[Mono-dev] Generics sharing issues

Mark Probst mark.probst at gmail.com
Mon Dec 10 07:13:56 EST 2007

Hi everybody!

This is a writeup of the generics sharing issues we (mainly Paolo,
Rodrigo Kumpera, Zoltan, Hari, Massi, and me) discussed at the Mono
Summit, and how we want to solve them.  I hope I didn't miss anything
or get things wrong.  If so, please correct me.  Also, if you have any
additional ideas, or if you see any problems we've missed, don't
hesitate to let us know.

-*- outline -*-

* Problems

** recursive generics

A generic class or method might potentially lead to an infinite number
of type expansions.  Therefore type expansion must in some cases be
done lazily.

*** superclasses

class A<T>
class B<T> : A<B<B<T>>>

*** other types

class A<T> {
  static void test (int n) {
    if (n > 0)
      A<A<T>>.test (n - 1);

** interface calls

To resolve an interface call we need the MonoMethod* of the interface
method.  It's not enough to have the open method because the class
might implement more than one generic instance of the interface.

** type argument slots must be superclass-compatible

class A<T>
class B<T> : A<List<T>>

For B<string>: A<T> assumes typeargs[0] to be string, but it will be
List<string> in out current implementation.

** even non-generic classes might need rgctx

class A<T>
class B : A<string>

B needs a rgctx!

** function pointers of static methods

A static method of a generic type demands to be passed a rgctx pointer
as an implicit argument, while no such argument needs to be, or can
be, given when doing an indirect call using a function pointer.

* Solutions

** lazy filling of rgctx

We need to have the possibility of leaving fields in the rgctx null
and instantiate them lazily.  To that end we probably need a small
trampoline which is passed the rgctx and a location within it.  It has
to check whether the slot is already filled.  If it is it just returns
its value.  Otherwise it has to call an unmanaged function to compute
the slot value.

*** maybe only in cases of increasing depth

We can instantiate the types and fill the corresponding slots if we
know that doing so will not lead to endless recursion.  The simplest
heuristic for this is the depth of the type.  Since there is only a
finite number of types the recursion must terminate eventually (in
most non-contrived examples very quickly).  Example:

class A<T> {
  static void test () {
    new B<T>;
    new C<D<T>>;

The slot for B<T> can be filled and fetching its value doesn't need
the trampoline, whereas the slot for C<D<T>> would be left empty and
filled lazily with the trampoline.

** put methods for interface calls in rgctx

To resolve interface calls we put the MonoMethod pointers in the

** extensible rgctx

We need to be able to extend a class's rgctx even after is has already
been created, to allow fast access to "other" types as well as to
interface methods (Do we really need extensibility for methods?  We
already know which interface methods a class provides when we init

The extensible part of the rgctx can be a fixed number of slots with
one or more additional indirect slots.  We could have one indirect
slots which points to a reallocatable array, or a number of indirect
slots which point to lazily allocated fixed size arrays of increasing

*** layout must be compatible with superclasses

As with the other parts of the rgctx, the extensible part must be
compatible with those of the class's superclasses.  One of the
consequence is that slots which are filled in a class must be marked
as not used but occupied in all its superclasses.  For example:

class A<T>
class B<T> : A<T>

Now we add the type C<string> to B<string>'s rgctx, at slot 0.  If we
do not mark this slot as occupied in A<string> then we might add
another type, say D<string> to A<string>'s rgctx at slot 0, which
would then require us to put D<string> into slot 0 B<string>'s rgctx,
because B<string>'s rgctx must be usable wherever A<string>'s rgctx is
usable.  Slot 0 is already occpuied by another type in B<string>,

*** extending existing rgctxs

Depending on how we access the rgctx in the trampoline we could get
away with not extending already existing rgctxs.  First, all slots in
the extensible portion would have to be lazily filled.  We would also
need an additional null check for the indirect slot(s) and allocate
that lazily, too.  That would only work for fixed-size indirect
slot arrays, though.

Alternatively we would have to keep track of all closed generic
classes for each open generic class and each time we occupy a new slot
in the extensible portion we would have to run through all of them and
fill the slot and/or (re)allocate the indirect slot arrays.  That
would obviate the need for the null check for indirect slots and would
also enable us to do eager allocation for slots where we may do so.

*** need rgctx template

To be able to manage the extending portion of the rgctx we need to
keep the layout of it for each open generic class.

** type argument slots

Simplest solution: Separate slots for each class in the superclass

In most cases they probably overlap, so try to reuse slots.

** taking the function pointer of a static method

We will need to provide a pointer to a stub when taking the function
pointer, which adds the rgctx pointer as the implicit argument.  We
must make sure to create a stub at most once, otherwise we'll leak


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