The remote monad design pattern is a way of making Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs), and other calls that leave the Haskell eco-system, considerably less expensive. The idea is that, rather than directly call a remote procedure, we instead give the remote procedure call a service-specific monadic type, and invoke the remote procedure call using a monadic “send” function. Specifically, A remote monad is a monad that has its evaluation function in a remote location, outside the local runtime system.

Example of a Remote Monad

By factoring the RPC into sending invocation and service name, we can group together procedure calls, and amortize the cost of the remote call. To give an example, Blank Canvas, our library for remotely accessing the JavaScript HTML5 Canvas, has a send function, lineWidth and strokeStyle services, and our remote monad is called Canvas:

send        :: Device -> Canvas a -> IO a
lineWidth   :: Double             -> Canvas ()
strokeStyle :: Text               -> Canvas ()

If we wanted to change the (remote) line width, the lineWidth RPC can be invoked by combining send and lineWidth:

send device (lineWidth 10)

Likewise, if we wanted to change the (remote) stroke color, the strokeStyle RPC can be invoked by combining send and strokeStyle:

send device (strokeStyle "red")

The key idea is that remote monadic commands can be locally combined before sending them to a remote server. For example:

send device (lineWidth 10 >> strokeStyle "red")

The complication is that, in general, monadic commands can return a result, which may be used by subsequent commands. For example, if we add a monadic command that returns a Boolean,

isPointInPath :: (Double,Double) -> Canvas Bool

we could use the result as follows:

   send device $ do
      inside <- isPointInPath (0,0)
      lineWidth (if inside then 10 else 2)

The invocation of send can also return a value:

  do res <- send device (isPointInPath (0,0))

Thus, while the monadic commands inside send are executed in a remote location, the results of those executions need to be made available for use locally. This is the remote monad design pattern.

Uses of the Remote Monad Design Pattern

Once the Remote Monad design pattern is understood, many instances of its use, or of related patterns, can be observed in the wild. Here we highlight some examples, and give the type of the send analog. The tell-tale sign of a remote monad is the natural transformation between a monad that offers specific services to the IO monad, but there are other cases as well.

Package Remote Monad send
ncurses Curses runCurses :: Curses a -> IO a
HAXL GenHaxl u runHaxl :: ... -> GenHaxl u a -> IO a
mongoDB Action m access :: ... -> Action m a -> m a
Haste Remote (...) onServer :: ... -> Remote (Server a) -> Client a
Sunroof JS t rsyncJS :: JS t a -> IO a
hArduino Arduino withArduino :: ... -> Arduino () -> IO ()
bus-pirate BusPirateM runBusPirate :: ... -> BusPirateM a -> IO (Either String a)
λ-bridge BusCmd send :: ... -> BusCmd a -> IO (Maybe a)
threepenny-gui UI runUI :: ... -> UI a -> IO a
accelerate Arr runIn :: ... -> Acc a -> a
sbv Symbolic runSymbolic' :: ... -> Symbolic a -> IO (a, Result)
mcpi MCPI runMCPI :: MCPI a -> IO a
remote-json RPC send :: ... -> RPC a -> IO a
plist-buddy PlistBuddy send :: ... -> PlistBuddy a -> IO a

We have also written some blog articles about some of these libraries, and how it uses the remote monad.


  • A. Gill, N. Sculthorpe, J. Dawson, A. Eskilson, A. Farmer, M. Grebe, J. Rosenbluth, R. Scott, and J. Stanton, “The remote monad design pattern,” in Proceedings of the 8th ACM SIGPLAN Symposium on Haskell. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2015, pp. 59–70.