[swift-evolution] Enhanced existential types proposal discussion

Adrian Zubarev adrian.zubarev at devandartist.com
Tue May 17 14:09:44 CDT 2016

+1 for extending my proposal and making `Any<>` even more a powerful beast. :)

Adrian Zubarev
Sent with Airmail

Am 17. Mai 2016 bei 20:52:34, Austin Zheng via swift-evolution (swift-evolution at swift.org) schrieb:

I put together the skeleton of a proposal detailing enhancements to how associated types can be referenced in Swift 3+. It's certainly not ready for submission, but I think it gets across my ideas pretty well. Would love to gather feedback and especially improvements.

Be unsparing; whatever form this feature takes will profoundly affect how Swift developers program for years, so it needs to be done right.

See below:


An existential type is defined using the "Any<...>" construct. Existential types can be nested.

The empty existential type "Any<>" is typealiased to 'Any'.

Within the angle brackets are zero or more 'clauses'. Clauses are separated by semicolons. (This is so commas can be used in where constraints, below. Better ideas are welcome. Maybe it's not necessary; we can use commas exclusively.)

There are five different possible clauses:

'class'. Must be the first clause, if present. Places a constraint on the existential to be any class type. (Implies: Only one can exist. Mutually exclusive with class name clause.)

(In the future a follow-up proposal should add in 'struct' or 'value' as a counterpart.)

Class name. Must be the first clause, if present. (Implies: Only one can exist. Mutually exclusive with 'class'.) Places a constraint on the existential (not really an existential anymore) to be an instance of the class, or one of its subclasses.
Example: Any<UIViewController; UITableViewDataSource; UITableViewDelegate>
"Any UIViewController or subclass which also satisfies the table view data source and delegate protocols"
Dynamic protocol. This is entirely composed of the name of a protocol which has no associated types or Self requirement.

Example: Any<CustomStringConvertible; BooleanType>
"Any type which conforms to both the CustomStringConvertible and BooleanType protocols"

I'm going to use 'static protocol' to refer to a protocol with associated types or self requirements. Feel free to propose a more sound name.

Self-contained static protocol, simple. This is composed of the name of a static protocol, optionally followed by a 'where' clause in which the associated types can be constrained (with any of the three basic conformance types: subclassing, protocol conformance, or type equality). Associated types are referred to with a leading dot.

Example: Any<Collection where .Generator.Element : NSObject, .Generator.Element : SomeProtocol>
"Any type that is a Collection, whose elements are NSObjects or their subclasses conforming to SomeProtocol."

Bound static protocol. This is the same as a self-contained static protocol, but with a leading "<name> as " which binds the protocol to a generic typealias. The name can be then be used in subsequent clauses to build constraints.

Example: Any<T as Collection; IntegerLiteralConvertible where .IntegerLiteralType == T.Element>.
"Any type that is a Collection, and also can be built from an integer literal, in which the collection elements are the same type as the type of the integer used for the integer literal conformance."

There will be rules to prevent recursive nesting. For example, if generic typealiases are allowed, they cannot refer to each other in a circular manner (like how structs can't contain themeselves, and you can't create a cyclic graph of enums containing themselves).

How an existential can be used depends on what guarantees are provided by the clauses. For example, 'Any<Equatable>' can't be used for much; if there were any methods on Equatable that did not use the associated types at all you'd be able to call them, but that's about it. However, 'Any<Equatable where .Self == String>' would allow for == to be called on instances. (This is a stupid example, since Any<Equatable where .Self == String> is equivalent to 'String', but there are almost certainly useful examples one could come up with.)

In order of increasing 'power':
Don't constrain any associated types. You can pass around Any<Equatable>s, but that's about it.
Constrain associated types to conform to protocols.
Fully constrain associated types.

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