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Date: -- (:)
From: Jacques Garrigue <garrigue@k...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] Type safe affectation ?
From: Brian Hurt <>
> On Sun, 15 Jun 2003 wrote:
> > On Sat, 14 Jun 2003, Xavier Leroy wrote:
> > > Also, keep in mind that the compiler can optimize based on
> > > immutability assumptions.  For instance, the OCaml compiler performs
> > > propagation of structured constants and code motion for accesses
> > > inside data structures that are immutable.  You might very well break
> > > something by using the set_cdr function above.
> > 
> > Is it the case that those functions which use it in a disciplined way, 
> > basically rewriting those functions transformable from "ML +
> > Minamide style holes" to "ML + setcdr" are going to break
> > something? I believe ExtLib is doing this, and probably a few
> > others wrote such libaries after the previous round on this topic.

There are safe ways to do that: when you build such a structure with a
hole, first define a mutable type sharing the same representation with
your intended immutable type, and cast to it after you're fisnished.
Since ocaml doesn't do any fancy representation optimizations, this
will work, and if it changes all C libraries are broken anyway.

For instance, you can write for a list:

type 'a mut_list = {hd: 'a; mutable tl: 'a list}
external inj : 'a mut_list -> 'a list = "%identity"

Limitation: for sum types, this only works for the first parameterized
constructor (the tag has to be 0). For records there is no problem.

Also, you must be very careful about not letting a mut_list value leak
out (respect the linearity), otherwise inferred information such as
variance will be incorrect, and you can break the type system.

By the way, the above limitation is yet one more reason I think it
would be really cool to allow records inside sum-type definitions.

> If there is one thing I'm regretting with ExtLib, is that we've seemed to 
> make using Obj.magic "cool", or at least "common and usefull".  Were holes 
> added to the standard Ocaml compiler, I'd be re-rewritting ExtList to take 
> those optimizations *out*.  There's other stuff in ExtLib which is usefull 
> even without the new List code- Enum, for example.  So the project will 
> survive regardless.

The problem is that holes at the type level are a difficult feature to
offer: they require linear types in the compiler. As an optimization,
it is a rather high-level one, and maybe not so easy to know when it
will apply.
> Or maybe I'm overstating ExtLib's effect- and there has always been a lot 
> of Obj.magic going around.

I certainly hope this is not the case. Obj.magic is EVIL.
It is only acceptable in this case because we want to optimize some
well-known structure, and we can check the correctness for sure.
At the user level, it is certainly preferable to use a mutable
structure to start with.

> > On a related note, I'd like a way to make an immutable
> > representation of the built in array by not exporting the
> > mutators, *and then* making the type parameter covariant, say a
> > signature like the following  
> > 
> > module type FUNCTIONAL_ARRAY = 
> >   sig
> >     type (+'a) t
> >     val init : int -> (int -> 'a) -> 'a t
> >     val get : 'a t -> int -> 'a 
> >     val length : 'a t -> int 
> >     val map : ('a -> 'b) -> 'a t -> 'b t
> >   end
> > 
> > The only safe ways to do this using array are to hide array in a class 
> > definition or a function closure. It seems that I should be able to 
> > just write 
> > 
> > 	type 'a t = 'a array
> > 
> > and have the type system figure out if it's OK. Arrays are efficient,
> > and there are quite a few cases in my coding where they are not
> > mutable.

This one is just a typing problem. Nothing magic here, and it should
actually be possible to infer correctly the variance of an abstract
type, independently of its representation. But this is high-level and
potentially dangerous stuff, so don't hold your breath for this.

> All you have to do in this code is just not allow a mutation to occur in 
> your code.  As I understand things, to everyone outside of the module 'a t 
> is an abstract type- the only way to mutate it is to pass it to a function 
> in the module that mutates it.

Here the problem is variance. Currently ocaml does not allow the
above, because 'a array is not covariant.



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