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Calligraphy tutorial


Today, I released calligraphy, a Haskell call graph/source code visualizer. In this post, I’ll walk you through how to actually use it. Before we begin, I recommend scrolling through the article to get an idea of the kinds of graphs we’ll be creating.

1 First strokes

1.1 Installation

The first step is to install the calligraphy executable. I can’t really help you out here, you have to install it the way you install all Haskell applications. The big thing to look out for is that, like most Haskell tooling, the calligraphy executable has to be compiled with the same version of GHC as the project you want to use it with. If calligraphy starts throwing errors like "The impossible happened!", it’s probably a version mismatch between calligraphy and GHC.

The second step is to make sure you have GraphViz installed. Calligraphy uses dot from the GraphViz package to render its graphs, make sure that is available in your search path. This should be pretty straightforward, GraphViz is typically readily available from your package manager.

1.2 HIE file generation

Next, we have to generate the HIE files calligraphy uses. To do so, we first need to pick a project and navigate to its directory. In these examples I’ll be working from the semigroupoids package, so if you want to follow along, make sure to clone that.

git clone git@github.com:ekmett/semigroupoids
cd semigroupoids

The way you generate HIE files is by compiling your project with -fwrite-ide-info. If you’re using Cabal, that looks like this:

cabal clean
cabal build --ghc-options=-fwrite-ide-info

You don’t always need the cabal clean, it’s there to just force every module to be recompiled, this time with -fwrite-ide-info. It does have the additional benefit of cleaning out any HIE files for modules that no longer exist.

1.3 Drawing graphs

If you’re in your project directory, have calligraphy and dot installed, and you compiled your project with -fwrite-ide-info, you should be all set to generate your first graph!

calligraphy -p out.png

This should have written a out.png file containing the full source graph of your project, and it should look something like this:


As you can see, graphs for your entire project tend to be a little too wide to be useful. So, let’s get to the fun part. In the second part of this tutorial, we’ll be taking a look at ways of taming project graphs.

2 Calligraphy

If you run calligraphy --help, you’ll see that calligraphy can be configured in many ways. Most of these are different ways of turning GraphViz spaghetti into useful, pretty graphs. The remainder of this tutorial is a guided tour through some of these options.

2.1 Hiding

Let’s start with the --hide-* flags.

calligraphy -p out.png --hide-data --hide-values --no-cluster-modules


Much nicer already. Hiding simply means that we don’t draw certain node types. In this case, hiding all value and data declarations leaves us with just the type class hierarchy. As you can see in the --help, hide flags exist for values, data, classes, and constructors. There are some subtleties to its exact behavior, which we’ll get into later.

The --no-cluster-modules removes the border around individual modules, and gives GraphViz a slightly easier time with edge routing.

2.2 Filtering modules

We can choose what modules we want to show by passing them as naked arguments on the command line:

calligraphy -p out.png Data.Functor.Alt Data.Functor.Plus


Modules can be specified either as module names or file names, and they can include * wildcards. For example, you could render all of your tests using calligraphy 'test/*', only modules in the Data namespace using calligraphy 'Data.*', or any combination of these. We can also exclude certain modules using --exclude, which has the same syntax as choosing modules.

3 What we are even looking at in the first place

What’s nice about the previous graph is that it actually contains every possible node- and edge type, so let’s go over what they are. First, nodes:

As for edges,

3.1 Export filtering

As mentioned before, dashed nodes are not exported. We can hide all non-exported bindings with --exports-only/--hide-local-bindings. This usually cleans up the graph nicely:

calligraphy -p out.png Data.Functor.Alt Data.Functor.Plus --exports-only


If you look closely at the resulting graph you can see there’s an edge from many to <!> that wasn’t present in the original. The reason is that hiding doesn’t simply remove the node. Instead, it will try to merge the node into its parent, moving all edges up to the parent node.

This applies to almost every method of removing nodes; they will all attempt to move edges to the parent instead of simply deleting them outright.

3.2 Collapsing

So, what other method of removing nodes exist? Well, there’s also collapsing. Collapsing means that we don’t hide the node itself, we just hide all of its children. --collapse-* flags, like hide flags, exist for most node types. In this example we’ll collapse classes:

calligraphy -p out.png Data.Functor.Alt Data.Functor.Plus --exports-only --collapse-classes


A bit extreme in this case, but very effective for cleaning up larger graphs.

3.3 Transitive dependencies

Finally, let’s look at dependency filtering. Dependency filtering means that we only show things that are a (transitive) dependency of a given node. For example, these are all the things that Traversable1 depends on:

calligraphy -p out.png --forward-root Traversable1


You have some control over what a dependency means exactly. Using the --[no-]follow-* flags you can control what edges to follow when calculating a dependency graph. By default, it will follow normal edges, and parent/child edges in either direction. You can also limit the search depth using --max-depth.

Finally, as implied by the fact that the flag is called --forward-root, you can also find reverse dependencies using --reverse-root.

4 Conclusion

With that, we have covered the bulk of the option groups for calligraphy. You should now be ready to start using it with your own projects.

If you have any questions or suggestions, either on this post or the calligraphy project itself, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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