[CakeML-dev] Adding polymorphic compare to CakeML

Magnus Myreen magnus.myreen at gmail.com
Wed Nov 30 23:19:07 UTC 2016

This message just records the conclusion from today's Google Hangout:

I won't add polymorphic compare to BVL and downwards because there is no
volunteer for propagating it up to the source-level semantics. Once there
is a volunteer, I might consider polymorphic compare again.

As to its source-level semantics: I think it is clear that we want closures
and references to raise exceptions. The ordering would be lexical on: the
number of constructor arguments, and constructor names as they appear in
the datatype definition.


On 30 November 2016 at 09:51, Magnus Myreen <magnus.myreen at gmail.com> wrote:

> On 29 November 2016 at 22:25, Scott Owens <S.A.Owens at kent.ac.uk> wrote:
> >
> >> On 2016/11/28, at 23:54, Magnus Myreen <magnus.myreen at gmail.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> On 29 November 2016 at 10:29, Scott Owens <S.A.Owens at kent.ac.uk> wrote:
> >>> So, what would the source semantics do for values that contain refs or
> closures? I suppose that closures can always return 0, to be compatible
> with =, but what about references? In OCaml, compare traverses the
> references, as does =. But our = does a pointer comparison on refs, and we
> probably want compare to do so as well, but we can’t do < on the pointer
> since the GC can move them. We could go back to raising exceptions, but
> then compare can’t use the quick pointer equality check as an optimisation
> for non-references.
> >>
> >> compare would not follow references. It would return default values
> >> for references and closures that are compatible with equality, as we
> >> currently have it. This means that for references that are not the
> >> same it would have to return a default: either less-than or
> >> greater-than. This is why I didn't promise a clean semantics for these
> >> cases!
> >
> > Ick. So compare wouldn’t be a total order for references. One of the big
> uses of compare in OCaml is to stick things into balanced binary trees
> simply and easily. Doing so with this design will silently give wrong
> results without warning if references are involved.
> >
> >> An alternative is to have compare have type 'a -> 'a -> bool (instead
> >> of int) and have it mean that compare the intuition is that it is <=
> >> for most types. However, for values with non-equal references it
> >> returns false (i.e. we avoid saying whether it is less-than or
> >> greater-than).
> >
> > I don’t think this helps; it’s still not a total order. The int is
> better since you only need 1 comparison to determine between <, =, >, which
> you need to implement a binary search tree.
> >
> >> However, if we add compare then I'd like it to be type compatible with
> >> OCaml so that one can more easily port OCaml code to CakeML (e.g.
> >> the sources of HOL light).
> >
> > Agreed.
> >
> > Have we checked carefully what types HOL light uses compare on, that
> there are no refs?
> >
> > You can actually implement this correctly with the cooperation of the
> GC, so it might be of to have the confusing semantics at first and fix it
> later. There are two approaches:
> >
> > 1) The GC never re-orders a ref cell in memory. You could even put all
> ref cells in their own mark/sweep/compact collected area, exactly how you
> do this with a generational collection depends on how you’re doing the
> write barriers to detect when a ref in the old generation is made to point
> to the nursery.
> Not rearranging the refs seems like a lot of work just to ensure a
> nice semantics for compare applied to (unusual inputs) refs.
> > 2) Each ref gets an extra field that is an index used for comparison.
> This has some cost even when not using compare. Also once you overflow the
> index, you need to compact the index space. The GC seems like the natural
> place to do this.
> Ramana and I discussed this and we agree that it's ugly to have the
> extra index in every ref. The index could either be a Number, i.e.
> arbitrary size, or fixed width, neither of which is ideal for
> different reasons.
> > Hybrid strategies are possible, e.g. #2 for the nursery and #1 for the
> older generation. A nice side effect of doing one of these is that you can
> also implement hashCode:’a -> int
> We could also make compare be a bit different from equal:
>  A) compare could return 0 (i.e. equal-to) for all refs and all closures
>  B) compare could raise an exception for all refs and all closures
> I think (A) is somewhat compatible with our semantics for equality.
> However, (B) is nicer for the programmer.
> Cheers,
> Magnus
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