Type inference

<programming> An algorithm for ascribing types to expressions in some language, based on the types of the constants of the language and a set of type inference rules such as

f :: A -> B,

x :: A ---------------------

(App) f x :: B

This rule, called "App" for application, says that if expression f has type A -> B and expression x has type A then we can deduce that expression (f x) has type B.

The expressions above the line are the premises and below, the conclusion.

An alternative notation often used is:

G |- x : A

where "|-" is the turnstile symbol (LaTeX \vdash) and G is a type assignment for the free variables of expression x.

The above can be read "under assumptions G, expression x has type A".

(As in Haskell, we use a double "::" for type declarations and a single ":" for the infix list constructor, cons).

Given an expression

plus (head l) 1

we can label each subexpression with a type, using type variables X, Y, etc. for unknown types:

(plus :: Int -> Int -> Int) (((head :: [a] -> a) (l :: Y)) :: X) (1 :: Int)

We then use unification on type variables to match the partial application of plus to its first argument against the App rule, yielding a type (Int -> Int) and a substitution X = Int.

Re-using App for the application to the second argument gives an overall type Int and no further substitutions.

Similarly, matching App against the application (head l) we get Y = [X].

We already know X = Int so therefore Y = [Int].

This process is used both to infer types for expressions and to check that any types given by the user are consistent.

See also generic type variable, principal type.

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type assignment
type class
typed lambda-calculus
Categorical Abstract Machine Language
type scheme
typographical error