In this post I’d like to share my experiments with PureScript. For one of my ongoing projects I needed to develop a JavaScript component, a kind of infinite canvas, that enables to scroll and zoom in/out on arbitrary big drawings.

I wanted my app to run in a browser, but I did not want to develop JavaScript directly. As I’m pretty much into functional programming, I looked for a strict functional language that directly compiles to JavaScript; I finally picked PureScript to give a try. There were other attractive alternatives, e.g. Elm. I mainly selected PureScript, because it is very similar to Haskell, and seemed that there is a reasonable sized community around it.

The experiment

Before starting to work on a full-fledged library, I wanted a proof of concept. I know that IO can be a real pain with pure functional languages, so the idea was to develop a simple app that handles some events in a stateful way. Finally, I chose a basic task with a canvas:

  • catch mousemove events of the canvas and store the cursor position in the state
  • in a requestAnimationFrame callback, take current cursor position from the state and draw the coordinates to the canvas

Simple enough, still covers most of the basic functionality I need for the library.


PureScript is a strict, purely functional programming language which compiles directly to JavaScript. Its syntax and type system is very similar to as of Haskell with some notable differences (as far as we are concerned here):

Of course, there are also zillion of tiny, obscure differences between Haskell and PureScript what makes programming in it very challenging in the beginning :)

PureScript is easy to install using Node.js and npm, and it has many official and third-party modules available that can be easily installed by bower.

PureScript apps looks similarly to Haskell ones, only the types seems a bit more involved, because of the effect system in use and, because using the forall quantifier is mandatory:

module Main where

import Prelude (Unit)

import Control.Monad.Eff (Eff)
import Control.Monad.Eff.Console (CONSOLE, log)

main :: forall e. Eff (console :: CONSOLE | e) Unit
main = log "Hello world"


In the following I try to explain the main idea behind the implementation, and I’ll skip most of the details, boilerplate code, imports, etc. The whole source code can be found in the BigCanvas github repository at https://github.com/domoszlai/purescript-bigcanvas.

Finally, you will need a minimal piece of HTML code to run the sample:

    <canvas id="canvas"></canvas>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="bigcanvas.js"></script>

For the compiling to browserified JavaScript, we will use the following command:

pulp browserify --optimise --to bigcanvas.js

Reading the DOM

First of all, we need access to the HTML DOM to be able to attach event handlers to the canvas and use the Canvas API. Looking up a DOM element can be done by the purescript-dom module:

main :: forall e. Eff (dom :: DOM, console :: CONSOLE | e) Unit
main = do
   documentType <- document =<< window
   -- returns type Maybe Element 
   mbCanvas <- getElementById (ElementId "canvas") 
                              (htmlDocumentToNonElementParentNode documentType)
   case mbCanvas of
      Nothing -> log "no canvas found"
      Just canvas -> do ...

Unfortunately, purescript-dom does not give access to the Canvas API. For that we need the purescript-canvas module, which provides a different mechanism to look up a canvas element:

main :: forall e. Eff (canvas :: CANVAS, console :: CONSOLE | e) Unit
main = do
   -- returns type Maybe CanvasElement 
   mbCanvas <- getCanvasElementById "canvas"
   case mbCanvas of
      Nothing -> log "no canvas found"
      Just canvas -> do ...

Because we need both, we already face a little bit of drama here. The easiest way I could find to solve this problem, involves unsafeCoerce. Not nice, but works perfectly…

canvasToHTMLElement :: CanvasElement -> HTMLElement
canvasToHTMLElement = unsafeCoerce

Having a state

The default way to handle effects are the Eff, and its asynchronous extension, the Aff monads (we will use the Aff monad whenever it is possible, because it helps dealing with async events easier). Of course, none of these provides a way to maintain a pure state for the application, so we will try to use the good, old state monad transformer:

type BigCanvasState = 
            { canvas  :: CanvasElement
            , context :: Context2D 
            , x       :: Int
            , y       :: Int 
type BigCanvasT e = StateT BigCanvasState 
   (Aff (canvas :: CANVAS, dom :: DOM, console :: CONSOLE, avar :: AVAR | e))

Handling DOM events

Next step, adding event handlers. Fortunately, purescript-dom enables it by

addEventListener :: forall eff. EventType -> EventListener (dom :: DOM | eff) 
   -> Boolean -> EventTarget -> Eff (dom :: DOM | eff) Unit


requestAnimationFrame :: forall eff. Eff (dom :: DOM | eff) Unit -> Window 
   -> Eff (dom :: DOM | eff) RequestAnimationFrameId

But, wait a minute, they run in the Eff monad… That’s too bad :(

We need to be very smart here…

What follows I will not give much explanation; to be able to fully understand you need to spend a couple of hours with pursuit anyway… The gist is that we create a kind of event loop, utilizing coroutines. The necessary functions can be found in module purescript-aff-coroutines. The event loop turns the async DOM events into a sequence of events of type BigCanvasEvent and passes it to the event handler function onEvent:

onEvent ::  forall e. BigCanvasEvent -> BigCanvasT e Unit
onEvent event = ... -- explained later

data BigCanvasEvent 
        = EMouseDown Event
        | EMouseMove Event
        | EDraw 

The setupEventLoop function handles the mousemove and mousedown events of the canvas and also generates an infinite stream of EDraw events by continuously asking for AnimationFrames from the browser.

setupEventLoop :: forall e. EventTarget -> BigCanvasT e Unit
setupEventLoop target = runProcess $ consumer `pullFrom` producer
   producer :: Producer BigCanvasEvent (BigCanvasT e) Unit
   producer = produce' \emit -> do
      -- Listen to events 
      addEventListener (EventType "mousemove") 
              (eventListener (emit <<< Left <<< EMouseMove)) false target  
      addEventListener (EventType "mousedown") 
              (eventListener (emit <<< Left <<< EMouseDown)) false target 

      -- Generate an infinite stream of `EDraw` events
      launchAff_ (forever $ waitForAnimationFrame *> liftEff (emit (Left EDraw)))

   consumer :: Consumer BigCanvasEvent (BigCanvasT e) Unit
   consumer = forever $ lift <<< onEvent =<< await

Drawing to the canvas at the proper point of time is very crucial for the quality of animation (I mean panning, zooming). Web browsers provide the requestAnimationFrame() method to register a call back which invoked just before the next repaint. It is a tricky call, though, as it calls back only once, so it must be requested continuously. This is done with the help of the waitForAnimationFrame function:

waitForAnimationFrame :: forall e. Aff (dom :: DOM, console :: CONSOLE | e) Unit
waitForAnimationFrame = 
   makeAff \emit -> do 
      win <- window
      _   <- requestAnimationFrame (emit $ Right unit) win
      pure mempty 

Handling BigCanvasEvents

The last step is finally straightforward. Save coordinates when mouse moves, display them when EDraw comes:

onEvent ::  forall e. BigCanvasEvent -> BigCanvasT e Unit
onEvent (EMouseDown _) = pure unit -- do nothing for now

onEvent (EMouseMove e) =  do
    s <- get
    -- JavaScript does not make it easy to find the actual coordinates
    rect <- liftEff $ getBoundingClientRect (canvasToHTMLElement s.canvas)
    withMouseEvent e (\me -> modify \s -> s {
      x = clientX me - ceil rect.left, y = clientY me - ceil rect.top })

onEvent (EDraw) = do
    s <- get
    liftEff $ log "draw"
    -- OK, it should not be 100, 100 ...
    _ <- liftEff $ clearRect s.context {x: 0.0, y: 0.0, w: 100.0, h: 100.0}
    _ <- liftEff $ strokeText s.context (show s.x <> ", " <> show s.y) 10.0 10.0 
    pure unit

And that’s all! If you are interested in the missing details, all the source code can be found in the BigCanvas github repository.

I hope you found the post useful. Please comment below if you have any idea how to deal better with async events in a stateful way.