[Haskell] why don't we have const Ptrs?

Bjorn Lisper lisper at it.kth.se
Wed Nov 2 10:24:29 EST 2005


Annotated type systems have been around for some time in static program
analysis. I think this is what you want. For instance, you can design such a
system to record possible side effects from a function call, as annotations
on the type of the function.

See the book "Principles of Program Analysis",

Björn Lisper

David Roundy:
>Hello all,
>I was thinking this morning as I lay on the floor (where I sleep) about
>static typechecking, and how much more wonderful Haskell is than any other
>language, when it occurred to me that when working with pointers, Haskell
>actually has *less* static typechecking than C or C++.  It was a very
>disturbing thought, so much so that I was almost compelled to arise early
>to place this question before this learned audience.
>Why is it that in C++ I can write
>void strcpy(char *dest, const char *src);
>but in Haskell I must import this function as
>> foreign import ccall unsafe "static string.h strcpy"
>>          strcpy :: Ptr CChar -> Ptr CChar -> IO ()
>and lose that wonderful information that the function doesn't modify the
>contents of its second argument?
>One could pretty easily create a ConstPtr type which one could peek into,
>but not poke to, but then you'd have to explicitely convert a Ptr into a
>ConstPtr when passing it as an argument.  That feels a bit silly.
>One could get around this by introducing a class to get around this
>> class ReadablePtr p where
>>    peek :: p a -> IO a
>>    peekOff ...
>and then make both Ptr and ConstPtr instances of this class, but this still
>seems like a very hackish solution.
>Moreover, I'd like to be able to have const objects quite apart from Ptrs,
>such as a const Handle, which I can read from, but cannot write to, or a
>const IORef--and we wouldn't want to leave out const ForeignPtrs.  Of
>course, even reading affects a Handle's internal state, so one would need
>to be explicit about what "const" indicates.  But it seems to me that in
>the IO world there are a whole slew of "things that refer to other things"
>which could all be grouped together.
>And a "const" attribute ought to be derived, so that if I create a data
>> data FooPtr = FooPtr String (Ptr Foo)
>one should ideally be able to automatically understand that a const FooPtr
>holds a const (Ptr Foo).
>One could go further, at least when dealing with Ptrs, and create a way of
>handling "restricted" pointers--which we could interpret as a const pointer
>to an object that cannot be changed by anyone else either.  One could
>safely create restricted pointers with a function of the type
>> mallocRestrictedPtr :: (Ptr a -> IO ()) -> RestrictedPtr a
>which would allow one to ensure at the typechecking level that
>RestrictedPtrs point to memory that cannot be modified.  There's still some
>unstafety involved, in that you could read out of bounds, but you would
>know that apart from that possibility the contents of a RestrictedPtr truly
>will never change.
>So my question is, how would one implement such an "annotation" extension?
>I'd like to be able to pass a (Ptr a) as a (Const (Ptr a)) without an
>explicit typecast, since the Const really isn't changing the type of the
>pointer, it's just marking it as one that can't be modified.  A function
>that accepts a (Const (Ptr a)) should also accept a (Restricted (Ptr
>a))--but Restricted pointers are really just pudding, as they only differ
>from Const pointers in what optimizations are allowed.  On the other hand,
>it's not just compiler optimizations that they would allow, but also
>user-code optimizations, which could be much more useful.  They also have
>the advantage of making certain unsafe functions safe.
>The hard part seems to be the lack of a conversion.  One could quite easily
>implement a
>> data Const a = Const a  -- this constructor is *not exported*
>> toConst :: x -> Const x
>> unsafeAccessConst :: Const x -> x
>> peek :: Const (Ptr a) -> IO a
>> peekOff ...
>etc, and everything would work fine, except that you'd always need to
>explicitely convert from Ptr to Const Ptr.  Perhaps one could make Const be
>a class as well as a data type:
>> class (Const a) x where
>>     toConst :: x -> Const a
>> instance (Const x) x where
>>     toConst = Const
>> instance (Const x) (Const x) where
>>     toConst = id    
>and then one could write code like
>> peek :: Const (cp a) => cp a -> IO a
>which would move the typecasting burden out of the calling function and
>into the function that accepts a const argument.  Perhaps this would be
>sufficient, as many data types have only a limited number of "primitive
>const" functions, and all the other "const" functions wouldn't actually
>need to call toConst.
>What this doesn't allow is deriving of constness, so that a Const
>ForeignPtr would automatically hold a Const Ptr.
>This whole class+data type scheme seems like it might be useful, but is
>pretty ugly.  Is there a better way this could be done?
>Might one be able to extend the language so that one could add "attribute"
>such as Const to data type without changing the the type itself (which
>would be analogous to what one does in C/C++)?
>David Roundy
>Haskell mailing list
>Haskell at haskell.org

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