Type Errors

The way we write a Ferrite program is quite different from how we typically write a Rust program. This is because Ferrite makes use of Rust's type system to provide additional safeguard on how session type channels can be used.

We can take a quick look of some error messages raised when our Ferrite programs are written incorrectly.

An Incorrect Hello Provider

Let's consider the hello_provider program that we have written in the previous chapter:

  let hello_provider: Session<Hello> =
    send_value("Hello World!".to_string(), terminate());

According to the Hello protocol, SendValue<String, End>, hello_provider is supposed to send a string value before terminating. But what if we implement hello_provider such that it terminates immediately without sending a string?

let hello_provider_incorrect: Session<Hello> = terminate();

In this case, if we try to compile our program, we would get a compile error from Rust showing a message similar to as follows:

error[E0308]: mismatched types
 |   let hello_provider_incorrect: Session<Hello> = terminate();
 |                                 --------------   ^^^^^^^^^^^ expected struct `ferrite_session::prelude::SendValue`, found struct `ferrite_session::prelude::End`
 |                                 |
 |                                 expected due to this
 = note: expected struct `PartialSession<(), ferrite_session::prelude::SendValue<String, ferrite_session::prelude::End>>`
            found struct `PartialSession<_, ferrite_session::prelude::End>`

The error message above has been slightly prettified to make it more readable, but the content remains the same. First of all, we see that the error is about type mismatch between a PartialSession type, which we will cover in a later chapter.

Inside the second type parameter of PartialSession, notice that there is a mismatch between the expected session type SendValue < String, End >, and the actual session type End. From that, we can deduce that hello_provider_incorrect has violated the Hello protocol, by instead offering the protocol End.

An Incorrect Hello Client

The error message we get from hello_provider_incorrect is relatively simple, as the type mismatch is on the offered channel. On the other hand, recall that hello_client deals with two channels: one with the receiver end of Hello, and one that offers the session type End.

  let hello_client: Session<ReceiveChannel<Hello, End>> =
    receive_channel(|a| {
      receive_value_from(a, move |greeting| {
        println!("Received greetings from provider: {}", greeting);
        wait(a, terminate())

Based on the protocol specification, it looks like hello_client should be able to receive a Hello channel, ignores the channel, and proceed to terminate immediately. So let's try implementing a new client to do just that:

let hello_client_incorrect: Session<ReceiveChannel<Hello, End>> =
  receive_channel(|provider| {

In hello_client_incorrect, the provider channel is ignored after we have received it, and we proceed to call terminate immediately. If we try to build this, we would instead get the following compile error:

error[E0277]: the trait bound `(ferrite_session::prelude::SendValue<String, ferrite_session::prelude::End>, ()): ferrite_session::internal::base::EmptyContext` is not satisfied
 |     terminate()
 |     ^^^^^^^^^ the trait `ferrite_session::internal::base::EmptyContext` is not implemented for `(ferrite_session::prelude::SendValue<String, ferrite_session::prelude::End>, ())`
 |   C: EmptyContext,
 |      ------------ required by this bound in `ferrite_session::prelude::terminate`
 = help: the following implementations were found:
           <(ferrite_session::prelude::Empty, R) as ferrite_session::internal::base::EmptyContext>

The error can look a bit scary, but it mainly boils down to two constructs: a new type (SendValue<String, End>, ()) and a new trait EmptyContext.

The type (SendValue<String, End>, ()) represents the linear context in hello_client_incorrect, when the expression terminate() is called. We will cover the details of linear context in a later chapter. For now it is sufficient to know that it is used to track the provider channel we have just received, and it has the session type SendValue<String, End>.

The EmptyContext trait is essentially telling us that in order to use the terminate() construct, the current linear context must be empty. However because we have not yet used up the provider channel, the linear context is thus not empty, and so we cannot terminate just yet.

Enforcing Linear Usage at Compile Time

The error from hello_client_incorrect shows us how Ferrite enforces linear usage of session type channels at compile time. This can greatly reduce the chance of us writing incorrect Ferrite programs that just abort in the middle of communicating with other processes.

The linear usage of Ferrite channels is different from the affine usage of Rust objects. Consider an equivalent of hello_client implemented using Rust channels:

fn hello_client_rust(receiver: Receiver<String>) {
  // drops receiver immediately

In standard Rust programs, we establish communication between concurrent processes by explicitly passing the sender or receiver end of a Rust channel as function argument. However since the Rust channel is just an affine Rust object, it is possible that one party drops the channel half way, intentionally or not.

In the simple case of our Hello protocol, the dropping of a channel might not seem critical. But what if the protocol is slightly more complicated?

Let's say we have an Ping protocol with the session type ReceiveValue<String, SendValue<String, End>>. This would require the provider to receive a string value before sending back another string value, and vice versa for the client. If a client drops the channel without sending a value to the provider, the provider would potentially wait forever without receiving the string.

Even if the provider can somehow detect that the client has dropped the channel half way, it would still have to raise a runtime error to signal the error on protocol violation. We would then have to write a lot of tests to make sure such errors never happen in practice. Even so the tests may not be exhaustive enough to cover all corner cases.

By enforcing the linear usage of channels at compile time, Ferrite helps eliminate a broad range of communication errors that can happen due to incorrect implementations. As we will see in later chapters, using Ferrite we can safely implement complex communication protocols in our Rust programs, without having to worry about our programs not correctly following these protocols.