Compositional Explanation of Types and Algorithmic Debugging of Type Errors

Olaf Chitil

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


The type systems of most typed functional programming languages are based on the Hindley-Milner type system. A practical problem with these type systems is that it is often hard to understand why a program is not type correct or a function does not have the intended type. We suggest that at the core of this problem is the difficulty of explaining why a given expression has a certain type. The type system is not defined compositionally. Here we propose to explain types using a variant of the Hindley-Milner type system that defines a compositional type explanation graph. We describe how the programmer understands types by interactive navigation through the explanation graph. Furthermore, the explanation graph can be the foundation for algorithmic debugging of type errors, that is, semi-automatic localisation of the source of a type error without even having to understand the type inference steps. We implemented a prototype of a tool to explore the usefulness of the proposed methods.

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