Reviewing feedback on patterns in switch

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at
Tue Feb 15 18:50:06 UTC 2022

We're preparing a third preview of type patterns in switch.  Normally we 
would release after a second preview, but (a) we're about to get record 
patterns, which may disclose additional issues with switch, so best to 
keep it open for at least another round, and (b) we're proposing some 
nontrivial changes which deserve another preview.

Here's where we are on these.

> 1.  Treatment of total patterns in switch / instanceof

Quite honestly, in hindsight, I don't know why we didn't see this 
sooner; the incremental evolution proposed here is more principled than 
where we were in the previous round; now the construct (instanceof, 
switch, etc) *always* gets first crack at enforcing its nullity (and 
exception) opinions, and *then* delegates to the matching semantics of 
the pattern if it decides to do so.  This fully separates pattern 
semantics from conditional construct semantics, rather than complecting 
them (which in turn deprived users of seeing the model more clearly.)  
In hindsight, this is a no-brainer (which is why we preview things.)  
We'll be addressing this in the 3rd preview.

> 2.  Positioning of guards

Making guards part of switch also feels like a better factoring than 
making them part of patterns; it simplifies patterns and totality, and 
puts switch on a more equal footing with our other conditional 
constructs.  We did go back and forth a few times on this, but having 
given this a few weeks to settle, I'm pretty convinced we'd regret going 
the other way.

There were two sub-points here: (a) is the guard part of the pattern or 
part of switch, and (b) the syntax.  There was general agreement on (a), 
but some had preference for && on (b).  I spent some more time thinking 
about this choice, and have come down firmly on the `when` side of the 
house as a result for a number of reasons.

  - Possibility for ambiguity.  If switching over booleans (which we 
will surely eventually be forced into), locutions like `case false && 
false` will be very confusing; it's pure puzzler territory.
  - && has a stronger precedence than keyword-based operators like 
`instanceof`'; we want guards to be weakest here.
  - Using && will confuse users about whether it is part of the 
expression, or part of the switch statement.  If we're deciding it is 
part of the switch, this should be clear, and a `when` clause makes that 
  - There are future constructs that may take patterns, and may (or may 
not) want to express guard-like behavior, such as `let` statements 
(e.g., let .. when .. else.)  Expressing guards here with && is even 
less evocative of "guard condition" than it is with switches.
  - Users coming from other languages will find `case...when` quite clear.
  - We've talked about "targetless" switches as a possible future 
feature, which express multi-way conditionals:

     switch {
         case when (today() == TUESDAY): ...
         case when (location() == GREENLAND): ...

This would look quite silly with &&.  Similarly, one could mix guards 
with a targeted switch:

     switch (x) {
         case Time t: ...
         case Place p: ...
         default when (today() == TUESDAY): ... tuesday-specific default
         default: ... regular default ...

Expressing guards that are the whole condition with `when` is much more 
natural than with &&.

tl;dr: inventing a `when` modifier on switch now will save us from 
having to invent something else in the future; choosing && will not.

We can continue to discuss the bikeshed at low volume (at least until we 
start repeating ourselves), but we need to address both of these points 
in the 3rd preview.

> 3.  Type refinements for GADTs

I've been working through the details here, and there are a number of 
additional touch points where GADTs can provide type refinement, not 
just on the RHS of a case, such as totality and inference.  I'll be 
pulling all these together to try to get a total picture here. It's not 
a blocker for the 3rd preview, it can be a future refinement.

> 4.  Diamond for type patterns (and record patterns)
This seems desirable, but there are details to work out.  It's not a 
blocker for the 3rd preview, it can be a future refinement.
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