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Coeffects playground: Interactive essay based on my PhD thesis

In my PhD thesis, I worked on integrating contextual information into a type system of functional programming languages. For example, say your mobile application accesses something from the environment such as GPS sensor or your Facebook friends. With coeffects, this could be a part of the type. Rather than having type string -> Person, the type of a function would also include resources and would be string -{ gps, fb }-> Person. I wrote longer introduction to coeffects on this blog before.

As one might expect, the PhD thesis is more theoretical and it looks at other kinds of contextual information (e.g. past values in stream-based data-flow programming) and it identifies abstract coeffect algebra that captures the essence of contextual information that can be nicely tracked in a functional language.

I always thought that the most interesting thing about the thesis is that it gives people a nice way to think about context in a unified way. Sadly, the very theoretical presentation in the thesis makes this quite hard for those who are not doing programming language theory.

To make it a bit easier to explore the ideas behind coeffects, I wrote a coeffect playground that runs in a web browser and lets you learn about coeffects, play with two example context-aware languages, run a couple of demos and learn more about how the theory works. Go check it out now or continue below to learn more about some interesting internals!

Published: Tuesday, 12 April 2016, 3:33 PM
Tags: coeffects, research, functional programming, programming languages
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Coeffects: The next big programming challenge

Many advances in programming language design are driven by some practical motivations. Sometimes, the practical motivations are easy to see - for example, when they come from some external change such as the rise of multi-core processors. Sometimes, discovering the practical motivations is a tricky task - perhaps because everyone is used to a certain way of doing things that we do not even see how poor our current solution is.

The following two examples are related to the work done in F# (because this is what I'm the most familiar with), but you can surely find similar examples in other languages:

I believe that the next important practical challenge for programming language designers is of the kind that is not easy to see - because we are so used to doing things in certain ways that we cannot see how poor they are. The problem is designing languages that are better at working with (and understanding) the context in which programs are executed.

Published: Wednesday, 8 January 2014, 3:31 PM
Tags: research, coeffects, functional programming, comonads
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