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The Double Situation

This document discusses the Validity instance for Double (and Float).


Up to version, the Validity instance for Double (and Float) was implemented as follows:

instance Validity Double where
    validate d =
            [ declare "The Double is not NaN." $ not (isNaN d)
            , declare "The Double is not infinite." $ not (isInfinite d)

From version, the Validity instance for Double (and Float) will be implemented such that values are trivially valid. This means that as of version, NaN, +Infinity and -Infinity are considered valid.

instance Validity Double where
    validate = trivialValidation

What validity means

If a value of a given type is considered invalid according to its Validity instance, that means that barring programmer errors, such a value never occurs at runtime. This means that a real use-case must never have to deal with values that are considered invalid. (Exceptions to this rule are cases where constructValid is used immediately on a value that was just constructed.)


To define the validity of Double, we have to ask ourselves at least the following questions:

  • Should -0.0 be valid?
  • Should NaN be valid?
  • Should +Infinity and -Infinity be valid?

Up to version, -0.0 was considered, valid, but NaN, -Infinity and +Infinity were not. In version, the answer to all of these questions is "Yes".


-0.0 can be constructed using read "-0.0" :: Double. For reference, it has the following characteristics:

> isNegativeZero (read "-0.0" :: Double)
> isIEEE (read "-0.0" :: Double)
> isDenormalized (read "-0.0" :: Double)
> 0.0 == read "-0.0"
> decodeFloat (read "0.0" :: Double)

The reasoning for -0.0 to be considered valid is that it is considered equal to 0.0.

NaN, +Infinity and -Infinity

  • NaN can be constructed as read "NaN" :: Double
  • +Infinity can be constructed as read "Infinity" :: Double
  • -Infinity can be constructed as read "-Infinity" :: Double

For reference, they have the following characteristics:

> let nan = read "NaN" :: Double
> isNaN nan
> isDenormalised nan
> isInfinite nan
> nan == nan
> nan /= nan
> nan >= nan
> nan > nan
> compare nan nan
> nan <= nan
> nan < nan

> let pinf = read "Infinity" :: Double
> isNaN pinf
> isDenormalised pinf
> isInfinite pinf
> pinf == pinf
> pinf /= pinf
> pinf >= pinf
> pinf > pinf
> pinf < pinf
> pinf <= pinf
> compare pinf pinf

let minf = read "-Infinity" :: Double
> isNaN minf
> isDenormalised minf
> isInfinite minf
> minf == minf
> minf /= minf
> minf >= minf
> minf > minf
> minf <= minf
> minf < minf
> compare minf minf

Double is a spec

The Double type is not a type that represents numbers, per se. It is not a type of real numbers or even rational numbers. It is just a spec. In particular, it is part of IEEE 754. Nothing more, nothing less.

It is true that many programmers will use Double as if it was a number, but that doesn't mean that that is a good idea. NaN and the infinities, are values described in this spec and we should be able to deal with them.

There are cases where programs legitimately have to handle the case where a Double is NaN. For example, when serialising NaN, we expect NaN to be deserialisable from the result.

If Double is not considered a rational or real number, then there is no more reason to not consider the infinities valid values.

The Eq and Ord instances

One argument against considering NaN and the infinities valid, is that the Eq and Ord instances are then broken for Double for valid values. In particular, == from Eq is not reflexive, because nan == nan evaluates to False. Similarly, <= and >= are not reflexive, because nan >= nan and nan <= nan evaluate to False.


  • These cases are broken as intended, according to the IEEE 754 Spec.
  • Not testing code where NaN is used because NaN involves broken instances, even if it makes tests pass where they otherwise should not, does not prevent this broken code to be triggered in production.

Our own data types' Validity instances

In cases where Double is used to represent a rational number, often it is the case that NaN and the infinities are invalid values within the custom type. In that case, the user should define the Validity instances of their type that contains Double to considered a value containing NaN invalid. Helper functions are provided in Data.Validity to help with this use-case.

Our own data types' Eq and Ord instances

Because Eq and Ord are broken for Double, the derived Eq and Ord instances for custom data types that contain Double values will also be broken. This means that testing those will be more complicated if NaN is considered valid. When making our own data type containing a Double, we must either ensure that the Eq instance is valid, or that there is no such instance. To make sure that the Eq and Ord instances are valid, we can either outlaw NaN for the Double value or write a custom instance that follows the appropriate laws.

A better generator

The arbitrary generator in QuickCheck's Arbitrary does not generate NaN values, which is why this problem has been dorment until now. Whether NaN is valid or not, is independent of whether genUnchecked should generate NaN values. genUnchecked must generate NaN values regardles of whether NaN is considered valid. If NaN is valid, genValid must also generate NaN. This way, false-positives are less likely to occur than they would be when using arbitrary.