Dynamic Typing

In programming languages, a type system is a set of rules that assign a property called type to various constructs a computer program consists of, such as variables, expressions, functions or modules.[1] The main purpose of a type system is to reduce possibilities for bugs in computer programs[2] by defining interfaces between different parts of a computer program, and then checking that the parts have been connected in a consistent way. This checking can happen statically (at compile time), dynamically (at run time), or as a combination of static and dynamic checking. Type systems have other purposes as well, such as enabling certain compiler optimizations, allowing for multiple dispatch, providing a form of documentation, etc.

A type system associates a type with each computed value and, by examining the flow of these values, attempts to ensure or prove that no type errors can occur. The given type system in question determines exactly what constitutes a type error, but in general the aim is to prevent operations expecting a certain kind of value from being used with values for which that operation does not make sense (logic errors); memory errors will also be prevented. Type systems are often specified as part of programming languages, and built into the interpreters and compilers for them; although the type system of a language can be extended by optional tools that perform added kinds of checks using the language's original type syntax and grammar.

Usage overview

An example of a simple type system is that of the C language. The portions of a C program are the function definitions. One function is invoked by another function. The interface of a function states the name of the function and a list of values that are passed to the function's code. The code of an invoking function states the name of the invoked, along with the names of variables that hold values to pass to it. During execution, the values are placed into temporary storage, then execution jumps to the code of the invoked function. The invoked function's code accesses the values and makes use of them. If the instructions inside the function are written with the assumption of receiving an integer value, but the calling code passed a floating-point value, then the wrong result will be computed by the invoked function. The C compiler checks the type declared for each variable sent, against the type declared for each variable in the interface of the invoked function. If the types do not match, the compiler throws a compile-time error.

A compiler may also use the static type of a value to optimize the storage it needs and the choice of algorithms for operations on the value. In many C compilers the float data type, for example, is represented in 32 bits, in accord with the IEEE specification for single-precision floating point numbers. They will thus use floating-point-specific microprocessor operations on those values (floating-point addition, multiplication, etc.).

The depth of type constraints and the manner of their evaluation affect the typing of the language. A programming language may further associate an operation with varying concrete algorithms on each type in the case of type polymorphism. Type theory is the study of type systems, although the concrete type systems of programming languages originate from practical issues of computer architecture, compiler implementation, and language design.


Formally, type theory studies type systems. A programming language must have occurrence to type check using the type system whether at compile time or runtime, manually annotated or automatically inferred. As Mark Manasse concisely put it:[3]

The fundamental problem addressed by a type theory is to ensure that programs have meaning. The fundamental problem caused by a type theory is that meaningful programs may not have meanings ascribed to them. The quest for richer type systems results from this tension.

Assigning a data type, termed typing, gives meaning to a sequence of bits such as a value in memory or some object such as a variable. The hardware of a general purpose computer is unable to discriminate between for example a memory address and an instruction code, or between a character, an integer, or a floating-point number, because it makes no intrinsic distinction between any of the possible values that a sequence of bits might mean.[note 1] Associating a sequence of bits with a type conveys that meaning to the programmable hardware to form a symbolic system composed of that hardware and some program.

A program associates each value with at least one specific type, but it also can occur that one value is associated with many subtypes. Other entities, such as objects, modules, communication channels, dependencies can become associated with a type. Even a type can become associated with a type. An implementation of a type system could in theory associate identifications called data type (a type of a value), class (a type of an object), and kind (a type of a type, or metatype). These are the abstractions that typing can go through, on a hierarchy of levels contained in a system.

When a programming language evolves a more elaborate type system, it gains a more finely grained rule set than basic type checking, but this comes at a price when the type inferences (and other properties) become undecidable, and when more attention must be paid by the programmer to annotate code or to consider computer-related operations and functioning. It is challenging to find a sufficiently expressive type system that satisfies all programming practices in a type safe manner.

The more type restrictions that are imposed by the compiler, the more strongly typed a programming language is. Strongly typed languages often require the programmer to make explicit conversions in contexts where an implicit conversion would cause no harm. Pascal's type system has been described as "too strong" because, for example, the size of an array or string is part of its type, making some programming tasks difficult.[4][5]Haskell is also strongly typed but its types are automatically inferred so that explicit conversions are often (but not always) unnecessary.

A programming language compiler can also implement a dependent type or an effect system, which enables even more program specifications to be verified by a type checker. Beyond simple value-type pairs, a virtual "region" of code is associated with an "effect" component describing what is being done with what, and enabling for example to "throw" an error report. Thus the symbolic system may be a type and effect system, which endows it with more safety checking than type checking alone.

Whether automated by the compiler or specified by a programmer, a type system makes program behavior illegal that is outside the type-system rules. Advantages provided by programmer-specified type systems include:

  • Abstraction (or modularity) - Types enable programmers to think at a higher level than the bit or byte, not bothering with low-level implementation. For example, programmers can begin to think of a string as a set of character values instead of as a mere array of bytes. Higher still, types enable programmers to think about and express interfaces between two of any-sized subsystems. This enables more levels of localization so that the definitions required for interoperability of the subsystems remain consistent when those two subsystems communicate.
  • Documentation - In more expressive type systems, types can serve as a form of documentation clarifying the intent of the programmer. For example, if a programmer declares a function as returning a timestamp type, this documents the function when the timestamp type can be explicitly declared deeper in the code to be integer type.

Advantages provided by compiler-specified type systems include:

  • Optimization - Static type-checking may provide useful compile-time information. For example, if a type requires that a value must align in memory at a multiple of four bytes, the compiler may be able to use more efficient machine instructions.
  • Safety - A type system enables the compiler to detect meaningless or probably invalid code. For example, we can identify an expression 3 / "Hello, World" as invalid, when the rules do not specify how to divide an integer by a string. Strong typing offers more safety, but cannot guarantee complete type safety.

Type safety contributes to program correctness, but can only guarantee correctness at the cost of making the type checking itself an undecidable problem.[] In a type system with automated type checking a program may prove to run incorrectly yet be safely typed, and produce no compiler errors. Division by zero is an unsafe and incorrect operation, but a type checker running at compile time only doesn't scan for division by zero in most languages, and then it is left as a runtime error. To prove the absence of these more-general-than-types defects, other kinds of formal methods, collectively known as program analyses, are in common use. Alternatively, a sufficiently expressive type system, such as in dependently typed languages, can prevent these kinds of errors (for example, expressing the type of non-zero numbers). In addition software testing is an empirical method for finding errors that the type checker cannot detect.

Type checking

The process of verifying and enforcing the constraints of types--type checking--may occur either at compile-time (a static check) or at run-time. If a language specification requires its typing rules strongly (i.e., more or less allowing only those automatic type conversions that do not lose information), one can refer to the process as strongly typed, if not, as weakly typed. The terms are not usually used in a strict sense.

Static type checking

Static type checking is the process of verifying the type safety of a program based on analysis of a program's text (source code). If a program passes a static type checker, then the program is guaranteed to satisfy some set of type safety properties for all possible inputs.

Static type checking operates on program text. This allows detecting many bugs early in a development cycle, via fail-fast processes.

Static type checking can be considered a limited form of program verification (see type safety), and in a type-safe language, can be considered also an optimization. If a compiler can prove that a program is well-typed, then it does not need to emit dynamic safety checks, allowing the resulting compiled binary to run faster and to be smaller.

Static type checking for Turing-complete languages is inherently conservative. That is, if a type system is both sound (meaning that it rejects all incorrect programs) and decidable (meaning that it is possible to write an algorithm that determines whether a program is well-typed), then it will always be possible to define a program that is well-typed yet does not encounter runtime errors.[6] For example, consider a program containing the code:

if <complex test> then <do something> else <generate type error>

Even if the expression <complex test> always evaluates to true at run-time, most type checkers will reject the program as ill-typed, because it is difficult (if not impossible) for a static analyzer to determine that the else branch will not be taken.[7] Conversely, a static type checker will quickly detect type errors in rarely used code paths. Without static type checking, even code coverage tests with 100% coverage may be unable to find such type errors. The tests may fail to detect such type errors, because the combination of all places where values are created and all places where a certain value is used must be taken into account.

A number of useful and common programming language features cannot be checked statically, such as downcasting. Thus, many languages will have both static and dynamic type checking; the static type checker verifies what it can, and dynamic checks verify the rest.

Many languages with static type checking provide a way to bypass the type checker. Some languages allow programmers to choose between static and dynamic type safety. For example, C# distinguishes between statically-typed and dynamically-typed variables. Uses of the former are checked statically, whereas uses of the latter are checked dynamically. Other languages allow writing code that is not type-safe. For example, in C, programmers can freely cast a value between any two types that have the same size.

For a list of languages with static type checking, see the category for statically typed languages.

Dynamic type checking and runtime type information

Dynamic type checking is the process of verifying the type safety of a program at runtime. Implementations of dynamically type-checked languages generally associate each runtime object with a type tag (i.e., a reference to a type) containing its type information. This runtime type information (RTTI) can also be used to implement dynamic dispatch, late binding, downcasting, reflection, and similar features.

Most type-safe languages include some form of dynamic type checking, even if they also have a static type checker.[] The reason for this is that many useful features or properties are difficult or impossible to verify statically. For example, suppose that a program defines two types, A and B, where B is a subtype of A. If the program tries to convert a value of type A to type B, which is known as downcasting, then the operation is legal only if the value being converted is actually a value of type B. Thus, a dynamic check is needed to verify that the operation is safe. This requirement is one of the criticisms of downcasting.

By definition, dynamic type checking may cause a program to fail at runtime. In some programming languages, it is possible to anticipate and recover from these failures. In others, type-checking errors are considered fatal.

Programming languages that include dynamic type checking but not static type checking are often called "dynamically typed programming languages". For a list of such languages, see the category for dynamically typed programming languages.

Combining static and dynamic type checking

Some languages allow both static and dynamic typing (type checking), sometimes called soft typing. For example, Java and some other ostensibly statically typed languages support downcasting types to their subtypes, querying an object to discover its dynamic type, and other type operations that depend on runtime type information. More generally, most programming languages include mechanisms for dispatching over different 'kinds' of data, such as disjoint unions, subtype polymorphism, and variant types. Even when not interacting with type annotations or type checking, such mechanisms are materially similar to dynamic typing implementations. See programming language for more discussion of the interactions between static and dynamic typing.

Objects in object oriented languages are usually accessed by a reference whose static target type (or manifest type) is equal to either the object's run-time type (its latent type) or a supertype thereof. This is conformant with the Liskov substitution principle, which states that all operations performed on an instance of a given type can also be performed on an instance of a subtype. This concept is also known as subsumption. In some languages subtypes may also possess covariant or contravariant return types and argument types respectively.

Certain languages, for example Clojure, Common Lisp, or Cython are dynamically type-checked by default, but allow programs to opt into static type checking by providing optional annotations. One reason to use such hints would be to optimize the performance of critical sections of a program. This is formalized by gradual typing. The programming environment DrScheme, a pedagogic environment based on Lisp, and a precursor of the language Racket was also soft-typed.

Conversely, as of version 4.0, the C# language provides a way to indicate that a variable should not be statically type-checked. A variable whose type is dynamic will not be subject to static type checking. Instead, the program relies on runtime type information to determine how the variable may be used.[8]

Static and dynamic type checking in practice

The choice between static and dynamic typing requires certain trade-offs.

Static typing can find type errors reliably at compile time, which should increase the reliability of the delivered program. However, programmers disagree over how commonly type errors occur, resulting in further disagreements over the proportion of those bugs that are coded that would be caught by appropriately representing the designed types in code.[9][10] Static typing advocates believe programs are more reliable when they have been well type-checked, whereas dynamic-typing advocates[who?] point to distributed code that has proven reliable and to small bug databases.[] The value of static typing, then, presumably increases as the strength of the type system is increased. Advocates of dependent typing, implemented in languages such as Dependent ML and Epigram, have suggested that almost all bugs can be considered type errors, if the types used in a program are properly declared by the programmer or correctly inferred by the compiler.[11]

Static typing usually results in compiled code that executes faster. When the compiler knows the exact data types that are in use, it can produce optimized machine code. Further, compilers for statically typed languages can find assembler shortcuts more easily.[vague] Some dynamically typed languages such as Common Lisp allow optional type declarations for optimization for this reason. Static typing makes this[clarification needed] pervasive.[clarification needed]

By contrast, dynamic typing may allow compilers to run faster and interpreters to dynamically load new code, because changes to source code in dynamically typed languages may result in less checking to perform and less code to revisit.[clarification needed] This too may reduce the edit-compile-test-debug cycle.

Statically typed languages that lack type inference (such as C and Java) require that programmers declare the types that a method or function must use. This can serve as added program documentation, that is active and dynamic, instead of static. This allows a compiler to prevent it from drifting out of synchrony, and from being ignored by programmers. However, a language can be statically typed without requiring type declarations (examples include Haskell, Scala, OCaml, F#, and to a lesser extent C# and C++), so explicit type declaration is not a necessary requirement for static typing in all languages.

Dynamic typing allows constructs that some static type checking would reject as illegal. For example, eval functions, which execute arbitrary data as code, become possible. An eval function is possible with static typing, but requires advanced uses of algebraic data types. Further, dynamic typing better accommodates transitional code and prototyping, such as allowing a placeholder data structure (mock object) to be transparently used in place of a full data structure (usually for the purposes of experimentation and testing).

Dynamic typing typically allows duck typing (which enables easier code reuse). Many languages with static typing also feature duck typing or other mechanisms like generic programming that also enable easier code reuse.

Dynamic typing typically makes metaprogramming easier to use. For example, C++ templates are typically more cumbersome to write than the equivalent Ruby or Python code since C++ has stronger rules regarding type definitions (for both functions and variables). This forces a developer to write more boilerplate code for a template than a Python developer would need to. More advanced run-time constructs such as metaclasses and introspection are often harder to use in statically typed languages. In some languages, such features may also be used e.g. to generate new types and behaviors on the fly, based on run-time data. Such advanced constructs are often provided by dynamic programming languages; many of these are dynamically typed, although dynamic typing need not be related to dynamic programming languages.

Strong and weak type systems

Languages are often colloquially referred to as strongly typed or weakly typed. In fact, there is no universally accepted definition of what these terms mean. In general, there are more precise terms to represent the differences between type systems that lead people to call them "strong" or "weak".

Type safety and memory safety

A third way of categorizing the type system of a programming language uses the safety of typed operations and conversions. Computer scientists consider a language "type-safe" if it does not allow operations or conversions that violate the rules of the type system.

Some observers use the term memory-safe language (or just safe language) to describe languages that do not allow programs to access memory that has not been assigned for their use. For example, a memory-safe language will check array bounds, or else statically guarantee (i.e., at compile time before execution) that array accesses out of the array boundaries will cause compile-time and perhaps runtime errors.

Consider the following program of a language that is both type-safe and memory-safe:[12]

1 var x := 5;     
2 var y := "37";  
3 var z := x + y;

In this example, the variable z will have the value 42. Although this may not be what the programmer anticipated, it is a well-defined result. If y were a different string, one that could not be converted to a number (e.g. "Hello World"), the result would be well-defined as well. Note that a program can be type-safe or memory-safe and still crash on an invalid operation; in fact, if a program encounters an operation that is not type-safe, terminating the program is often the only option.

Now consider a similar example in C:

1 int x = 5;
2 char y[] = "37";
3 char* z = x + y;

In this example z will point to a memory address five characters beyond y, equivalent to three characters after the terminating zero character of the string pointed to by y. This is memory that the program is not expected to access. It may contain garbage data, and it certainly doesn't contain anything useful. As this example shows, C is neither a memory-safe nor a type-safe language.

In general, type-safety and memory-safety go hand in hand. For example, a language that supports pointer arithmetic and number-to-pointer conversions (like C) is neither memory-safe nor type-safe, because it allows arbitrary memory to be accessed as if it were valid memory of any type.

For more information, see memory safety.

Variable levels of type checking

Some languages allow different levels of checking to apply to different regions of code. Examples include:

  • The use strict directive in JavaScript[13][14][15] and Perl applies stronger checking.
  • The declare(strict_types=1) in PHP[16] on a per-file basis allows only a variable of exact type of the type declaration will be accepted, or a TypeError will be thrown.
  • The Option Strict On in VB.NET allows the compiler to require a conversion between objects.

Additional tools such as lint and IBM Rational Purify can also be used to achieve a higher level of strictness.

Optional type systems

It has been proposed, chiefly by Gilad Bracha, that the choice of type system be made independent of choice of language; that a type system should be a module that can be plugged into a language as needed. He believes this is advantageous, because what he calls mandatory type systems make languages less expressive and code more fragile.[17] The requirement that types do not affect the semantics of the language is difficult to fulfill. For example, class-based inheritance becomes impossible.[]

Optional typing is related to gradual typing, but still distinct from it.[18][better source needed]

Polymorphism and types

The term polymorphism refers to the ability of code (especially, methods or classes) to act on values of multiple types, or to the ability of different instances of the same data structure to contain elements of different types. Type systems that allow polymorphism generally do so in order to improve the potential for code re-use: in a language with polymorphism, programmers need only implement a data structure such as a list or an associative array once, rather than once for each type of element with which they plan to use it. For this reason computer scientists sometimes call the use of certain forms of polymorphism generic programming. The type-theoretic foundations of polymorphism are closely related to those of abstraction, modularity and (in some cases) subtyping.

Duck typing

In duck typing,[19] a statement calling a method m on an object does not rely on the declared type of the object; only that the object, of whatever type, must supply an implementation of the method called, when called, at run-time.

Duck typing differs from structural typing in that, if the part (of the whole module structure) needed for a given local computation is present at runtime, the duck type system is satisfied in its type identity analysis. On the other hand, a structural type system would require the analysis of the whole module structure at compile time to determine type identity or type dependence.

Duck typing differs from a nominative type system in a number of aspects. The most prominent ones are that for duck typing, type information is determined at runtime (as contrasted to compile time), and the name of the type is irrelevant to determine type identity or type dependence; only partial structure information is required for that for a given point in the program execution.

Duck typing uses the premise that (referring to a value) "if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck" (this is a reference to the duck test that is attributed to James Whitcomb Riley). The term may have been coined[] by Alex Martelli in a 2000 message[20] to the comp.lang.python newsgroup (see Python).

While one controlled experiment showed an increase in developer productivity for duck typing in single developer projects,[21] other controlled experiments on API usability show the opposite.[22][23]

Specialized type systems

Many type systems have been created that are specialized for use in certain environments with certain types of data, or for out-of-band static program analysis. Frequently, these are based on ideas from formal type theory and are only available as part of prototype research systems.

Dependent types

Dependent types are based on the idea of using scalars or values to more precisely describe the type of some other value. For example, might be the type of a matrix. We can then define typing rules such as the following rule for matrix multiplication:

where , , are arbitrary positive integer values. A variant of ML called Dependent ML has been created based on this type system, but because type checking for conventional dependent types is undecidable, not all programs using them can be type-checked without some kind of limits. Dependent ML limits the sort of equality it can decide to Presburger arithmetic.

Other languages such as Epigram make the value of all expressions in the language decidable so that type checking can be decidable. However, in general proof of decidability is undecidable, so many programs require hand-written annotations that may be very non-trivial. As this impedes the development process, many language implementations provide an easy way out in the form of an option to disable this condition. This, however, comes at the cost of making the type-checker run in an infinite loop when fed programs that do not type-check, causing the compilation to fail.

Linear types

Linear types, based on the theory of linear logic, and closely related to uniqueness types, are types assigned to values having the property that they have one and only one reference to them at all times. These are valuable for describing large immutable values such as files, strings, and so on, because any operation that simultaneously destroys a linear object and creates a similar object (such as 'str= str + "a"') can be optimized "under the hood" into an in-place mutation. Normally this is not possible, as such mutations could cause side effects on parts of the program holding other references to the object, violating referential transparency. They are also used in the prototype operating system Singularity for interprocess communication, statically ensuring that processes cannot share objects in shared memory in order to prevent race conditions. The Clean language (a Haskell-like language) uses this type system in order to gain a lot of speed (compared to performing a deep copy) while remaining safe.

Intersection types

Intersection types are types describing values that belong to both of two other given types with overlapping value sets. For example, in most implementations of C the signed char has range -128 to 127 and the unsigned char has range 0 to 255, so the intersection type of these two types would have range 0 to 127. Such an intersection type could be safely passed into functions expecting either signed or unsigned chars, because it is compatible with both types.

Intersection types are useful for describing overloaded function types: For example, if "int -> int" is the type of functions taking an integer argument and returning an integer, and "float -> float" is the type of functions taking a float argument and returning a float, then the intersection of these two types can be used to describe functions that do one or the other, based on what type of input they are given. Such a function could be passed into another function expecting an "int -> int" function safely; it simply would not use the "float -> float" functionality.

In a subclassing hierarchy, the intersection of a type and an ancestor type (such as its parent) is the most derived type. The intersection of sibling types is empty.

The Forsythe language includes a general implementation of intersection types. A restricted form is refinement types.

Union types

Union types are types describing values that belong to either of two types. For example, in C, the signed char has a -128 to 127 range, and the unsigned char has a 0 to 255 range, so the union of these two types would have an overall "virtual" range of -128 to 255 that may be used partially depending on which union member is accessed. Any function handling this union type would have to deal with integers in this complete range. More generally, the only valid operations on a union type are operations that are valid on both types being unioned. C's "union" concept is similar to union types, but is not typesafe, as it permits operations that are valid on either type, rather than both. Union types are important in program analysis, where they are used to represent symbolic values whose exact nature (e.g., value or type) is not known.

In a subclassing hierarchy, the union of a type and an ancestor type (such as its parent) is the ancestor type. The union of sibling types is a subtype of their common ancestor (that is, all operations permitted on their common ancestor are permitted on the union type, but they may also have other valid operations in common).

Existential types

Existential types are frequently used in connection with record types to represent modules and abstract data types, due to their ability to separate implementation from interface. For example, the type "T = ?X { a: X; f: (X -> int); }" describes a module interface that has a data member named a of type X and a function named f that takes a parameter of the same type X and returns an integer. This could be implemented in different ways; for example:

  • intT = { a: int; f: (int -> int); }
  • floatT = { a: float; f: (float -> int); }

These types are both subtypes of the more general existential type T and correspond to concrete implementation types, so any value of one of these types is a value of type T. Given a value "t" of type "T", we know that "t.f(t.a)" is well-typed, regardless of what the abstract type X is. This gives flexibility for choosing types suited to a particular implementation while clients that use only values of the interface type--the existential type--are isolated from these choices.

In general it's impossible for the typechecker to infer which existential type a given module belongs to. In the above example intT { a: int; f: (int -> int); } could also have the type ?X { a: X; f: (int -> int); }. The simplest solution is to annotate every module with its intended type, e.g.:

  • intT = { a: int; f: (int -> int); } as ?X { a: X; f: (X -> int); }

Although abstract data types and modules had been implemented in programming languages for quite some time, it wasn't until 1988 that John C. Mitchell and Gordon Plotkin established the formal theory under the slogan: "Abstract [data] types have existential type".[24] The theory is a second-order typed lambda calculus similar to System F, but with existential instead of universal quantification.

Gradual typing

Gradual typing is a type system in which variables may be typed either at compile-time (which is static typing) or at run-time (which is dynamic typing), allowing software developers to choose either type paradigm as appropriate, from within a single language.[25] In particular, gradual typing uses a special type named dynamic to represent statically-unknown types, and gradual typing replaces the notion of type equality with a new relation called consistency that relates the dynamic type to every other type. The consistency relation is symmetric but not transitive.[26]

Explicit or implicit declaration and inference

Many static type systems, such as those of C and Java, require type declarations: The programmer must explicitly associate each variable with a specific type. Others, such as Haskell's, perform type inference: The compiler draws conclusions about the types of variables based on how programmers use those variables. For example, given a function f(x, y) that adds x and y together, the compiler can infer that x and y must be numbers - since addition is only defined for numbers. Thus, any call to f elsewhere in the program that specifies a non-numeric type (such as a string or list) as an argument would signal an error.

Numerical and string constants and expressions in code can and often do imply type in a particular context. For example, an expression 3.14 might imply a type of floating-point, while [1, 2, 3] might imply a list of integers - typically an array.

Type inference is in general possible, if it is decidable in the type theory in question. Moreover, even if inference is undecidable in general for a given type theory, inference is often possible for a large subset of real-world programs. Haskell's type system, a version of Hindley-Milner, is a restriction of System F? to so-called rank-1 polymorphic types, in which type inference is decidable. Most Haskell compilers allow arbitrary-rank polymorphism as an extension, but this makes type inference undecidable. (Type checking is decidable, however, and rank-1 programs still have type inference; higher rank polymorphic programs are rejected unless given explicit type annotations.)

Unified type system

Some languages like Perl 6 or C# have a unified type system.[27] This means that all C# types including primitive types inherit from a single root object. Every type in C# inherits from the Object class. Java has several primitive types that are not objects. Java provides wrapper object types that exist together with the primitive types so developers can use either the wrapper object types or the simpler non-object primitive types.

Compatibility: equivalence and subtyping

A type-checker for a statically typed language must verify that the type of any expression is consistent with the type expected by the context in which that expression appears. For example, in an assignment statement of the form x := e, the inferred type of the expression e must be consistent with the declared or inferred type of the variable x. This notion of consistency, called compatibility, is specific to each programming language.

If the type of e and the type of x are the same, and assignment is allowed for that type, then this is a valid expression. Thus, in the simplest type systems, the question of whether two types are compatible reduces to that of whether they are equal (or equivalent). Different languages, however, have different criteria for when two type expressions are understood to denote the same type. These different equational theories of types vary widely, two extreme cases being structural type systems, in which any two types that describe values with the same structure are equivalent, and nominative type systems, in which no two syntactically distinct type expressions denote the same type (i.e., types must have the same "name" in order to be equal).

In languages with subtyping, the compatibility relation is more complex. In particular, if A is a subtype of B, then a value of type A can be used in a context where one of type B is expected, even if the reverse is not true. Like equivalence, the subtype relation is defined differently for each programming language, with many variations possible. The presence of parametric or ad hoc polymorphism in a language may also have implications for type compatibility.


  1. ^ The Burroughs ALGOL computer line determined a memory location's contents by its flag bits. Flag bits specify the contents of a memory location. Instruction, data type, and functions are specified by a 3 bit code in addition to its 48 bit contents. Only the MCP (Master Control Program) could write to the flag code bits.

See also


  1. ^ Pierce 2002, p. 1: "A type system is a tractable syntactic method for proving the absence of certain program behaviors by classifying phrases according to the kinds of values they compute."
  2. ^ Cardelli 2004, p. 1: "The fundamental purpose of a type system is to prevent the occurrence of execution errors during the running of a program."
  3. ^ Pierce 2002, p. 208.
  4. ^ Infoworld 25 April 1983
  5. ^ Brian Kernighan: Why Pascal is not my favorite language
  6. ^ R´emy, Didier. "Type systems for programming languages" (PDF). Retrieved 2013. 
  7. ^ Pierce 2002.
  8. ^ "dynamic (C# Reference)". MSDN Library. Microsoft. Retrieved 2014. 
  9. ^ Meijer, Erik; Drayton, Peter. "Static Typing Where Possible, Dynamic Typing When Needed: The End of the Cold War Between Programming Languages" (PDF). Microsoft Corporation. 
  10. ^ Laucher, Amanda; Snively, Paul. "Types vs Tests". InfoQ. 
  11. ^ Xi, Hongwei; Scott, Dana (1998). "Dependent Types in Practical Programming". Proceedings of ACM SIGPLAN Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages. ACM Press: 214-227. CiteSeerX accessible. 
  12. ^ Visual Basic is an example of a language that is both type-safe and memory-safe.
  13. ^ Standard ECMA-262. Ecma-international.org. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  14. ^ Strict mode - JavaScript | MDN. Developer.mozilla.org (2013-07-03). Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  15. ^ Strict Mode (JavaScript). Msdn.microsoft.com. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.
  16. ^ Strict typing
  17. ^ Bracha, G.: Pluggable Types
  18. ^ https://stackoverflow.com/a/13414347/975097
  19. ^ Rozsnyai, S.; Schiefer, J.; Schatten, A. (2007). "Concepts and models for typing events for event-based systems". Proceedings of the 2007 inaugural international conference on Distributed event-based systems - DEBS '07. p. 62. doi:10.1145/1266894.1266904. ISBN 9781595936653. 
  20. ^ Martelli, Alex (26 July 2000). "Re: polymorphism (was Re: Type checking in python?)". Usenet: 8lmvn6017l@news1.newsguy.com. 
  21. ^ Stefan Hanenberg. "An experiment about static and dynamic type systems: doubts about the positive impact of static type systems on development time". OOPSLA 2010.
  22. ^ Kleinschmager, Hanenberg, Robbes, Tanter, Stefik: Do static type systems improve the maintainability of software systems? An empirical study. ICPC 2012
  23. ^ Hanenberg, Kleinschmager, S.Robbes, R.Tanter, Stefik: An empirical study on the impact of static typing on software maintainability, ESE 2014
  24. ^ Mitchell, John C.; Plotkin, Gordon D.; Abstract Types Have Existential Type, ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems, Vol. 10, No. 3, July 1988, pp. 470-502
  25. ^ Siek, Jeremy. "What is gradual typing?". 
  26. ^ Siek, Jeremy; Taha, Walid (September 2006). Gradual Typing for Functional Languages (PDF). Scheme and Functional Programming 2006. University of Chicago. pp. 81-92. 
  27. ^ Standard ECMA-334, 8.2.4 Type system unification.

Further reading

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