Refinements with Flow

A refinement type is a type endowed with a predicate which must hold for all instances of the refined type

For example the type Integer can be defined as the pair

Integer = ( number, (n) => n % 1 === 0 )

where number is the refined type and (n) => n % 1 === 0 is the predicate.

This is a proof of concept, the goal here is to implement refinements without boxing values.

The idea

A refinement has the following blueprint (where A is the refined type)

// myrefinement.js
// private
class IsR {}
// public
export type R = A & IsR;
// public
export function refinement(a: A): ?R {
return predicate(a) ? ((a: any): R) : null
}
  • calling the function refinement should be the only legal way to get an instance of R
  • the class IsR must not be exported. If the constructor is not exported then users of the library that defined R can’t accidentally build a value v of type R (unless they voluntarily do an unsafe cast with ((v: any): R) which should be avoided)
  • collisions between two refinements of the same refined type A are not possible because of their corresponding nominal IsR types

A first example, integers

// integer.js
class IsInteger {}
export type Integer = number & IsInteger;
export function integer(a: number): ?Integer {
return a % 1 === 0 ? ((a: any): Integer) : null
}

Let’s see how you can use the integer.js module

import type { Integer } from './integer.js'
import { integer } from './integer.js'
function foo(n: number) { ... }
function bar(n: Integer) { return n > 0 } // <= n is not boxed
integer(1.1) // => null
const i = integer(1)
if (typeof i === 'number') {
foo(i) // <= we can call foo because an integer is a number...
bar(i)
}
// ... but a number is not an integer
bar(1) // <= error: number. This type is incompatible with isInteger

So an Integer is a number but a number is not an Integer. Nice.

Polymorphic refinements

The refined type A can be polymorfic (e.g. Array<*>).

Let’s define a refinement which represents a non empty array

// nonEmptyArray.js
class IsNonEmptyArray {}
export type NonEmptyArray<A> = Array<A> & IsNonEmptyArray;
// polymorfic function
export function nonEmptyArray<A>(a: Array<A>): ?NonEmptyArray<A> {
  return a.length > 0 ? ((a: any): NonEmptyArray<A>) : null
}

Usage

import type { NonEmptyArray } from './nonEmptyArray.js'
import { nonEmptyArray } from './nonEmptyArray.js'
function foo<A>(a: NonEmptyArray<A>) { ... }
const a = nonEmptyArray([1, 2, 3])
if (a) {
foo(a)
}
// foo([1, 2, 3]) // error

Drawbacks

Every refinement type is also an Object

function foo(x: Object) { ... }
const i = integer(1)
if (typeof i === 'number') {
foo(i) // <= Flow doesn't complain
}