Re: Data structures in ocaml

From: Pierre Weis (
Date: Thu Oct 07 1999 - 14:10:39 MET DST

From: Pierre Weis <>
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Data structures in ocaml
To: (skaller)
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 1999 14:10:39 +0200 (MET DST)
In-Reply-To: <> from "skaller" at Oct 7, 99 04:50:46 am

> Some comments on data structures.
> Please let me know if I miss something, which is possible.
> 1. It should be possible to create an uninitialised array.
> [It can be done for string]

No, it should not.

This is an easy consequence of the main theorem of Caml type-checking:
no well-typed Caml program can ever go wrong.

(Informal proof: there is no ill-typed Caml program; hence no Caml
program can manipulate a value whose type is different from the type
statically assigned to the value by the Caml type-checker; hence there
is no value with an unknown or invalid type; hence there is no
``invalid or impossible value'' in Caml (since this value will not
have a valid type); hence it is impossible to create an unitialised

This is also due to:

-- a design decision: no uninitialized entities exist in Caml. This is
consistent to the fact that in Caml you DEFINE identifiers instead of
-- an implementation necessity, since the garbage collector cannot be
faced with some unknown ill-formed data.

A way to mimick uninitialised array inside the Caml language framework
could be to systematically use option encapsulation, initialising the
array with None values, and storing Some x instead of x
afterward. This is not acceptable in practice since array accesses
would systematically need destructuring the result.

There are other possibilities that cannot be written into the
language, since they locally violates the correct memory management,
but that an implementation may provide. For instance, the run-time
system may define a special ``null'' (allocated) value that is used by
an external primitive to fill uninitialised arrays; then, the array
access primitive would test at each access if the value read is
identical (==) to ``null'' or not; if so, then the array access fails
and an error is raised, otherwise the value fetched is returned. This
means a loss of efficiency due to a spurious test for each array
access, and this is not desirable. This means also that you may have
random exceptions raised, due to the presence of random uninitialised
elements into arrays, and this is not desirable as well.

> 2. Arrays are mutable, but not variable length.

This would require an extra indirection for each vector access, which
is undesirable. Furthermore, variable length vectors can be defined
by an easy abstraction based on the basic static length vectors.

type 'a evect = ('a array) ref;;

let make n x = ref (Array.make n x);;

let give_room v n =
 let s = !v in
 let l = Array.length s in
 if n >= l then
  let new_s = Array.make n s.(0) in
  Array.blit s 0 new_s 0 l;
  v := new_s;;

let check_bound v n =
 if n < 0 || n >= Array.length !v then invalid_arg "evect";;

let get v n = check_bound v n; !v.(n);;
let set v n x = check_bound v n; !v.(n) <- x;;

> 3. It isn't clear to me how fast concatenation
> of sub arrays (or substrings) is. If I write
> Array.append
> (Array.sub x xfirst xlen)
> (Array.sub y yfirst ylen)
> it isn't clear if the intermediate subarrays are
> needlessly constructed or not.

Remember a simple rule found in the FAQ: in Caml, there is no implicit
copy of data, to get a copy you must explicitely call a copying function. On
the other hand, if you call such a function you get what you ask for
and a copy is done.

Hence your question is: is there a copying function called in the body
of Array.sub ? The answer is yes, since we find in Array.sub:
 let r = create len ... in

So yes, intermediate subarrays are constructed, since you explicitely
asked for their construction (however, in this case the storage they
use will be reclaimed by the next minor collection). You can imagine a
fancy optimizing compiler that can avoid their construction by
analyzing the code of Array.append (this is named ``deforestation'' in
the context of cons celles and lists append), but this analysis
remains to be invented for arrays.

Anyway, if you want to append two chunks of arrays with no
intermediate allocation, you just have to write a special purpose
function, something like:

let append_two_chunks v1 start1 end1 v2 start2 end2 =
 let result = Array.make ...
 Array.blit v1 start1 result 0 ...
 Array.blit v2 start2 result start1 ...

(SMOP: you can also generalize the previous function to an arbitrary
list of chunks...)

Pierre Weis

INRIA, Projet Cristal,,

Pierre Weis

INRIA, Projet Cristal,,

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