Are Types in Java or Magpie?
For a while, I've been working on making Magpie's type system Turing complete such that type annotations are themselves regular Magpie expressions. This makes Magpie very flexible: users can define classes that represent "type-like" things and methods that create and manipulate types. For example, you could create a type where only objects whose class starts with "B" are in the type.
This simplifies things in that there is only a single language for expressions
and type annotations and also meshes nicely with first-class classes: a type
Int really just looks up the global variable
contains the object representing the class of integers.
The downside is that it makes the line between what's in Java and what's in Magpie very blurry. Type-checking becomes a complicated dance that bounces between the two languages. Lots of really weird edge cases are possible, such as type expressions that aren't pure!
I beat my head on this for a while. I eventually got it mostly working, but it still felt dirty. After a while I realized there were three main paths I could take:
cola-concept-of-making-a-tiny-core-and-having-the-language-implemented-in-terms-of-itself" name="option-1-follow-the-cola-concept-of-making-a-tiny-core-and-having-the-language-implemented-in-terms-of-itself">Option 1: Follow the COLA concept of making a tiny core and having the language implemented in terms of itself.
So Java just has a core for defining objects and sending messages. Decisions like prototypes versus classes are made entirely in Magpie. The entire type system lives in Magpie.
- Little switching between Magpie and Java.
- Very flexible: can do prototypes classes, etc. simultaneously.
- Academically interesting: not a lot of other languages like this.
- Small simple core.
- Lot of work.
- Lot of stuff to write in Magpie, which could be a pain.
- Feels mushy.
- Unlikely to end up a usable language, more an experiment or novelty.
Option 2. Keep going down the current path of a Turing-complete type system but with classes baked into Java.
- Flexible extensible type system: can define new types in Magpie.
- May be able to use for dependent types or other out there concepts.
- Plays well with first-class classes.
- Turing-complete type system is interesting selling point.
- Have a single language for expressions and types, which is neat.
- Provides a natural path for generics: they are just expressions with type arguments that return new types.
- Messy: lots of switching between Java/Magpie.
- Hard to tell at what level something should be implemented.
- Locks some type system choices (classes, inheritance) into code.
- Hard to merge semantics between what a magpie-level type object declares about an object and what the actual java backend lets you do with it (for example, you could define a "type" that says all object with methods that are palindromes are in the type, but there's no way to make an object actually have those methods). Classes are still special.
It will still have first-class classes, but things like or types
Int | Bool and interfaces would be implemented in Java. No more type expressions. Instead, there'd be a distinct syntax for type annotations.
- Simple, conventional and practical.
- Don't have to switch back and forth between Magpie/Java when type-checking.
- Makes some type declaration syntax (function types) easier to parse.
- Most well-worn path to a usable language.
- Not as novel or flexible.
- Type system is baked into Java: users can't define their own type-like things.
- Need to figure out how generics work with this since they need to essentially create new types at check time.
Answer: Option 2.
Option 3 is ruled out because all types do in practices need to be first-class anyway (see this doc for why). That means the types will need to exist in Magpie, so also implementing them in Java would just be redundant and confusing.
So that leaves options 1 and 2. I'm open to option 1, but I fear that's going too far down the flexibility rabbit hole. It may make it hard/slow/cumbersome to statically determine which objects meet which types since there's no core built-in types to build on. I may investigate it further, but for now, I'll stick with the middle ground. My suspicion is that, over time, it will gradually drift towards option 1.