linear type

Linear type system

A linear type system is a particular form of type system used in a programming language. Linear type systems allow references but not aliases. To enforce this, a reference goes out of scope after appearing on the right-hand side of an assignment, thus ensuring that only one reference to any object exists at once. Note that passing a reference as an argument to a function is a form of assignment, as the function parameter will be assigned the value inside the function, and therefore such use of a reference also causes it to go out of scope. Linear typing is related to uniqueness typing but is generally more restrictive.

A linear type system is similar to C++'s auto_ptr class, which behaves like a pointer but is invalidated by being set to null after use in an assignment. However, the linearity constraint can be checked at compile time, whereas auto_ptr can only raise exceptions at run time if it is misused.

Example code

This example uses C++-like notation, but shows a language with a linear type system (which therefore is not C++).

Dog* d = new Dog(name="Fido" ); // creates a reference to a new object
Dog* p = d;                      // uses d to create a reference to the same object: this forces d out of scope
print p->getName();              // output "Fido"
print d->getName();              // COMPILE-TIME ERROR: d was forced out of scope by its use above and is not a valid variable here

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