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The ATS Programming Language
Unleashing the Potentials of Types and Templates!

ATS:

An approach to practical programming with theorem-proving

Abstract: The framework Pure Type System (PTS) offers a simple and general approach to designing and formalizing type systems. However, in the presence of dependent types, there often exist certain acute problems that make it difficult for PTS to directly accommodate many common realistic programming features such as general recursion, recursive types, effects (e.g., exceptions, references, input/output), etc. In this paper, Applied Type System (ATS) is presented as a framework for designing and formalizing type systems in support of practical programming with advanced types (including dependent types). In particular, it is demonstrated that ATS can readily accommodate a paradigm referred to as programming with theorem-proving (PwTP) in which programs and proofs are constructed in a syntactically intertwined manner, yielding a practical approach to internalizing constraint-solving needed during type-checking. The key salient feature of ATS lies in a complete separation between statics, where types are formed and reasoned about, and dynamics, where programs are constructed and evaluated. With this separation, it is no longer possible for a program to occur in a type as is otherwise allowed in PTS. The paper contains not only a formal development of ATS (of minimalist style) but also some examples taken from ATS, a programming language with a type system rooted in ATS, in support of employing ATS as a framework to formulate advanced type systems for practical programming.
Links: pdf

Dependent ML:

An approach to practical programming with dependent types

Abstract: The paper presents an approach to enriching the type system of ML with a restricted form of dependent types, where type index terms are required to be drawn from a given type index language L that is completely separate from run-time programs, leading to the DML(L) language schema. This enrichment allows for specification and inference of significantly more precise type information, facilitating program error detection and compiler optimization. The primary contribution of the paper lies in a novel language design, which can effectively support the use of dependent types in practical programming. In particular, this design makes it both natural and straightforward to accommodate dependent types in the presence of effects such as references and exceptions.
Links: pdf

Guarded Recursive Datatype Constructors

Abstract: The paper introduces a notion of guarded recursive (g.r.) datatype constructors, generalizing the notion of recursive datatypes in functional programming languages such as ML and Haskell. Both theoretical and practical issues resulted from this generalization are addressed. On one hand, a type system is designed to formalize the notion of g.r. datatype constructors and its soundness is proven. On the other hand, some significant applications (e.g., implementing objects, implementing staged computation, etc.) of g.r. datatype constructors are given, indicating that g.r. datatype constructors can have far-reaching consequences in programming. The main contribution of the paper lies in the recognition and then the formalization of a programming notion that is of both theoretical interest and practical use.
Links: pdf

Imperative Programming with Dependent Types

Abstract: This paper enriches imperative programming with a form of dependent types. It starts with some motivations for the enrichment as well as some major obstacles that need to be overcome. The design of a source-level dependently typed imperative programming language of the name Xanadu is presented, together with a formalization of both static and dynamic semantics for Xanadu. In addition, the type soundness for Xanadu is established and various realistic programming examples in support of the practicality of Xanadu are given. It is claimed that the language design of Xanadu is novel and it can serve as an informative example to demonstrate a means for combining imperative programming with dependent types.
Links: pdf

Combining Programming with Theorem-Proving

Abstract: Applied Type System (ATS) is recently proposed as a framework for designing and formalizing (advanced) type systems in support of practical programming. In ATS, the definition of type equality involves a constraint relation, which may or may not be algorithmically decidable. To support practical programming, we adopted a design in the past that imposes certain restrictions on the syntactic form of constraints so that some effective means can be found for solving constraints automatically. Evidently, this is a rather ad hoc design in its nature. In this paper, we rectify the situation by presenting a fundamentally different design, which we claim to be both novel and practical. Instead of imposing syntactical restrictions on constraints, we provide a means for the programmer to construct proofs that attest to the validity of constraints. In particular, we are to accommodate a programming paradigm that enables the programmer to combine programming with theorem proving. Also we present some concrete examples in support of the practicality of this design.
Links: pdf

Safe Programming with Pointers through Stateful Views

Abstract: The need for direct memory manipulation through pointers is essential in many applications. However, it is also commonly understood that the use (or probably misuse) of pointers is often a rich source of program errors. Therefore, approaches that can effectively enforce safe use of pointers in programming are highly sought after. ATS is a programming language with a type system rooted in a recently developed framework Applied Type System, and a novel and desirable feature in ATS lies in its support for safe programming with pointers through a novel notion of stateful views. In particular, even pointer arithmetic is allowed in ATS and guaranteed to be safe by the type system of ATS. In this paper, we give an overview of this feature in ATS, presenting some interesting examples based on a prototype implementation of ATS to demonstrate the practicality of safe programming with pointer through stateful views.
Links: pdf

A little history of ATS


(following the trail of research papers)

Dependent ML (DML) extends ML conservatively with a restrictive form of dependent types. In DML, program values are not allowed in the formation of types. However, types dependent on certain program values (such as integers) can still be constructed due to the availability of singleton types for classifying such values. Dependent ML was developed and prototyped during the second half of 1997 and through the year of 1998 as the primary contribution of Hongwei Xi's doctoral thesis, which was supervised by Prof. Frank Pfenning and completed and defended in December, 1998. The prototype implementation of DML consisted primarily of a typechecker written in Standard ML (SML).


Further developement of DML continued at Oregon Graduate Institute (OGI) of Science and Technology, where Hongwei Xi worked as a post-doctoral researcher until the end of August, 1999. During this period, a programming language system of the name deCaml was implemented as an extension of Caml-light (the predecessor of OCaml) with DML-style dependent types. Programs in deCaml can be first typechecked and then passed to Caml-light for further compilation. Various demos of deCaml were given but the system itself has never been documented for public release.


How can DML-style dependent types be made available to support imperative programming? An experimental programming language of the name Xanadu was designed and implemented mostly during the second half of 1999 in an attempt to answer this question. While many concepts developed in Xanadu would eventually find their way into ATS, Xanadu as a programming language did not provide a satisfactory answer to imperative programming with dependent types. In particular, the manner in which dependent types are supported in Xanadu is very limited, and it is clear that this manner cannot accommodate many common programming features in the C programming language. Various demos of Xanadu were given based on a prototype implementation consisting primarily of a typechecker and an interpreter.


A guarded recursive datatype (GRDT) is also referred to as a generalized algebraic datatype (GADT). This notion can be seen as a natural adaptation of DML-style dependent types in a setting where types replace integers as type indexes. While GRDTs are fundamentally different from DML-style dependent types semantically, the former and the latter are treated similarly at the level of syntax. In particular, typechecking for the former can be readily adapted from typechecking for the latter. The concept of ATS was conceived around the end of 2002 (immediately after the development of GRDTs) as an attempt to form a unifying framework for both DML-style dependent types and GRDTs.


Implementation for ATS started around the beginning of 2003, when the theory for ATS was being developed and formalized as well. By Summer 2003, a functioning typechecker for ATS could be tested on a variety of simple examples. By the beginning of 2004, an interpreter for programs in ATS started to be functioning. However, it was still unclear by then how common imperative programming features can or should be supported in ATS. The breakthrough came at the beginning of Summer 2004, when it was finally realized that a form of theorem-proving based on linear logic can be incorporated into ATS as the basis for supporting imperative programming. The moment of this realization can probably be claimed as the single most crucial moment in the development of ATS. By the middle of July 2004, the implementation for ATS (extended with linear types) reached a point where the typechecker and the interpreter were able to handle a variety of imperative programs.


The following list consists of the major implementations of ATS that were publicly released in the past:

  • ATS0/Proto (written in OCaml)
  • ATS1/Geizella (written in OCaml)
  • ATS1/Anairiats (written in ATS1)
  • ATS2/Postiats (written in ATS1)
The current release of ATS is ATS2/Postiats. The compiler inside ATS2/Postiats alone consists of more than 165K lines of code written in ATS1, which can be compiled into C code (conforming to the C99 standard) by either ATS1/Geizella or ATS1/Anairiats. A little bit of history on the released implementations of ATS can be found on-line.


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This page is created by Hongwei Xi
with tools including ATS/weboxy, atscc2js and atscc2php.