Infoscience

Thesis

Object-oriented pattern matching

Pattern matching is a programming language construct considered essential in functional programming. Its purpose is to inspect and decompose data. Instead, object-oriented programming languages do not have a dedicated construct for this purpose. A possible reason for this is that pattern matching is useful when data is defined separately from operations on the data – a scenario that clashes with the object-oriented motto of grouping data and operations. However, programmers are frequently confronted with situations where there is no alternative to expressing data and operations separately – because most data is neither stored in nor does it originate from an object-oriented context. Consequently, object-oriented programmers, too, are in need for elegant and concise solutions to the problem of decomposing data. To this end, we propose a built-in pattern matching construct compatible with object-oriented programming. We claim that it leads to more concise and readable code than standard object-oriented approaches. A pattern in our approach is any computable way of testing and deconstructing an object and binding relevant parts to local names. We introduce pattern matching in two variants, case classes and extractors. We compare the readability, extensibility and performance of built-in pattern matching in these two variants with standard decomposition techniques. It turns out that standard object-oriented approaches to decomposing data are not extensible. Case classes, which have been studied before, require a low notational overhead, but expose their representation, making them hard to change later. The novel extractor mechanism offers loose coupling and extensibility, but comes with a performance overhead. We present a formalization of object-oriented pattern matching with extractors. This is done by giving definitions and proving standard properties for a calculus that provides pattern matching as described before. We then give a formal, optimizing translation from the calculus including pattern matching to its fragment without pattern matching, and prove it correct. Finally, we consider non-obvious interactions between the pattern matching and parametric polymorphism. We review the technique of generalized algebraic data types from functional programming, and show how it can be carried over to the object-oriented style. The main tool is the extension of the type system with subtype constraints, which leads to a very expressive metatheory. Through this theory, we are able to express patterns that operate on existentially quantified types purely by universally quantified extractors.

Keywords: programming language ; type systems ; pattern matching ; object-oriented programming ; data abstraction ; semantics ; compiler construction

Thèse École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL, n° 3899 (2007)
Programme doctoral Informatique, Communications et Information
Faculté informatique et communications
Institut d'informatique fondamentale
Laboratoire de méthodes de programmation 1
Jury: Don Syme, Matthias Zenger, Viktor Kuncak

Public defense: 2007-10-26

Reference

Record created on 2007-08-02, modified on 2013-10-02