Expression Syntax 2.0 ==================================================
Haldean Brown First draft: Feb 2017
Last updated: Feb 2017
Status: Rejected
Once I started playing with the syntax, I realized this was fun
but also a completely different language from Ubik. I sort of
got carried away here.
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Currently, Ubik expressions are LISP-like, with some special forms and
some redundant parentheses removed. In this way, it is similar to
Haskell; Haskell further removes redundant parentheses using significant
whitespace and operators like <$>, which are only possible when combined
with laziness.
Ubik's desire to be (a) context-free and (b) eager mean that these
options are not available to us. Also, Forth is cool. For that reason,
I'm switching syntax over to a postfix, stack-style syntax.
Ubik has a few expression forms:
* Atoms; things like:
"hello" -3.4 list:map
* Application, which is defined by adjacency with a function at the
head and an argument at the tail:
+ 8 3
* Lambda statements, currently of the form:
\x y z -> body
* Pattern blocks, like:
? expr {
. pattern => result
. pattern => result
}
* Condition blocks, of the form:
? {
. boolean-expr => result
. boolean-expr => result
}
* Scope blocks, such as:
{
: x = 8
: y = -3
! - x y
}
* ADT declarations, in the style of:
^ List a
= Cons a (List a)
= Nil
* Type application, which looks like:
String -> Number
Each of these needs a new form in our new stack syntax. During this
document, I'll refer back to a simple program for checking whether a
number is a prime:
: is-prime
^ Number -> Boolean
= \x -> {
: divisors = list:range 2 (- x 1)
! list:all (list:map (\y -> not (eq (% x y) 0)) divisors)
}
Atoms won't change; atoms are atomic. Application changes, though.
The first switch is to change everything to postfix, so (- 8 3) becomes
(8 3 -). Note that this mixes with partial application really nicely;
(3 -) becomes a partial function that subtracts 3 from another number.
: is-prime
^ Number -> Boolean
= \x -> {
: divisors = 2 (x 1 -) list:range
! divisors (\y -> x y % 0 eq not) list:map list:all
}
Look at all of the parens we got rid of! The challenge here is actually
parsing this. For that inner function, we would still like to get out a
parse tree that looks kind of like this:
not --- eq --- 0
\
+- % --- x
\
+- y
Because that's much more helpful for code generation. We can do this,
but it means we have to know the arity of all functions before we can
parse stack operations like this into a tree. That means that parsing
now happens in two steps: one gives us a sequence of stack operations
and the arities of all functions (from their type signatures), and once
we have the arities in hand we can take a second pass to generate the
trees.
Unfortunately, to get this syntax, we either have to drop existing type
inference for lambdas that are bound to a name, or we have to go full
Hindley-Milner: imagine the following:
: z = \x y -> 0 1 x y
It is impossible to know whether x is a monadic function and y is a
dyadic function, or vice-versa. Adding a type lets us know:
: z ^ (a -> b) -> (c -> d -> e) -> f
= \x y -> 0 1 x y
One day we'll have real type inferrence and that won't be an issue. For
now, c'est la vie. It's not so bad, too, because for lambdas that are
used at a call site:
my-list (\x -> x 2 *) list:map
We have the knowledge of the type of the other argument and the
function, which less us narrow down the type of x.
While we're here, let's call a spade a spade and say that the choice of
"a -> b" for type application was the misguided addition of the only
infix operator in Ubik, and fix that right up:
: is-prime
^ Boolean Number <
= \x -> {
: divisors = 2 (x 1 -) list:range
! divisors (\y -> x y % 0 eq not) list:map list:all
}
Hey look a new operator! I just picked that off the top of my head, but
I kind of like it. Let's transform some other type signatures:
: z ^ (a -> b) -> (c -> d -> e) -> f
: z ^ b a < e d < c < < f <
Okay so that's not the easiest to read at first glance, but that's a
noisy one. How about:
^ List String -> List (List Char)
^ String List Char List List <
Again, this is only possible with static knowledge of fixed arity for
types, but we've got that, so we're good.
So what about lambdas? They're still pretty infixy:
\y -> x y % 0 eq not
What if they looked like this?
[ x y % 0 eq not ] y <
That's kind of neat! Multiple arguments? You bet:
\x y z -> + x (+ y z)
[ x y z + + ] z y x < | all three of these are
[[ x y z + + ] z < ] y x < | equivalent (there's still
[[[ x y z + + ] z < ] y < ] x < | currying!)
So now we've got
: is-prime
^ Boolean Number <
= [{
: divisors = 2 x 1 - list:range
! divisors [ x y % 0 eq not ] y < list:map list:all
}] x <
While we're at it, let's make lambdas implicitly add a new scope:
: is-prime
^ Boolean Number <
= [ : divisors = 2 x 1 - list:range
! divisors [ x y % 0 eq not ] y < list:map list:all
] x <
So let's talk about condition and pattern blocks, then. Right now, we've got:
: fib
^ Number Number <
= [? {
. x 0 eq => 1
. x 1 eq => 1
. => x 1 - fib x 2 - fib +
}] x <
: maybe-string
^ String String Maybe <
= [? s {
. Just str => str
. Nothing => "nothing"
}] s <
These feel pretty infixy and Haskelly to me. We can do better.
: fib
^ Number Number <
= [{
1 [ x 0 eq ]*
1 [ x 1 eq ]*
x 1 - fib x 2 - fib + []*
} ? ] x <
: maybe-string
^ String String Maybe <
= [s {
str [ str Just ]*
"nothing" [ Nothing ]*
} ?] s <
[]* becomes a pattern constructor, {} becomes a block constructor, and ?
evaluates the block. ? is a clever thing; it might be the only thing in Ubik
without a fixed arity. When the block is a pattern block, ? is dyadic and
consumes the block and a value to match. When the block is a predicate block,
it consumes only the block.
Let's switch over to ADT declarations:
^ List a
= Cons a (List a)
= Nil
^ Expr
= Add Expr Expr
= Multiply Expr Expr
= Log Expr
= Value Number
Really the biggest change here is switching to postfix, but I'm also going to
make it a little more explicit that the heads are constructors as well, by
making users write it out like a type signature.
^ List a
= Cons a List < a <
= Nil
^ Expr
= Add Expr < Expr <
= Multiply Expr < Expr <
= Log Expr <
= Value Number <
As a sidenote, check out how much nicer nested-conses are:
(Cons "a" (Cons "hello" (Cons "world" Nil)))
"a" "hello" "world" Nil Cons Cons Cons
Still a little awkward to have all the Cons-es at the end, but at least it's
not paren soup.
I glossed over a thing earlier; now that just mentioning a function applies it
to things ahead of it in the stack, what do we do when we want to pass
functions to other functions?
mylist 0 + list:reduce
During stack evaluation, you would expect + to try to add 0 and mylist, which
is no good; we intended for it to be passed to reduce. For that reason, we add
a new function reference syntax which doesn't immediately apply the function:
mylist 0 @+ list:reduce
Note that while quoting is not always strictly required for disambiguation,
Ubik requires that all function references be quoted:
: double = 2 *
: double-list = @double list:map
Technically there is no ambiguity here, because the alternate interpretation
(that double should be applied to the stack) would result in a compile-time
error. To avoid the ridiculousness of C++'s SFINAE rule, we just say all
function references have to be unambiguous, and sometimes they are doubly so.