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Types: When I Use Them, and When I Don't

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Types: When I Use Them, and When I Don't

Explore one dev's thoughts on using types in code, when he uses them, and the relationship between types and polymorphism.

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Note: Below is my personal perspective.

If I write a one-page program, I don't mind having no types: 0 types, -1 types, I'm happy with it.

But if I write a bigger app, one handled by multiple programmers and that is expected to be maintained, I consider types to be a must! I'm still happy with it!

When I Like Types

Today, most modern languages have type inference, so the typed code looks as concise as non-typed code. In Scala, Haskell, OCaml, Kotlin, and ELM, concise, typed code pretty much is both pretty and awesome!

When I Don't Like Types

We still need to compile code, and that takes time, but I'm willing to pay this price. Both maintenance time and code-understanding time are also time spent. Time is time: A second is a second. I would rather pay seconds of compile time for hours of unusual bugs and code readability time.

Type Inference + Types => Concise, readable code!

The Performance Penalty for Type Inference

You pay the price at compile time. As mentioned earlier, I prefer to pay someone to compile than to pay someone to read and not understand the code.

Programs that are hard to understand also compile slower.

So if you write readable code, it will compile faster, in its own way.

Parametric Polymorphism

Parametric Polymorphism: Same subtype [A] for the container which we defined.

Let's consider a hypothetical Array[A]. So you can have a single implementation that does something with the array and uses it for a different type.

Subtype Polymorphism

You inherit in order to have multiple implementations, but you end up with one big, giant object (the class hierarchy). For me, that is like a global ball of mud-code.

Subtype Polymorphism: a big ball of mud-code. There are multiple types when you traverse the array.

Simple Type System

Like in Java, we still get so much benefit from tooling: what our functions are doing, how the program is constructed, etc.

Simple type systems give us great tooling!

Simple type systems give us great documentation checked by the compiler!

You need to explain to the compiler what you mean with those non-type inference languages.

Rich Type System

Here, we're talking about languages like Scala, OCaml, and Haskell.

Rich Type Systems allow us to have clean, simple code!

This sounds unnatural, but take, for example, generics used to express code that can be used polymorphically over types — code reuse. I return Int, Double — I don't care as long a I return A.

Rich Type Systems Catch Bugs

Lie: If it compiles, it works!

I don't treat this as a truth. But many bugs just vanish:

  1. Null Pointer Exception, I don't remember having one since using Scala.
  2. Undefined is not a function. Forget about it with ELM.


My summary is very simple — for code that would require maintenance by new developers and is not a single-page project, I use typed languages. For simple scripts and short code snippets, no types.

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java ,scala ,compilers ,types ,type inference ,polymorphism

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