Creating a macOS app with Haskell and Swift

Nov 10, 2023

First part of an in-depth guide into developing a native macOS application using Haskell with Swift and SwiftUI. This part covers the set-up required to call Haskell functions from Swift in an XCode project using SwiftUI.

This is the first part of an in-depth guide into developing a native applications for Apple platforms (macOS, iOS, etc.) using Haskell with Swift and SwiftUI. This is the first in a series of blog posts – covering the set-up required to call Haskell functions from Swift in an XCode project using SwiftUI. In future installements of the series, I intend to at least discuss calling functions with idiomatic Haskell types with Swift ones (both with and without marshaling), SwiftUI observation, and iOS development which requires GHC to produce code for the iOS compilation target.

At the time of writing I’m using XCode 15, Cabal 3.10, and GHC 9.8. There will be some features I use that are only available in these recent versions, however, the general idea of interoperability between Haskell and Swift stands on its own regardless – the now 7 year old swift-haskell-tutorial is still similarly relevant and greatly informed my approach, despite the end result being considerably different.

The end goal is to create a multi-(apple)-platform application whose UI is programmed in Swift using SwiftUI while the data and logic of the application is implemented in Haskell which is called from Swift.

The series of blog posts is further accompanied by a github repository where each commit matches a step of this tutorial. If in doubt regarding any step, simply checking the matching commit for absolute confidence you are understanding the practical step correctly. Visit this link to the haskell-x-swift-project-steps repository! Furthermore, I’m writing a build tool that will facilitate setting up and building a project like this without having to go through all the manual steps: haskell-swift.

This write-up has been cross-posted to Well-Typed’s Blog.

1 Hello, Swift, it’s Haskell!

In this part we are only concerned with getting our Hello, World! going.

  1. We’ll setup a Haskell (foreign) library exporting a function hs_factorial that returns the factorial of integer, using the C FFI
  2. Setup a SwiftUI app that calls hs_factorial
  3. Compile the Haskell code into a shared library
  4. Create a Swift module HaskellFramework to export the Haskell functions (imported from the stub C header files), and setup linking against the Haskell shared library.
  5. Import HaskellFramework into the SwiftUI app to be able to successfully call hs_factorial and display the result on the screen of the running application.

The following diagram (rendered by Diagon) describes how the Swift executable and Haskell libraries are going to be connected from a not-too-far-away perspective. It might be useful to consult this diagram once in a while throughout the post!

│Haskell library││cbits      ││││RTS headers│
┌▽────────────────▽───────┐┌▽──────────────┐│           │
│Haskell foreign library  ││Headers (cbits)││           │
└┬───────────────────────┬┘└─────────────┬─┘│           │
┌▽─────────────────────┐┌▽──────────────┐│  │           │
│Shared dynamic library││Headers (stubs)││  │           │
└┬────────────────────┬┘└┬──────────────┘│  │           │
 │            ┌───────│──│───────────────┘  │           │
 │            │┌──────│──┘                  │ ┌─────────┘
 ││Clang modules││DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig│
 │ │┌─────────────▽────────┐
 │ ││BuildSettings.xcconfig│
 │ │└┬─────────────────────┘
│SwiftUI App│

1.1 Setting up the SwiftUI app

Let’s set-up a simple XCode project using SwiftUI for the main interface. Fire up XCode and create a macOS Application, named SwiftHaskell, using SwiftUI, excluding tests. Choose a Personal Team rather than None - you might have to create a (free of charge) one.

In the newly-created project there should exist two files: SwiftHaskellApp.swift and ContentView.swift. We can change right away ContentView.swift to display the result of calling hs_factorial(5), even though hs_factorial is not yet in scope:

import SwiftUI

struct ContentView: View {
    var body: some View {
        VStack {
            Text("Hello, Haskell: \(hs_factorial(5))!")

Before proceeding to the Haskell side, create a New File > Configuration Settings File (also known as a .xcconfig file) named BuildSettings.xcconfig. We’ll use this file to write all our build settings textually instead of using XCode’s build settings navigator.

To use our .xcconfig file for the project settings, under Info > Configurations in the project tab, select the BuildSettings file. For the configuration to show up in XCode, the .xcconfig must be in the tree navigator (which happens by default if you created the module within XCode). You can read more, or see exactly how to set an .xcconfig file as the configuration, in this write-up on xcconfig by NSHipster.

Even though we are setting the .xcconfig file manually (and also e.g. initializing the XCode project), it is possible to resort to an exclusively programatic approach using so-called XCode project generators such as XCodeGen and Tuist.

1.2 Setting up a Haskell foreign library

Create a folder haskell-framework within the XCode project, cd into it, and follow from there.

We’re jumping straight into a full-fledged Haskell projected managed with cabal, where we define a shared library using the foreign-library stanza.

Start with a normal cabal file with a library stanza that exposes MyLib (by running cabal init within haskell-framework), and add the function hs_factorial to MyLib that operates on CInts:

module MyLib where
import Foreign.C

hs_factorial :: CInt -> CInt
hs_factorial x = product [1..x]

The organization of the code here isn’t terribly important. Perhaps in a real project you could want to, for instance, only use C types like CInt in the foreign library bits.

In the cabal file, add a foreign-library stanza with

foreign-library haskell-foreign-framework
    type: native-shared

    -- This should work on Mac, despite being undefined behaviour
    -- See (great read)
    options: standalone

    -- We copy the C stub headers to a folder in the root.
    -- If you have foreign-export declarations in the library
    -- be sure to add this flag there too (so all stubs get added
    -- to the `haskell-framework-include` folder)
    ghc-options: -stubdir=haskell-framework-include

    other-modules: MyForeignLib
    build-depends: base, haskell-framework
    hs-source-dirs: flib

Unfortunately, options: standalone is only officially supported (and required) by Windows, even though it is exactly what we need. However, unofficially, a macOS distribution should be able to safely use this option – for more information see this write-up on foreign libraries explaining why this option is undefined for macOS. In the future, this might work out of the box without being undefined behaviour, or the behaviour on macOS may have changed s.t. this no longer works… but let’s hope for the former. Additionally, we pass -stubdir for GHC to output the C stub header files to a directory haskell-framework-include. Do add this automatically generated directory to .gitignore.

Create the file flib/MyForeignLib.hs that declares a foreign export of hs_factorial imported from MyLib and foreign exports it:

{-# LANGUAGE ForeignFunctionInterface #-}
module MyForeignLib where
import Foreign.C
import MyLib (hs_factorial)
foreign export ccall hs_factorial :: CInt -> CInt

It doesn’t seem that re-exporting the function from MyLib when it is foreign exported from there is enough for it to be included in the shared library (might be a bug), we do need the foreign export here rather than in MyLib.

Running cabal build should now generate a haskell-framework-include folder with a MyForeignLib_stub.h, and a libhaskell-foreign-framework.dylib shared library somewhere under dist-newstyle (you can find . -name libhaskell-foreign-framework.dylib to find it)

We’ll test C program against this library to check whether it works as expected. Create scripts/ with a script that compiles a main function in C which calls hs_factorial. A few notes:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -e

if ! test -f "haskell-framework.cabal"; then
    echo "Run this script from the root of your project!"
    exit 1

HS_FLIB_PATH=$(dirname $(find . -name libhaskell-foreign-framework.dylib))

echo "
#include <stdio.h>
#include <MyForeignLib_stub.h>
#include <HsFFI.h>
int main(void) {
    hs_init(NULL, NULL);
    printf(\"%d\n\", hs_factorial(5));
    return 0;
" > conftestmain.c

# We use `ghc` instead of `gcc` because otherwise we also need to provide the
# include and lib path of the runtime system (Rts)
ghc -no-hs-main -o conftest conftestmain.c \
    -lhaskell-foreign-framework \
    -L"$HS_FLIB_PATH" \


if [ 120 -eq $RESULT ]; then
    echo "Foreign library successfully called!"
    echo "Bad bad foreign library!"
    exit 1

rm -f conftest*

You should get Foreign library successfully called! when this script is run.

1.3 Linking the Haskell library with the executable

Our recipe for invoking a foreign exported Haskell function in Swift:

  1. Create a Swift module exporting Haskell functions through a module map pointing to the headers exporting the Haskell functions.
  2. Extend the module search path with the location of your new module map.
  3. Import that module as a module in the SwiftUI code, and use the desired function.
  4. At link time, the shared library with the symbols used by the program must be linked against, and must be found in the run-path which can be done by copying the shared library into the app bundled Frameworks folder.

We create a module map file listing all the headers exporting Haskell functions to define Swift modules where Haskell functions will live, using Clang’s module system. A module map looks something like

module HaskellFramework {
    header "haskell-framework/haskell-framework-include/MyForeignLib.h"
    export *

and can be imported into Swift code with import HaskellFramework, as long as the module map is available as module.modulemap in the import search path. As one might expect, importing this module brings into scope all names exported from the listed header(s).

Specifically, we will use the inferred submodules feature of modules to create our module map. With inferred submodules, we can simply define an umbrella directory with headers and get a submodule for each header in that directory (arbitrarily nested, where a header A/B/C.h becomes a submodule named MainModule.A.B.C)

In the root of the XCode project, write a module.modulemap file:

module HaskellFramework {
    umbrella "haskell-framework/haskell-framework-include"
    explicit module * {
        export *

The umbrella keyword specifies the directory where to find the header files for our submodules, and the explicit module * lines are the inferred submodule part, as each header will result in a declaration roughly like explicit module HeaderName { header "umbrella/HeaderName.h" ... }. In effect, our module map above will expand to:

module HaskellFramework {
    explicit module MyForeignLib {
        header "haskell-framework/haskell-framework-include/MyForeignLib.h"
        export *

Again, to be clear, this is what our original module.modulemap using the umbrella keyword currently expands to, not the file we wrote.

Having written our module.modulemap, we need to extend the compiler’s import search path to find this module map. As we’ve already set-up our xcconfig-based configuration, this amounts to writing into BuildSettings.xcconfig:


This is equivalent to changing the Swift Compiler - Search Paths > Import Paths build setting in XCode (in fact, by inspecting that setting on the rightmost inspector panel, you will find the corresponding xcconfig name is indeed SWIFT_INCLUDE_PATHS – this is also all explained in the xcconfig article).

Returning to ContentView.swift, where hs_factorial is being called, you should be able to add at the top of the file, and have XCode successfully recognize:

import HaskellFramework.MyForeignLib_stub

Even though the import is recognized, it will not compile successfully. The reason is our stub header (MyForeignLib_stub.h) includes <HsFFI.h> which cannot be found by XCode. We need to extend our Header Search Path with the path to the RTS headers.

Currently, our BuildSettings.xcconfig can only contain statically known information. Fortunately, we can #include other xcconfig files (that may have been generated dynamically) in our BuildSettings.xcconfig (as described by the xcconfig write-up). We do this by adding the following include directive in the BuildSettings.xcconfig file:

#include "DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig"

We will generate DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig with a script haskell-framework/scripts/ that calls the

ghc-pkg field rts include-dirs --simple-output

to figure out the rts include path of the existing GHC installation.

We extend HEADER_SEARCH_PATHS, the xcconfig variable listing the paths where XCode will search for headers when building, with the path to the RTS header files:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -e
if ! test -f "haskell-framework/haskell-framework.cabal"; then
    echo "Run this script from the root of your XCode project!"
    exit 1

echo "
HEADER_SEARCH_PATHS=\$(inherit) $(ghc-pkg field rts include-dirs --simple-output | tr ' ' '\n' | tail -n1)
" > DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig

echo "Created DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig!"

Do add DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig to .gitignore. The literal string $(inherit) is xcconfig syntax for inheriting the options set before applying this configuration. Furthermore, asking for the include-dirs of rts outputs two directories:


However, the ffi header is already included in a module by default in XCode applications, so we need to cut it out of the search paths to avoid a Redefinition of module 'FFI' error (tr combined with tail -n1 select just the path to the RTS headers).

The function is now found by XCode as the module it is defined in compiles successfully and brings the function into scope. However, building the program will fail with a link time error: even though we instructed the compiler to find the definitions of the Haskell functions we want to use and the module they are exported from, we have not linked against the library where the actual symbols are defined.

The Haskell foreign library created in a previous section compiles to a shared dynamic library. To link against it when building our Swift application we need to pass -lhaskell-foreign-framework to the compilation toolchain and instruct it on where to find this library. The first step can be done in two compatible (as in both can co-exist) ways:

After adding the link declaration, your module.modulemap should contain:

module HaskellFramework {
    umbrella "haskell-framework/haskell-framework-include"
    explicit module * {
        export *

    link "haskell-foreign-framework"

Secondly, we need to add the shared library path to the library search path and make it available at runtime by copying it to the Frameworks folder that is bundled with the application. By copying the library to this folder we ensure it can be found when dynamically loaded at runtime: the library install name is relative to @rpath, i.e. it is a run-path dependent library, and the run-path dependencies of XCode built executables are searched for in the Frameworks folder, relatively to the executable path (@executable_path/../Frameworks).

A run-path dependent library is a dependent library whose complete install name is not known when the library is created (see How Dynamic Libraries Are Used). Instead, the library specifies that the dynamic loader must resolve the library’s install name when it loads the executable that depends on the library.

To use run-path dependent libraries, an executable provides a list of run-path search paths, which the dynamic loader traverses at load time to find the libraries.

In practice, we achieve this by extending the LIBRARY_SEARCH_PATHS setting dynamically and add a “Copy” Build Phase which copies the shared library to the listed Frameworks folder. At this time, I do not know how to do this Copy outside of XCode – do shoot me a text if you know how. It is also unfortunate that we have to hardcode the path to the dynamic library there, instead of computing it at build time.

Find the path to the foreign library by running, in the haskell-framework directory:

cabal list-bin haskell-foreign-framework

Then, under the Build Phases tab of the project settings, add (by clicking in the little plus sign) a New Copy Files Phase. Then, clicking in the plus sign of the new listing of files to copy, add the haskell-foreign-framework .dylib (the shared library) that lives at the path found by running the above command by clicking on “Add Other”.

To the haskell-framework/scripts/, add the following lines before echoing to the file

pushd . > /dev/null
cd haskell-framework
FLIB_PATH=$(cabal list-bin haskell-foreign-framework)
popd > /dev/null

and to what is written to DynamicBuildSettings.xcconfig add the following line

LIBRARY_SEARCH_PATHS=\$(inherit) $(dirname $FLIB_PATH)

At this point, after regenerating the dynamic build settings, you should be able to link the application successfully, and run it.

1.4 The RTS must be initialized

Surprise! Running the application will fail at runtime, when hs_factorial is called. To call Haskell functions from an executable written in another language, one must first initialize the GHC runtime system, and terminate it when appropriate. We need to call the functions hs_init and hs_end, exposed in HsFFI.h. We will write two wrapper functions in our foreign library to invoke instead, as suggested in the FFI chapter of the GHC user guide.

We create a cbits folder in the haskell-framework Haskell project to put our C files and headers, and add them to the foreign-library stanza of the cabal file:

include-dirs: cbits
c-sources: cbits/MyForeignLibRts.c
install-includes: MyForeignLibRts.h

You can see what these options do in this cabal user guide section. We create cbits/MyForeignLibRts.c wrapping the calls to hs_init and hs_end as described in the FFI chapter linked above:

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <HsFFI.h>

HsBool flib_init() {

    printf("Initialising flib\n");

    // Initialise Haskell runtime
    hs_init(NULL, NULL);

    // Do other library initialisations here

    return HS_BOOL_TRUE;

void flib_end() {
    printf("Terminating flib\n");

It might seem that you could foreign import these functions into the Haskell library and re-export them with foreign export, however, if they are exported from Haskell, they themselves require the RTS to be initialised, effectively defeating the purpose of being functions that initialise the RTS. Therefore, we write a header file that we ship with the library for it to be included by the Swift project. The file cbits/MyForeignLibRts.h contains:

#include <HsFFI.h>

HsBool flib_init();
void flib_end();

Back to the Swift side, we need to augment our module map with a module mapping to the RTS initialisation wrapper header. We add a second submodule declaration:

explicit module RTSManage {
   header "haskell-framework/cbits/MyForeignLibRts.h"

The cbits/MyForeignLibRts.c symbols will be included in the shared dynamic library.

You can re-buid the haskell library and re-generate the dynamic settings with a script ./build-haskell in the root of the XCode project:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

set -e

if ! test -d "SwiftHaskell.xcodeproj"; then
    echo "Run this from the SwiftHaskell XCode project root!"
    exit 1

pushd . >/dev/null
cd haskell-framework/
cabal build all --allow-newer
popd >/dev/null

echo "Done."

Finally, in SwiftHaskellApp.swift, we extend the @main App by overriding the init() function: calling flib_init() to initialise the runtime system and setting up an observer to call flib_end() to end the runtime system when the application terminates. We need only import HaskellFramework.RTSManage to bring these functions into scope:

struct SwiftHaskellApp: App {

    init() {

        NotificationCenter.default.addObserver(forName: NSApplication.willTerminateNotification, object: nil, queue: .main) { _ in
            // terminating


Running your application should work and proudly print 120 on the screen.

2 Remarks

We’ve come to the end of the first installment in this blogpost series. Next up is communicating more interesting data types (both with and without marshalling), making things more ergonomic to use, SwiftUI observation, iOS compilation, and perhaps developing a simple model app.

The haskell-x-swift-project-steps git repository has a commit matching each of the steps of this guide, so if anything is unclear you can just let the code speak by itself in checking the commits.

This project, blog post, and research regarding Swift interoperability with Haskell is being partially sponsored by Well-Typed, and is otherwise carried out in my own free time. If you’d also like to sponsor my work on Swift x Haskell interoperability with the goal of developing native macOS/iOS/etc applications, visit my GitHub sponsors page.

2.1 Further Reading