Chapter 12 Language extensions

3 Private types

Private type declarations in module signatures, of the form type t = private ..., enable libraries to reveal some, but not all aspects of the implementation of a type to clients of the library. In this respect, they strike a middle ground between abstract type declarations, where no information is revealed on the type implementation, and data type definitions and type abbreviations, where all aspects of the type implementation are publicized. Private type declarations come in three flavors: for variant and record types (section ‍12.3.1), for type abbreviations (section ‍12.3.2), and for row types (section ‍12.3.3).

3.1 Private variant and record types

(Introduced in Objective Caml 3.07)

type-representation::= ...
 =private [ | ] constr-decl { |constr-decl }

Values of a variant or record type declared private can be de-structured normally in pattern-matching or via the expr . field notation for record accesses. However, values of these types cannot be constructed directly by constructor application or record construction. Moreover, assignment on a mutable field of a private record type is not allowed.

The typical use of private types is in the export signature of a module, to ensure that construction of values of the private type always go through the functions provided by the module, while still allowing pattern-matching outside the defining module. For example:

module M : sig type t = private A | B of int val a : t val b : int -> t end = struct type t = A | B of int let a = A let b n = assert (n > 0); B n end

Here, the private declaration ensures that in any value of type M.t, the argument to the B constructor is always a positive integer.

With respect to the variance of their parameters, private types are handled like abstract types. That is, if a private type has parameters, their variance is the one explicitly given by prefixing the parameter by a ‘+’ or a ‘-’, it is invariant otherwise.

3.2 Private type abbreviations

(Introduced in Objective Caml 3.11)

type-equation::= ...

Unlike a regular type abbreviation, a private type abbreviation declares a type that is distinct from its implementation type typexpr. However, coercions from the type to typexpr are permitted. Moreover, the compiler “knows” the implementation type and can take advantage of this knowledge to perform type-directed optimizations.

The following example uses a private type abbreviation to define a module of nonnegative integers:

module N : sig type t = private int val of_int: int -> t val to_int: t -> int end = struct type t = int let of_int n = assert (n >= 0); n let to_int n = n end

The type N.t is incompatible with int, ensuring that nonnegative integers and regular integers are not confused. However, if x has type N.t, the coercion (x :> int) is legal and returns the underlying integer, just like N.to_int x. Deep coercions are also supported: if l has type N.t list, the coercion (l :> int list) returns the list of underlying integers, like N.to_int l but without copying the list l.

Note that the coercion ( expr :> typexpr ) is actually an abbreviated form, and will only work in presence of private abbreviations if neither the type of expr nor typexpr contain any type variables. If they do, you must use the full form ( expr : typexpr1 :> typexpr2 ) where typexpr1 is the expected type of expr. Concretely, this would be (x : N.t :> int) and (l : N.t list :> int list) for the above examples.

3.3 Private row types

(Introduced in Objective Caml 3.09)

type-equation::= ...

Private row types are type abbreviations where part of the structure of the type is left abstract. Concretely typexpr in the above should denote either an object type or a polymorphic variant type, with some possibility of refinement left. If the private declaration is used in an interface, the corresponding implementation may either provide a ground instance, or a refined private type.

module M : sig type c = private < x : int; .. > val o : c end = struct class c = object method x = 3 method y = 2 end let o = new c end

This declaration does more than hiding the y method, it also makes the type c incompatible with any other closed object type, meaning that only o will be of type c. In that respect it behaves similarly to private record types. But private row types are more flexible with respect to incremental refinement. This feature can be used in combination with functors.

module F(X : sig type c = private < x : int; .. > end) = struct let get_x (o : X.c) = o#x end module G(X : sig type c = private < x : int; y : int; .. > end) = struct include F(X) let get_y (o : X.c) = o#y end

A polymorphic variant type [t], for example

type t = [ `A of int | `B of bool ]

can be refined in two ways. A definition [u] may add new field to [t], and the declaration

type u = private [> t]

will keep those new fields abstract. Construction of values of type [u] is possible using the known variants of [t], but any pattern-matching will require a default case to handle the potential extra fields. Dually, a declaration [u] may restrict the fields of [t] through abstraction: the declaration

type v = private [< t > `A]

corresponds to private variant types. One cannot create a value of the private type [v], except using the constructors that are explicitly listed as present, (`A n) in this example; yet, when pattern-matching on a [v], one should assume that any of the constructors of [t] could be present.

Similarly to abstract types, the variance of type parameters is not inferred, and must be given explicitly.