Notes on “Ur: Statically-Typed Metaprogramming …”

:: research, notes

Today I read Ur: Statically-Typed Metaprogramming with Type-level Record Computation. This paper presents the Ur language, a functional programming language based on an extension of System Fω. The novel idea is to use type-level functions as a form of type-safe meta-programming. The paper claims this novel idea enables safe heterogeneous and homogeneous meta-programming in Ur.

The interesting insight is that type-level computation may be valuable outside of dependently typed languages. The paper quickly and easily makes this case. The type-level computations reduce type annotations by enabling the programmer to compute types rather than manually write them everywhere. This could be a useful form of meta-programming in any typed language.

The claims about heterogeneous and homogeneous meta-programming seem overstated. Ignoring the novel ability to compute type annotations, type-safe heterogeneous programming could be as easily accomplished in any other type-safe language. I could just as easily (or more easily) write a program in Coq, ML, Haskell, or Typed Racket that generates HTML and SQL queries as I could in Ur. As for homogeneous meta-programming, restricting the meta-programs to record computations at the type-level seems to severely restricts the ability to generate code at compile-time and abstract over syntax, features which are provided by general-purpose meta-programming systems such as Racket’s macros or Template Haskell.