Chapter 7: Polymorphism a.k.a. interfaces and implementations

Where types and values collide.

You endured all that tedious talk about types; but it wasn't for nothing.

Now, you'll see types in action, as they take a new shape... and a new purpose.

Many programming languages have some kind of polymorphism system or module system.

You know what I'm talking about.

Object-oriented languages have classes with methods that can be overriden by their subclasses. The moment you call one of those methods on an object, the run-time system selects for you the correct implementation, based on the class hierarchy.

Or maybe you come from Haskell, where they have type-classes, that basically perform the same process, but during compilation. Types are checked, instances get picked, and the proper functions and constants get plugged-in.

Or maybe, you come from the world of ML (specially Standard ML), where they have a module system based on signatures and structures. In those systems, the function implementations you want don't get selected for you automatically (you have to pick them yourself), but you tend to have more control when it comes to choosing what to use.

The origin of Lux's polymorphism system is I... um... borrowed it from the SML guys.

I re-named signatures as interfaces and structures as implementations to give them more recognizable names.

But I also added my own little twist.

You see, polymorphism/module systems in programming languages tend to live in a mysterious world that is removed from the rest of the language.

It's a similar situation as with types.

Remember Lux's type system?

Most languages keep their types separate from their values.

Types are just some cute annotations you put in your code to keep the compiler happy.

Lux's types, on the other hand, are alive; for they are values.

Nothing stops you from using them, transforming them and analyzing them in ways that go beyond the language designer's imagination (that would be me).

Well, there's a similar story to tell about polymorphism/module systems.

The run-time/compiler chooses everything for you; and even when you choose for yourself, you're still somewhat limited in what you can do.

Implementations are not values, and there is a fundamental division between them and the rest of the language.

But not in Lux.

Lux's polymorphism system is actually based on regular types and values.

And because types are values, that means it's just turtles values all the way down.

But, how does it work?

Read on!


They provide a description of the functionality expected of proper implementations.

They have a list of expected member values/functions, with their associated types.

Here's an example:

(type .public (Order a)
   (is (Equivalence a)

   (is (-> a a Bit)

That interface definition comes from the library/lux/abstract/order module, and it deals with ordered types; that is, types for which you can compare their values in ways that imply some sort of sequential order.

It's polymorphic/parameterized because this interface must be able to adapt to any type that fits its requirements.

Also, you may notice that it has a member called equivalence, of type (Equivalence a).

The reason is that interfaces can expand upon (or be based on) other interfaces (such as Equivalence).

How do interfaces differ from types?

They don't.

They're actually implemented as types.

Specifically, as tuple/record types.

You see, if I can create a record type with one field for every expected definition in a interface, then that's all I need.


They are the other side of the coin.

If interfaces are record types, then that means implementations must be actual records.

Let's take a look at how you make one:

(def .public order
  (Order Frac)
    (def equivalence ..equivalence)
    (def < ..<)))

This implementation comes from library/lux/math/number/frac.

As you may notice, implementations have names; unlike in object-oriented languages where the "implementation" would just be the implemented methods of a class, or Haskell where instances are anonymous.

For implementations, the convention is just to name them as lower-cased versions of the interfaces they implement.

Here is another example, from the library/lux/data/collection/list module:

(def .public monoid
  (All (_ a)
    (Monoid (List a)))
    (def identity
    (def (compose xs ys)
      (when xs
        {.#End}        ys
        {.#Item x xs'} {.#Item x (compose xs' ys)}))))

The reason why implementations have names (besides the fact that they are definitions like any other), is that you can usually construct multiple valid implementations for the same combination of interfaces and parameter types.

That would require you to distinguish each implementation in some way in order to use it.

This is one cool advantage over Haskell's type-classes and instances, where you can only have one instance for any combination of type-class and parameter.

Haskellers often resort to _"hacks"_ such as using newtype to try to get around this limitation.

The upside of having the run-time/compiler pick the implementation for you is that you can avoid some boilerplate when writing polymorphic code.

The upside of picking the implementation yourself is that you get more control and predictability over what's happening (which is specially useful when you consider that implementations are first-class values).

What's the big importance of implementations being first-class values?

Simple: it means you can create your own implementations at run-time based on arbitrary data and logic, and you can combine and transform implementations however you want.

Standard ML offers something like that by a mechanism they call "functors" (unrelated to a concept of "functor" we'll see in a later chapter), but they are more like magical functions that the compiler uses to combine structures in limited ways.

In Lux, we dispense with the formalities and just use regular old functions and values to get the job done.

How to use implementations

We've put functions and values inside our implementations.

It's time to get them out and use them.

There are 2 main ways to use the stuff inside your implementations: use and at.

Let's check them out.

... Opens an implementation and generates a definition for each of its members (including nested members).

... For example:
(use "i::[0]" library/lux/math/number/int.order)

... Will generate:
(def .private i::= (at library/lux/math/number/int.order =))
(def .private i::< (at library/lux/math/number/int.order <))

The use macro serves as a directive that creates private/un-exported definitions in your module for every member of a particular implementation.

You may also give it an optional aliasing pattern for the definitions, in case you want to avoid any name clash.

You might want to check out [Appendix C]( to discover a pattern-matching macro version of `use` called `^open`.
... Allows accessing the value of a implementation's member.
(is (-> Int Text)
    (at library/lux/math/number/int.decimal encoded))

... Also allows using that value as a function.
(at library/lux/math/number/int.decimal encoded +123)

... => "+123"

at is for when you want to use individual parts of a implementation immediately in your code, instead of opening them first.

Psss! Did you notice `at` is _piping compatible_?

Also, you don't really need to worry about boilerplate related to using implementations.

There is a module called library/lux/type/implicit which gives you a macro called a/an for using implementations without actually specifying which one you need.

Psss! This macro also has 2 shorter aliases: `a` and `an`.

The macro infers everything for you based on the types of the arguments, the expected type of the expression, and the implementations available in the environment.

For more information about that, head over to Appendix F to read more about that.

Implementations as values

I can't emphasize enough that implementations are values.

And to exemplify it for you, here's a function from the library/lux/abstract/monad module that takes in an implementation (among other things) and uses it within its code:

(def .public (each monad f xs)
  (All (_ M a b)
    (-> (Monad M) (-> a (M b)) (List a) (M (List b))))
  (when xs
    (at monad in {.#End})

    {.#Item x xs'}
    (do monad
      [y (f x)
       ys (each monad f xs')]
      (in {.#Item y ys}))))

Monad is an interface and the each function takes arbitrary Monad implementations and can work with any of them without any issue.

Interfaces and implementation are the main mechanism for writing ad-hoc polymorphic code in Lux, and they allow flexible and precise control over polymorphism.

It may be the case that in the future Lux includes new mechanisms for achieving the same goals (I believe in having variety), but the spirit of implementing things in terms of accessible values anybody can manipulate will likely underlie every such mechanism.

Now that we've discussed interfaces and implementations, it's time to talk about a very special family of interfaces.

See you in the next chapter!