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immutable Strings?
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Date: 2005-03-14 (10:31)
From: Pascal Zimmer <Pascal.Zimmer@s...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] immutable Strings?
Oliver Bandel wrote:
> for records it is possible to say "mutable" to change a normally
> non mutable value into a mutable one.
> It would be nice to have the possibility to turn on
> immutability fpr strings with a keyword like "immutable"
> or so.
> So it could be forbidden to modify strings in cases,
> where it makes sense; otherwise it must be provided
> String.copy at a lot of cases in a program, that
> want's to forbid modyfiing the original data.
> And disallowing a modification is much stronger/more strict
> than only allowing modyfiing a copy.
> So, it would be nice to have such a feature in newer versions
> of OCaml.

You can achieve the same effect quite easily using modules to provide a 
new interface to String, where you restrict the set of possible 
operations and abstract the datatype:

module type IMMSTRING =
   type t    (* abstract type *)

   val create : string -> t
   val copy : t -> t
   val copy_to_string : t -> string

   val get : t -> int -> char
   val cat : t -> t -> t
   val print_string : t -> unit

   (* ... *)

module ImmString : IMMSTRING =
   type t = string

   let create = String.copy
   let copy = String.copy
   let copy_to_string = String.copy

   let get s i = s.[i]
   let cat s t = s ^ t
   let print_string = print_string

   (* ... *)

Now you can write:

# let s = ImmString.create "abcde";;
val s : ImmString.t = <abstr>
# ImmString.get s 0;;
- : char = 'a'
# s.[0] <- 'f';;
This expression has type ImmString.t but is here used with type string

The bad points:
- you cannot use the shortcuts s.[i] and (^) anymore (this gets the code 
less readable especially for the first one)
- you have to make a copy when creating an immutable string; if you were 
not planning to keep the original string to modify it, this copy is in 
fact useless