On Regions and Linear Types

David Walker and Kevin Watkins

To appear at International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP01), Firenze, Italy, 3-5 September 2001


We explore how two different mechanisms for reasoning about state, linear typing and the type, region and effect discipline, complement one another in the design of a strongly typed functional programming language. The basis for our language is a simple lambda calculus containing first-class memory regions, which are explicitly passed as arguments to functions, returned as results and stored in user-defined data structures. In order to ensure appropriate memory safety properties, we draw upon the literature on linear type systems to help control access to and deallocation of regions. In fact, we use two different interpretations of linear types, one in which multiple-use values are freely copied and discarded and one in which multiple-use values are explicitly reference-counted, and show that both interpretations give rise to interesting invariants for manipulating regions. We also explore new programming paradigms that arise by mixing first-class regions and conventional linear data structures.

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