[swift-evolution] [Draft] Rename Sequence.elementsEqual

Xiaodi Wu xiaodi.wu at gmail.com
Sat Oct 14 21:54:48 CDT 2017

On Sat, Oct 14, 2017 at 6:17 PM, Kevin Nattinger <swift at nattinger.net>

> […]
>> * A Swift `Sequence` is, to put it simplistically, a thing that can be
>> iterated over in a `for...in` loop. If it would make you happy, for the
>> rest of the discussion, let's suppose we called the protocol `ForLoopable`
>> instead of `Sequence`.
>> ForLoopable is so ugly. Since we’re just iterating over the elements, how
>> about, oh, say, `Iterable`? Hey, that looks familiar.
> I'm not trying to bikeshed the name of `Sequence`. I'm picking an
> intentionally unwieldy name for the purposes of discussing the semantics of
> this particular protocol. The point is that the underlying issue has
> nothing to do with the name; it can be `Iterable` or it can be `SpongeBob`
> for all I care.
> I’m not trying to bikeshed the name either, The underlying issue is that
> (what is currently) Sequence actually encompasses two separate
> functionalities, and those functionalities need to be separated with their
> separate semantic requirements documented. “Sequence: Iterable,”
> “OrderedSequence: Sequence,” “SpongeBob: ForLoopable,” the names are 100%
> irrelevant at this point; what’s important is that one is not necessarily
> ordered and the other guarantees an order.

What are the "two separate functionalities"? All the extension methods on
Sequence are ways of spelling things that you can write in a few lines of
code using a `for...in` loop; they're in the stdlib to allow a more
functional style which some prefer. If you accept that a type should
support iteration with a `for...in` loop, then what is your basis for
claiming that these extension methods are "separate functionalities"?

> […]
>> * If a type `T` conforms to `ForLoopable` and an instance `t` of that
>> type has at least one element, then *something* has to be the first element
>> in a `for element in t { ... }` loop. Put another way, every instance of a
>> type that conforms to `ForLoopable` must have at least one publicly
>> observable order (although, intriguingly, I'm not sure it has to be a
>> repeatable one). It is possible, therefore, to have a semantic answer to
>> the question of which element is `first` or (if finite) `last`; one can
>> also `drop(while:)`, etc., and perform lexicographical comparisons.
>> As a side effect of Swift being a procedural language each iteration
>> happens to occur in some order, yes, but that order is meaningless and
>> reflects nothing about the Set itself.  In fact, I’d say that *`first`,
>> `last`, etc. are not even defined on the original Set per se, only on the
>> specific order that a particular iteration resulted in*. And that order
>> is not necessarily predictable, nor necessarily stable, as you yourself
>> said.
>> Consider an Iterable that gives a different order every time it’s
>> iterated.
>> Should calling `.first` or `last` give a different object every time?
>> That’s absurd.
>> Should an object lexicographically compare not equal to itself? Even more
>> absurd.
> What's your basis for saying that such behavior is absurd? It is
> explicitly permitted for instances of types conforming to `SpongeBob` to be
> single-pass and/or infinite. For a single-pass `SpongeBob`, `first` will
> certainly return a different value every time it is invoked.
> Is `first` mutating? No. Should it be? No! `first` and `last` are a peek
> at the state of the object.

You're right, `first` should not be mutating; that's actually an important
design consideration, as Ole pointed out, and it's not actually available
on `Sequence` for that reason. However, `first { _ in true }` is available
and is potentially mutating, as are all methods on Sequence by design.

Is `elementsEqual` (or *shudder* lexicographicallyEqual) reflexive? IMO it
> clearly should be. Especially with the “lexicographically” part—from
> everything I can find, a lexicographical ordering is by definition
> reflexive. Do you have a citation for the idea that lexicographical
> equality can legitimately be non-reflexive?

Clearly (tautologically?), such a function should be reflexive for any
argument ordered with respect to itself. However, if there is no
lexicographical comparison possible, then a thing cannot compare
lexicographically equal to anything, even itself.

A random number generator fulfills all the semantic requirements of
conforming to `SpongeBob`, and in fact I do just that in NumericAnnex
`first` gives a different value every time, and a randomly generated
`SpongeBob` would unsurprisingly compare lexicographically not equal to

> IMO that’s a bug in the implementation; lexicographical equality is
reflexive, period.

> Presumably the `elementsEqual` method contains something along these
lines (take from SequenceAlgorithms.swift.gyb):

    var iter1 = self.makeIterator()
    var iter2 = other.makeIterator()

> By creating two iterators, you’re mutating while iterating. Turns out
there’s even a warning against this in Sequence.swift:

/// Using Multiple Iterators
/// ========================
/// Whenever you use multiple iterators (or `for`-`in` loops) over a single
/// sequence, be sure you know that the specific sequence supports repeated
/// iteration, either because you know its concrete type or because the
/// sequence is also constrained to the `Collection` protocol.
/// Obtain each separate iterator from separate calls to the sequence's
/// `makeIterator()` method rather than by copying. Copying an iterator is
/// safe, but advancing one copy of an iterator by calling its `next()`
/// may invalidate other copies of that iterator. `for`-`in` loops are safe
/// this regard.

*> The default implementation of elementsEqual is therefore unsafe* because
it has the potential for using an invalidated iterator.

You are misunderstanding the warning in the second paragraph here. The
implementation (not a default implementation, unless I'm mistaken, as it
cannot be overridden) makes each iterator using separate calls to
`makeIterator()`, just as the documentation tells you to do. Calling next()
on one iterator does not invalidate the other iterator, because the second
is not a copy of the first.

You are, however, right that calling `rng.elementsEqual(rng)` is not
advised. It isn't unsafe; it's just not useful. That said, calling
`array.elementsEqual(array)` is equally safe and equally useless, and the
uselessness of such a reflexive comparison is neither here nor there.

On the other hand, if I have a collection of objects that I want iterated
> in a particular order, I can use a container that iterates in a specific,
> known, well-defined way, and use that to construct the sequence of
> objects.  That’s clearly an Iterable collection, but the guarantee is
> stronger than that. Since it iterates objects in a specific sequence, the
> logical way to express that would be `Sequence: Iterable`. Again, we’ve
> seen that before.
> Now, since a Sequence is guaranteed to iterate the same every time,
> suddenly our `first`, `last`, `drop*`, etc. methods have a meaning inherent
> to the collection itself, rather than a specific iteration.

What you call a "Sequence" here would have to be multi-pass, finite, and

> Ordered, yes, but it’s only admittedly poor wording that suggests
multi-pass, and I don’t think anything there suggests finite.

If a Sequence is "guaranteed to iterate the same every time," then surely
it must be multi-pass; what's the alternative?

> It would be better to say that the iteration order is well-defined. That
> will almost always mean documented, and usually predictable though
> obviously e.g. RNGs and iterating in random order will not be predictable
> by design.
> That's actually more semantically constrained than what Swift calls a
> `Collection` (which requires conforming types to be multi-pass and(?)
> finite). By contrast, Swift's `SpongeBob` protocol explicitly permits
> conforming single-pass, infinite, and/or unordered types.
> I think you’re talking about Sequence here, I’ve lost track of your
> nonsense by now. Yes, the current Swift protocol named Sequence allows
> unordered types. You seem to keep asserting that but not actually
> addressing my argument, which is *that allowing Sequences to be unordered
> with the current API is undesired and actively harmful, and should*
> *therefore** be changed*.

What is harmful about it?

> As long as it is possible to iterate over a `SpongeBob`, it is meaningful
> to ask what element is first obtained upon iteration or to drop the first
> element obtained upon iteration.
> And as long as iteration is not required to be repeatable (and it isn't),
> it is perfectly acceptable for these algorithms to return a different
> result every time.
> It is “meaningful” in the sense that it can technically be programmed. The
> actual results are meaningless beyond returning or dropping a random*
> element.
> *: Don’t nitpick the word “random”, you know exactly what I mean. It’s
> just shorter and no less clear than “technically more-or-less deterministic
> but not documented, not generally predictable, and probably but not
> necessarily consistent from one call to the next."
I fail to see the issue here. If it's not providing you with utility, then
don't use it. Since Collections do guarantee multi-pass iteration, Brent's
example of `set.dropFirst().reduce(set.first!, ...)` provides just one
instance where an unordered Collection can profitably make use of `first`.
Permitting generic algorithms that can operate on either arrays or sets,
for example, is the desired effect of having such a protocol; a generic
algorithm that takes a Collection can ask for the first element, and in the
case of an unordered Collection, an arbitrary element will do just fine.

> `first` is the first object in the Sequence. It doesn’t matter how the
>> sequence came to be in that order; it doesn’t matter whether or not the
>> sequence has already been iterated or how many times. `first` is the first
>> object that is, was, and always will be presented by the Sequence’s
>> Iterator. (Until the collection is mutated, obviously).
>> *To summarize,*
>> A Set has no intrinsic order. You can iterate over it, and a specific
>> iteration of a set has an order, but that order is not tied to the Set
>> itself beyond including all and only the items therein. Therefore, the Set
>> itself has no intrinsic `first`, `last`, lexicographical comparison, etc.;
>> only its iterations do, and they are not themselves Sets.
>> A Sequence does have an intrinsic order. The order of iteration reflects
>> the order inherent to the Sequence. Therefore, a Sequence has a `first`,
>> `last`, lexicographical comparison, etc.
>> Just in case it’s not obvious, `Set` here is pretty much interchangeable
>> with any other unordered iterable.
> What you want to call a "Sequence" is what Swift calls a `Collection`,
> with additional restrictions. What you want to be called "Iterable" is what
> Swift calls `Sequence` (or now, `SpongeBob`). Clearly, shuffling names will
> not make these protocols support any more functionality, so that can be put
> aside.
> No, no, no! What I want to call “Iterable” is specified below. It is about
> HALF of what’s currently in Sequence—the half that has to do with
> iterating, whence the name.
> What I want to call Sequence is precisely what Swift now calls
> Sequence—the methods that are in Iterable by virtue of adopting Iterable,
> PLUS some methods that only make sense on iterable groups of objects where
> the iteration order is well-defined.
> Now, with that out of the way, why do you think that only `Collection`
> types should have `first` and `last`? These helper properties and methods
> are simply convenient ways to spell things that can be done with
> `for...in`--the whole point of supplying them is to allow people to work
> with these types in a more functional style.
> Apparently “collection" was a bad choice of word. What I clearly meant was
> not the current Swift Collection protocol, but rather an unordered
> assemblage of objects. UnorderedCollection, perhaps, or if that’s still
> going to cause issues, try UnorderedAssemblage.  What `first` and `last`
> really mean in an UnorderedAssemblage is give me some object from the
> assembled objects, I don’t care which one. For which it’s much more clear
> to have an `anyObject()` as on NSSet; as another user has pointed out,
> `assemblage.makeIterator().next()` works just as well. (I just checked,
> and that’s actually how `first` is implemented. But it’s on Collection,
> which is guaranteed to be multipass,)

Again, the point of having a protocol-based design is to allow useful
_generic_ algorithms to be written; that `first` and `last` would be
equivalent to an arbitrary element in the case that a collection is
unordered is not at all an argument against these types conforming to
`Collection`; if anything, it's an argument for it. Just as
`Sequence.underestimatedCount` is equivalent to `Collection.count` for
types that conform to `Collection`, or the instance
`BinaryInteger.bitWidth` is equivalent to a static `bitWidth` for types
that conform to `FixedWidthInteger`.

> public protocol Iterable {
>>>>>   associatedtype Iterator: IteratorProtocol
>>>>>   func map<T>(...) -> [T] // Iterable where .Iterator.Element == T
>>>>>   func filter(...) -> [Iterator.Element] // Iterable where
>>>>> .Iterator.Element == Self.Iterator.Element
>>>>>   func forEach(...)
>>>>>   func makeIterator() -> Iterator
>>>>>   var underestimatedCount: Int { get }
>>>>> }
>>>>> public protocol Sequence: Iterable { // Maybe OrderedSequence just to
>>>>> make the well-defined-order requirement explicit
>>>>>   associatedtype SubSequence
>>>>>   func dropFirst(...)   -> SubSequence   // Sequence where
>>>>> .Iterator.Element == Self.Iterator.Element
>>>>>   func dropLast(...)    -> SubSequence   //    " "
>>>>>   func drop(while...)   -> SubSequence   //    " "
>>>>>   func prefix(...)      -> SubSequence   //    " "
>>>>>   func prefix(while...) -> SubSequence   //    " "
>>>>>   func suffix(...)      -> SubSequence   //    " "
>>>>>   func split(...where...)  -> [SubSequence] // Iterable where
>>>>> .Iterator.Element == (Sequence where .Iterator.Element ==
>>>>> Self.Iterator.Element)
>>>>> }
>> And just to be explicit,
>> struct Set: Iterable {…}
>> struct Dictionary: Iterable {…}
>> struct Array: Sequence {…}
>> etc.
>> Hopefully at some point:
>> struct OrderedSet: Sequence {…}
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