[swift-evolution] [Idea] Bringing the partial/total ordering distinction into Comparable

Brent Royal-Gordon brent at brentdax.com
Sun Apr 24 16:51:00 CDT 2016

> However, I don’t understand how that would help for floating point NaN behavior.  Wouldn’t you have to add a fourth member to the enum (“unordered’) that all clients would have to handle?  An approach like that could make sense.

The point is precisely that there *isn't* an `unordered` case. The spaceship operator *must* order all values; that makes it suitable for operations like `sort()` and `max()` which assume there is a total order over all values they encounter. Meanwhile, the traditional comparison operators like `<` and `==` are given flexibility to implement looser semantics like those seen in `FloatingPoint`.

On the other hand, just because there is *an* order doesn't mean it'll be a *sensible* order. In particular, if `min()` and `max()` are based on an ordering which includes NaNs, then in some circumstances at least one of them will favor a NaN over a normal value. It might be that the total order is not actually a good match for `min()` and `max()`, and they should instead use the partial order and ignore unordered elements.

(Of course, that again raises the question of whether it is an element or a *pair* of elements which is unordered.)

Perhaps think of it this way: `<=>` is an *ordering* operator; the others are *comparison* operators. The difference is that, even if two elements cannot be compared, they can still have a consistent order.

Brent Royal-Gordon

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