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Subject: [boost] variant - off topic
From: Robert Ramey (ramey_at_[hidden])
Date: 2019-04-03 21:27:34

I've been and observer on the discussions regarding variant, expected,
outcome, optional, outcome and ?? for sometime. I'm pretty amazed at
the amount of controversy each and everyone of these in every forum -
here, C++ committee, etc. I'm beginning to wonder this isn't telling us

It seems natural that when making a new C++ data type, we should want to
implement the assignment operator. Why - well every variable needs to be
assigned to from time to time. Why is this so? Well ...

Suppose we break this assumption and consider the idea that assignment
doesn't make sense for every type. A variant is a "meta-type" or "sum
type" which "holds" one of a set of other types. Such a variant can take
on the character of any one of type types it is holding. When does it
make conceptual sense for a variable to change it's type one it has been
initially assigned. I've been trying to think of one and haven't been
successful. Here are a few of the scenarios I've considered.

a) Returning a sum type - the most common scenario for a variant.
Doesn't require a assignment. Copy/move may still be required of course.

b) looping through a vector of variants as in

vector variant<...> v;
for( variant<...> v : [](){...}

fix with change to

vector variant<...> v;
for( variant<...> & v : [](){...}

c) set according to condition

variant<...> r;
if(i < 0)
        r = v<t1>(...)
        r = v<t2>(...)

fix with change to

variant <...> r = (i < 0) ? v<t1>(...) : v<t2>(...);

d) insert your own use case here. That is, look at your own usages of
assignment to these types and see if there is not an easy way to
re-factor your code to avoid assignment.

I'll concede that, influenced by functional programming style, with a
little experimentation with F# and propaganda from the Haskell
community, I've become accustomed to code in the above way. Also I've
become afraid to assign anything to these types. The discussion has
made me aware of a raft of unintended consequences of doing what on it's
surface seems a trivial operation. I've gotten to the point that
assignment to a variant type, or "changing the type" of a value at
runtime is not code smell to me. Maybe all this could be just
eliminated if this became the accepted position.

Of course I realize that by engaging in the practice I do, the whole
issue becomes irrelevant to me personally. And I can always create
variant types as "const". It's not about that. It's about avoiding the
creating of vocabulary types which lead to problems.

So - simple proposal. Require that sum types have operator= deleted.

Robert Ramey

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