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Chapter 5: Efficient Compilation of Pattern-Matching


mappairs f [] ys         = []
mappairs f (x:xs) []     = []
mappairs f (x:xs) (y:ys) = f x y : mappairs f xs ys

The trivial compilation could check 5 times in total -- for the last case. But we can compile it into a more efficient version with case.

mappairs f xs ys =
    case xs of
        NIL => NIL
        CONS x xs =>
            case ys of
                NIL => NIL
                CONS y ys => CONS (f x y) (mappairs f xs ys)

We will study the algorithm which can transform the pattern-matching to case syntax.

First, let's define the match syntax, which can be transformed to trivially from pattern matching syntax for function definition.

The Variable Rule

can be simplified to

The Constructor Rule

can be simplified to

in which each $qs'_i$ if of form

The Empty Rule



is reduced to $E_1 | E_2 | ... | E_m | E$, which is $E_1$ if $m > 0$ and is $E$ otherwise.

The Mixture Rule

When the first pattern is mixed, i.e., composed of both variable and constructor, we can't use the above rules. Instead, we may use nested match to decompose the original match's branches, and then transform each single-branch match into a case expression. However, that could produce redundant computation due to the nested case might involve same variable. Thus, we need a way to optimize it.

The Pattern-Matching Compiler

I shall read through the text and blind-implement it in Haskell.

See my


Suppose that FAIL is returned by an expression e, then one of the following conditions must hold

  1. FAIL is mentioned explicitly in e
  2. E contains a pattern-matching lambda abstraction whose application may fail
  3. FAIL is the value of one of the free variables of e

After compilation, case 2 doesn't exist. And programmer can't write FAIL explicitly, so case 3 can't hold as well.

So we focus on case 1, i.e., on all the places where FAIL can be introduces explicitly by the compiler.

Rules for transforming $|$ and $FAIL$

  • if $E_1$ can't return $FAIL$, then $E_1 | E_2 \equiv E_1$
  • $E | FAIL \equiv E$
  • $FAIL | E \equiv E$
  • $(IF \, E_1 \, E_2 \, E_3) | E \equiv IF \, E_1 \, E_2 \, (E_3 | E)$

Eliminating $|$ and $FAIL$

Transform the pairs of guard and alternative into nested IF and finalized the innermost $else$ with either $FAIL$ or default case provided by $otherwise$.

However, we can also do some tricks in the process of compilation to machine code.

Uniform equations

Sometimes, the order in which we write clauses of matching in function definition might effect the determinism property.

For example:

diagonal x      True    False = 1 -- (1)
diagonal False  y       True  = 2 -- (2)
diagonal True   False   z     = 3 -- (3)

If we evaluate $diagonal bottom True False$, then the above order will be 1, but if we interchange (1) with (3), then it will not terminate.

Definition of "Uniformity"

  1. All equations begin with a variable pattern, and applying the variable rule yields a new set of uniform equations
  2. Or, all equations begin with a constructor pattern, and applying the constructor rule yields a new set of uniform equations
  3. Or, all equations have an empty list of pattern, and the empty rule applies and there is at most one equations in the set

Properties of "Uniformity"

If a definition is uniform, changing the order of the equations does not change the meaning of the definition. And vice versa.