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Friday, March 30, 2012

Dynamic Strong Type System

Dynamic type system means that data types are defined in run-time. This is opposite to static type system, when data types are defined in compile-time. Examples of static type programming languages are C/C++ or Java, dynamic type - Python, Perl and Erlang. Strong type system requires explicit types conversions (like static_cast in C++), from other side weak type system allows implicit type conversions (e.g. "5" + 9 is valid Perl expression).

I argue against dynamic but strong type system. It makes large programs difficult to maintain.Let's write simple function which just sums two integer variables and prints the result in Perl, C++ and Erlang:

    % Erlang
    sum(A, B) ->
        io:format("~p~n", [A + B]).

    // C++
    void sum(int a, int b)
        std:cout << a + b << std::end;

    # Perl
    sub sum
        my ($a, $b) = @_;
        print $a + $b

What happen if we decide to change the function argument types, say from integer to string? It will still work for Perl and broke for C++ on compile time since you can not pass std::string or char * as integer arguments to the function. However, Erlang example will crash in runtime with bad argument error.

Changing type of arguments from integer to string seems very unnatural at first glance. But converting types from atom to list for Erlang is not so unnatural and such adjustments in code requires careful investigation of whole data flow from the level where the types were changed to the lower lever which uses the data. 

This way a programming language is more pleasant to use (at least for me) if it uses dynamic and weak type system or static and strong, but not dynamic and strong.

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