Strongly Typed Memory Areas

Strongly Typed Memory Areas: Programming Systems-Level Data Structures in a Functional Language

Iavor S. Diatchki, and Mark P. Jones. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN 2006 Haskell Workshop, Portland, Oregon, September 2006.


Modern functional languages offer several attractive features to support development of reliable and secure software. However, in our efforts to use Haskell for systems programming tasks---including device driver and operating system construction---we have also encountered some significant gaps in functionality. As a result, we have been forced, either to code some non-trivial components in more traditional but unsafe languages like C or assembler, or else to adopt aspects of the foreign function interface that compromise on strong typing and type safety.

In this paper, we describe how we have filled one of these gaps by extending a Haskell-like language with facilities for working directly with low-level, memory-based data structures. Using this extension, we are able to program a wide range of examples, including hardware interfaces, kernel data structures, and operating system APIs. Our design allows us to address concerns about representation, alignment, and placement (in virtual or physical address spaces) that are critical in some systems applications, but clearly beyond the scope of most existing functional languages.

Our approach leverages type system features that are well-known and widely supported in existing Haskell implementations, including kinds, multiple parameter type classes, functional dependencies, and improvement. One interesting feature is the use of a syntactic abbreviation that makes it easy to define and work with functions at the type level.

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