Home Articles FAQs XREF Games Software Instant Books BBS About FOLDOC RFCs Feedback Sitemap

generic type variable

You are here: irt.org | FOLDOC | generic type variable

<programming> (Or "schematic type variable") In typed programming languages, a generic type variable is a type variable that may be instantiated to different types in different occurrences in a type expression. Thus, in the expression

	let id x = x in
	(id True, id 1)

id's type is (for all a: a -> a). The universal quantifier "for all a:" means that a is a generic type variable. For the two uses of id, a is instantiated to Bool and Int. Compare this with

	let id x = x in
	let f g = (g True, g 1) in
	f id

This looks similar but f has no legal Hindley-Milner type. If we say

	f :: (a -> b) -> (b, b)

this would permit g's type to be any specific instance of (a -> b) rather than requiring it to be at least as general as (a -> b). Furthermore, it constrains both instances of g to have the same result type whereas they can not. The type variables a and b in the above are implicitly quantified at the top level:

	f :: for all a: for all b: (a -> b) -> (b, b)

so instantiating them (removing the quantifiers) can only be done once, at the top level. To correctly describe the type of f requires that they be locally quantified:

	f :: ((for all a: a) -> (for all b: b)) -> (c, d)

which means that each time g is applied, a and b may be instantiated differently. f's actual argument must have a type at least as general as ((for all a: a) -> (for all b: b)), and may not be some less general instance of this type. Type variables c and d are still implicitly quantified at the top level and, now that g's result type is a generic type variable, any types chosen for c and d are guaranteed to be instances of it.

This type for f does not express the fact that b only needs to be at least as general as the types c and d. For example, if c and d were both Bool then any function of type (for all a: a -> Bool) would be a suitable argument to f but it would not match the above type for f.


Nearby terms: Generic Routing Encapsulation « Generic Security Service Application Programming Interface « generic thunk « generic type variable » Genesia » genetic algorithm » genetic algorithms

FOLDOC, Topics, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z, ?, ALL

©2018 Martin Webb