Google Research

Harmonizing classes, functions, tuples, and type parameters in Virgil III

  • Ben L. Titzer
Proceedings of the 34th ACM SIGPLAN conference on Programming language design and implementation, ACM, New York, New York (2013), pp. 85-94


Languages are becoming increasingly multi-paradigm. Subtype polymorphism in statically-typed object-oriented languages is being supplemented with parametric polymorphism in the form of generics. Features like first-class functions and lambdas are appearing everywhere. Yet existing languages like Java, C#, C++, D, and Scala seem to accrete ever more complexity when they reach beyond their original paradigm into another; inevitably older features have some rough edges that lead to nonuniformity and pitfalls. Given a fresh start, a new language designer is faced with a daunting array of potential features. Where to start? What is important to get right first, and what can be added later? What features must work together, and what features are orthogonal? We report on our experience with Virgil III, a practical language with a careful balance of classes, functions, tuples and type parameters. Virgil intentionally lacks many advanced features, yet we find its core feature set enables new species of design patterns that bridge multiple paradigms and emulate features not directly supported such as interfaces, abstract data types, ad hoc polymorphism, and variant types. Surprisingly, we find variance for function types and tuple types often replaces the need for other kinds of type variance when libraries are designed in a more functional style.

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