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path: root/doc/type-system.md
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authorMarion Zepf <marion.zepf@gmail.com>2013-10-29 21:25:26 (GMT)
committer Walter Bender <walter@sugarlabs.org>2013-10-29 21:25:26 (GMT)
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+The TA Type System
+Why do we Need a Type System?
+The purpose of the type system is to have a consistent and
+standardized way of type-checking and type-converting the
+arguments of blocks. For example, the 'minus' block takes two
+arguments of type TYPE_NUMBER. But that doesn't mean that only
+number blocks can be attached to its argument docks. In fact,
+colors, single characters, and numeric strings (like `"-5.2"`)
+can easily be converted to numbers. The type system takes care
+of this. When e.g., a color is attached to the argument dock of
+the 'minus' block, the type system tries to find a converter
+from the type TYPE_COLOR (the type of the color block) to the
+type TYPE_NUMBER. If it finds one (and in this case it does),
+then the converter is applied to the argument. A converter is
+simply a callable (usually a function) and applying it simply
+means calling it and passing it the value of the argument block
+as a parameter. The converter returns the number that cor-
+responds to the color, and the number is passed on to the
+'minus' block. This way, the 'minus' block does not have to know
+about colors, characters, or numeric strings. Likewise, the
+color block also does not have to care about how its value can
+be converted to a number.
+Why do some Blocks Need Return Types?
+The argument to the 'minus' block (to continue our example) need
+not be a simple value block; it can also be the result of a
+complex mathematical operation, i.e. the return type of another
+block such as 'multiply'. The 'minus' block still demands a
+value of type TYPE_NUMBER, so the 'multiply' block must provide
+information about its return type. This is why blocks that can
+be used as arguments to other blocks must specify a return type.
+What if I want to Specify Two Types at the Same Time?
+You can use the function `or_` (defined in `taprimitive.py`) to
+create disjunctions of `Primitive`s, argument lists, `ArgSlot`s,
+or types. Simply pass the disjuncts to it as its arguments.
+E.g., to create a disjunction between the types TYPE_NUMBER and
+The return value of the `or_` function will in this case be a
+`TypeDisjunction` object that holds the two types. It means the
+same as 'TYPE_NUMBER or TYPE_STRING' in English. The `or_`
+function knows automatically from the type of its arguments
+which type of object it must return.
+What if it is Impossible to Predict the Return Type of a Block?
+In the case of the 'box' block, for example, it is impossible to
+predict what type it will return at runtime because one cannot
+foresee what will be inside the box at runtime. (E.g., the box
+contents could depend on input from the keyboard or camera.)
+This is where the special type TYPE_BOX comes in handy. It
+allows you to postpone the search for a type converter until the
+type of the box contents is known. As soon as this is the case,
+the type system will automatically apply the appropriate type
+How to Add a New Type
+To add a new type to the type system, you need to instantiate a
+new `Type` object and store it in a constant whose name starts
+with `TYPE_`. You would do this in `tatype.py`:
+The number argument to the `Type` constructor can have an
+arbitrary value, as long as it is different from the value of
+every other `Type` object.
+You also need to tell the type system how to recognize runtime
+objects that belong to your type. Add one or several new `elif`
+clauses to the `get_type` function. E.g., if you are defining a
+new type for dictionaries, you would add the clauses
+ elif isinstance(x, dict):
+ return (TYPE_DICT, False)
+ elif isinstance(x, ast.Dict):
+ return (TYPE_DICT, True)
+The second item of the tuple that `get_type` returns indicates
+whether `x` is an AST (Abstract Syntax Tree) or not. Only
+instances of subclasses of `ast.AST` are ASTs.
+Optionally, you can add converters for the new type. You can do
+so by extending the dictionary `TYPE_CONVERTERS` in `tatype.py`.
+The format is quite simple: To add a converter from your type to
+e.g., TYPE_FLOAT, add the entry:
+ # ...
+ # ...
+ TYPE_FLOAT: float
+ # ...
+ }
+ # ...
+ }
+Note that it is not obligatory to use the function `float` as
+the converter to the type TYPE_FLOAT. In fact, you can use any
+function or method. Please make sure that the converter accepts
+arguments of the source type (here, TYPE_MYTYPE) and returns a
+value of the target type (here, TYPE_FLOAT). The converter must
+not throw any errors.