serializer and write our data to files on disk. But we'd like to be able to query by date and time ranges, or pull in the last time the pump turned on, or any number of other queries. And if this runs long enough, polling every second (say), it could accumulate quite a bit of data. So we're going to store everything in a Sqlite database. Groundhog lets us define how our Haskell types are stored in the database, and gives us native Haskell functions to query our data.

{-# LANGUAGE QuasiQuoters #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TemplateHaskell #-}
module Sump.Groundhog

import Database.Groundhog    -- From the groundhog package
import Database.Groundhog.TH -- From the groundhog-th package
import Sump.Types

The Database.Groundhog.TH module gives us a quasiquoter and template Haskell function to define the instances Groundhog needs for our types. We just have to tell Groundhog how to handle these types. We invoke the quasiquoter and template thus:

mkPersist defaultCodegenConfig [groundhog|

(We'll close the quasiquoter bracket later.) The mkPersist function is a Template Haskell function which will generate Groundhog instances from a CodegenConfig (we use the default) and PersistDefinitions, which can be written using the groundhog quasiquoter.


Let's start by defining the easiest sort of thing that Groundhog can store: a primitive. Groundhog primitives can be stored by converting them to an already-primitive value. Since any decent SQL database will store floating-point values natively, Haskell's Float type is a groundhog primitive.

We're writing the input to the quasiqouter groundhog now. It expects YAML-formatted input as shown by example in the Groundhog documentation.

- primitive: Amps
  converter: ampsConverter

- primitive: GallonsPerMinute
  converter: gallonsPerMinuteConverter

The YAML input is a list of objects. Each object must have one of three fields: primitive, embedded, or entity. The value of that field is the name of the type whose schema we are specifying.

Primitive types are intended to be stored as a simple value in a single column. Clearly, this is how we should store Amps and GallonsPerMinute, as they are just newtype-d floating point numbers. For a primitive object, we also give the name of a pair of functions, converting between the new primitive and something already primitive. We'll show how converters are written a bit later, but for now, if ampsConverter :: (Amps -> Float, Float -> Amps), what is the type of gallonsPerMinuteConverter?

Embedded Types

Embedded types take up several columns, but rather than being stored in their own table, they are normalized into the table of a containing type (either embedded or entity). For embedded types, we must give Groundhog some information about the fields of our types:

- embedded: SumpInstruments
    - name: sumpPumpState
      converter: sumpPumpToggleConverter
    - name: sumpPumpCurrentDraw
    - name: sumpPumpFlow

The last two fields have already been specified as primitives, so Groundhog needs no further information about how to store them. For the field sumpPumpState, though, we must specify a converter.


Entities roughly correspond to tables. (Tables multiply when polymorphism or multiple constructors come into play.) Entities have keys which are used to reference values in the table. Groundhog will automatically define an autoincremented key for an entity, but if there is already a unique value, we can use that instead. In the case of our SumpPoll entity, we use the timestamp:

- entity: SumpPoll
  - autoKey: null
  - keys:
    - name: SumpPollConstraint
      type: primary
      default: true

Two things to note: First, even if we specify our own key, we must manually disable the autoKey functionality. Second, we haven't said which field(s) to use for our primary key, just that it's a primary key. The name of this key is important, we'll be using it later to pick out fields on a per-constructor basis. Since entities can have multiple constructors, we must define each one. SumpPoll has just one, and we now specify its fields:

  - constructor: SumpPoll
      - name: sumpPollTimestamp
      - name: sumpPumpWaterLevelSwitches
      - name: sumpPumpInstruments
          - name: sumpPumpState
          - name: sumpPumpCurrentDraw
          - name: sumpPumpFlow

The embeddedType section lets us define how the the columns for SumpInstruments type are included in the SumpPoll table.

Now we can specify the constraint to be used for the SumpPoll primary key with this constructor:

      - name: SumpPollConstraint
        fields: sumpPollTimestamp

Note that the name for the constraint matches the name for the key above. This specifies that when a SumpPoll whose constructor is SumpPoll is stored, the sumpPollTimestamp field must be unique and is used as the key.

We've defined the database model for our types, so we can close the quasiquoter now:




Now we need to define the converters we mentioned above. As previously discussed, converters are pairs of functions, one to go from the type we're converting to the type stored in the DB, and the other to go back.

ampsConverter :: (Amps -> Float, Float -> Amps)
ampsConverter = (unAmps, Amps)

gallonsPerMinuteConverter :: (GallonsPerMinute -> Float, Float -> GallonsPerMinute)
gallonsPerMinuteConverter = (unGallonsPerMinute, GallonsPerMinute)

pumpToggleConverter :: (PumpToggle -> Bool, Bool -> PumpToggle)
pumpToggleConverter = (pumpBool, boolPump)
    pumpBool PumpOn = True
    pumpBool PumpOff = False
    boolPump True = PumpOn
    boolPump False = PumpOff

That's it! We've now got a database model for our Haskell types. Now we can move on to actually store some things in a database.

Connections and Queries

Groundhog doesn't just define our database model, it provides a database-independent set of Haskell functions to store and query the data.

We'll just use a few of these functions to give you an idea of how to get started. The main Groundhog tutorial is an excellent reference for how to store and query data.

Let's write the polling function. Here we're in the middle of the main module for the controller:

module Main where

import Sump.DB
import Sump.Interface
import Sump.Types
import qualified Data.IntMap as IntMap
import Database.Groundhog
import Database.Groundhog.Sqlite


The polling function looks at the motor state and the instruments (flow meter, current meter, float switches), logs the data, and returns what the motor state should be.

poll :: Sqlite -> SumpM (Maybe SumpToggle)
poll sqlite = do
  flowRate <- GallonsPerMinute <$> getFlowRate
  current <- Amps <$> getMotorCurrent
  switches <- getSwitchStates
  sumpState <- getSumpState
  time <- getCurrentTime
  (liftIO $ flip runDbConn sqlite $ insertBy SumpPollConstraint $ SumpPoll time switches $ SumpInstruments sumpState current flowRate)
    >>= either
        (const $ throwError $ "Timestamp" ++ show time ++ " already logged")
        (const $ return ())
  return $ do
    lowerSwitch <- IntMap.lookup switches 1
    upperSwitch <- IntMap.lookup switches 2
    if lowerSwitch && upperSwitch
      then Just SumpOn
      else if not (lowerSwitch || upperSwitch)
           then Just SumpOff
           else Nothing

The insertBy function takes a constraint constructor (named by the constraint name given in the definition of the key) and a value to insert in to the database. A Left result indicates the key was already present, while a Right indicates it was not already present and that the value was successfully inserted. The runDbConn function brackets a transaction already present and that the value was successfully inserted. The runDbConn function brackets a transaction.

Let's also take a look at querying. We're using [Servant] as our web framework, which makes it very easy to write request handlers. Here's the handler for accessing the last logged state at a provided time:

lastLoggedState :: Sqlite -> UTCTime -> EitherT ServantErr IO SumpPoll
lastLoggedState sqlite time = do
  sumpPolls <- runDbConn $ select $ (SumpPollTimestampField <=. time) `limitTo` 1
  case sumpPolls of
    [] -> left $ err404
    (poll : _) -> right $ poll

Note that the input to select is an expression whose type determines the table queried. In this expression, the type is fixed by the use of SumpPollTimestampField which, as you may have guessed, Groundhog generated to reference the sumpPollTimestamp field of SumpPoll. The result will have type [SumpPoll]

The documentation for Groundhog on hackage is the best place to go for further information. I'll be revising and expanding this tutorial as I get time to do so. You can email me to let me know of errors or suggestions.