Francois Pottier (Inria, France), gives the second talk in the fourth panel, Program Construction, on the 2nd day of the ICFP conference.
Traversing and transforming abstract syntax trees that involve name binding is notoriously difficult to do in a correct, concise, modular, customisable manner. We address this problem in the setting of OCaml, a functional programming language equipped with powerful object-oriented features. We use visitor classes as partial, composable descriptions of the operations that we wish to perform on abstract syntax trees. We introduce "visitors", a simple type-directed facility for generating visitor classes that have no knowledge of binding. Separately, we present "alphaLib", a library of small hand-written visitor classes, each of which knows about a specific binding construct, a specific representation of names, and-or a specific operation on abstract syntax trees. By combining these components, a wide range of operations can be defined. Multiple representations of names can be supported, as well as conversions between representations. Binding structure can be described either in a programmatic style, by writing visitor methods, or in a declarative style, via preprogrammed binding combinators.