[swift-evolution] [Pitch] Allow explicit specialization of generic functions

David Hart david at hartbit.com
Wed May 25 18:17:42 CDT 2016


This is a new pitch to allow explicitly specializing generic functions. Notice that potential ambiguity with initialisers and how I’m currently trying to avoid it. Please let me know what you think!


Allow explicit specialization of generic functions

Proposal: SE-XXXX <https://github.com/apple/swift-evolution/blob/master/proposals/XXXX-allow-explicit-specialization-generic-functions.md>
Author: David Hart <https://github.com/hartbit>, Douglas Gregor <https://github.com/DougGregor>
Status: TBD
Review manager: TBD

This proposal allows bypassing the type inference engine and explicitly specializing type arguments of generic functions. 


In Swift, generic type parameters are inferred by the argument or return value types as follows:

func foo<T>(t: T) { ... }

foo(5) // infers T = Int
There exists certain scenarios when a programmer wants to explicitly specialize a generic function. Swift does not allow it, so we resort to giving hints to the inference engine:

let f1 = foo as ((Int) -> Void)
let f2: (Int) -> Void = foo
let f3 = foo<Int> // error: Cannot explicitly specialize a generic function

func bar<T>() -> T { ... }

let b1 = bar() as Int
let b2: Int = bar()
let b3 = bar<Int>() // error: Cannot explicitly specialize a generic function
This behaviour is not very consistent with generic types which allow specialization:

let array: Array<Int> = Array<Int>(arrayLiteral: 1, 2, 3)
Therefore, this proposal seeks to make the above errors valid specializations:

let f3 = foo<Int> // explicitly specialized to (Int) -> Void 
let b3 = bar<Int>() // explicitly specialized to () -> Int 
An ambiguous scenario arrises when we wish to specialize initializer functions:

struct Foo<T: RawRepresentable where T.RawValue == String> {
    let storage: T

    init<U: CustomStringConvertible>(_ value: U) {
        storage = T(rawValue: value.description)!

enum Bar: String, CustomStringConvertible {
    case foobar = "foo"

    var description: String {
        return self.rawValue

let a = Foo<Bar>(Bar.foobar)
Does this specialization specialize the struct's or the initializer's generic type? The proposal solves this ambiguity by requiring initializer generic type specialization to use the init syntax:

let a = Foo<Bar>.init<Bar>(Bar.foobar)
 <https://github.com/hartbit/swift-evolution/tree/allow-explicit-types-generic-functions#detailed-design>Detailed Design

Function calls are fairly straight forward and have their grammar modified as follows:

function-call-expression → postfix-expression­ generic-argument-clause­opt parenthesized-expression

function-call-expression → postfix-expression generic-argument-clause­opt ­parenthesized-expression­opt ­trailing-closure­

To allow initializers to be called with explicit specialization, we need to use the Initializer Expression. Its grammar is modified to:

initializer-expression → postfix-expression­ . ­init­ generic-argument-clause­opt

initializer-expression → postfix-expression­ . ­init­ generic-argument-clause­opt ( ­argument-names­ )

 <https://github.com/hartbit/swift-evolution/tree/allow-explicit-types-generic-functions#impact-on-existing-code>Impact on Existing Code

This proposal is purely additive and will have no impact on existing code.

 <https://github.com/hartbit/swift-evolution/tree/allow-explicit-types-generic-functions#alternatives-considered>Alternatives Considered

Not adopting this proposal for Swift.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.swift.org/pipermail/swift-evolution/attachments/20160526/6f3b6cb7/attachment.html>

More information about the swift-evolution mailing list