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ANN: pretty-printing, type-safe marshalling, dynamic typing for free.
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Date: 2007-07-19 (00:17)
From: Jeremy Yallop <jeremy.yallop@e...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] ANN: pretty-printing, type-safe marshalling, dynamic typing for free.

Apologies for the delay in replying!

Jon Harrop wrote:
 > On Wednesday 20 June 2007 01:14:42 Jeremy Yallop wrote:
 > > Deriving provides functions for pretty-printing, dynamic typing,
 > > type-safe structure-sharing marshalling, SML-style equality,
 > > mapping, and more.
 > I don't know how I managed to miss this awesome announcement!
 > The idea of retrofitting equality types onto OCaml interests me
 > greatly. Any chance you could elaborate on how this is done and what
 > errors look like?  :-)

Sure!  I suppose "SML-style equality" can be understood to include
various things:

   (1) an equality predicate that tests for physical equality at mutable
       types and structural equality at immutable types.

         SOME 3 = SOME 3
         => true

         SOME (ref 3) = SOME (ref 3)
         => false

   (2) a compile-time error if you try to use equality at a type for
       which it's not defined (an abstract or functional type)

         - op o = op o;;
         stdIn:4.1-4.12 Error: operator and operand don't agree
         [equality type required]

   (3) a means to write functions that are polymorphic over equality

         - fn x => x = x;;
         val it = fn : ''a -> bool

With `deriving' you get (1) and (2).  You can simulate (3) using
functors if you squint a bit.  In all cases you have to be explicit
about types, i.e. you have to write

    Eq.eq<int ref option> (Some (ref 3)) (Some (ref 3))

rather than (say)

    Eq.eq (Some (ref 3)) (Some (ref 3))

Specifying types is perhaps a bit of a nuisance, but to make up for it
you get a bit more flexibility: equality can be customized at
particular types.  For example, if you define an abstract type of
integer sets represented as unordered lists then you can give an
appropriate definition of equality rather than just inheriting the
definition for lists:

    module IntSet : sig
      type t
        deriving (Eq)

      val empty : t
      val add : int -> t -> t
    end =
      type t = int list
      module Eq =
        type a = t
        val eq l r = (List.sort compare l) = (List.sort compare r)

      let empty = []
      let add item set = item :: set

and your definition will be used whenever sets are compared

    module I = IntSet

    Eq.eq<I.t list> [I.add 1 (I.add 2 I.empty)]
                    [I.add 2 (I.add 1 I.empty)]
    => true

If you just want the "standard" definition of equality for your types
you can add `deriving (Eq)' to the definition and you'll be able to
use Eq.eq at that type.

    type colour = Red | Green | Blue
        deriving (Eq)

    Eq.eq<colour> Red Blue
    => false

    type a = A of int list | B of a
        deriving (Eq)

    Eq.eq<a> = B (A [1;2;3]) = B (A [1;2;3])
    => true

As the IntSet example suggests, `deriving' works by generating a
module definition for each derived function at each type.  For
example, for the `colour' type, you'll get a definition that looks
something like this:

    module Eq : Eq.Eq with type a = colour
      type a = colour
      let eq l r = match l, r with
        | Red, Red
        | Green, Green
        | Blue, Blue -> true
        | _ -> false

which conforms to the signature for `Eq':

   module type Eq =
     type a
     val eq : a -> a -> bool

More complicated types give rise to more complicated definitions: for
instance, a parameterized type will generate a functor whose argument
is a module that implements Eq for the type parameter.  Constructing
instances of `Eq' at instantiated types is then just a matter of
functor application: the definition at `int option ref' is obtained by
the fragment


There are strong parallels with Haskell's type classes in all this:
module signatures fulfill the role of classes, modules of instances,
and so on.  (The correspondence between modules and classes is
explored in various places in "the literature", e.g. Dreyer, Harper,
and Chakravarty's POPL 2007 paper, "Modular Type Classes").

Your question about error messages is a good one.  Syntactic
abstractions tend to be particularly leaky, so it shouldn't come as
too much of a surprise if the implementation is exposed occasionally
when you write the wrong thing.  Nonetheless, I think error messages
are generally fairly good.  If you misspell a type name then you get a
reasonable message

    Eq.eq<color> Red Blue
    File "", line 6, characters 2-14:
    Unbound type constructor color

An attempt to derive a class at a type that's not supported by
`deriving' results in a quite specific message.  For example,

    type 'a t = A | B of ('a * 'a) t
      deriving (Eq)
    File "", line 3, characters 0-48 (end at line 4,
                                               character 15):
    The following types contain non-regular recursion:
    deriving does not support non-regular types


    type t = int -> int deriving (Eq)

    File "", line 2, characters 0-33:
    Eq cannot be derived for function types

Using an overloaded function at a type that doesn't match the annotation
results in just the error you'd expect:

    Eq.eq<int list> 0 1

    File "", line 4, characters 24-25:
    This expression has type int but is here used with type int list

If you forget to add `deriving Eq' to your type definition then the
error message is a little obscure when you come to use the type:

    type 'a t = A | B of 'a t

    Eq.eq<int t list>

    File "", line 8, characters 0-17:
    Unbound module Eq_t

I hope this helps a bit.  The documentation on the website gives more
examples.  There'll also be a paper out soon which should explain
things in more depth.