A place to keep my thoughts on programming

July 9, 2010 .net, geek, Promise ,

Promise: Classes aren’t Types

I wanted to start with the basic unit of construction in Promise, the lambda or closure. However, since Promise's lambda's borrow from C#, allowing Type definition in the declaration, I really need to cover the concepts of the promissory type system before i can get into that.

Classes are prototypes

Borrowing from javascript and Ruby and by extension Smalltalk, Promise classes are prototypes that are used to instantiate objects with the characteristics of the class. But those instances are untyped and while they can be inspected to see the originating class, the instances can also be changed with new characteristics making them diverge from that class.

Types are contracts

Similar to Interfaces in C#, Java, etc., Types in Promise describe the characteristics of some object. Unlike those languages, classes do not implement an interface. Rather, they are similar to Interfaces in Go in that any instance that has the methods promised by the Type can be used as that Type. Go, however, is still a typed language where an instance has the Type of its class but can be cast to an Interface, while Promise doesn't require any Type.

Compile time checking of Types

This part I still need to play with syntax to figure out useful and intuitive behavior. Classes aren't static and neither are instances, so checking the Type contract against the instantiation Class' capabilities isn't always the final word, Furthermore, if the object ever is passed without a Type annotation, the compiler can't determine the class to inspect. Finally, classes can have wildcard methods to catch missing method calls. In order to have some kind of compile time checking on the promissory declarations, there will have to be some way to mark variables as promising a Type cast that the compiler will trust, so that Type annotated and pure dynamic instances can work together.

This last part is where the dynamic keyword in C# fails for me, since you cannot cross from dynamic into static without a way of statically declaring the capabilities of an instance. That means that in C# you cannot take a dynamic object and use it anywhere that expects a typed class, regardless of its capabilities. I wrote Duckpond for C# to only address casting classes to interfaces that they satisfy, but I should extend it to proxy dynamic objects as well.

Implicit Types and the Type/Class naming overlap

In order to avoid needless Type declarations, every Class definition generates a matching Type with the same name (based only on its non-wildcard methods) at compile time. If you create a class called Song and a lambda with the signature (Song song) => { ... };, it might look like the Class is the Type. What's really going on though is that the class definition generated a Type called Song that expects an instance with the capabilities of the compile time definition of the Song class.

The shadowing of Classes by Types is possible because Class and Type names do not collide. A class name is only used for Class definition and modification, while Type names are used for signature and variable type. And since the shadowing is implicit, it's also possible to create a Song Type by hand to use instead of the implicit one. This is particularly useful when the Song class has several similar methods handled by a single wildcard method, but those signatures should be captured in the Type.

A final effect of the naming overlap, that I won't get into until I talk about the language level IoC, is that is not a call on the class, but on the Type — this is also an artifact of how Promise treats Class/static methods and how the IoC container resolves instance creation. Can you see how this could be useful for mocking?

Enough with the theory already

Sorry for another dry, codeless post, but I couldn't see getting into the syntax that will use Types and Classes without explaining how Classes and Types interact in Promise first.

Next time, lambdas, lambdas, lambdas.

More about Promise

This is a post in an ongoing series of posts about designing a language. It may stay theoretical, it may become a prototype in implementation or it might become a full language. You can get a list of all posts about Promise, via the Promise category link at the top.

1 to “Promise: Classes aren’t Types”

  1. tobi says...

    Very nice ideas.

Leave a comment