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Type declarations and pattern matching

Although Objective CAML's predefined types permit the construction of data structures from tuples and lists, one needs to be able to define new types to describe certain data structures. In Objective CAML, type declarations are recursive and may be parameterized by type variables, in the same vein as the type 'a list already encountered. Type inference takes these new declarations into account to produce the type of an expression. The construction of values of these new types uses the constructors described in their definition. A special feature of languages in the ML family is pattern matching. It allows simple access to the components of complex data structures. A function definition most often corresponds to pattern matching over one of its parameters, allowing the function to be defined by cases.

First of all we present pattern matching over the predefined types, and then go on to describe the various ways to declare structured types and how to construct values of such types, as well as how to access their components through pattern matching.

Pattern matching

A pattern is not strictly speaking an Objective CAML expression. It's more like a correct (syntactically, and from the point of view of types) arrangement of elements such as constants of the primitive types (int, bool, char, ..), variables, constructors, and the symbol _ called the wildcard pattern. Other symbols are used in writing patterns. We will introduce them to the extent needed.

Pattern matching applies to values. It is used to recognize the form of this value and lets the computation be guided accordingly, associating with each pattern an expression to compute.


match expr with
| p1 -> expr1
| pn -> exprn

The expression expr is matched sequentially to the various patterns p1, ..., pn. If one of the patterns (for example pi) is consistent with the value of expr then the corresponding computation branch (expri) is evaluated. The various patterns pi are of the same type. The same goes for the various expressions expri. The vertical bar preceding the first pattern is optional.


Here are two ways to define by pattern matching a function imply of type (bool * bool) -> bool implementing logical implication. A pattern which matches pairs has the form ( , ).

The first version of imply enumerates all possible cases, as a truth table would:

# let imply v = match v with
(true,true) -> true
| (true,false) -> false
| (false,true) -> true
| (false,false) -> true;;
val imply : bool * bool -> bool = <fun>

By using variables which group together several cases, we obtain a more compact definition.

# let imply v = match v with
(true,x) -> x
| (false,x) -> true;;
val imply : bool * bool -> bool = <fun>
These two versions of imply compute the same function. That is, they return the same values for the same inputs.

Linear pattern

A pattern must necessarily be linear, that is, no given variable can occur more than once inside the pattern being matched. Thus, we might have hoped to be able to write:

# let equal c = match c with
(x,x) -> true
| (x,y) -> false;;
Characters 35-36:
This variable is bound several times in this matching
But this would have required the compiler to know how to carry out equality tests. Yet this immediately raises numerous problems. If we accept physical equality between values, we get a system which is too weak, incapable of recognizing the equality between two occurrences of the list [1; 2], for example. If we decide to use structural equality, we run the risk of having to traverse, ad infinitum, circular structures. Recursive functions, for example, are circular structures, but we can construct recursive, hence circular, values which are not functions as well (see page ??).

Wildcard pattern

The symbol _ matches all possible values. It is called a wildcard pattern. It can be used to match complex types. We use it, for example, to further simplify the definition of the function imply:

# let imply v = match v with
(true,false) -> false
| _ -> true;;
val imply : bool * bool -> bool = <fun>

A definition by pattern matching must handle the entire set of possible cases of the values being matched. If this is not the case, the compiler prints a warning message:

# let is_zero n = match n with 0 -> true ;;
Characters 17-40:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val is_zero : int -> bool = <fun>

Indeed if the actual parameter is different from 0 the function doesn't know what value to return. So the case analysis can be completed using the wildcard pattern.

# let is_zero n = match n with
0 -> true
| _ -> false ;;
val is_zero : int -> bool = <fun>

If, at run-time, no pattern is selected, then an exception is raised. Thus, one can write:

# let f x = match x with 1 -> 3 ;;
Characters 11-30:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val f : int -> int = <fun>
# f 1 ;;
- : int = 3
# f 4 ;;
Uncaught exception: Match_failure("", 11, 30)
The Match_Failure exception is raised by the call to f 4, and if it is not handled induces the computation in progress to halt (see ??)

Combining patterns

Combining several patterns lets us obtain a new pattern which can match a value according to one or another of the original patterns. The syntactic form is as follows:


p1 | ...| pn
It constructs a new pattern by combining the patterns p1, ...and pn. The only strong constraint is that all naming is forbidden within these patterns. So each one of them must contain only constant values or the wildcard pattern. The following example demonstrates how to verify that a character is a vowel.
# let is_a_vowel c = match c with
'a' | 'e' | 'i' | 'o' | 'u' | 'y' -> true
| _ -> false ;;
val is_a_vowel : char -> bool = <fun>
# is_a_vowel 'i' ;;
- : bool = true
# is_a_vowel 'j' ;;
- : bool = false

Pattern matching of a parameter

Pattern matching is used in an essential way for defining functions by cases. To make writing these definitions easier, the syntactic construct function allows pattern matching of a parameter:


function | p1 -> expr1
  | p2 -> expr2
  | pn -> exprn

The vertical bar preceding the first pattern is optional here as well. In fact, like Mr. Jourdain, each time we define a function, we use pattern matching7. Indeed, the construction function x -> expression, is a definition by pattern matching using a single pattern reduced to one variable. One can make use of this detail with simple patterns as in:

# let f = function (x,y) -> 2*x + 3*y + 4 ;;
val f : int * int -> int = <fun>

In fact the form
function p1 -> expr1 | ...| pn -> exprn
is equivalent to
function expr -> match expr with p1 -> expr1 | ...| pn -> exprn

Using the equivalence of the declarations mentioned on page ??, we write:

# let f (x,y) = 2*x + 3*y + 4 ;;
val f : int * int -> int = <fun>
But this natural way of writing is only possible if the value being matched belongs to a type having only a single constructor. If such is not the case, the pattern matching is not exhaustive:

# let is_zero 0 = true ;;
Characters 13-21:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val is_zero : int -> bool = <fun>

Naming a value being matched

During pattern matching, it is sometimes useful to name part or all of the pattern. The following syntactic form introduces the keyword as which binds a name to a pattern.


( p as name )
This is useful when one needs to take apart a value while still maintaining its integrity. In the following example, the function min_rat gives the smaller rational of a pair of rationals. The latter are each represented by a numerator and denominator in a pair.

# let min_rat pr = match pr with
((_,0),p2) -> p2
| (p1,(_,0)) -> p1
| (((n1,d1) as r1), ((n2,d2) as r2)) ->
if (n1 * d2 ) < (n2 * d1) then r1 else r2;;
val min_rat : (int * int) * (int * int) -> int * int = <fun>
To compare two rationals, it is necessary to take them apart in order to name their numerators and denominators (n1, n2, d1 and d2), but the initial pair (r1 or r2) must be returned. The as construct allows us to name the parts of a single value in this way. This lets us avoid having to reconstruct the rational returned as the result.

Pattern matching with guards

Pattern matching with guards corresponds to the evaluation of a conditional expression immediately after the pattern is matched. If this expression comes back true, then the expression associated with that pattern is evaluated, otherwise pattern matching continues with the following pattern.


match expr with
| pi when condi -> expri

The following example uses two guards to test equality of two rationals.

# let eq_rat cr = match cr with
((_,0),(_,0)) -> true
| ((_,0),_) -> false
| (_,(_,0)) -> false
| ((n1,1), (n2,1)) when n1 = n2 -> true
| ((n1,d1), (n2,d2)) when ((n1 * d2) = (n2 * d1)) -> true
| _ -> false;;
val eq_rat : (int * int) * (int * int) -> bool = <fun>
If the guard fails when the fourth pattern is matched, matching continues with the fifth pattern.


The verification carried out by Objective CAML as to whether the pattern matching is exhaustive assumes that the conditional expression in the guard may be false. Consequently, it does not count this pattern since it is not possible to know, before execution, whether the guard will be satisfied or not.
It won't be possible to detect that the pattern matching in the following example is exhaustive.

# let f = function x when x = x -> true;;
Characters 10-40:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val f : 'a -> bool = <fun>

Pattern matching on character intervals

In the context of pattern matching on characters, it is tedious to construct the combination of all the patterns corresponding to a character interval. Indeed, if one wishes to test a character or even a letter, one would need to write 26 patterns at a minimum and combine them. For characters, Objective CAML permits writing patterns of the form:


'c1' .. 'cn'
It is equivalent to the combination: 'c1' | 'c2' | ...| 'cn'.

For example the pattern '0' .. '9' corresponds to the pattern '0' | '1' | '2' | '3' | '4' | '5' | '6' | '7' | '8' | '9'. The first form is nicer to read and quicker to write.


This feature is among the extensions to the language and may change in future versions.
Using combined patterns and intervals, we define a function categorizing characters according to several criteria.

# let char_discriminate c = match c with
'a' | 'e' | 'i' | 'o' | 'u' | 'y'
| 'A' | 'E' | 'I' | 'O' | 'U' | 'Y' -> "Vowel"
| 'a'..'z' | 'A'..'Z' -> "Consonant"
| '0'..'9' -> "Digit"
| _ -> "Other" ;;
val char_discriminate : char -> string = <fun>
It should be noted that the order of the groups of patterns has some significance. Indeed, the second set of patterns includes the first, but it is not examined until after the check on the first.

Pattern matching on lists

As we have seen, a list can be: These two possible ways of writing a list can be used as patterns and allow pattern matching on a list.

# let rec size x = match x with
[] -> 0
| _::tail_x -> 1 + (size tail_x) ;;
val size : 'a list -> int = <fun>
# size [];;
- : int = 0
# size [7;9;2;6];;
- : int = 4

So we can redo the examples described previously (see page ??) using pattern matching, such as iteration over lists for example.

# let rec fold_left f a = function
[] -> a
| head::tail -> fold_left f (f a head) tail ;;
val fold_left : ('a -> 'b -> 'a) -> 'a -> 'b list -> 'a = <fun>
# fold_left (+) 0 [8;4;10];;
- : int = 22

Value declaration through pattern matching

Value declaration in fact uses pattern matching. The declaration let x = 18 matches the value 18 with the pattern x. Any pattern is allowed as the left-hand side of a declaration; the variables in the pattern are bound to the values which they match.

# let (a,b,c) = (1, true, 'A');;
val a : int = 1
val b : bool = true
val c : char = 'A'
# let (d,c) = 8, 3 in d + c;;
- : int = 11
The scope of pattern variables is the usual static scope for local declarations. Here, c remains bound to the value 'A'.

# a + (int_of_char c);;
- : int = 66

As with any kind of pattern matching, value declaration may not be exhaustive.

# let [x;y;z] = [1;2;3];;
Characters 5-12:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val x : int = 1
val y : int = 2
val z : int = 3
# let [x;y;z] = [1;2;3;4];;
Characters 4-11:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
Uncaught exception: Match_failure("", 4, 11)

Any pattern is allowed, including constructors, wildcards and combined patterns.

# let head :: 2 :: _ = [1; 2; 3] ;;
Characters 5-19:
Warning: this pattern-matching is not exhaustive.
Here is an example of a value that is not matched:
val head : int = 1
# let _ = 3. +. 0.14 in "PI" ;;
- : string = "PI"

This last example is of little use in the functional world insofar as the computed value 3.14 is not named and so is lost.

Type declaration

Type declarations are another possible ingredient in an Objective CAML phrase. They support the definition of new types corresponding to the original data structures used in a program. There are two major families of types: product types for tuples or records; and sum types for unions.

Type declarations use the keyword type.


type name = typedef ;;
In contrast with variable declarations, type declarations are recursive by default. That is, type declarations, when combined, support the declaration of mutually recursive types.


type name1 = typedef1
and name2 = typedef2
and namen = typedefn ;;

Type declarations can be parameterized by type variables. A type variable name always begins with an apostrophe (the ' character):


type 'a name = typedef ;;
When there are several of them, the type parameters are declared as a tuple in front of the name of the type:


type ('a1 ...'an) name = typedef ;;
Only the type parameters defined on the left-hand side of the declaration may appear on the right-hand side.


Objective CAML's type printer renames the type parameters encountered; the first is called 'a, the second 'b and so forth.

One can always define a new type from one or more existing types.


type name = type expression
This is useful for constraining a type which one finds too general.

# type 'param paired_with_integer = int * 'param ;;
type 'a paired_with_integer = int * 'a
# type specific_pair = float paired_with_integer ;;
type specific_pair = float paired_with_integer

Nevertheless without type constraints, inference will produce the most general type.

# let x = (3, 3.14) ;;
val x : int * float = 3, 3.14

But one can use a type constraint to see the desired name appear:

# let (x:specific_pair) = (3, 3.14) ;;
val x : specific_pair = 3, 3.14


Records are tuples, each of whose fields is named in the same way as the Pascal record or the C struct. A record always corresponds to the declaration of a new type. A record type is defined by the declaration of its name and the names and types of each of its fields.


type name = { name1 : t1; ...; namen : tn } ;;
We can define a type representing complex numbers by:

# type complex = { re:float; im:float } ;;
type complex = { re: float; im: float }

The creation of a value of record type is done by giving a value to each of its fields (in arbitrary order).


{ namei1 = expri1; ...; namein = exprin } ;;
For example, we create a complex number with real part 2. and imaginary part 3.:

# let c = {re=2.;im=3.} ;;
val c : complex = {re=2; im=3}
# c = {im=3.;re=2.} ;;
- : bool = true

In the case where some fields are missing, the following error is produced:

# let d = { im=4. } ;;
Characters 9-18:
Some labels are undefined

A field can be accessed in two ways: by the dot notation or by pattern matching on certain fields.

The dot notation syntax is as usual:

The expression expr must be of a record type containing a field name.

Pattern matching a record lets one retrieve the value bound to several fields. A pattern to match a record has the following syntax:


{ namei = pi ; ...; namej = pj }
The patterns are to the right of the = sign (pi, ..., pj). It is not necessary to make all the fields of a record appear in such a pattern.

The function add_complex accesses fields through the dot notation, while the function mult_complex accesses them through pattern matching.

# let add_complex c1 c2 = {;};;
val add_complex : complex -> complex -> complex = <fun>
# add_complex c c ;;
- : complex = {re=4; im=6}
# let mult_complex c1 c2 = match (c1,c2) with
({re=x1;im=y1},{re=x2;im=y2}) -> {re=x1*.x2-.y1*.y2;im=x1*.y2+.x2*.y1} ;;
val mult_complex : complex -> complex -> complex = <fun>
# mult_complex c c ;;
- : complex = {re=-5; im=12}

The advantages of records, as opposed to tuples, are at least twofold: The following example shows the ease of accessing the fields of records as opposed to tuples:

# let a = (1,2,3) ;;
val a : int * int * int = 1, 2, 3
# let f tr = match tr with x,_,_ -> x ;;
val f : 'a * 'b * 'c -> 'a = <fun>
# f a ;;
- : int = 1
# type triplet = {x1:int; x2:int; x3:int} ;;
type triplet = { x1: int; x2: int; x3: int }
# let b = {x1=1; x2=2; x3=3} ;;
val b : triplet = {x1=1; x2=2; x3=3}
# let g tr = tr.x1 ;;
val g : triplet -> int = <fun>
# g b ;;
- : int = 1

For pattern matching, it is not necessary to indicate all the fields of the record being matched. The inferred type is then that of the last field.

# let h tr = match tr with {x1=x} -> x;;
val h : triplet -> int = <fun>
# h b;;
- : int = 1

There is a construction which lets one create a record identical to another except for some fields. It is often useful for records containing many fields.


{ name with namei= expri ; ...; namej=exprj}

# let c = {b with x1=0} ;;
val c : triplet = {x1=0; x2=2; x3=3}
A new copy of the value of b is created where only the field x1 has a new value.


This feature is among the extensions to the language and may change in future versions.

Sum types

In contrast with tuples or records, which correspond to a Cartesian product, the declaration of a sum type corresponds to a union of sets. Different types (for example integers or character strings) are gathered into a single type. The various members of the sum are distinguished by constructors, which support on the one hand, as their name indicates, construction of values of this type and on the other hand, thanks to pattern matching, access to the components of these values. To apply a constructor to an argument is to indicate that the value returned belongs to this new type.

A sum type is declared by giving the names of its constructors and the types of their eventual arguments.


type name = ...
  | Namei ...
  | Namej of tj ...
  | Namek of tk * ...* tl ...;;

A constructor name is a particular identifier:


The names of constructors always begin with a capital letter.

Constant constructors

A constructor which doesn't expect an argument is called a constant constructor. Constant constructors can subsequently be used directly as a value in the language, as a constant.

# type coin = Heads | Tails;;
type coin = | Heads | Tails
# Tails;;
- : coin = Tails
The type bool can be defined in this way.

Constructors with arguments

Constructors can have arguments. The keyword of indicates the type of the constructor's arguments. This supports the gathering into a single type of objects of different types, each one being introduced with a particular constructor.

Here is a classic example of defining a datatype to represent the cards in a game, here Tarot8. The types suit and card are defined in the following way:

# type suit = Spades | Hearts | Diamonds | Clubs ;;
# type card =
King of suit
| Queen of suit
| Knight of suit
| Knave of suit
| Minor_card of suit * int
| Trump of int
| Joker ;;

The creation of a value of type card is carried out through the application of a constructor to a value of the appropriate type.

# King Spades ;;
- : card = King Spades
# Minor_card(Hearts, 10) ;;
- : card = Minor_card (Hearts, 10)
# Trump 21 ;;
- : card = Trump 21

And here, for example, is the function all_cards which constructs a list of all the cards of a suit passed as a parameter.

# let rec interval a b = if a = b then [b] else a::(interval (a+1) b) ;;
val interval : int -> int -> int list = <fun>
# let all_cards s =
let face_cards = [ Knave s; Knight s; Queen s; King s ]
and other_cards = (function n -> Minor_card(s,n)) (interval 1 10)
in face_cards @ other_cards ;;
val all_cards : suit -> card list = <fun>
# all_cards Hearts ;;
- : card list =
[Knave Hearts; Knight Hearts; Queen Hearts; King Hearts;
Minor_card (Hearts, 1); Minor_card (Hearts, 2); Minor_card (Hearts, 3);
Minor_card (Hearts, ...); ...]

To handle values of sum types, we use pattern matching. The following example constructs conversion functions from values of type suit and of type card to character strings (type string):

# let string_of_suit = function
Spades -> "spades"
| Diamonds -> "diamonds"
| Hearts -> "hearts"
| Clubs -> "clubs" ;;
val string_of_suit : suit -> string = <fun>
# let string_of_card = function
King c -> "king of " ^ (string_of_suit c)
| Queen c -> "queen of " ^ (string_of_suit c)
| Knave c -> "knave of " ^ (string_of_suit c)
| Knight c -> "knight of " ^ (string_of_suit c)
| Minor_card (c, n) -> (string_of_int n) ^ " of "^(string_of_suit c)
| Trump n -> (string_of_int n) ^ " of trumps"
| Joker -> "joker" ;;
val string_of_card : card -> string = <fun>
Lining up the patterns makes these functions easy to read.

The constructor Minor_card is treated as a constructor with two arguments. Pattern matching on such a value requires naming its two components.

# let is_minor_card c = match c with
Minor_card v -> true
| _ -> false;;
Characters 41-53:
The constructor Minor_card expects 2 argument(s),
but is here applied to 1 argument(s)

To avoid having to name each component of a constructor, one declares it to have a single argument by parenthesizing the corresponding tuple type. The two constructors which follow are pattern-matched differently.

# type t =
C of int * bool
| D of (int * bool) ;;
# let access v = match v with
C (i, b) -> i,b
| D x -> x;;
val access : t -> int * bool = <fun>

Recursive types

Recursive type definitions are indispensable in any algorithmic language for describing the usual data structures (lists, heaps, trees, graphs, etc.). To this end, in Objective CAML type definition is recursive by default, in contrast with value declaration (let).

Objective CAML's predefined type of lists only takes a single parameter. One may wish to store values of belonging to two different types in a list structure, for example, integers (int) or characters (char). In this case, one defines:

# type int_or_char_list =
| Int_cons of int * int_or_char_list
| Char_cons of char * int_or_char_list ;;

# let l1 = Char_cons ( '=', Int_cons(5, Nil) ) in
Int_cons ( 2, Char_cons ( '+', Int_cons(3, l1) ) ) ;;
- : int_or_char_list =
Int_cons (2, Char_cons ('+', Int_cons (3, Char_cons ('=', Int_cons (...)))))

Parametrized types

A user can equally well declare types with parameters. This lets us generalize the example of lists containing values of two different types.

# type ('a, 'b) list2 =
| Acons of 'a * ('a, 'b) list2
| Bcons of 'b * ('a, 'b) list2 ;;

# Acons(2, Bcons('+', Acons(3, Bcons('=', Acons(5, Nil))))) ;;
- : (int, char) list2 =
Acons (2, Bcons ('+', Acons (3, Bcons ('=', Acons (...)))))

One can, obviously, instantiate the parameters 'a and 'b with the same type.

# Acons(1, Bcons(2, Acons(3, Bcons(4, Nil)))) ;;
- : (int, int) list2 = Acons (1, Bcons (2, Acons (3, Bcons (4, Nil))))

This use of the type list2 can, as in the preceding example, serve to mark even integers and odd integers. In this way we extract the sublist of even integers in order to construct an ordinary list.

# let rec extract_odd = function
Nil -> []
| Acons(_, x) -> extract_odd x
| Bcons(n, x) -> n::(extract_odd x) ;;
val extract_odd : ('a, 'b) list2 -> 'b list = <fun>
The definition of this function doesn't give a single clue as to the nature of the values stored in the structure. That is why its type is parameterized.

Scope of declarations

Constructor names obey the same scope discipline as global declarations: a redefinition masks the previous one. Nevertheless values of the masked type still exist. The interactive toplevel does not distinguish these two types in its output. Whence some unclear error messages.

In this first example, the constant constructor Nil of type int_or_char has been masked by the constructor declarations of the type ('a, 'b) list2.

# Int_cons(0, Nil) ;;
Characters 13-16:
This expression has type ('a, 'b) list2 but is here used with type

This second example provokes a rather baffling error message, at least the first time it appears. Let the little program be as follows:

# type t1 = Empty | Full;;
type t1 = | Empty | Full
# let empty_t1 x = match x with Empty -> true | Full -> false ;;
val empty_t1 : t1 -> bool = <fun>
# empty_t1 Empty;;
- : bool = true

Then, we redeclare the type t1:

# type t1 = {u : int; v : int} ;;
type t1 = { u: int; v: int }
# let y = { u=2; v=3 } ;;
val y : t1 = {u=2; v=3}

Now if we apply the function empty_t1 to a value of the new type t1, we get the following error message:

# empty_t1 y;;
Characters 10-11:
This expression has type t1 but is here used with type t1
The first occurrence of t1 represents the first type defined, while the second corresponds to the second type.

Function types

The type of the argument of a constructor may be arbitrary. In particular, it may very well contain a function type. The following type constructs lists, all of whose elements except the last are function values.

# type 'a listf =
Val of 'a
| Fun of ('a -> 'a) * 'a listf ;;
type 'a listf = | Val of 'a | Fun of ('a -> 'a) * 'a listf

Since function values are values which can be manipulated in the language, we can construct values of type listf:

# let eight_div = (/) 8 ;;
val eight_div : int -> int = <fun>
# let gl = Fun (succ, (Fun (eight_div, Val 4))) ;;
val gl : int listf = Fun (<fun>, Fun (<fun>, Val 4))
and functions which pattern-match such values:
# let rec compute = function
Val v -> v
| Fun(f, x) -> f (compute x) ;;
val compute : 'a listf -> 'a = <fun>
# compute gl;;
- : int = 3

Example: representing trees

Tree structures come up frequently in programming. Recursive types make it easy to define and manipulate such structures. In this subsection, we give two examples of tree structures.

Binary trees
We define a binary tree structure whose nodes are labelled with values of a single type by declaring:

# type 'a bin_tree =
| Node of 'a bin_tree * 'a * 'a bin_tree ;;

We use this structure to define a little sorting program using binary search trees. A binary search tree has the property that all the values in the left branch are less than that of the root, and all those of the right branch are greater. Figure 2.5 gives an example of such a structure over the integers. The empty nodes (constructor Empty) are represented there by little squares; the others (constructor Node), by a circle in which is inscribed the stored value.

Figure 2.5: Binary search tree.

A sorted list is extracted from a binary search tree via an inorder traversal carried out by the following function:

# let rec list_of_tree = function
Empty -> []
| Node(lb, r, rb) -> (list_of_tree lb) @ (r :: (list_of_tree rb)) ;;
val list_of_tree : 'a bin_tree -> 'a list = <fun>

To obtain a binary search tree from a list, we define an insert function.

# let rec insert x = function
Empty -> Node(Empty, x, Empty)
| Node(lb, r, rb) -> if x < r then Node(insert x lb, r, rb)
else Node(lb, r, insert x rb) ;;
val insert : 'a -> 'a bin_tree -> 'a bin_tree = <fun>

The function to transform a list into a tree is obtained by iterating the function insert.

# let rec tree_of_list = function
[] -> Empty
| h::t -> insert h (tree_of_list t) ;;
val tree_of_list : 'a list -> 'a bin_tree = <fun>

The sort function is then simply the composition of the functions tree_of_list and list_of_tree.

# let sort x = list_of_tree (tree_of_list x) ;;
val sort : 'a list -> 'a list = <fun>
# sort [5; 8; 2; 7; 1; 0; 3; 6; 9; 4] ;;
- : int list = [0; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9]

General planar trees
In this part, we use the following predefined functions from the List module (see page ??): A general planar tree is a tree whose number of branches is not fixed a priori; to each node is associated a list of branches whose length may vary.

# type 'a tree = Empty
| Node of 'a * 'a tree list ;;
The empty tree is represented by the value Empty. A leaf is a node without branches either of the form Node(x,[]), or of the degenerate form Node(x, [Empty;Empty; ..]). It is then relatively easy to write functions to manipulate these trees, e.g., to determine whether an element belongs to a tree or compute the height of the tree.

To test membership of an element e, we use the following algorithm: if the tree is empty then e does not belong to this tree, otherwise e belongs to the tree if and only if either it is equal to the label of the root, or it belongs to one of its branches.

# let rec belongs e = function
Empty -> false
| Node(v, bs) -> (e=v) or (List.exists (belongs e) bs) ;;
val belongs : 'a -> 'a tree -> bool = <fun>

To compute the height of a tree, we use the following definition: an empty tree has height 0, otherwise the height of the tree is equal to the height of its highest subtree plus 1.

# let rec height =
let max_list l = List.fold_left max 0 l in
Empty -> 0
| Node (_, bs) -> 1 + (max_list ( height bs)) ;;
val height : 'a tree -> int = <fun>

Recursive values which are not functions

Recursive declaration of non-function values allows the construction of circular data structures.

The following declaration constructs a circular list with one element.

# let rec l = 1::l ;;
val l : int list =
[1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; 1; ...]

Application of a recursive function to such a list risks looping until memory overflows.

# size l ;;
Stack overflow during evaluation (looping recursion?).

Structural equality remains usable with such lists only when physical equality is first verified:

# l=l ;;
- : bool = true

In short, if you define a new list, even an equal one, you must not use the structural equality test on pain of seeing your program loop indefinitely. So we don't recommend attempting to evaluate the following example:
let rec l2 = 1::l2 in l=l2 ;;
On the other hand, physical equality always remains possible.

# let rec l2 = 1::l2 in l==l2 ;;
- : bool = false

The predicate == tests equality of an immediate value or sharing of a structured object (equality of the address of the value). We will use it to verify that in traversing a list we don't retraverse a sublist which was already examined. First of all, we define the function memq, which verifies the presence of an element in the list by relying on physical equality. It is the counterpart to the function mem which tests structural equality; these two functions belong to the module List.

# let rec memq a l = match l with
[] -> false
| b::l -> (a==b) or (memq a l) ;;
val memq : 'a -> 'a list -> bool = <fun>

The size computation function is redefined, storing the list of lists already examined and halting if a list is encountered a second time.

# let special_size l =
let rec size_aux previous l = match l with
[] -> 0
| _::l1 -> if memq l previous then 0
else 1 + (size_aux (l::previous) l1)
in size_aux [] l ;;
val special_size : 'a list -> int = <fun>
# special_size [1;2;3;4] ;;
- : int = 4
# special_size l ;;
- : int = 1
# let rec l1 = 1::2::l2 and l2 = 1::2::l1 in special_size l1 ;;
- : int = 4

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