Before going into the details of Julia's type system, we will spend a few minutes motivating the roles of a type system, which are:

  1. Structuring code
  2. Communicating to the compiler how a type will be used

The first aspect is important for the convenience of the programmer and enables abstractions in the language, the latter aspect is important for the speed of the generated code. Writing efficient Julia code is best viewed as a dialogue between the programmer and the compiler. [1]

Type systems according to Wikipedia:

  • In computer science and computer programming, a data type or simply type is an attribute of data which tells the compiler or interpreter how the programmer intends to use the data.
  • A type system is a logical system comprising a set of rules that assigns a property called a type to the various constructs of a computer program, such as variables, expressions, functions or modules. These types formalize and enforce the otherwise implicit categories the programmer uses for algebraic data types, data structures, or other components.

Structuring the code / enforcing the categories

The role of structuring the code and imposing semantic restriction means that the type system allows you to logically divide your program, and to prevent certain types of errors. Consider for example two types, Wolf and Sheep which share the same definition but the types have different names.

struct Wolf

struct Sheep

This allows us to define functions applicable only to the corresponding type

howl(wolf::Wolf) = println(, " has howled.")
baa(sheep::Sheep) = println(, " has baaed.")
nothing # hide

Therefore the compiler (or interpreter) enforces that a wolf can only howl and never baa and vice versa a sheep can only baa. In this sense, it ensures that howl(sheep) and baa(wolf) never happen.


Notice the type of error of the latter call baa(Wolf("Karl",3)). Julia raises MethodError which states that it has failed to find a function baa for the type Wolf (but there is a function baa for type Sheep).

For comparison, consider an alternative definition which does not have specified types

bark(animal) = println(, " has howled.")
baa(animal)  = println(, " has baaed.")
nothing # hide

in which case the burden of ensuring that a wolf will never baa rests upon the programmer which inevitably leads to errors (note that severely constrained type systems are difficult to use).

Intention of use and restrictions on compilers

Types play an important role in generating efficient code by a compiler, because they tells the compiler which operations are permitted, prohibited, and can indicate invariants of type (e.g. constant size of an array). If compiler knows that something is invariant (constant), it can exploit such information. As an example, consider the following two alternatives to represent a set of animals:

a = [Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Sheep("3", 3)]
b = (Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Sheep("3", 3))
nothing # hide

where a is an array which can contain arbitrary types and have arbitrary length whereas b is a Tuple which has fixed length in which the first two items are of type Wolf and the third item is of type Sheep. Moreover, consider a function which calculates the energy of all animals as

energy(animals) = mapreduce(x ->, +, animals)
nothing # hide

A good compiler makes use of the information provided by the type system to generate efficient code which we can verify by inspecting the compiled code using @code_native macro

@code_native debuginfo=:none energy(a)
@code_native debuginfo=:none energy(b)

one observes the second version produces more optimal code. Why is that?

  • In the first representation, a, the animals are stored in an Array{Any} which can have arbitrary size and can contain arbitrary animals. This means that the compiler has to compile energy(a) such that it works on such arrays.
  • In the second representation, b, the animals are stored in a Tuple, which specializes for lengths and types of items. This means that the compiler knows the number of animals and the type of each animal on each position within the tuple, which allows it to specialize.

This difference will indeed have an impact on the time of code execution. On my i5-8279U CPU, the difference (as measured by BenchmarkTools) is

using BenchmarkTools
@btime energy($(a))
@btime energy($(b))
  70.2 ns (0 allocations: 0 bytes)
  2.62 ns (0 allocations: 0 bytes)

Which nicely demonstrates that the choice of types affects performance. Does it mean that we should always use Tuples instead of Arrays? Surely not, it is just that each is better for different use-cases. Using Tuples means that the compiler will compile a special function for each length of tuple and each combination of types of items it contains, which is clearly wasteful.

Julia's type system

Julia is dynamicaly typed

Julia's type system is dynamic, which means that all types are resolved during runtime. But, if the compiler can infer types of all variables of the called function, it can specialize the function for that given type of variables which leads to efficient code. Consider a modified example where we represent two wolfpacks:

wolfpack_a =  [Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Wolf("3", 3)]
wolfpack_b =  Any[Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Wolf("3", 3)]
nothing # hide

wolfpack_a carries a type Vector{Wolf} while wolfpack_b has the type Vector{Any}. This means that in the first case, the compiler knows that all items are of the type Wolfand it can specialize functions using this information. In case of wolfpack_b, it does not know which animal it will encounter (although all are of the same type), and therefore it needs to dynamically resolve the type of each item upon its use. This ultimately leads to less performant code.

@benchmark energy($(wolfpack_a))
@benchmark energy($(wolfpack_b))
  3.7 ns (0 allocations: 0 bytes)
  69.4 ns (0 allocations: 0 bytes)

To conclude, julia is indeed a dynamically typed language, but if the compiler can infer all types in a called function in advance, it does not have to perform the type resolution during execution, which produces performant code. This means and in hot (performance critical) parts of the code, you should be type stable, in other parts, it is not such big deal.

Classes of types

Julia divides types into three classes: primitive, composite, and abstract.

Primitive types

Citing the documentation: A primitive type is a concrete type whose data consists of plain old bits. Classic examples of primitive types are integers and floating-point values. Unlike most languages, Julia lets you declare your own primitive types, rather than providing only a fixed set of built-in ones. In fact, the standard primitive types are all defined in the language itself.

The definition of primitive types look as follows

primitive type Float16 <: AbstractFloat 16 end
primitive type Float32 <: AbstractFloat 32 end
primitive type Float64 <: AbstractFloat 64 end

and they are mainly used to jump-start julia's type system. It is rarely needed to define a special primitive type, as it makes sense only if you define special functions operating on its bits. This is almost exclusively used for exposing special operations provided by the underlying CPU / LLVM compiler. For example + for Int32 is different from + for Float32 as they call a different intrinsic operations. You can inspect this jump-starting of the type system yourself by looking at Julia's source.

julia> @which +(1,2)
+(x::T, y::T) where T<:Union{Int128, Int16, Int32, Int64, Int8, UInt128, UInt16, UInt32, UInt64, UInt8} in Base at int.jl:87

At int.jl:87

(+)(x::T, y::T) where {T<:BitInteger} = add_int(x, y)

we see that + of integers is calling the function add_int(x, y), which is defined in the core part of the compiler in Intrinsics.cpp (yes, in C++), exposed in Core.Intrinsics

From Julia docs: Core is the module that contains all identifiers considered "built in" to the language, i.e. part of the core language and not libraries. Every module implicitly specifies using Core, since you can't do anything without those definitions.

Primitive types are rarely used, and they will not be used in this course. We mention them for the sake of completeness and refer the reader to the official Documentation (and source code of Julia).

An example of use of primitive type is a definition of one-hot vector in the library PrimitiveOneHot as

primitive type OneHot{K} <: AbstractOneHotArray{1} 32 end

where K is the dimension of the one-hot vector.

Abstract types

An abstract type can be viewed as a set of concrete types. For example, an AbstractFloat represents the set of concrete types (BigFloat,Float64,Float32,Float16). This is used mainly to define general methods for sets of types for which we expect the same behavior (recall the Julia design motivation: if it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and looks like a duck, chances are it's a duck). Abstract types are defined with abstract type TypeName end. For example the following set of abstract types defines part of julia's number system.

abstract type Number end
abstract type Real          <: Number end
abstract type Complex       <: Number end
abstract type AbstractFloat <: Real end
abstract type Integer       <: Real end
abstract type Signed        <: Integer end
abstract type Unsigned      <: Integer end

where <: means "is a subtype of" and it is used in declarations where the right-hand is an immediate supertype of a given type (Integer has the immediate supertype Real.) If the supertype is not supplied, it is considered to be Any, therefore in the above definition Number has the supertype Any.

We can list childrens of an abstract type using function subtypes ``julia using InteractiveUtils: subtypes # hide subtypes(AbstractFloat)

and we can also list the immediate `supertype` or climb the ladder all the way to `Any` using `supertypes`
using InteractiveUtils: supertypes  # hide

supertype and subtypes print only types defined in Modules that are currently loaded to your workspace. For example with Julia without any Modules, subtypes(Number) returns [Complex, Real], whereas if I load Mods package implementing numbers defined over finite field, the same call returns [Complex, Real, AbstractMod].

It is relatively simple to print a complete type hierarchy of

using AbstractTrees
function AbstractTrees.children(t::Type)
    t === Function ? Vector{Type}() : filter!(x -> x !== Any,subtypes(t))
AbstractTrees.printnode(io::IO,t::Type) = print(io,t)

The main role of abstract types allows is in function definitions. They allow to define functions that can be used on variables with types with a given abstract type as a supertype. For example we can define a sgn function for all real numbers as

sgn(x::Real) = x > 0 ? 1 : x < 0 ? -1 : 0
nothing # hide

and we know it would be correct for all real numbers. This means that if anyone creates a new subtype of Real, the above function can be used. This also means that it is expected that comparison operations are defined for any real number. Also notice that Complex numbers are excluded, since they do not have a total order.

For unsigned numbers, the sgn can be simplified, as it is sufficient to verify if they are different (greater) than zero, therefore the function can read

sgn(x::Unsigned) = x > 0 ? 1 : 0
nothing # hide

and again, it applies to all numbers derived from Unsigned. Recall that Unsigned <: Integer <: Real, how does Julia decide, which version of the function sgn to use for UInt8(0)? It chooses the most specific version, and thus for sgn(UInt8(0)) it will use sgn(x::Unsinged). If the compiler cannot decide, typically it encounters an ambiguity, it throws an error and recommends which function you should define to resolve it.

The above behavior allows to define default "fallback" implementations and while allowing to specialize for sub-types. A great example is matrix multiplication, which has a generic (and slow) implementation with many specializations, which can take advantage of structure (sparse, banded), or use optimized implementations (e.g. blas implementation for dense matrices with eltype Float32 and Float64).

Again, Julia does not make a difference between abstract types defined in Base libraries shipped with the language and those defined by you (the user). All are treated the same.

From Julia documentation: Abstract types cannot be instantiated, which means that we cannot create a variable that would have an abstract type (try typeof(Number(1f0))). Also, abstract types cannot have any fields, therefore there is no composition (there are lengthy discussions of why this is so, one of the most definite arguments of creators is that abstract types with fields frequently lead to children types not using some fields (consider circle vs. ellipse)).

Composite types

Composite types are similar to struct in C (they even have the same memory layout) as they logically join together other types. It is not a great idea to think about them as objects (in OOP sense), because objects tie together data and functions on owned data. Contrary in Julia (as in C), functions operate on data of structures, but are not tied to them and they are defined outside them. Composite types are workhorses of Julia's type system, as user-defined types are mostly composite (or abstract).

Composite types are defined using struct TypeName [fields] end. To define a position of an animal on the Euclidean plane as a type, we would write

struct PositionF64

which defines a structure with two fields x and y of type Float64. Julia's compiler creates a default constructor, where both (but generally all) arguments are converted using (convert(Float64, x), convert(Float64, y) to the correct type. This means that we can construct a PositionF64 with numbers of different type that are convertable to Float64, e.g. PositionF64(1,1//2) but we cannot construct PositionF64 where the fields would be of different type (e.g. Int, Float32, etc.) or they are not trivially convertable (e.g. String).

Fields in composite types do not have to have a specified type. We can define a VaguePosition without specifying the type

struct VaguePosition

This works as the definition above except that the arguments are not converted to Float64 now. One can store different values in x and y, for example String (e.g. VaguePosition("Hello","world")). Although the above definition might be convenient, it limits the compiler's ability to specialize, as the type VaguePosition does not carry information about type of x and y, which has a negative impact on the performance. For example

using BenchmarkTools
move(a,b) = typeof(a)(a.x+b.x, a.y+b.y)
x = [PositionF64(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100]
y = [VaguePosition(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100]
@benchmark reduce(move, $(x))
@benchmark reduce(move, $(y))
nothing # hide

Giving fields of a composite type an abstract type does not really solve the problem of the compiler not knowing the type. In this example, it still does not know, if it should use instructions for Float64 or Int8.

``julia struct LessVaguePosition x::Real y::Real end

z = [LessVaguePosition(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100]; @benchmark reduce(move, z) nothing #hide

From the perspective of generating optimal code, both definitions are equally uninformative to the compiler as it cannot assume anything about the code. However, the  `LessVaguePosition` will ensure that the position will contain only numbers, hence catching trivial errors like instantiating `VaguePosition` with non-numeric types for which arithmetic operators will not be defined (recall the discussion on the  beginning of the lecture).

All structs defined above are immutable (as we have seen above in the case of `Tuple`), which means that one cannot change a field (unless the struct wraps a container, like and array, which allows that). For example this raises an error

a = LessVaguePosition(1,2) a.x = 2

If one needs to make a struct mutable, use the keyword `mutable` before the keyword `struct` as

julia mutable struct MutablePosition x::Float64 y::Float64 end

In mutable structures, we can change the values of fields.

a = MutablePosition(1e0, 2e0) a.x = 2; a

Note, that the memory layout of mutable structures is different, as fields now contain references to memory locations, where the actual values are stored (such structures cannot be allocated on stack, which increases the pressure on Garbage Collector).

The difference can be seen from 

a, b = PositionF64(1,2), PositionF64(1,2) @codenative debuginfo=:none move(a,b) a, b = MutablePosition(1,2), MutablePosition(1,2) @codenative debuginfo=:none move(a,b)

Why there is just one addition?

Also, the mutability is costly.

julia x = [PositionF43(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100]; z = [MutablePosition(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100]; @benchmark reduce(move, x) @benchmark reduce(move, z)

### Parametric types
So far, we had to trade-off flexibility for generality in type definitions. Can we have both? The answer is affirmative. The way to achieve this  **flexibility** in definitions of the type while being  able to generate optimal code is to  **parametrize** the type definition. This is achieved by replacing types with a parameter (typically a single uppercase character) and decorating in definition by specifying different type in curly brackets. For example

julia struct PositionT{T} x::T y::T end u = [PositionT(rand(), rand()) for _ in 1:100] u = [PositionT(rand(Float32), rand(Float32)) for _ in 1:100]

@benchmark reduce(move, u) nothing # hide

Notice that the compiler can take advantage of specializing for different types (which does not have an effect here as in modern processors addition of `Float` and `Int` takes the same time).

julia v = [PositionT(rand(1:100), rand(1:100)) for _ in 1:100] @benchmark reduce(move, v) nothing #hide

The above definition suffers the same problem as `VaguePosition`, which is that it allows us to instantiate the `PositionT` with non-numeric types, e.g. `String`. We solve this by restricting the types `T` to be children of some supertype, in this case `Real`

julia struct Position{T<:Real} x::T y::T end

which will throw an error if we try to initialize it with `Position("1.0", "2.0")`. Notice the flexibility we have achieved. We can use `Position` to store (and later compute) not only over `Float32` / `Float64` but any real numbers defined by other packages, for example with `Posit`s.
using SoftPosit
Position(Posit8(3), Posit8(1))

also notice that trying to construct the Position with different type of real numbers will fail, example Position(1f0,1e0)

Naturally, fields in structures can be of different types, as is in the below pointless example.

``julia struct PositionXY{X<:Real, Y<:Real} x::X y::Y end

The type can be parametrized by a concrete types. This is useful to communicate the compiler some useful informations, for example size of arrays. 

julia struct PositionZ{T<:Real,Z} x::T y::T end


### Abstract parametric types
Like Composite types, Abstract types can also have parameters. These parameters define types that are common for all child types. A very good example is Julia's definition of arrays of arbitrary dimension `N` and type `T` of its items as

julia abstract type AbstractArray{T,N} end

Different `T` and `N` give rise to different variants of `AbstractArrays`,
therefore `AbstractArray{Float32,2}` is different from `AbstractArray{Float64,2}`
and from `AbstractArray{Float64,1}.` Note that these are still `Abstract` types,
which means you cannot instantiate them. Their purpose is
* to allow to define operations for broad class of concrete types
* to inform the compiler about constant values, which can be used
Notice in the above example that parameters of types do not have to be types, but can also be values of primitive types, as in the above example of `AbstractArray` `N` is the number of dimensions which is an integer value.

For convenience, it is common to give some important partially instantiated Abstract types an **alias**, for example `AbstractVector` as

julia const AbstractVector{T} = AbstractArray{T,1}

is defined in `array.jl:23` (in Julia 1.6.2), which allows us to define for example general prescription for the `dot` product of two abstract vectors as

julia function dot(a::AbstractVector, b::AbstractVector) @assert length(a) == length(b) mapreduce(*, +, a, b) end nothing # hide

You can verify that the above general function can be compiled to performant code if
specialized for particular arguments.

julia; ansicolor=true using InteractiveUtils: @codenative @codenative debuginfo=:none mapreduce(*,+, [1,2,3], [1,2,3])

## More on the use of types in function definitions
### Terminology
A *function* refers to a set of "methods" for a different combination of type parameters (the term function can be therefore considered as referring to a mere **name**). *Methods* define different behavior for different types of arguments for a given function. For example

julia move(a::Position, b::Position) = Position(a.x + b.x, a.y + b.y) move(a::Vector{<:Position}, b::Vector{<:Position}) = move.(a,b) nothing # hide

`move` refers to a function with methods `move(a::Position, b::Position)` and `move(a::Vector{<:Position}, b::Vector{<:Position})`. When different behavior on different types is defined by a programmer, as shown above, it is also called *implementation specialization*. There is another type of specialization, called *compiler specialization*, which occurs when the compiler generates different functions for you from a single method. For example for

move(Position(1,1), Position(2,2)) move(Position(1.0,1.0), Position(2.0,2.0))

the compiler generates two methods, one for `Position{Int64}` and the other for `Position{Float64}`. Notice that inside generated functions, the compiler needs to use different intrinsic operations, which can be viewed from

julia; ansicolor=true @code_native debuginfo=:none move(Position(1,1), Position(2,2))


julia; ansicolor=true @code_native debuginfo=:none move(Position(1.0,1.0), Position(2.0,2.0))

Notice that `move` works on `Posits` defined in 3rd party libas well

move(Position(Posit8(1),Posit8(1)), Position(Posit8(2),Posit8(2)))

## Intermezzo: How does the Julia compiler work?
Let's walk through an example. Consider the following definitions

julia move(a::Position, by::Position) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::T, by::T) where {T<:Position} = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::Position{Float64}, by::Position{Float64}) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::Vector{<:Position}, by::Vector{<:Position}) = move.(a, by) move(a::Vector{<:Position}, by::Position) = move.(a, by) nothing # hide

and a function call

julia a = Position(1.0, 1.0) by = Position(2.0, 2.0) move(a, by)

1. The compiler knows that you call the function `move`.
2. The compiler infers the type of the arguments. You can view the result with


3. The compiler identifies all `move`-methods with arguments of type `(Position{Float64}, Position{Float64})`:

wc = Base.getworldcounter() m = Base.method_instances(move, (typeof(a), typeof(by)), wc) m = first(m)

4a. If the method has been specialized (compiled), then the arguments are prepared and the method is invoked. The compiled specialization can be seen from


4b. If the method has not been specialized (compiled), the method is compiled for the given type of arguments and continues as in step 4a.
A compiled function is therefore  a "blob" of **native code** living in a particular memory location. When Julia calls a function, it needs to pick the right block corresponding to a function with particular type of parameters.

If the compiler cannot narrow the types of arguments to concrete types, it has to perform the above procedure inside the called function, which has negative effects on performance, as the type resolution and identification of the methods can be slow, especially for methods with many arguments (e.g. 30ns for a method with one argument,
100 ns for method with two arguments). **You always want to avoid run-time resolution inside the performant loop!!!**
Recall the above example

julia wolfpacka = [Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Wolf("3", 3)] @benchmark energy($(Expr(:incomplete, Base.Meta.ParseError("ParseError:\n# Error @ none:1:10\n(wolfpack\n# └ ── Expected `)`", Base.JuliaSyntax.ParseError(Base.JuliaSyntax.SourceFile("(wolfpack", 0, "none", 1, [1, 10]), Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic[Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic(10, 9, :error, "Expected `)`")], :other))))a))

BenchmarkTools.Trial: 10000 samples with 991 evaluations. Range (min … max): 40.195 ns … 66.641 ns ┊ GC (min … max): 0.00% … 0.00% Time (median): 40.742 ns ┊ GC (median): 0.00% Time (mean ± σ): 40.824 ns ± 1.025 ns ┊ GC (mean ± σ): 0.00% ± 0.00%

▂▃ ▃▅▆▅▆█▅▅▃▂▂ ▂ ▇██████████████▇▇▅▅▁▅▄▁▅▁▄▄▃▄▅▄▅▃▅▃▅▁▃▁▄▄▃▁▁▅▃▃▄▃▄▃▄▆▆▇▇▇▇█ █ 40.2 ns Histogram: log(frequency) by time 43.7 ns <

Memory estimate: 0 bytes, allocs estimate: 0.


julia wolfpackb = Any[Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Wolf("3", 3)] @benchmark energy($(Expr(:incomplete, Base.Meta.ParseError("ParseError:\n# Error @ none:1:10\n(wolfpack\n# └ ── Expected `)`", Base.JuliaSyntax.ParseError(Base.JuliaSyntax.SourceFile("(wolfpack", 0, "none", 1, [1, 10]), Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic[Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic(10, 9, :error, "Expected `)`")], :other))))b))

BenchmarkTools.Trial: 10000 samples with 800 evaluations. Range (min … max): 156.406 ns … 212.344 ns ┊ GC (min … max): 0.00% … 0.00% Time (median): 157.136 ns ┊ GC (median): 0.00% Time (mean ± σ): 158.114 ns ± 4.023 ns ┊ GC (mean ± σ): 0.00% ± 0.00%

▅█▆▅▄▂ ▃▂▁ ▂ ██████▆▇██████▇▆▇█▇▆▆▅▅▅▅▅▃▄▄▅▄▄▄▄▅▁▃▄▄▃▃▄▃▃▃▄▄▄▅▅▅▅▁▅▄▃▅▄▄▅▅ █ 156 ns Histogram: log(frequency) by time 183 ns <

Memory estimate: 0 bytes, allocs estimate: 0.

An interesting intermediate between fully abstract and fully concrete type happens, when the compiler knows that arguments have abstract type, which is composed of a small number of concrete types. This case  called Union-Splitting, which happens when there is just a little bit of uncertainty. Julia will do something like

julia argtypes = typeof(args) push!(executionstack, args) if T == Tuple{Int, Bool} @goto compiledblob1234 else # the only other option is Tuple{Float64, Bool} @goto compiledblob_1236 end

For example

julia const WolfOrSheep = Union{Wolf, Sheep} wolfpackc = WolfOrSheep[Wolf("1", 1), Wolf("2", 2), Wolf("3", 3)] @benchmark energy($(Expr(:incomplete, Base.Meta.ParseError("ParseError:\n# Error @ none:1:10\n(wolfpack\n# └ ── Expected `)`", Base.JuliaSyntax.ParseError(Base.JuliaSyntax.SourceFile("(wolfpack", 0, "none", 1, [1, 10]), Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic[Base.JuliaSyntax.Diagnostic(10, 9, :error, "Expected `)`")], :other))))c))

BenchmarkTools.Trial: 10000 samples with 991 evaluations. Range (min … max): 43.600 ns … 73.494 ns ┊ GC (min … max): 0.00% … 0.00% Time (median): 44.106 ns ┊ GC (median): 0.00% Time (mean ± σ): 44.279 ns ± 0.931 ns ┊ GC (mean ± σ): 0.00% ± 0.00%

   █     ▁ ▃

▂▂▂▆▃██▅▃▄▄█▅█▃▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▁▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▁▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂▂ ▃ 43.6 ns Histogram: frequency by time 47.4 ns <

Memory estimate: 0 bytes, allocs estimate: 0.

Thanks to union splitting, Julia is able to have performant operations on arrays with undefined / missing values for example

[1, 2, 3, missing] |> typeof

### More on matching methods and arguments
In the above process, the step, where Julia looks for a method instance with corresponding parameters can be very confusing. The rest of this lecture will focus on this. For those who want to have a formal background, we recommend [talk of  Francesco Zappa Nardelli]( and / or the one of [Jan Vitek](

When Julia needs to specialize a method instance, it needs to find it among multiple definitions. A single function can have many method instances, see for example `methods(+)` which  lists all method instances of the `+`-function. How does Julia select the proper one?
1. It finds all methods where the type of arguments match or are subtypes of restrictions on arguments in the method definition.
2a. If there are multiple matches, the compiler selects the most specific definition.

2b. If the compiler cannot decide, which method instance to choose, it throws an error.

confusedmove(a::Position{Float64}, by) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) confusedmove(a, by::Position{Float64}) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) confused_move(Position(1.0,2.0), Position(1.0,2.0))

2c. If it cannot find a suitable method, it throws an error.

move(Position(1,2), VaguePosition("hello","world"))

Some examples: Consider following definitions

julia move(a::Position, by::Position) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::T, by::T) where {T<:Position} = T(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::Position{Float64}, by::Position{Float64}) = Position(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) move(a::Vector{<:Position}, by::Vector{<:Position}) = move.(a, by) move(a::Vector{T}, by::Vector{T}) where {T<:Position} = move.(a, by) move(a::Vector{<:Position}, by::Position) = move.(a, by) nothing # hide

Which method will compiler select for

move(Position(1.0,2.0), Position(1.0,2.0))

The first three methods match the types of arguments, but the compiler will select the third one, since it is the most specific.

Which method will compiler select for

move(Position(1,2), Position(1,2))

Again, the first and second method definitions match the argument, but the second is the most specific.

Which method will the compiler select for

move([Position(1,2)], [Position(1,2)])

Again, the fourth and fifth method definitions match the argument, but the fifth is the most specific.

move([Position(1,2), Position(1.0,2.0)], [Position(1,2), Position(1.0,2.0)])

### Frequent problems
1. Why does the following fail?

foo(a::Vector{Real}) = println("Vector{Real}") foo([1.0,2,3])

Julia's type system is **invariant**, which means that `Vector{Real}` is different from `Vector{Float64}` and from `Vector{Float32}`, even though `Float64` and `Float32` are sub-types of `Real`. Therefore `typeof([1.0,2,3])` isa `Vector{Float64}` which is not subtype of `Vector{Real}.` For **covariant** languages, this would be true. For more information on variance in computer languages, [see here]( If the above definition of `foo` should be applicable to all vectors which has elements of subtype of `Real` we have define it as

julia foo(a::Vector{T}) where {T<:Real} = println("Vector{T} where {T<:Real}") nothing # hide

or equivalently but more tersely as

julia foo(a::Vector{<:Real}) = println("Vector{T} where {T<:Real}") nothing # hide

2. Diagonal rule says that a repeated type in a method signature has to be a concrete type (this is to avoid ambiguity if the repeated type is used inside function definition to define a new variable to change type of variables). Consider for example the function below

julia move(a::T, b::T) where {T<:Position} = T(a.x + by.x, a.y + by.y) nothing # hide

we cannot call it with `move(Position(1.0,2.0), Position(1,2))`, since in this case `Position(1.0,2.0)` is of type `Position{Float64}` while `Position(1,2)` is of type `Position{Int64}`.
3. When debugging why arguments do not match a particular method definition, it is useful to use `typeof`, `isa`, and `<:` commands. For example

typeof(Position(1.0,2.0)) typeof(Position(1,2)) Position(1,2) isa Position{Float64} Position(1,2) isa Position{Real} Position(1,2) isa Position{<:Real} typeof(Position(1,2)) <: Position{<:Float64} typeof(Position(1,2)) <: Position{<:Real}

### A bizzare definition which you can encounter
The following definition of a one-hot matrix is taken from [Flux.jl](

julia struct OneHotArray{T<:Integer, L, N, var"N+1", I<:Union{T,AbstractArray{T, N}}} <: AbstractArray{Bool, var"N+1"} indices::I end ```

The parameters of the type carry information about the type used to encode the position of one in each column in T, the dimension of one-hot vectors in L, the dimension of the storage of indices in N (which is zero for OneHotVector and one for OneHotMatrix), number of dimensions of the OneHotArray in var"N+1" and the type of underlying storage of indices I.

  • 1Type Stability in Julia, Pelenitsyn et al., 2021](