I2E: Types

Eiffel is strongly typed for readability and reliability. Every entity is declared of a certain type, which may be either a reference type or an expanded type.

Any type T is based on a class, which defines the operations that will be applicable to instances of T. The difference between the two categories of type affects the semantics of an entity x declared of type T: for a reference type, the most common case, possible values for x are references to objects; for an expanded type, the values are objects. In both cases, the type rules guarantee that the objects will be instances of T.

A non-expanded class such as ACCOUNT yields a reference type. As a result, an entity of type ACCOUNT, such as acc in the earlier client example (see the declaration of acc and the accompanying picture as given in I2E: Classes ), denotes possible run-time references to objects of type ACCOUNT.

In contrast, the value of an entity acc declared of type expanded ACCOUNT is an object such as the one shown on the figure below, with no reference. The only difference with the earlier figure is that the value of acc is now an ACCOUNT object, not a reference to such an object. No creation instruction is needed in this case. (The figure does not show the PERSON object to which the owner field of the ACCOUNT object -- itself a reference -- is attached.)

An important group of expanded types, based on library classes, includes the basic types CHARACTER, DOUBLE, REAL, INTEGER, and BOOLEAN. Clearly, the value of an entity declared of type INTEGER should be an integer, not a reference to an object containing an integer value. Operations on these types are defined by prefix and infix operators such as "+" and "<".

As a result of these conventions, the type system is uniform and consistent: all types, including the basic types, are defined from classes, either as reference types or as expanded types.

In the case of basic types, for obvious reasons of efficiency, the compilation mechanism implements the standard arithmetic and boolean operations directly through the corresponding machine operations, not through routine calls. But this is only a compiler optimization, which does not hamper the conceptual homogeneity of the type edifice.

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