[TYPES] types

Marius Nita m at mariusnita.com
Tue May 13 16:51:24 EDT 2014

It seems to me like "types" can be many things. From a static type system perspective, types are something very specific. This is how we reach the description of Javascript as "untyped" or "unityped" even though from another perspective it absolutely does have types, and programmers use these types to structure and reason about their programs.

The static type system of ML does some reasonable/decidable amount of checking, after which it hands everything else to a dynamic checker. So is it not appropriate to use the word "types" when reasoning about expression classifications that cannot be captured by static types? Programmers constantly categorize computations in terms of "fast", "slow", "runs in less than a second", "computes on the fly", "serves precomputed data", "in a dirty state", "sensitive to logged-in state", "touches the DOM", let alone more basic things like "lowercase string", "positive number", "very large number", and so on. Web programmers will routinely split an architecture into code that "might touch the DOM" and "DOM-independent code".

It seems to me that if we talk about types as "enabling", these yet-unverifiable types are the most enabling — the most useful in building large architectures and the most prevalent in programming culture and in discussion around programs. I can bet that the most relevant discussion about "types of data" and "types of code" in the Linux kernel, say, is not about whether the right kind of arguments are being passed into functions, but rather about much more more complex and important classifications of code that have to do with performance, security, code design and clarity, and so on, and are necessarily enforced dynamically or by practicing a disciplined style. (And these would have to be enforced in the same way in ML as well.)

I think of these as "types" even though they are yet largely out of reach for programming language researchers.


On May 13, 2014, at 8:25 AM, Greg Morrisett <greg at eecs.harvard.edu> wrote:
> [ The Types Forum, http://lists.seas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/types-list ]
> One thing this whole conversation ignores is the role of types
> in compilation.  Even early FORTRAN compilers needed to make
> distinctions (integral versus floating-point) in order to 
> (a) determine how much space to allocate, (b) [possibly] align
> values in memory, and (c) to dispatch to appropriate instructions
> for doing arithmetic (i.e., "+" was overloaded.)  These
> distinctions are still relevant and important today.
> Indeed, types have played a central role in efficient
> compilation of languages, and in that sense, are extremely
> enabling.  A uni-typed language, in the parlance of Harper,
> requires a universal representation, which usually means
> a level of indirection, perhaps additional tags so that
> we can discriminate, etc.  
> Today, a good compiler for a uni-typed language first reconstructs
> the underlying "Scott-types" (or some refinement thereof) in
> the hopes of avoid the costs of universal representations.
> (See e.g., the JVML, LLVM, GHC's IR, etc.)  So the practice
> and theory are quite aligned here:  types form the foundations,
> and the illusion of a dynamically-typed setting is there for
> convenience of the user.  
> Even in the uni-typed languages, not all operations are allowed
> on all values (e.g., trying taking the car/head of a lambda),
> even though these operations are certainly defined at the
> bit-level.  So there is some imposition of abstraction before
> the fact, enabling reasoning at the level of the language's
> abstract machine, instead of the concrete bit-level.  
> I suppose if you turn your head around backwards enough, you
> see this as an "imposition" on your God-given right to 
> do what you want with the bits, but others see this as a
> constructive way to define a language.  
> -Greg

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