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Generative Type Abstraction and Type-level Computation

November 4th, 2010 11:32 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Generative Type Abstraction and Type-level Computation (Extended Version), by Simon Peyton Jones, Dimitrios Vytiniotis, Stephanie Weirich, Steve Zdancewic:

Modular languages support generative type abstraction, ensuring that an abstract type is distinct from its representation, except inside the implementation where the two are synonymous. We show that this well-established feature is in tension with the non-parametric features of newer type systems, such as indexed type families and GADTs. In this paper we solve the problem by using kinds to distinguish between parametric and non-parametric contexts. The result is directly applicable to Haskell, which is rapidly developing support for type-level computation, but the same issues should arise whenever generativity and non-parametric features are combined.

Type-level computation is becoming more common and more elaborate, thanks to recent extensions such as type families. Other non-parametric features allow the developer to reason about the concrete types used in a computation. Unfortunately, something as simple as a type-based dispatch can be unsound when combined with coercion lifting. This paper solves the tensions between these two useful features using a kind system extended with “roles”.

In fact, this isn’t the first time coercion lifting has caused trouble. In capability security terminology, coercion lifting is a “rights amplification” operation, and there are previously known examples of seemingly innocuous coercion lifting across an abstraction/implementation boundary resulting in Confused Deputies. There’s no discussion of this connection in the paper, and the paper cannot solve the problem discussed at that link, which exposes an much deeper issue than confusing parametric/non-parametric contexts.

Source: Generative Type Abstraction and Type-level Computation

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