Linear Context

A Ferrite program offers exactly one protocol, as denoted by the type Session<A>, with A being the provided protocol. For example, when we define our hello_provider program that offers SendValue<String, End>, the type of the program is Session<SendValue<String, End>>. When we implement hello_provider as send_value("Hello World!".to_string(), terminate()), we are implicitly sending the string value "Hello World!" to the offered channel of the protocol SendValue<String, End>.

Although a Ferrite program can only have one offered channel, it can also interact with other Ferrite programs and act as the client of the offered channels. Since there can be more than one client channels available, we need to identify the different channels available using channel variables. So in the case of hello_client, we bind the channel variable a to the client channel of protocol SendValue<String, End>, so that it can receive a string value from the provider.

  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())

Type Level List

Ferrite tracks the linear usage of channel variables in a linear context. A linear context is encoded as a Rust type containing zero or more protocols, in the form of a type level list. We can use the HList! macro to define a list of Rust types. For example:

  • HList![] is an empty type level list.
  • HList![String] is a type level list with just one element, String.
  • HList![String, i32, bool] is a type level list containing 3 Rust types: String, i32, and bool.
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>, ReceiveValue<i32, End>, End] is a type level list containing 3 Ferrite protocols: SendValue<String, End>, ReceiveValue<i32, End>, and End.

Behind the scene, the HList! macro desugars a type level list into nested tuples of the form (A0, (A1, (A2, (..., (An, ()))))). This is similar to how linked lists are constructed in Lisp. We start by treating the unit type () as the empty list. To prepend an element A to the front of another list R, we use the tuple constructor (,) to form the new list (A, R), with A being the head of the list and R being the tail of the list. So for example:

  • HList![] desugars to ().
  • HList![String] desugars to (String, ()).
  • HList![String, i32, bool] desugars to (String, (i32, (bool, ()))).
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>, ReceiveValue<i32, End>, End] desugars to (SendValue<String, End>, (ReceiveValue<i32, End>, (End, ()))).

When we encounter compile errors while writing Ferrite programs, we can often see desugared type level lists shown in the error messages. To understand the error messages, we just need to recognize the patterns and think of them as being the same as the pretty printed HList![...] elements.

The Context trait

Ferrite requires linear contexts to implement the Context trait. This is automatically implemented for a type level list, if all its elements implement the Protocol trait. So for example:

  • HList![] is a valid linear context, and it is an empty context.
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>] is a linear context with one protocol, SendValue<String, End>.
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>, ReceiveValue<i32, End>, End] is a linear context, because all 3 elements are valid Ferrite protocols.
  • HList![String, i32, bool] is not a linear context, because none of them are valid Ferrite protocols.
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>, String] is not a linear context, because the second element String is not a Ferrite protocol.
  • HList![SendValue<String, End>, ReceiveValue<i32, i32>] is not a linear context, because the second element ReceiveValue<i32, i32> is not a valid Ferrite protocol.

All Ferrite program has an associated linear context, and a program usually starts with an empty linear context HList![]. For the case of hello_client, in the beginning it also starts with the empty context. When we use receive_channel inside hello_client, a new channel is then added to the linear context in the continuation. As a result, the linear context in the continuation after receive_channel becomes HList![SendValue<String, End>], with the channel variable a referring to the first channel SendValue<String, End>.

Empty Slots

When a Ferrite program has a non-empty linear context, it would have to fully consume all linear channels before it can finally terminate. For the case of hello_client, this would mean that the linear context HList![SendValue<String, End>] has to be fully consumed. We do that by first receiving the value using receive_value_from(a, ...). In the continuation, the linear context would be updated to become HList![End] after the value is received. At this point we would then wait for the channel to terminate using wait(a, ...).

After the channel a is terminated, the original position of the channel in the linear context is updated with a special empty slot called Empty. This is used to indicate that the channel has been fully consumed, and it may be safe for the program to terminate. So in the continuation after wait(a, ...), the linear context is updated to become HList![Empty].

Compared to End, Empty is not a protocol. So we cannot for example define a Ferrite program that offers Empty. However Empty is treated as a valid element in a linear context. So a type level list like HList![Empty, SendValue<String, End>] also implements Context.

Empty Context

When we call terminate(), Ferrite checks whether a linear context is empty using the EmptyContext trait. This trait is implemented if the linear context is an empty list HList![], or if all elements in the linear context is Empty. So HList![], HList![Empty], HList![Empty, Empty], and so on all implement EmptyContext.

When we try to call terminate() with a non-empty linear context, we will get a compile error stating that the type HList![...] does not implement EmptyContext. When encountering such error, we can inspect the list and see which element is not empty, and update our Ferrite program to fully consume the channel accordingly.