Non-Parametric Parametricity

Georg Neis
Derek Dreyer
Andreas Rossberg
Journal of Funcitonal Programming, 21 (4 & 5)(2011)


Type abstraction and intensional type analysis are features seemingly at odds—type abstraction is intended to guarantee parametricity and representation independence, while type analysis is inherently non-parametric. Recently, however, several researchers have proposed and implemented “dynamic type generation” as a way to reconcile these features. The idea is that, when one defines an abstract type, one should also be able to generate at run time a fresh type name, which may be used as a dynamic representative of the abstract type for purposes of type analysis. The question remains: in a language with non-parametric polymorphism, does dynamic type generation provide us with the same kinds of abstraction guarantees that we get from parametric polymorphism? Our goal is to provide a rigorous answer to this question. We define a step-indexed Kripke logical relation for a language with both non-parametric polymorphism (in the form of type-safe cast) and dynamic type generation. Our logical relation enables us to establish parametricity and representation independence results, even in a non-parametric setting, by attaching arbitrary relational interpretations to dynamically-generated type names. In addition, we explore how programs that are provably equivalent in a more traditional parametric logical relation may be “wrapped” systematically to produce terms that are related by our non-parametric relation, and vice versa. This leads us to develop a “polarized” variant of our logical relation, which enables us to distinguish formally between positive and negative notions of parametricity.