Writing an interpreter with OCaml GADTs


I am writing a small interpreter in OCaml and am using GADTs to type my expressions:

type _ value = | Bool : bool -> bool value | Int : int -> int value | Symbol : string -> string value | Nil : unit value | Pair : 'a value * 'b value -> ('a * 'b) value and _ exp = | Literal : 'a value -> 'a exp | Var : name -> 'a exp | If : bool exp * 'a exp * 'a exp -> 'a exp and name = string exception NotFound of string type 'a env = (name * 'a) list let bind (n, v, e) = (n, v)::e let rec lookup = function | (n, []) -> raise (NotFound n) | (n, (n', v)::e') -> if n=n' then v else lookup (n, e') let rec eval : type a. a exp -> a value env -> a value = fun e rho -> match e with | Literal v -> v | Var n -> lookup (n, rho) | If (b, l, r) -> let Bool b' = eval b rho in if b' then eval l rho else eval r rho

But I cannot get my code to compile. I get the following error:

File "gadt2.ml", line 33, characters 33-36: Error: This expression has type a value env = (name * a value) list but an expression was expected of type bool value env = (name * bool value) list Type a is not compatible with type bool

My understanding is that for some reason rho is being coerced into a bool value env, but I don't know why. I also tried the following:

let rec eval : 'a. 'a exp -> 'a value env -> 'a value = fun e rho -> match e with | Literal v -> v | Var n -> lookup (n, rho) | If (b, l, r) -> let Bool b = eval b rho in if b then eval l rho else eval r rho

But I am not sure how exactly that is different, and it also gives me an error -- albeit a different one:

File "gadt2.ml", line 38, characters 56-247: Error: This definition has type bool exp -> bool value env -> bool value which is less general than 'a. 'a exp -> 'a value env -> 'a value

Guidance on GADTs, differences between the two evals, and this particular problem are all appreciated. Cheers.


The type 'a env is intended to represent a list of name/value bindings, but the values in a list must all be the same type. Two different value types (such as bool value and int value) are not the same type. If eval b rho returns Bool b, rho must be a list of string * bool value. So eval l rho and eval r rho will return bool value. But your annotation says the function returns a value.


There are a few possible approaches to typed binding with GADTs. Here's a design that associates type info with both variables and environment entries.

Environment lookup involves attempting to construct a correspondence between the types of the variable and the environment entry (which is a bit slow, but does recover the type in a safe way). This is what allows the lookup to return an unwrapped value of arbitrary type.

type var = string type _ ty = | TyInt : int ty | TyArrow : 'a ty * 'b ty -> ('a -> 'b) ty type _ term = | Int : int -> int term | Var : 'a ty * var -> 'a term | Lam : 'a ty * var * 'b term -> ('a -> 'b) term | App : ('a -> 'b) term * 'a term -> 'b term type ('a, 'b) eq = Refl : ('a, 'a) eq let rec types_equal : type a b . a ty -> b ty -> (a, b) eq option = fun a b -> match a, b with | TyInt, TyInt -> Some Refl | TyArrow (x1, y1), TyArrow (x2, y2) -> begin match types_equal x1 x2, types_equal y1 y2 with | Some Refl, Some Refl -> Some Refl | _, _ -> None end | _, _ -> None type env = Nil | Cons : var * 'a ty * 'a * env -> env let rec lookup : type a . a ty -> var -> env -> a = fun ty var -> function | Nil -> raise Not_found | Cons (xname, xty, x, rest) -> if var = xname then match types_equal ty xty with | Some Refl -> x | None -> assert false else lookup ty var rest let rec eval : type a . env -> a term -> a = fun env -> function | Int n -> n | Var (ty, var) -> lookup ty var env | App (f, x) -> (eval env f) (eval env x) | Lam (arg_ty, arg_name, body) -> fun arg_value -> eval (Cons (arg_name, arg_ty, arg_value, env)) body

It is possible to have a typed interpreter that avoids the type reconstruction (and the string comparison!) by enforcing the correspondence between variable indices and environments at the type level, but that gets complicated.


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