Idea how to implement VT/VO compatibility in JVM

Stéphane Épardaud stef at
Thu Jan 22 13:11:54 UTC 2015

On 01/22/2015 12:18 PM, Maurizio Cimadamore wrote:
> I don't think there's an 'hole' as such in your proposal - but there 
> are 'unknowns'.

Well, that's already good news. I prefer unknowns to known holes ;)

> Performance-wise, I think the 'risk' is that if we keep the API the 
> way they are today (i.e. removeAll(Collection<?>) and friends), the 
> boxing path will pretty much be the norm. Now, in a perfect world, as 
> value types are non-polymorphic (or their polymorphism is very 
> restricted) and immutable, that would suggest that VM should have 
> enough of an hint to perform boxing elimination and such, so that the 
> cost you end up paying is negligible. How much of this is reality? As 
> you, I'm not a VM guru - but I think it's a question worth asking. It 
> seems a likely scenario that the JVM will do great in most cases, and 
> have some bad performance cliffs in others - is that something we are 
> willing to sign up for?

OK, that's fair. By allowing people to use value types boxed we allow 
them to shoot themselves in the foot perf-wise (assuming the VM can't 
help), because we make value types much more accessible. This is mostly 
due to `any T` being opt-in rather than the new default for `T` where `T 
extends Object` is not specified. If we also changed `T` to mean `any T` 
(source only, so for newly compiled code) then all generics code would 
be specializable by default and that means that users of generic code 
will always be able to use the specialised code as long as they can 
instantiate the generic type argument at compile-time (as is already the 
limitation). If they can't, well they already have to use `Object` and 
boxing and can't traverse collections because they're not `List<Object>` 

Making it the default has down sides, probably in larger class files, 
but as long as it's not the default, there will always be 
incompatibilities in libraries that will forget to opt-in, which will 
mean that either (ATM) they can't be used with containers of value 
types, or that the containers have to be wrapped to box the value types 
(unless we fix that as I suggest). IMO that's already going to cause 
compatibility issues and there may arise a "coding guideline" (remember 
them from C++ sore points?) that people will be strongly encourage to 
use `val T` everywhere just in case someone wants to use an unboxed 
value type.

The rift between primitives and Object is already a famous sore point in 
Java (not criticising, this was a choice made a long time ago, for valid 
reasons, we just have to deal with it) which has been "fixed" in most 
non-Java JVM-languages due to popular demand. I don't think the new 
default with value types should be that generics don't accept value types.

> On the language-side unknowns, how much code out there is relying on 
> being able to access fields on Foo<?> or raw Foo types? This is 
> perhaps not common, but I think we need to gather data points on this 
> i.e. by looking at existing open source projects (help welcome here!). 
> Other possible weak points are that this doesn't necessarily address 
> all the issue w.r.t. language uniformity - i.e. how is an 
> ArrayList<int> supposed to answer to a question of the kind 'is 
> instance of List<?>' ?

Fields that don't involve the `any T` are fine. Fields that do may have 
to revert to autoboxing _if_ we feel we _must_ accomodate that to 
autobox not just value types but their containers.

`ArrayList<int>` is special, mostly due to the fact that I'm not sure we 
can retrofit `Integer` to be a value type, so existing primitives may 
not get the `List<int> === List<Integer>` that I suggest for value types 
(though I'd be very interested in making this work).

If we take an easier example assuming a value type named `Date`, then 
yes I expect that:

- `List<val Date> instanceof List<?>` == `true`
- `List<__Boxed Date> instanceof List<?>` == `true`

> I'm not denying there's something there worth exploring (as I have in 
> fact already said), but it seems to me that, while you can go a long 
> way with bridges, there are still questions that bridges alone simply 
> do not have an answer for.

Thanks, and yes I agree there are still questions remaining, and more 
importantly an implementation lacking, but hopefully if the proposal 
sounds decent I can help with the proto.

Thanks for your answers BTW :)

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