Programming Languages

Data Types

Lecture slide: click here
Typing: strong vs. weak, static vs. dynamic. Type declarations, type equivalence, type inference. Subtypes and derived types. Scalar and composite types (arrays, records, variant records). Pointers and References
Readings: Scott, ch. 7

Static vs dynamic type system

A language can have a mixture of both, like C#, Visual Basic, Alore. Java has a mostly static type system with some runtime checks.

Static typing

Languages like Ada, C++, Java, ML.
  • Variables have types.
  • Compilers ensures (at compile time) that type rules are obeyed.

Dynamic typing

Languages like JavaScript, PHP, Lisp, Ruby.
  • Variables do not have types, values do.
  • Compilers ensures (at run time) that type rules are obeyed.

Pros and cons

  • Static is faster. Dynamic typing requires run-time checks.
  • Dynamic is more flexible.
  • Static is easier to refactor code.

Strong vs weak typing

A strongly typed language does not allow variables to be used in a way inconsistent with their types (no loopholes). A weakly typed language allows many ways to bypass the type system (e.g., pointer arithmetic).
There's no fine line between them. Most languages are neither strictly strongly or weakly typed. Usually a mixture with a bias toward one or the other.

Pointers and references

Both refer to an object in memory.
Pointers tend to make this notion more explicit:
  • Dereferencing.
  • Pointer arithmetic (raises issues of allocation, alignment).
  • Low level operations often supported (e.g. memcpy).
References tend to behave more like ordinary variables:
  • Dereferencing still occurs, just under the hood.
  • No notion of pointer arithmetic.
  • Restrictions on reference variable bindings (C++).


A record consists of a set of typed fields.

Name equivalence or structural equivalence

Name equivalence: two types are the same if they have the same name. (e.g. Ada) Structural equivalence: two types are equivalent if they have the same structure. (e.g. ML)
Most statically typed languages choose name equivalence. ML and Haskell are exceptions.

Variant records / discriminated union

A variant record is a record that provides multiple alternative sets of fields, only one of which is valid at any given time. Also known as a discriminated union.


Subclass polymorphism

The ability to treat a class as one of its superclasses, which is the basis of OOP.

Subtype polymorphism

The ability to treat a value of a subtype as a value of a supertype. Related to subclass polymorphism.

Parametric polymorphism

The ability to treat any type uniformly. Found in ML, Haskell, and, in a very different form, in C++ templates and Java generics.

Ad hoc polymorphism

Multiple definitions of a function with the same name, each for a different set of argument types (known as overloading).


A relation between types. Similar to but not the same as subclassing.
Can be used in two different ways: subtype polymorphism and coercion.
  1. 1.
    {a, b, c} is a subtype of {a, c}.
  2. 2.
    a|c is a subtype of a|b|c.
  3. 3.
    Range 1..100 is a subtype of 1..500.

Subtype/Supertype conversions

Typecasting is an explicit conversion of one type to another. Source type is known or can be inferred, destination type must be specified by the programmer.
Two variations:
  • Type widening (lifting): converting subtype to supertype (coercion can also be used).
  • Type narrowing: converting supertype to subtype. Involves information loss.

Subtype polymorphism vs coercion

Subtype polymorphism: ability to treat a value of a subtype as a value of a supertype. Coercion: ability to convert a value of a subtype to a value of a supertype.