import qualified Data.Map as M

Module 10: Static types

  • Write your team names here:

In this module, we will continue our exploration of type systems.

Once again, we will build on the Arith language from previous weeks.

  • Choose any driver to start.

  • Begin by copying only your AST types and parser (and desugaring, if applicable) from module 09 below. Do not copy your interpreter, since we will not be extending it, but instead redoing it in a rather different style.

Static type checking

We are going to add a new type checking phase in between parsing and interpreting. (Note, if you did the optional extension in the previous module to add extra operators like &&, >=, and so on, read this footnote.1) The type checker should adhere to the Central Dogma of Typechecking:

If type checking succeeds, then the program is a Good Program.

Or, more pithily,

Well-typed programs don’t go wrong.2

Remember that in general, the designers of a language get to decide what “Good” means; in our case, we just want to make sure that our programs never do any nonsensical operations like add a boolean and an int.)

  • First, we will need a Haskell data type to represent types in Arith. Create a new data type called Type with two constructors to represent the two types in Arith, namely, integers and booleans. These constructors do not need any fields since they do not store any information — they simply represent the types Bool and Int. I suggest using names such as TyBool and TyInt (don’t call them Bool and Int since that would be super confusing). Be sure to add the line deriving (Show, Eq) at the end of your definition so that Type values can be printed and compared for equality.

  • We will also need a data type to represent errors that can be generated during type checking. For now, it should have two constructors:

    • One to represent the occurrence of an undefined (or “unbound”) variable. It should store a String representing the name of the undefined variable.

    • One to represent a type error. It should contain three fields: an Arith (representing the expression which failed to typecheck), and two Types (representing the type the expression was expected to have, along with its actual type).

  • Remember that when writing an interpreter we need a way to deal with variables: when we get to a variable, how should it be interpreted? We solved this problem by adding an environment which was a mapping from variables to values. We have a similar problem when type checking: when we get to a variable, what type should it have? The solution is also similar: we need a type context which is a mapping from variables to types. Define type Ctx = M.Map String Type.

  • Now write the type checker itself! You should implement two main functions, infer and check, which are described below. I have also included lots of other notes and hints to help you with the implementation; I suggest at least skimming through all the notes before starting to implement infer and check.

    • infer :: Ctx -> Arith -> Either TypeError Type takes a typing context and an Arith expression, and infers, i.e. figures out, the type of the expression (or generates an error if the expression has no type).

    • check :: Ctx -> Arith -> Type -> Either TypeError () takes a typing context, an Arith expression, and a type, and checks to make sure that the expression has the given type. It throws an error if either the expression does not have a type, or if it has a type which is different than the given one. Note that it returns a value of type () (unit), which carries no useful information: we only care whether there are any errors or not.

    Some notes:

    • check should be very easy to implement: just infer the type of the given Arith expression, and then test whether its inferred type is equal to the given type.

    • infer can make use of check in situations where you know some Arith expression needs to have a certain type. For example, if you encounter an expression a + b, you should check that both a and b have type Integer.

    • Yes, you read that right: check and infer should be mutually recursive, that is, each calls the other.

    • Remember that for parsers, p1 *> p2 runs parser p1 and then throws away its output before running p2. In this context, if t1 and t2 are expressions that could throw a type checking error, t1 *> t2 will run t1 and make sure it does not generate an error before running t2. This is especially useful for calling check (which does not return a useful result anyway). For example, you might have something like this to infer the type of a + b:

      infer ctx (Bin Add a b) =
        check ctx a TyInt *>       -- make sure a has type Int
        check ctx b TyInt *>       -- make sure b has type Int
        Right TyInt                -- If no errors were generated,
                                   --   finally return Int as the type
                                   --   of the whole expression (a + b)
    • infer will also need to make use of (>>=). For example, when inferring the type of an if expression, you will need to infer the types of its then- and else-parts:

      infer ctx (If test t1 t2) =
        ... other stuff ...
        infer ctx t1 >>= \ty1 ->
        ... some more stuff here that can use ty1 ...
    • The types of all the binary operators should be evident. Hint: You might find it useful to make a function bopType :: Op -> (Type, Type, Type) which returns the expected input types and the output type of a binary operator.

    • The most interesting cases are how to typecheck if-expressions and let-expressions. Rather than tell you how they are done, I will let you think about them—in principle, you should be able to derive the correct implementation by thinking about how these expressions are interpreted, and by looking at the type rules that we wrote in our previous class. But feel free to ask me questions.

  • Finally, make a function inferArith :: Arith -> Either TypeError Type which simply runs infer starting with an empty typing context.


  • ROTATE ROLES and write the name of the new driver here:

  • After typechecking has succeeded, can we still get runtime errors? If so, which runtime errors can still happen? Which are no longer possible?

Given a static type checker, we can do something very interesting with the interpreter. The whole idea of static type checking is that if a program successfully type checks, there will never be any type errors at runtime, so checking that types match up while interpreting the program would be a complete waste of time.

One might think, however, that this runtime type checking is unavoidable: our programs can evaluate either to booleans or integers, so we need the Value type to represent the two possibilities. Then we have to pattern-match on Values all the time to make sure we have the right kind of value (even though we know that one of the cases cannot happen).

However, we can use a trick: we can make the interpreter just return Integer again, and encode boolean values as integers. For example, encode False as 0, and True as 1. When the interpreter is running, there is no way to tell whether a particular Integer value is supposed to represent an actual integer or a boolean—we say that the type information has been erased. This means that in theory, the interpreter could perform nonsensical operations such as adding 3 + True (resulting in 4). However, the interpreter will only ever run programs which successfully typecheck; if the typechecker is implemented correctly, then cases like this can never actually happen! Such errors would have been caught as type errors. (Ideally, this is something we could formally prove about our system.) This is one reason static type checking can lead to better runtime performance: we don’t have to carry around type information and constantly check types of values at runtime, which can remove a lot of runtime overhead (as well as create better opportunities for optimization).

  • Begin by copying your interpreter from module 8 and pasting it here (not your dynamic typechecking interpreter from the previous module).

  • Remove any InterpErrors which cannot happen anymore. Replace them in the interpreter with calls to error, with a message like "Bug! This case should be impossible! Fizzwoz cannot happen in the interpreter, since bar baz." (of course, you should replace the nonsense with something appropriate).

  • Now extend interpArith appropriately. Remember that in the case that you need a boolean value, you should just assume that you have an Integer which is either 0 or 1 representing False or True.

  • Finally, update the eval function. It should deal appropriately with parse errors, type errors, runtime errors, and with showing the output of the interpreter. For example, here is what my solution looks like (note that depending on whether you did the optional extension, yours may not be able to handle things like ||, <=, and so on):

    λ> eval "let y = 2 in let x = (if (3 > 5) || (y*3 <= 10) then 5+y else 9*10) in x"
    λ> eval "let x = 3 in ! (x < 8)"
    λ> eval "let y = 2 in let x = (if (3 > 5) || (y*3 <= 10) then 5+y else 9*10) in z"
    Undefined variable z
    λ> eval "let y = False in let x = (if (3 > 5) || (y*3 <= 10) then 5+y else 9*10) in x"
    Type mismatch: Var "y" was used in a context that expected TInt,
      but it actually has type TBool.
    λ> eval "let y = 2 in let x = (if (3 > 5) || (y*3 <= 10) then 5+y else False && True) in x"
    The branches of the if expression If (Bin FOr (Bin FGt (ILit 3) (ILit 5)) (Bin FLeq (Bin FTimes (Var "y") (ILit 3)) (ILit 10)))
      (Bin FPlus (ILit 5) (Var "y"))
      (Bin FAnd (BLit False) (BLit True))
      should have the same type, but they have types TInt and TBool respectively.

    A few notes:

    • To get really nice type error messages, one would have to include a pretty-printer. As you can see, I have not done so, but you are welcome to add one if you wish.
    • As you can see, I included a special kind of type error for if-expressions; you can do this if you wish but it is optional.
    • Note that one cannot simply show the result of the interpreter, since this would sometimes e.g. show 0 when it should be False. To correctly show the output of the interpreter, one needs to take the inferred type of the expression into account.
  • Try evaluating if False then 3 else True. What happens? How is this different than the previous module?


  • How long would you estimate that you spent working on this module?

  • Were any parts particularly confusing or difficult?

  • Were any parts particularly fun or interesting?

  • Record here any other questions, comments, or suggestions for improvement.

  1. If you desugar the new operators directly inside the parser, you will necessarily be running the type checker over the simpler, desugared syntax, which means that any type errors will refer to desugared programs. This is confusing for the programmer, because they may get errors about programs they did not write. For example, if the programmer writes True && 3, it will first desugar to if True then 3 else False, and they will then get a type error referring to this if-expression even though they never wrote any if. This is one good reason to have desugaring as a separate phase from parsing: first, the more complex language (the “surface language”) is parsed into an AST which can represent the complete syntax of the surface language; this is then typechecked, so any type errors refer to the actual program the programmer wrote; a desugaring function then translates the successfully typechecked AST into the simpler language (the “core language”); finally, the interpreter (or compiler, optimizer, etc.) can work directly with the simplified core language. Thankfully, in this case, writing a typechecker for the language extended with a bunch of extra operators is only slightly more work than writing a typechecker for the simpler language. The hard parts are things like if and let; adding more operators is relatively trivial.↩︎

  2. This phrase is due to Robin Milner, though in the original context he uses it with a precise technical meaning, not as a general guiding principle for type systems. See Milner, Robin. “A theory of type polymorphism in programming.” Journal of computer and system sciences 17.3 (1978): 348-375.↩︎