[wg-camlp4] Pending issues

Alain Frisch alain.frisch at lexifi.com
Mon Feb 11 14:45:52 GMT 2013

Dear all,

I think we have made good progress in discussing extensions to the OCaml 
grammar with generic extension points (which can be used as anchors for 
-ppx rewriters), and how existing "camlp4 extensions" could be 
re-implemented based on them.

Here is a list of questions on which I'd like to hear the opinion of 

0. Scope of extensions covered by ppx + extension points

Do people see useful camlp4 extensions which couldn't be covered in a 
satisfactory way with the ppx + extension points approach?  The only 
such cases I've seen mentioned on this list are pervasive changes to the 
syntax, where the goal is precisely to customized the concrete syntax.

1. Nature of extension points

There seems to be a consensus that we should distinguish between 
"ignorable" attributes and extension markers, to be expanded by 
rewriters (the type-checker fails on them).  Concretely, this amounts to 
extending the OCaml Parsetree with cases like:

  | Ptyp_attribute of core_type * attribute
  | Ptyp_extension of extension

  | Ppat_attribute of pattern * attribute
  | Ppat_extension of extension

  | Pmod_attribute of module_expr * attribute
  | Pmod_extension of extension


Leo suggests to take:

type attribute = expression
and extension = longident * expression option

I'm now convinced that it's a good idea to make the "extension name" 
explicit (and not encoded in the expression itself), if only to allow 
nice error messages when the type-checker fails on such a node.  I'm 
wondering if we shouldn't be more symmetric and do the same for 
attributes. Opinions?  Also, I'm not sure that the expression should be 
optional (if the idea is that the extension marker "expands" its 
content, without touching its context "too much", we need a non-trivial 
content).  One can always have a syntax which support "empty argument" 
represented as the "()" expression internally.

2. Concrete syntax for extension points

Proposals are welcome.  We must choose an unambiguous syntax, which 
allows to add an attribute on a structure item, an expression, etc.
Do we want both prefix and suffix syntaxes for attributes on all 
syntactic categories?  Do we want a special (lighter) syntax to attach 
attributes on specific constructions?

3. Quotations

The more I think about it, the more I believe this concept is orthogonal 
to "extensions".  Leo disagrees and would like to have a combined syntax 
for the case where the argument of an extension is a quotation.  What do 
other people think?  (For me, a quotation is only a way to introduce a 
string literal without "suffering" from the lexical conventions of OCaml.)

For the concrete syntax of quotations, it was suggested to use a form 
where the closing delimiter would be defined by the opening one.  This 
makes it possible to "quote" an arbitrary string without having to 
define a way to escape a potential occurrence of the closing delimiter 
(just pick a different one).   Example:  {xxx{blablabla}xxx}

Do people familiar with implementation of editor modes believe it will 
be easy to support such syntax in emacs or vim modes?

4. What to do with attributes in the type-checker

Attributes are designed in a way which make it trivial for the 
type-checker to ignore them, which is a good property.  It is not much 
more difficult to keep in the Typedtree so that they appear in 
.cmt/.cmti files.  This could support interesting tools, like an 
"ocamldoc-like" tool based on those files (instead of having to rarse 
the source file again).  What do people think about it?  Of course, this 
does not need to be implemented right away.

A related question is related to the current work on runtime types. 
Attributes on type declarations could be kept in the runtime 
representation of the declarations, allowing libraries to interpret them 
as they want.  (LexiFi's version of OCaml has been extended with 
attributes on type declarations precisely to do that.)  Having 
attributes defined as general expressions, however, means that those 
libraries would need to link with compiler-libs, or at least be compiled 
against some of its .cmi, in order to be able to analyze the Parsetree. 
  I don't see it is as a big problem, and it would also be possible to 
restrict which expressions are reflected in runtime types (e.g. to 
structured constants).  Comments are welcome!

5. Fork Parsetree or clean it up?

Hongbo has proposed that we introduce a different representation of the 
Parsetree on which -ppx rewriters would be applied.  Concretely, we 
could fork parsetree.mli into parsetree.mli/ast.mli, clean up parsetree 
(see below) and adapt parser.mly accordingly, and then implement a 
translation pass from Parsetree to Ast before running the type-checker 
on Ast.  The alternative is to clean up Parsetree directly and adapt the 
type-checker to these changes.  This avoids an extra intermediate 
language and the mapping, but this could add a little bit of extra 
complexity to the type-checker (and it might be more difficult to 
convince core developers).  What do people think?

Changes (to be discussed):

  - Avoid some desugaring currently done in the parsetree (interval 
patterns, let open M in... = M.(...) ).
  - Avoid some weird encodings (Pexp_when, mandatory Ptyp_poly at some 
places, etc).
  - Make the Parsetree more future proof and self-documented by using 
records instead of tuples, sum types instead of booleans, etc.
  - Remove prefixes on constructors/labels (although I've got some 
negative feedback from other core developers on this point).


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