Type qualifiers, resolution

Friday, September 23, 2011
I realized that in the discussions about type qualifiers (which were very helpful), I had forgotten to add a note describing what I had finally decided to do about them. Here's the specification I've come up with:

First off, there are 4 keywords used to indicate a qualified type: mutable, immutable, readonly, and adopted.
  • "readonly" means that you can't change it, but someone else might. Readonly is considered to be a generalization (supertype) of both mutable and immutable, in that it provides guarantees that are strictly weaker than either.
  • "mutable" indicates that you can modify the value. You can coerce mutable values to readonly values without an explicit type cast.
  • "immutable" means that no one is allowed to modify the object. You can coerce immutable values to readonly values without an explicit type cast.
  • "adopted" is used to extend the first three qualifiers (mutable, immutable. readonly) to other objects. Normally when you declare an object reference to be immutable, that immutability only extends to data which is actually embedded within the object - it does not extend to objects that are pointed to by the object. So an immutable object can contain a reference to a mutable object. However, when an object "adopts" another object, that means that the adopted object gains the same type qualifiers as the adopting object.
    • An example would be a linked list class, which consists of a list header object, and list nodes. By declaring the node references in the header to be adopted, it means that if you make the list header readonly, then all of the list nodes become readonly as well; Conversely, if you make the list header mutable, then all of the list nodes become mutable.
These keywords can be used in several ways:
  • All 4 keywords can be used to modify a type, for example "immutable(ArrayList)".
    • Note that adding a qualifier to a type does not actually create a new, distinct type. Mutability / Immutability is really an aspect of the reference to a type, not the type itself.
    • For example, if you have a mutable ArrayList and an immutable ArrayList, and you call getType() on them, it will return the same value for both.
    • You cannot qualify an inherited type. You can't say "class MyList : immutable(List) { ... }".
    • You can, however, pass a qualified type as a template parameter and it will retain it's qualifier. That means that List[int] and List[immutable(int)] are distinct types.
      • Although I am wondering if this should be true...does it make sense to cast List[int] to List[readonly(int)]? Making the two be the same type would cut down on some level of template bloat...
  • "mutable" can be used as a modifier on variable declarations, such as "mutable var foo". It means that the variable can be mutated even if the enclosing class is readonly. Normally variables have the same mutability as the enclosing class. (Since 'let' is used to indicate a field that cannot be changed, there's no point in allowing readonly or immutable as a variable modifier.)
    • Note that both 'mutable' (when applied to a variable) and 'let' only extend to data which is inside the field itself, in other words, the range of addresses that are covered by the field. So a reference to an object may be immutable, but that says nothing about whether the object being referred to is immutable. However, you can easily add an immutable qualifier to the object type as well. So for example "let e:immutable(List)" declares an immutable reference to an immutable list.
  • "mutable" can also be used on a function parameter declaration. All parameters are readonly by default.
  • "mutable" can be used as a modifier on a property getter (declared with "get"), to indicate that reading the property has externally visible side-effects.
  • "readonly" can be used as a modifier on a method declaration ("readonly def foo() -> int"), which means that the method can be called even if the object is readonly or immutable. Such methods cannot modify any fields of the object, except those that have been explicitly declared to be mutable. Methods are considered mutable by default, except for property getters which are readonly by default. You cannot declare non-member functions to be readonly.
  • "readonly" can also be used as a modifier on property setter definitions (declared with "set"). This would only make sense if the value of the property was stored externally to the object.
  • "readonly" can also be used as a class definition modifier "readonly class Foo", which simply causes all of the methods of that class to be considered readonly methods. This should not be taken to mean that objects of that type are readonly, merely that readonly is the default for methods of that class. (Making a class immutable is more a matter of insuring that it has no mutable fields.)
  • "readonly", "mutable" and "immutable" can also be used to modify a value, as in "mutable(x)". This has the effect of a type cast for that value. Note that while it is legal to explicitly convert a mutable to immutable object, and vice versa, there is no guarantee that this will actually work - that is, if you cast a mutable value to immutable, it still might be changed by someone who kept a reference to the original mutable object; And if you cast an immutable object to mutable, you still might not be able to modify the object (it might be stored in protected memory.)
-- Talin


Anonymous said...

Yay, readonly function parameters by default, I'm with you on that one!

What made you choose to have non-adopted as default?

The way type qualifier around a variable name, mutable(varName), for casting looks clean but doesn't pop out enough for my taste compared to cast[mutable](varName), to easy to mix it up with mutable(TypeName).

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