Additions to go/types to support type parameters

Authors: Rob Findley, Robert Griesemer

Last updated: 2021-08-17


This document proposes changes to go/types to expose the additional type information introduced by the type parameters proposal (#43651), including the amendment for type sets (#45346).

The goal of these changes is to make it possible for authors to write tools that understand parameterized functions and types, while staying compatible and consistent with the existing go/types API.

This proposal assumes familiarity with the existing go/types API.

Extensions to the type system

The type parameters proposal has a nice synopsis of the proposed language changes; here is a brief description of the extensions to the type system:

  • Defined types may be parameterized: they may have one or more type parameters in their declaration: type N[T any] ....
  • Methods on parameterized types have receiver type parameters, which parallel the type parameters from the receiver type declaration: func (r N[T]) m(...).
  • Non-method functions may be parameterized, meaning they can have one or more type parameters in their declaration: func f[T any](...).
  • Each type parameter has a type constraint, which is an interface type: type N[T interface{ m() }] ....
  • Interface types that are used only as constraints are permitted new embedded elements that restrict the set of types that may implement them: type N[T interface{ ~int|string }] ....
  • A new predeclared interface type comparable is implemented by all types for which the == and != operators may be used.
  • A new predeclared interface type any may be used in constraint position, and is a type alias for interface{}.
  • A parameterized (defined) type may be instantiated by providing type arguments: type S N[int]; var x N[string].
  • A parameterized function may be instantiated by providing explicit type arguments, or via type inference.


The sections below describe new types and functions to be added, as well as how they interact with existing go/types APIs.

Type parameters and the types.TypeParam Type

func NewTypeParam(obj *TypeName, constraint Type) *TypeParam

func (*TypeParam) Constraint() *Interface
func (*TypeParam) SetConstraint(Type)
func (*TypeParam) Obj() *TypeName

// Underlying and String implement Type.
func (*TypeParam) Underlying() Type
func (*TypeParam) String() string

Within type and function declarations, type parameters names denote type parameter types, represented by the new TypeParam type. It is a Type with two additional methods: Constraint, which returns its type constraint, and SetConstraint which may be used to set its type constraint. The SetConstraint method is necessary to break cycles in situations where the constraint type references the type parameter itself.

For a *TypeParam, Underlying is the identity method, and String returns its name.

Type parameter names are represented by a *TypeName with a *TypeParam-valued Type(). They are declared by type parameter lists, or by type parameters on method receivers. Type parameters are scoped to the type or function declaration on which they are defined. Notably, this introduces a new *Scope for parameterized type declarations (for parameterized function declarations the scope is the function scope). The Obj() method returns the *TypeName corresponding to the type parameter (its receiver).

The NewTypeParam constructor creates a new type parameter with a given *TypeName and type constraint.

For a method on a parameterized type, each receiver type parameter in the method declaration also defines a new *TypeParam, with a *TypeName object scoped to the function. The number of receiver type parameters and their constraints matches the type parameters on the receiver type declaration.

Just as with any other Object, definitions and uses of type parameter names are recorded in Info.Defs and Info.Uses.

Type parameters are considered identical (as reported by the Identical function) if and only if they satisfy pointer equality. However, see the section on Signature below for some discussion of identical type parameter lists.

Type parameter and type argument lists

type TParamList struct { /* ... */ }

func (*TypeList) Len() int
func (*TypeList) At(i int) *TypeParam

type TypeList struct { /* ... */ }

func (*TypeList) Len() int
func (*TypeList) At(i int) Type

A TParamList type is added to represent lists of type parameters. Similarly, a TypeList type is added to represent lists of type arguments. Both types have a Len and At methods, with the only difference between them being the type returned by At.

Changes to types.Named

func (*Named) TParams() *TParamList
func (*Named) SetTParams([]*TypeParam)
func (*Named) TArgs() *TypeList
func (*Named) Orig() *Named

The TParams and SetTParams methods are added to *Named to get and set type parameters. Once a type parameter has been passed to SetTParams, it is considered bound and must not be used in any subsequent calls to Named.SetTParams or Signature.SetTParams; doing so will panic. For non-parameterized types, TParams returns nil.

When a *Named type is instantiated (see instantiation below), the result is another *Named type which retains the original type parameters but gains type arguments. These type arguments are substituted in the underlying type of the original type to produce a new underlying type. Similarly, type arguments are substituted for the corresponding receiver type parameter in method declarations to produce a new method type.

These type arguments can be accessed via the TArgs method. For non-instantiated types, TArgs returns nil.

For instantiated types, the Orig method returns the parameterized type that was used to create the instance. For non-instantiated types, Orig returns the receiver.

For an instantiated type t, t.Obj() is equivalent to t.Orig().Obj().

As an example, consider the following code:

type N[T any] struct { t T }

func (N[T]) m()

type _ = N[int]

After type checking, the type N[int] is a *Named type with the same type parameters as N, but with type arguments of {int}. Underlying() of N[int] is struct { t int }, and Method(0) of N[int] is a new *Func: func (N[int]) m().

Parameterized named types continue to be considered identical (as reported by the Identical function) if they satisfy pointer equality. Instantiated named types are considered identical if their original types are identical and their type arguments are pairwise identical. Instantiating twice with the same original type and type arguments may result in pointer-identical *Named instances, but this is not guaranteed. There is further discussion of this in the instantiation section below.

Changes to types.Signature

func (*Signature) TParams() *TParamList
func (*Signature) SetTParams([]*TypeParam)

func (*Signature) RParams() *TParamList
func (*Signature) SetRParams([]*TypeParam)

The TParams and SetTParams methods are added to *Signature to get and set type parameters. As described in the section on *Named types, passing a type parameter more than once to either Named.SetTParams or Signature.SetTParams will panic.

The RParams and SetRParams methods allow getting and setting receiver type parameters. Signatures cannot have both type parameters and receiver type parameters. For a given receiver t, once t.SetTParams has been called with a non-empty slice, calling t.SetRParams with a non-empty slice will panic, and vice-versa.

For Signatures to be identical (as reported by Identical), they must be identical ignoring type parameters, have the same number of type parameters, and have pairwise identical type parameter constraints.

Changes to types.Interface

func (*Interface) IsComparable() bool
func (*Interface) IsConstraint() bool

The *Interface type gains two methods to answer questions about its type set:

  • IsComparable reports whether every element of its type set is comparable, which could be the case if the interface is explicitly restricted to comparable types, or if it embeds the special interface comparable.
  • IsConstraint reports whether the interface may only be used as a constraint; that is to say, whether it embeds any type restricting elements that are not just methods. IsConstraint returns false if the interface is defined entirely by its method set.

To understand the specific type restrictions of an interface, users may access embedded elements via the existing EmbeddedType API, along with the new Union type below. Notably, this means that EmbeddedType may now return any kind of Type.

Interfaces are identical if their type sets are identical. See the draft spec for details on type sets.

The existing Interface.Empty method returns true if the interface has no type restrictions and has an empty method set (alternatively: if its type set is the set of all types).

The Union type

type Union struct { /* ... */ }

func NewUnion([]*Term) *Union

func (*Union) Len() int
func (*Union) Term(int) *Term

// Underlying and String implement Type.
func (*Union) Underlying() Type
func (*Union) String() string

type Term struct { /* ... */ }

func NewTerm(bool, Type) *Term

func (*Term) Tilde() bool
func (*Term) Type() Type

func (*Term) String() string

A new Union type is introduced to represent the type expression T1 | T2 | ... | Tn, where Ti is a tilde term (T or ~T, for type T). A new Term type represents the tilde terms Ti, with a Type method to access the term type and a Tilde method to report if a tilde was present.

The Len and Term methods may be used to access terms in the union. Unions represent their type expression syntactically: after type checking the union terms will correspond 1:1 to the term expressions in the source, though their order is not guaranteed to be the same. Unions should only appear as embedded elements in interfaces; this is the only place they will appear after type checking, and their behavior when used elsewhere is undefined.

Unions are identical if they describe the same type set. For example ~int | string is identical to both string | int and int | string | ~int.


func Instantiate(env *Environment, orig Type, targs []Type, verify bool) (Type, error)

type ArgumentError struct { /* ... */ }

func (ArgumentError) Error() string
func (ArgumentError) Index() int

type Environment struct { /* ... */ }

func NewEnvironment() *Environment

type Config struct {
  // ...
  Environment *Environment

A new Instantiate function is added to allow the creation of type and function instances. The orig argument supplies the parameterized *Named or *Signature type being instantiated, and the targs argument supplies the type arguments to be substituted for type parameters. It is an error to call Instantiate with anything other than a *Named or *Signature type for orig, or with a targs value that has length different from the number of type parameters on the parameterized type; doing so will result in a non-nil error being returned.

If verify is true, Instantiate will verify that type arguments satisfy their corresponding type parameter constraint. If they do not, the returned error will be non-nil and may be of type dynamic type ArgumentError. ArgumentError is a new type used to represent an error associated with a specific argument index.

If orig is a *Named or *Signature type, the length of targs matches the number of type parameters, and verify is false, Instantiate will return a nil error.

An Environment type is introduced to represent an opaque type checking environment. This environment may be passed as the first argument to Instantiate, or as a field on Checker. When a single non-nil env argument is used for subsequent calls to Instantiate, identical instantiations may re-use existing type instances. Similarly, passing a non-nil Environment to Config may result in type instances being re-used during the type checking pass. This is purely a memory optimization, and callers may not rely on pointer identity for instances: they must still use Identical when comparing instantiated types.

Type inference

type Info struct {
  // ...

  Inferred map[ast.Expr]Inferred`

type Inferred struct {
  TArgs *TypeList
  Sig   *Signature

In addition to explicit instantiation, type arguments to parameterized functions may be inferred, either from other constraints, or from function arguments, or both. See the type parameters proposal for various examples of inference.

Notably, as *Signature does not have the equivalent of Named.TArgs, and there may not be explicit type arguments in the syntax, the existing content of the Info struct does not provide a way to look up the type arguments used for instantiation. For this we need a new construct, the Inferred type, which holds both the inferred type arguments and resulting non-parameterized signature. This may be looked up in a new Inferred map on the Info struct, which contains an entry for each expression where type inference occurred.

Type inference may occur in two distinct syntactic forms: at a function call, as in the expression f[...](...), or in the function valued expresion f[...]. For the latter function argument type inference does not apply, but constraint type inference may still be used. Corresponding to these forms, Info.Inferred maps *ast.CallExpr, *ast.IndexExpr, and *ast.MultiIndexExpr expressions to their inference information.

Exactly when information is recorded in Info can be subtle. For example, considering the following code:

func push[T1 interface{ type []T2 }, T2 any](t1 T1, t2 T2) T1 {
  return append(t1, t2)

var s = []int{0}

var a = push(s, 1)
var b = push[[]int](s, 2)
var c = (push[[]int])(s, 3)
var d = (push[[]int, int])(s, 4)
var e = push[[]int, int](s, 5)

In this example, each variable declaration instantiates the push function in a different way. Using short-hand notation:

  • In the declaration for a, info.Inferred maps push(s, 1) to the inferred ([]int, int), and info.Types maps push to the parameterized push function.
  • In the declaration for b, info.Inferred maps push[[]int]](s, 2) to ([]int, int), and info.Types maps push[[]int]] to the parameterized push function.
  • In the declaration for c, constraint type inference alone is used, and info.Inferred maps push[[]int]] to ([]int, int). However, this time info.Types[push[[]int]] is non-parameterized, because the type of that expression in isolation is non-parameterized. There is no entry in info.Inferred for the call expression.
  • In the declaration for d no type inference occurs, and info.Inferred does not have a corresponding entry. info.Types maps push[[]int, int] to the non-parameterized function.
  • In the declaration for e, inference (albeit trivial) still occurs. info.Inferred maps push[[]int, int](s, 5) to ([]int, int), and info.Types maps push[[]int, int] to the parameterized push function.

In the future it may be helpful to add helper methods to the Info type, similar to Info.TypeOf.

comparable and any

The new predeclared interfaces comparable and any are declared in the Universe scope.