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[Caml-list] illegal permutation of structure fields?
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Date: -- (:)
From: Xavier Leroy <Xavier.Leroy@i...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] illegal permutation of structure fields?
> I've just found out to my surprise that the following does not work:
> 
> file: bla.ml
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> module type FOO = sig
>   val x : int
>   val y : int
> end
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> file: bla.mli
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> module type FOO = sig
>   val y : int
>   val x : int
> end
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> This yields the following error:
>   Illegal permutation of structure fields
> 
> Why is this illegal? Wouldn't it be very straightforward to normalize
> the signatures (e.g. sort elements by name) before matching them?

That's more or less what old versions of OCaml did, but it's
incorrect.  The reason is that a module signature determine the layout
of the corresponding structure: if

  module A : sig val x : int val y : int end

then A is represented as the tuple (value_of_x, value_of_y), while

  module B : sig val y : int val x : int end

is represented as the tuple (value_of_y, value_of_x).

When you perform signature matching, the compiler recomputes the
structure representation to match the new signature.  For instance:

  module C : sig val y : int val x : int end = A

causes the compiler to generate roughly the following code

  let C = (snd A, fst A)

so that the representation of C matches what clients of C expect from
its signature.

If we were to allow module type equivalence up to permutation, this
strategy would be invalid.  Consider:

file bla.ml

  module type FOO = sig val x : int val y : int end
  module A : FOO = ...

file bla.mli

  module type FOO = sig val y : int val x : int end
  module A : FOO

Since the implementation of A and its declaration in the signature
have the same module type FOO, no field rearrangement is performed.
Yet, A is represented as (val_x, val_y), while clients of A expect
(val_y, val_x).

On this example, expanding the FOO module type before generating the
coercion code (that rearranges fields) would suffice.  However, I
believe there are more complex examples involving abstract module types
(e.g. as functor parameters) where expanding module type names would
not suffice.  So, let's keep it simple: no permutation!

- Xavier Leroy
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