Understanding Types

by coatta 7/12/2008 11:03:00 PM

There's no better way to start a flame war (well at least among the geek crowd) than to boldy assert than untyped languages are unusable for any real software development, or on the flip side to assert that typed languages simply place useless barriers in the way of good programmers. But most of us simply take type systems (or the lack thereof) for granted, and types are often looked at in curious ways. For example, I've met C++ programmers who look at templates not so much as a typing mechanism, but as a clever way to get the compiler to generate the code they want with a minimum of actual C++ written. Many years ago, I read a paper that talked about the fundamentals of type systems; things like why type systems exist at all, what generic types are, why it makes sense to be able to treat types as first class entities within a programming language. This paper fundamentally altered the way that I viewed programming languages and type systems. And even though its an 'academic' paper, it is well-written and something that any programmer would find interesting (IMHO). As part of its effort to provide more services for practitioners, the ACM is allowing classic articles like this to be openly available to anyone whether they are an ACM member or not. So, you can find this paper by Cardelli and Wegner at http://doi2.acm.org/6041.6042. Read and enjoy!

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