Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pattern matching using recursion

(part 1 of 4ish) I’ve made a fair amount of progress in the past few weeks, and have mostly implemented the pattern matching I mentioned in my last post. All that remains now (famous last words…) is to hook up all this pattern matching stuff, which I created as a separate unit, to the compiler.

I ran into a few hurdles along the way, which I’ll split into a few posts. But first, to recap. The objective is to take something like this:

t : List[Maybe[Bool]]
case t of:
    Cons(Nothing, Cons(_, Cons(One(True), _))): ...

… and figure that after that first case matcher, t is any list except that whose first element is Nothing and whose third element is One(True).

This has a recursive feel to it, since at each argument you can drill down (Cons -> Cons -> Cons -> One -> True, for instance). I did end up using recursion, but for a while I was fumbling around without a plan, and getting nowhere. In the end, I had to take a step back and think like a CS 101 student: what’s my base case, what’s the recursive step, what kind of thing is being returned, and how is it combined?

  • base case: a simple type (not a disjunction) with no args
  • recursive steps:
    • disjunctive case
    • simple type with args
  • return value: a struct that contains a set of matched types and a set of unmatched types.
    For instance, if the possibility is True | False | FileNotFound, and the match case is True, then return value is (matched={True}, unmatched={False, FileNotFound}).
  • combining step:
    • for disjunctions, recurse down on each component, and combine the results (matched=<matched values from each component>, unmatched similar)
    • for simple types, recurse down on each argument. If any argument returns back no matches, the result is no match. Otherwise, do a cartesian product of all of the matched and unmatched arguments. For each row that corresponds only to matched arguments, create a match; for all other rows, create an un-match.

That last point is hard to explain succinctly, but an example will illustrate it. Let’s say you have:

VehicleType = Car | Truck
Color       = Red | Green | Blue
Vehicle(type: Car | Truck, color: Color)
t : Vehicle

You match t against Vehicle(Car, Red). Recursing down, you find that the first argument is (matched={Car}, unmatched={Truck}) while the second argument is (matched={Red}, unmatched={Green, Blue}). The cartesian product of these arguments (with matches marked with asterisks) is:

*Car,   *Red
*Car,    Green
*Car,    Blue
 Truck, *Red
 Truck,  Green
 Truck,  Blue

Of these six options, only the first row has all matched arguments, so it’s the match; the other rows are unmatched:

matched = {
  Vehicle(Car, Red)
}
unmatched = {
  Vehicle(Car, Green | Blue),
  Vehicle(Truck, Red | Green | Blue)
}

This gave me the overall approach, but I still had a couple problems. The first was dealing with laziness (which is needed to handle infinitely recursive types, like List[T]), and the second was in figuring out how to structure the recursion. I’ll talk about those in the next couple posts, in reverse order.

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