# Simplification vs Minimisation of Types in Whiley

Recently, I’ve been trying to harden up the implementation of Whiley’s type system. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: *bugs in the code often prevent me from compiling correct programs!*

In thinking about how to restructure the algorithms I’m using, I realised its important to distinguish *simplification* from *minimisation*. I’ve talked about minimisation in some detail before (see here and here).

In fact, there are three phases in computing the ideal representation of a given type (in order of increasing difficulty):

**Simplification.**Here, we apply mostly straightforward simplifications. Examples include:`(T|T) => T`

,`(T|any) => any`

,`(T|void) => T`

,`(T|(S|U)) => (T|S|U)`

, etc.**Minimisation. **Here, we ensure that no two nodes in the type graph are

*equivalent*under the subtyping operator. For example, the type`X<[null|[null|X]]>`

is not minimised, whilst`X<[null|X]>`

is its minimised form.**Canonicalisation.**The final step is to ensure equivalent types have an identical representation on the machine. This is related to the Graph isomorphism problem and, more specifically, the issues of computing a canonical form of a graph.

This all seems fairly straightforward … but there are of course some tricky bits!!

## Simplification is not that Simple!

The first mistake I made was to assume that simplification was a simple step in the process. Unfortunately, there are some gotchas:

```
define LinkedList as null | { LinkedList next, int data }
define MyList as int | LinkedList
```

The problem is how to minimise this. One property I want of the simplified form is to eliminate unions of unions. But, consider the type graph for `MyList`

:

(here, circles represent unions, squares represent records, etc)

Now, it’s difficult to see how we simplify the above to remove the union (node `0`

) of a union (node `2`

). That’s because of the recursive link directly into node `2`

. In fact, we can achieve this by judiciously expanding the type like so:

This does the trick and (I believe) it’s always possible to eliminate unions of unions in this way.

## Simplification Helps Minimisation!

You might be wondering: *why bother with simplification at all? * Well, it’s because it simplifies the minimisation algorithm (which is one of the components that features a lot of bugs). In essence, simplification gives me the following property:

Property 1. Any two equivalent nodes in a simplified type have identical reachable structure.

In a non-simplified type graph, the above is clearly not true. For example, in the type `(any|int)`

the outer union and `any`

are equivalent (but have different structure). Here’s another example:

Here, nodes `0`

, `1`

and `2`

are all equivalent. But, whilst nodes `1`

and `2`

have identical reachable structure, this differs from node `0`

. In particular, the children of node `0`

are in the same equivalence class as node `0`

, whilst those for nodes `1`

and `2`

are not. In practical terms, my minimisation algorithm would have to handle this edge case and its numerous variations. With simplified form, however, these awkward cases disappear.

## Minimised is Simplified?

An interesting question is whether a type remains in simplified form after minimisation. I conjecture that the answer is yes! Atleast, provided a little care is taken.

The main issue is that the minimisation process can remove union nodes; however, *it cannot introduce them*. Consider this final example:

```
define LinkedList as null | { LinkedList next, int data }
define InnerList as null | { OuterList next, int data }
define OuterList as null | { InnerList next, int data }
define MyList as LinkedList | OuterList
```

These definitions give rise to the following type graph for `MyList`

:

This type graph is fully simplified (it’s a bit of a monster though!). This is because simplification does not attempt to eliminate *equivalent* nodes from a union, only *identical* ones. After minimisation, the outermost union will be removed and we’ll be left with just this:

Now, back to the original issue. In the general case, we can remove a union node from between any two nodes. However, we cannot remove other kinds of nodes unless the entire subtree below that node is removed. Therefore, we cannot introduce a union of union through this process.