[swift-evolution] [RFC] New collections model: collections advance indices

Károly Lőrentey karoly at lorentey.hu
Thu Mar 3 21:50:27 CST 2016

On 2016-03-03 16:25:45 +0000, Dave Abrahams via swift-evolution said:
> on Tue Mar 01 2016, Károly Lőrentey <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>> This looks interesting! As the author of a number of custom collection
>> implementations, including a rather elaborate B-tree package
>> (https://github.com/lorentey/BTree),
> FWIW, I am impressed by (even jealous of) this work, so your feedback in
> this area is much appreciated.

Why thank you. *blush*

> One thing that hasn't been mentioned so far is that when the algorithms
> using indices are extensions on the collection protocol (or members of a
> specific collection) these APIs can be used without qualification, which
> makes them read like free functions, which ends up looking quite natural
> to my eye.


>> - I know that it isn't a new requirement, but I do dislike that
>> `Indexable` specifies the complexity of index operations; this puts
>> a hard constraint on custom collection design. I do understand the
>> desire for concrete complexity promises on operations using
>> indexes, but can't we express these instead e.g. in terms of number
>> of index accesses?
> The problem is that eventually it becomes really difficult to simply
> describe the efficiency of any given algorithm.  We don't want people to
> have to do complex algebra to understand how algorithms compose with
> data structures.
> Yes, it's a trade-off, and loosening the upper bound on the cost of
> indexing was one of the things we considered.  We tried to carefully
> think through different possible collection designs (trees in
> particular!) to understand what the implications of keeping the O(1)
> upper bound were.  We'd be happy to discuss specific tradeoffs with you.

That's fair! So far, I've always been able to implement constant access,
and the code has only become better of it.

The only place where I intentionally decided against it is the tree-backed,
Array-like `List`. It really wants to be indexed by an Int, to emulate
Array's loose approach to index invalidation. (Although, like you said,
B-tree lookup is practically O(1) anyway, so maybe I'll just call it that.)

This reminds me that index invalidation rules are all over the place across
the various collection types and not very well documented. Some ideas for

- From the sample code in its documentation, it looks like
  `MutableCollection` requires subscript assignment to not invalidate
  indices. Can we make this a formal requirement?
- What about range assignment in `MutableCollection`? E.g., what happens
  to indices if it changes the element count? (Is supporting that a 
- Does `RangeReplacableCollection` imply Array-like index invalidation?
  I think it should.

By the way, does the requirement for (amortized) constant complexity also
apply to advancing an index? That's OK for trees, but it may not come cheap
for hashed collections. Native dictionaries & sets currently have an
index.successor() with O(n) complexity (if I'm not mistaken).

What about `Collection.indices`? Getting the first index will definitely
take O(log(n)) for tree collections, and bridged dictionaries/sets have
this at O(n).

>> - I'm using weak references inside the index, with a (seriously
>> underdeveloped) index invalidation method that happens to be closer
>> to #2b than #2a. I'm not happy about using weak references, but this
>> seemed the most sensible thing to do. I'd love to replace them with
>> `unowned(unsafe)`, and the mutation counter seems like a great idea.
>> The ARC issue mentioned at the end of the proposal is rather scary,
>> though -- I don't know how I would protect against that.
> Hmm, Dmitri, I thought we decided that using unowned(unsafe) to manage
> the "indices" collection was simply untenable.  Remember the
> thread-safety issue, iterating indices on one thread while mutating the
> collection on another?

Hm, aren't multithreaded mutations supposed to use COW to get their own
copy to mutate?

Or is this about invalidation of the return value of `Collection.indices`?
That's not supposed to survive (all) mutations, is it?

(Ugh, how do I refer to an instance of Indices (the associated type) without
confusing it with indices in the sense of multiple `Index`es?)

>> - I'm almost positive this has been discussed before, but what is the
>> rationale behind allowing non-Int `IndexDistance`s?
> One could imagine indexing a file-backed thing on a 32-bit platform,
> which could require 64-bit distances.

Ah, OK! But it begs the question: would a file-backed collection be able
to satisfy the O(1) indexing requirement without making a complete
mockery of it? :-)

>> The distance is getting cast to Int in a lot of places anyway (IIRC,
>> even the stdlib uses numericCasts to cut a way through it.)
> We've tried to be careful enough in balancing ease-of-use (Int
> almost everywhere) with flexibility, but we might have made mistakes,
> for sure.

I think the largest speed bump there is that sequences and collections
are often loaded into Arrays, and an oversized collection would have to
tread very carefully to avoid all of these places. The API is geared
towards finite (and relatively small-ish) collections/sequences.
I suspect a Collection with a billion elements wouldn't work much better
than an infinite sequence.

>> - In this declaration:
>> subscript(position: Index) -> Generator.Element { get }
>> I find the argument name rather unfortunate, because I've been using
>> the term "position" to consistently refer to the (numerical)
>> position of an element in an ordered collection,
> “Offset” would be a better name for that, IMO.

That's spot on! Although in some contexts it could be misunderstood to
mean a delta. I'll sleep on it, but I think you're right.


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