Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Polymorphism using disjunctive types

I haven’t updated this blog in a while, but I’ve actually been making some pretty decent progress on Effes. I’ve got basic types working, method invocation, basic pattern matching and — wait for it! — disjunctive types!

My first attempt at the Effes compiler was a bit messy. I wrote the grammar first and tried to write the compiler over it, but I found I was getting confused as to which parts were complete, which were half-done, which were fully TODO, etc. So I took what I’d learned, chucked the code (and grammar) and started from scratch. This time I worked incrementally, adding features to the grammar and compiler/interpreter in sync and one at a time.

I haven’t made any progress on conjunctive types yet, but I realized I can go a long way without them. I can even get polymorphism, with just a touch of magic. Barely any at all, really.

Let me walk you through it, starting with a pretty simple program:

data type True:
    def toFalse -> False: return False
data type Fale:
    def toTrue -> True: return True

def not (b: True | False) -> True | False:
    return case b of
        True: (b: toFalse)
        False: (b: toTrue)

There are two things going on here: “downcasting” a disjunction to a simple type within each alternative, and disjoining the result types for the case expression as a whole.

First the downcasting. In each of the alternatives (the last two lines), the compiler is able to cast b from True | False to the matched type. For instance, b in the last line is typed as False, not True | False. This means that (b: toTrue) compiles and runs fine. Next, the result type. Since True::toFalse returns False, and False::toTrue returns True, the whole expression returns False | True (which is the same as True | False). If False::toTrue had returned True | FileNotFound, the expression would return False | True | FileNotFound.

So, there’s a tad of cleverness going on, but nothing too weird. If we rename both toTrue and toFalse to negate, we get two unrelated methods with the same name. It works exactly as above, but it’s starting to look polymorphic-ish:

data type True:
    def negate -> False: return False
data type False:
    def negate -> True: return True

def not (b: True | False) -> True | False:
    return case b of
        True: (b: negate)
        False: (b: negate)

Okay, neat. But it’s still not really polymorphic, since there’s no “supertype” to speak of. There’s a bit of repetition with the negate methods, so what about this as a shortcut?

def not (b: True | False) -> True | False:
    return (b: negate)

b is still a disjunctive type in the last line, but the compiler is able to figure out that all of its alternatives have a method negate that takes zero arguments. It thus expands this invocation to the case expression as in the previous snippet. But I can’t provide a new implementation of a boolean type — that is, I can’t make FileNotFound a subclass of boolean — because b in the method arguments is typed specifically to True | False.

What would we even want a boolean type to be? A simple answer is to just make it an alias for True | False.

type Boolean = True | False

The left-hand side defines a type name, and the right-hand side defines a target type (simple type or disjunction). There’s no extra type checking; in this example, the compiler just replaces every instance of Boolean with True | False, as if you had written True | False out. The following methods are identical in every aspect except their names:

f1 (b: Boolean) -> True | False: return b
f2 (b: True | False) -> Boolean: return b

Extending aliases a bit, we can define an “open alias” which is just an alias to which other types can add themselves as disjunctive alternatives. Open aliases also declare methods, which all of their alternatives must also declare (and implement).

-- declare an open alias, Boolean
open type Boolean:
    def negate -> Boolean

-- declare True and False, which each declare a "negate" method
data type True:
    def negate -> True: return False
data type False:
    def negate -> False: return True

-- Add True and False as disjunctive alternatives to Boolean
Boolean |= True
Boolean |= False

Note that True::negate and False::negate are totally unrelated methods. Neither relates to Boolean::negate, because there really such a method. All there is is a requirement that any type that adds itself to the Boolean alias also declare a method named negate that takes no arguments and returns a type that’s contained within Boolean (for instance, True is contained within True | False). For that matter, Boolean itself doesn’t really exist: it’s just shorthand for True | False.

When we put all of the above together, we get polymorphism! To illustrate, I’ll start with the finished program and show how it gets rewritten:

open type Boolean:
    def negate -> Boolean

data type True:
    def negate -> False: return False
Boolean |= True

data type False:
    def negate -> True: return True
Boolean |= False

def not (b: Boolean) -> Boolean:
    return (b: negate)

First, let’s rewrite the open alias as a standard alias:

type Boolean = True | False

data type True:
    def negate -> False: return False
data type False:
    def negate -> False: return True

def not (b: Boolean) -> Boolean:
    return (b: negate)

Next, expand the Boolean alias:

data type True:
    def negate -> False: return False
data type False:
    def negate -> True: return True

def not (b: True | False) -> True | False:
    return (b: negate)

And finally, rewrite (b: negate) as a case expression.

data type True:
    def negate -> False: return False
data type False:
    def negate -> True: return True

def not (b: True | False) -> True | False:
    return case b of
        True: (b: negate)  -- True::negate
        False: (b: negate) -- False::negate

Effes programs don’t have dynamic linking yet, so the translation is really that literal. If and when I do implement dynamically linked programs, obviously that won’t work; the last step, to translate b: negate, will have to do something vtable-like.

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