Implementing Type Classes

Implementing Type Classes

John Peterson and Mark P. Jones, In Proceedings of ACM SIGPLAN Symposium on Programming Language Design and Implementation, ACM SIGPLAN, June 1993.


We describe the implementation of a type checker for the functional programming language Haskell that supports the use of type classes. This extends the type system of ML to support overloading (ad-hoc polymorphism) and can be used to implement features such as equality types and numeric overloading in a simple and general way.

The theory of type classes is well understood, but the practical issues involved in the implementation of such systems have not received a great deal of attention. In addition to the basic type checking algorithm, an implementation of type classes also requires some form of program transformation. In all current Haskell compilers this takes the form of dictionary conversion, using functions as hidden parameters to overloaded values. We present efficient techniques for type checking and dictionary conversion. A number of optimizations and extensions to the basic type class system are also described.

(Supported in part by grants from DARPA, contract number N00014-91-J-4043, and from NSF, contract number CCR-9104987.)

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