Tag Archives: associated reference

Lifetime crisis

This is one of such embarrassing moments when I have to admit that because of lack of proper design I fell into trouble. I’ve been recently working on adding lifetime checks to Skila and I found more problems than expected.

let iter = coll.getIterator();

This benign piece killed the idea of not adding any new features — I already have pointers and references, but since collection can be on stack or on heap I would need to add something in between. A pointer with limited lifetime — this way I could tie up coll with iter — if it is regular pointer with global lifetime, go ahead be global. But if not — iterator needs to be local.

Or I could perform boxing on fly… C# has this feature and I hate it — it is difficult to see with naked eye performance offending code.

let elem = coll[index];

I use references with indexer so this would lead to cherished undefined behavior. The easiest way would be to change semantics and working with values, two other approaches would require reworking entire language — I could go Rust way with ownership or functional way with immutable data (collection could not be altered, thus all references would be guaranteed to be valid).

foreach (let elem in coll)

Here Rust simply shines detecting the problem in compile time. This is the least problematic piece though, because one way or another it will always work correctly, maybe only surprisingly.

Honestly those problems undermine entire Skila existence — I wanted to get easy, likeable yet performant language. And I don’t see it on the horizon.

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Associated reference

I’ve just made up the term “associated reference”. While many features in Skila are simply borrowed from other languages I have never encountered this one before. And it looks bad — it is complex, fragile and I would gladly get rid of it, but I can’t, and here is why…

Consider such case as passing few arguments to C# variadic function. Variadic parameters in C# are arrays, arrays are allocated on heap, and this is inefficient. Skila has limited support for C++ like references, so in Skila we create array on stack and pass a reference to it to the function. It is efficient. Step one sounds good?

Step two — we are inside the function and we would like to iterate over the variadic parameter. We need an iterator for it, and in turn iterator needs a collection to iterate over. Passing the collection as a value would mean copying collection, passing it as a pointer is desirable, but in a case like the current one we don’t have a pointer, just a reference. So the reference is the only option. The logic looks sound.

Step three — we need to store that reference inside iterator instance. And this makes the iterator a special kind of type — an associated reference.

Once introduced, all hell with validation breaks loose. For example associated reference type can have only single field with reference, it can have only one constructor with single parameter, which is of reference type. The associated reference type can be passed only by reference and its lifetime has to be limited to the life of the “seed” instance.

Fragile, complex, first feature which does not seem right.

And yet the only alternative I see is redesigning the concept of a stack by allowing to partially unwind it (to preserve referenced instances). At first glance it looks even worse than associated reference so I stick with it for a while.

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