A Generic Approach to Flow-Sensitive Polymorphic Effects

Colin S. Gordon

Proceedings of the 31st European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming (ECOOP 2017), Barcelona, Spain, June 2017.
Acceptance Rate 33.3% (27/81)
To Appear.

Effect systems are lightweight extensions to type systems that can verify a wide range of important properties with modest developer burden. But our general understanding of effect systems is limited primarily to systems where the order of effects is irrelevant. Understanding such systems in terms of a lattice of effects grounds understanding of the essential issues, and provides guidance when designing new effect systems. By contrast, sequential effect systems — where the order of effects is important — lack a clear algebraic characterization.

We derive an algebraic characterization from the shape of prior concrete sequential effect systems. We present an abstract polymorphic effect system with singleton effects parameterized by an effect quantale — an algebraic structure with well-defined properties that can model a range of existing order-sensitive effect systems. We define effect quantales, derive useful properties, and show how they cleanly model a variety of known sequential effect systems. We show that effect quantales provide a free, general notion of iterating a sequential effect, and that for systems we consider the derived iteration agrees with the manually designed iteration operators in prior work. Identifying and applying the right algebraic structure led us to subtle insights into the design of order-sensitive effect systems, which provides guidance on non-obvious points of designing order-sensitive effect systems. Effect quantales have clear relationships to the recent category theoretic work on order-sensitive effect systems, but are explained without recourse to category theory. In addition, some of our derived constructs (iteration) should generalize to these semantic structures, addressing limitations of that work.

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