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fast functional arrays (OCAML code)
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Date: 2000-07-07 (15:03)
From: tom <tmb.atncalpointveriopointcomx@x...>
Subject: fast functional arrays (OCAML code)
I claimed in a previous posting that imperative algorithms that use
arrays can be translated into completely functional code with no
logarithmic slowdown.  The trick is to have functional arrays that
provide access to the latest version in constant time, even though
access to older versions may be slower.  The implementation of these
functional array types, of course, requires side effects, but the same
is true for many other parts of a pure functional language
implementation.  What matters is the interface that the user sees
and the performance that the implementation has.

I couldn't find the original code (it's been 10 years; I think I even
posted the SML version to USENET), but I quickly typed it in again in
OCAML.  It's pretty simple, but I hope I didn't make some silly
mistake.  The code gives you completely persistent, functional arrays
with constant time update and lookup for the latest version.  It's
based on the idea of "reverse differences" that is also used by the
RCS version control system.

I'm really surprised that this kind of data structure isn't a standard
part of functional programming language libraries, but I just checked
GHC and Hugs and it isn't in there.  I think FP standard libraries
should just have it out of principle, and it's easy for an implementor
to provide.

IMO, monad or linear type based arrays are good for some things.  But
they require some machinery that complicate the language (and may
complicate interfaces as well).  The SISAL "old" construct for array
algorithms is also invaluable.  Those are both statically checkable
special cases of persistent arrays, and I think all pure functional
programming languages should support these kinds of constructs.

But for other algorithms, data structures like these are, I believe,
also very useful, and they are particularly easy to implement and

Using the same kind of dynamic approach, there are other special cases
that can be implemented easily.  For example, you can have fast
functional arrays that only keep the latest version and give you an
error if you try to access any earlier version (a kind of "dynamic
linear type").  Or you can have a functional array that keeps two
versions for each element (very useful for numerical algorithms;
similar to the SISAL "old" construct).  That, I think, is the
direction that functional programming libraries should go in for fast
functional arrays.

Using path compression and various amortizable operations (including
instantiating an array copy on the fly), you can also create data
structures that behave efficiently for accesses to multiple versions.
I've worked out a little bit in this direction; if you are interested
in pursuing it further, drop me a note.


PS: If anybody knows of a published reference to this kind of approach
to functional arrays, I'd appreciate if you could send it to me.

(* This is -*- caml -*- (actually, OCAML) code.

   A fast functional array data structure using reverse diffs.
   This data structure can be used to translate imperative algorithms
   into pure functional programs without logarithmic overhead
   and without any special type system support (no monads or
   linear types).

   Accesses/updates to the latest version of the array are always
   constant time.  Access to older versions of the array have overhead
   proportional to the age (this can be improved using
   amortized rearrangement of the diff tree and instantiations
   of new array copies). 

   Derived from code originally written around 1990 for SML/NJ.

   T h o m a s  M.  B r e u e l  (t m b at n c a l . v e r i o . c o m)

type 'a record = Data of 'a array | Diff of int * 'a * 'a record ref
type 'a ffa = 'a record ref

(* create a fast functional array *)

let ffamake size initial_value = 
  ref (Data (Array.make size initial_value))

(* look up an element in a fast functional array *)

let rec ffaref array index =
  match !array with
    Data a -> 
      (* this is the common case in an imperative algorithm *)
  | Diff(i,v,narray) ->
      if i = index then v
      else ffaref narray index

(* return an array with the element at !index! replaced
   by !value!; the external behavior of the !array! argument
   remains unchanged *)

let ffaset (array : 'a ffa) index (value : 'a) =
  let old_value = ffaref array index in
  match !array with
    Data a ->
      (* this is the common case in an imperative algorithm *)
      (* for the main branch, create a reverse diff *)
      let result = ref (Data a) in
      a.(index) <- value;
      array := Diff (index,old_value,result);
  | Diff (i,v,a) ->
      (* for branches, just create a forward diff *)
      ref (Diff (index,value,array))