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Discriminated unions / enum class

enum classes are a new kind of type declaration, sometimes referred to as discriminated unions, where each every possible instance the type is listed, and each instance is non-overlapping.

An enum class is defined using the following syntax:

    : 'partial'? 'enum class' identifier type_parameter_list? type_parameter_constraints_clause* 
      '{' enum_class_body '}'

    : enum_class_cases?
    | enum_class_cases ','

    : enum_class_case
    | enum_class_case ',' enum_class_cases

    : enum_class
    | class_declaration
    | identifier type_parameter_list? '(' formal_parameter_list? ')'
    | identifier

Sample syntax:

enum class Shape
    Rectangle(float Width, float Length),
    Circle(float Radius),


An enum class definition defines a root type, which is an abstract class of the same name as the enum class declaration, and a set of members, each of which has a type which is a subtype of the root type. If there are multiple partial enum class definitions, all members will be considered members of the enum class definition. Unlike a user-defined abstract class definition, the enum class root type is partial by default and defined to have a default private parameter-less constructor.

Note that, since the root type is defined to be a partial abstract class, partial definitions of the root type may also be added, where standard syntax forms for a class body are allowed. However, no types may directly inherit from the root type in any declaration, aside from those specified as enum class members. In addition, no user-defined constructors are permitted for the root type.

There are four kinds of enum class member declarations:

  • simple class members

  • complex class members

  • enum class members

  • value members.

Simple class members

A simple class member declaration defines a new nested "record" class (intentionally left undefined in this document) with the same name. The nested class inherits from the root type.

Given the sample code above,

enum class Shape
    Rectangle(float Width, float Length),
    Circle(float Radius)

the enum class declaration has semantics equivalent to the following declaration

 abstract partial class Shape
    public record Rectangle(float Width, float Length) : Shape;
    public record Circle(float Radius) : Shape;

Complex class members

You can also nest an entire class declaration below an enum class declaration. It will be treated as a nested class of the root type. The syntax allows any class declaration, but it is required for the complex class member to inherit from the direct containing enum class declaration.

enum class members

enum classes can be nested under each other, e.g.

enum class Expr
    enum class Binary
        Addition(Expr left, Expr right),
        Multiplication(Expr left, Expr right)

This is almost identical to the semantics of a top-level enum class, except that the nested enum class defines a nested root type, and everything below the nested enum class is a subtype of the nested root type, instead of the top-level root type.

abstract partial class Expr
    abstract partial class Binary : Expr
        public record Addition(Expr left, Expr right) : Binary;
        public record Multiplication(Expr left, Expr right) : Binary;

Value members

enum classes can also contain value members. Value members define public get-only static properties on the root type that also return the root type, e.g.

enum class Color

has properties equivalent to

partial abstract class Color
    public static Color Red => ...;
    public static Color Green => ...;

The complete semantics are considered an implementation detail, but it is guaranteed that one unique instance will be returned for each property, and the same instance will be returned on repeated invocations.

Switch expression and patterns

There are some proposed adjustments to pattern matching and the switch expression to handle enum classes. Switch expressions can already match types through the variable pattern, but for currently for reference types, no set of switch arms in the switch expression are considered complete, except for matching against the static type of the argument, or a subtype.

Switch expressions would be changed such that, if the root type of an enum class is the static type of the argument to the switch expression, and there is a set of patterns matching all members of the enum, then the switch will be considered exhaustive.

Since value members are not constants and do not define new static types, they currently cannot be matched by pattern. To make this possible, a new pattern using the constant pattern syntax will be added to allow match against enum class value members. The match is defined to succeed if and only if the argument to the pattern match and the value returned by the enum class value member would be reference equal, although the implementation is not required to perform this check.

Open questions

  • What does the common type algorithm say about enum class members? Is this valid code?

    • var x = b ? new Shape.Rectangle(...) : new Shape.Circle(...)
  • Adding a new pattern just for value members seems heavy handed. Is there a more general version construction that makes sense?

    • Value members also do not map well to a parallel nested class construction because of this
  • Is switching against an argument with an enum class static type guaranteed to be constant-time?

  • Should there be a way to make enum classes not be considered complete in the switch expression? Prefix with virtual?

  • What modifiers should be permitted on enum class?