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generalization in tuples
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Date: -- (:)
From: Didier Remy <Didier.Remy@i...>
Subject: Re: generalization in tuples
On Mon, Oct 16, 2000 at 02:42:11PM +0200, David Monniaux wrote:
> 1/ Is it possible to do what I want to do, even if it means using a
> kludge? The above code, using multiple let's, is not good: it's not
> useable in the middle of an expression (this is for CamlP4-generated
> code).
> (acceptable kludges include the use of Obj.magic)

In principle, Obj.magic should do the job, but it does not:

        Obj.magic (fun x -> x)

is treated as an application and returns a weak type ;-(
The problem is that  "Obj.magic" is defined as a primitive and the above is 
typed as any other application, but I don't see any reason except technical 
to treat Obj.magic as a constructor. Anyway, I don't think Obj.magic is 
a good fix...

> 2/ Is there a finer notion of a "generalizable" expression that
> encompasses the above code, and could the "let generalization" procedure
> in the compiler be improved so that the above code gets a polymorphic
> type?

Yes, there is a very simple generalization of the value-only polymorphism

Expressions need to be partitioned into two sets: expansive and
non-expansive expressions, such that the evaluation of non-expansive is
guaranteed not to create any storage. 

For instance, non-expansive expressions may include variables, values (hence
functions), as well as constructors applied to non-expansive expressions.

Note that subexpressions of non-expansive expression are often expansive
(e.g. typically when the expression is under lambda-abstraction).

Given an expression e, we are only interested in outer expansive
sub-expressions of e, i.e. those that are not sub-expressions of a
non-expansive sub-expression of e (in which case, they are protected from

When typing an expression e, all type variables appearing in at least one
outer expansive sub-expression of e may also be the type of a store cell
allocation and should not be generalized. All other type variables can be

For instance, in (a simpler version of) your example:

        let x = (ref [], fun x -> x);;

The expression (ref [], fun x -> x) has type 'a ref * ('b -> 'b); 
here, "ref []" is an application, hence an (outer) expansive expression and
'a appearing in its type cannot be generalized.  Conversely, "fun x -> x" is
non-expansive and since variable "'b" only appear in the type of this
non-expansive subexpression, it can be generalized.

A few more examples: 

        let x = (let y = fun x -> x in ref y, y)
                 : ('a -> 'a) ref * ('a -> 'a)

Here 'a appears both in an outer expansive expansive expression and in a
non-expansive expressions. Hence it is dangerous can cannot be generalized. 

        let x = fun x -> ref x
                 : ('a -> 'a ref)

The expression is protected, i.e. non-expansive and "'a" can be

(Note that this is a strict generalization of the actual solution.()

The implementation 

This is actually quite simple: while typeckecking an expression, just keep
track of whether the expression is the outermost non-expansive part of a
let-bound expression, and if not, make its variable non-generalizable.

In fact, I experimented this in MLART a while ago:

    #morgon:~/caml/camlart/src$ ./camlrun ./camltop -I lib
    >       Caml Light version 0.5 (modified with extensible records)

    #(ref 1, fun x -> x);;
    - : int ref * ('a -> 'a) = ref 1, <fun>

or, using extensible records :-)

    #{!a = fun x -> x};;
    > Toplevel input:
    >{!a = fun x -> x};;
    > Cannot generalize 'a in {a : mut. 'a -> 'a; abs. 'b}
    #{!a =1; b = fun x -> x};;
    - : {a : mut. int; b : pre. 'a -> 'a; abs. 'b} = {!a = 1; b = <fun>}


This has never been implemented in Ocaml, probably because, besides me,
you are one of first persons to complain about the drastic implementation of
value-only polymorphism restriction.