How to build hybrid Haskell and Java programs

25 March 2021 — by Facundo Domínguez, Andreas Herrmann

When working in a sufficiently large Haskell project, one eventually faces the question of whether to implement missing libraries in Haskell or borrow the implementation from another language, such as Java.

For a long time now, it has been possible to combine Haskell and Java programs using inline-java. Calling Java functions from Haskell is easy enough.

import Language.Java (J, JType(Class)) -- from jvm
import Language.Java.Inline (imports, java) -- from inline-java

imports "*"

createOrderedMap :: IO (J ('Class "org.apache.commons.collections4.OrderedMap"))
createOrderedMap = [java| new LinkedMap() |]

The ghc and javac compilers can cooperate to build this program provided that both know where to find the program’s dependencies. Back in the day, when inline-java was being born, there was no build tool capable of pulling the dependencies of both Haskell and Java, or at least not without additional customization. Since then, however, Tweag has invested effort into enabling Bazel, a polyglot build system, to build Haskell programs. In this blog post we go over the problems of integrating build tools designed for different languages, and how they can be addressed with Bazel, as an example of a single tool that builds them all. More specifically, this post also serves as a tutorial for using inline-java with Bazel, which is a requirement for the latest inline-java release.

Dependencies done the hard way

Suppose we rely on cabal-install or stack to install the Haskell dependencies. This would make the inline-java and jvm packages available. But these tools are specialized to build Haskell packages. If our program also depends on the commons-collections4 Java package, we can’t rely on Cabal to build it. We need help from some other Java-specific package manager.

We could rely on maven or gradle to install common-collections4. At that point we can build our project by invoking ghc and telling javac where to find the java dependencies in the system via environment variables (i.e. CLASSPATH).

With some extra work, we could even coordinate the build systems so one calls to the other to collect all the necessary dependencies and invoke the compilers. This is, in fact, what inline-java did until recently.

But there is a severe limitation to this approach: no build system can track changes to files in the jurisdiction of the other build system. The Cabal-based build system is not going to notice if we change the gradle configuration to build a different version of common-collections4, or if we change a source file on the Java side. Easy enough, we could run gradle every time we want to rebuild our program, just in case something changed in the Java side. But then, should the Haskell build system rebuild the Haskell side? Or should it reuse the artifacts produced in an earlier build?

We could continue to extend the integration between build systems so one can detect if the artifacts produced by the other have changed. Unfortunately, this is a non-trivial task and leads to reimplementing features that build systems already implement for their respective languages. We would be responsible for detecting changes on every dependency crossing the language boundary.

If that didn’t sound bad enough, incremental builds is not the only concern requiring coordination. Running tests, building deployable artifacts, remote builds and caches, also involve both build systems.

Dependencies with a polyglot build system

A straightforward answer is to use only one build system to build all languages in the project. We chose to turn to Bazel for our building needs.

Bazel lets us express dependencies between artifacts written in various languages. In this respect, it is similar to make. However, Bazel comes equipped with sets of rules, such as rules_haskell, for many languages, which know how to invoke compilers and linkers; these rules are distributed as libraries and are reusable across projects. With make, the user must manually encode all of this knowledge in a Makefile herself. It’s not the subject of this blog post, but Bazel comes with a number of other perks, such as hermeticity of builds for reproducibility, distributed builds, and remote caching.

We offer a working example in the inline-java repository. In order to specify how to build our Haskell program, we start by importing a rule to build Haskell binaries from rules_haskell.

# file: BUILD.bazel

    name = "example",
    srcs = ['Main.hs'],
    extra_srcs = ["@openjdk//:rpath"],
    compiler_flags = [
        "-optl-Wl,@$(location @openjdk//",
    deps = [
    ] + java_deps,
    data = [ ":jar_deploy.jar" ],
    plugins = ["//:inline-java-plugin"],

java_deps = [

The load instruction is all we need to do to invoke the rules_haskell library and access its various rules. Here we use the haskell_binary rule to build our hybrid program.

Besides the fact that Main.hs is written in both Haskell and Java, one can tell the hybrid nature of the artifact by observing the dependencies in the deps attribute, which refers to both Haskell and Java libraries.

  • //jvm, //jni and //:inline-java refer to Haskell libraries implemented in the current repository
  • @rules_haskell//tools/runfiles refers to a special Haskell library defined as part of the rules_haskell rule set. More on this below.
  • @stackage//:base and @stackage//:text refer to Haskell packages coming from stackage
  • @maven//:org_apache_commons_commons_collections4_4_1 is a Java library coming from a maven repository

Additional configuration in the WORKSPACE file makes precise the location of dependencies coming from rules_haskell, stackage and maven, where the stackage snapshot and the list of maven repositories is specified. More information on the integration with stackage can be found in an earlier post and with maven in the documentation of rules_jvm_external.

While the dependencies in deps are made available at build time, the attribute data = [":jar_deploy.jar"] declares a runtime dependency. Specifically, it makes the Java artifacts available to the Haskell program. The ":jar_deploy.jar" target is a jar file produced with the following rule from the Java rule set. A future version of rules_haskell may generate this runtime dependency automatically, but for the time being we need to add it manually.

    name = "jar",
    main_class = "dummy",
    runtime_deps = java_deps,

Now, when there are changes in the Java dependencies, Bazel will know to rebuild the Haskell artifacts, and only if there were changes.

Bazel makes sure that jar_deploy.jar is built, and stores it in an appropriate location. But nothing, so far, tells the Haskell program where to find this file. This is where the runfiles library comes into play. Bazel lays out runtime dependencies, such as jar_deploy.jar following known rules; the runfiles library abstracts over these rules. To complete our example, we need the main function to call to the runfiles library and discover the jar file’s location.

import qualified Bazel.Runfiles as Runfiles
import Data.String (fromString)
import Language.Java (J, JType(Class), withJVM)

main = do
    r <- Runfiles.create
    let jarPath = Runfiles.rlocation r "my_workspace/example/jar_deploy.jar"
    withJVM [ "-Djava.class.path=" <> fromString jarPath ] $
      void createOrderedMap

Closing thoughts

Mixing languages is challenging both from the perspective of the compiler and of the build system. In this blog post we provided an overview of the challenges of integrating build systems, and how a unifying build system can offer a more practical framework for reusing language-specific knowledge.

Bazel is a materialization of this unifying build system, where rule sets are the units of reuse. We recently moved inline-java builds to rely on Bazel, by depending strongly on the rule sets for Haskell and Java. This implies that end users will also have to use Bazel. Though this means departing from stack and cabal-install, the build tools that Haskellers are used to, we hope that it will offer a better path for adopters to build their multi-language projects. And since rules_haskell can still build Cabal packages and stackage snapshots via Cabal-the-library, going with Bazel doesn’t forego the community effort invested in curating the many packages in the Haskell ecosystem.

About the authors

Facundo Domínguez

Facundo is a software engineer supporting development and research projects at Tweag. Prior to joining Tweag, he worked in academia and in industry, on a varied assortment of domains, with an overarching interest in programming languages.

Andreas Herrmann

Andreas is a physicist turned software engineer. He leads the Bazel team, and maintains Tweag's open source Bazel rule sets and the capability package. He is passionate about functional programming, and hermetic and reproducible builds. He lives in Zurich and is active in the local Haskell community.

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in joining the Tweag team.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.


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