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README.md

Record & Tuple

ECMAScript proposal for the Record and Tuple value types.

Authors:

  • Robin Ricard (Bloomberg)
  • Richard Button (Bloomberg)

Champions:

  • Robin Ricard (Bloomberg)
  • Richard Button (Bloomberg)

Advisors

  • Philipp Dunkel (Bloomberg)
  • Dan Ehrenberg (Igalia)
  • Maxwell Heiber (Bloomberg)

Stage: 1

Overview

The goal of this proposal is to introduce new value types that are deeply immutable to JavaScript. It has multiple objectives:

  • Add guaranteed deep immutable data structures at a language-level that provide similar manipulation idioms as objects
  • Add guarantees in strict equality when comparing data. This is only possible because those data structures are deeply immutable (comparing props fast is essential for efficient virtual dom reconciliation in React apps for instance)
  • Be easily understood by external typesystem supersets such as TypeScript or Flow.

This proposal presents 2 main additions to the language:

  • Record
  • Tuple

Records and Tuples can only contain other value types.

Additionally, a core goal of this proposal is to give JavaScript engines the capability to implement the same kinds of optimizations for this feature as libraries for functional data structures.

Prior work on immutable data structures in JavaScript

Today, userland libraries implement similar concepts, such as Immutable.js. Also a previous proposal attempt has been done previously but abandoned because of the complexity of the proposal and lack of sufficient use cases.

This new proposal is still inspired by this previous proposal but introduces some significant changes: Record and Tuples are now deeply immutable which can lead to simplifications across the board in the implementation, additionally we're trying to make sure existing mechanisms in the engines could support this feature with minimal work.

This proposal also offers a few usability advantages compared to userland libraries:

  • Value types are easily introspectable in a debugger while library provided immutable types are often hard to inspect as you have to inspect through implementation details
  • Because library provided immutable types use different access idioms (method calls), additional branching is needed in order to write a generic library that consumes both immutable and JS objects
  • In large projects, the risk of mixing immutable and mutable data structures grows as the state tree grows as well. This can introduce hard-to-find bugs.
  • Conversion between regular JS objects and library provided immutable types can be expensive.

Immer is a notable approach to immutable data structures, and prescribes a pattern for manipulation through producers and reducers. It is not providing immutable data types however, as it generates frozen objects. This same pattern can be adapted to the value types of this proposal in addition to frozen objects.

Finally, this proposal defines what deep equality means by limiting what a value type can be and can contain. Deep equality in JS has always been user defined and said definition of deep equality can vary significantly across libraries and domains. In the domain of value types (including string and number) this proposal adds a greater generalization of those concepts.

Examples

Record

const record1 = #{
    a: 1,
    b: 2,
    c: 3,
};

const record2 = #{...record1, b: 5};

assert(record1.a === 1);
assert(record1["a"] === 1);
assert(record1 !== record2);
assert(record2 === #{ a: 1, c: 3, b: 5 });

Tuple

const tuple1 = #[1, 2, 3];

assert(tuple1[0] === 1);

const tuple2 = tuple1.with(0, 2);
assert(tuple1 !== tuple2);
assert(tuple2 === #[2, 2, 3]);

const tuple3 = #[1, ...tuple2];
assert(tuple3 === #[1, 2, 2, 3]);

const tuple4 = tuple3.push(4);
assert(tuple4 === #[1, 2, 2, 3, 4]);

assert(tuple4.first() === 1);
const tuple5 = tuple4.pop();
assert(tuple5 === #[2, 2, 3, 4]);

Computed access

const record = #{ a: 1, b: 2, c: 3 };
const tuple = #[1, 2, 3, 4];

const k = "b";
const i = 1;

assert(#{ ...record, [k]: 5 } === #{ a: 1, c: 3, b: 5 });
assert(tuple.with(i, 1) === #[1, 1, 3, 4]);

Forbidden cases

const instance = new MyClass();
const constContainer = #{
    instance: instance
};
// TypeError: Can't use a non-value type in a value declaration

const tuple = #[1, 2, 3];

tuple.map(x => new MyClass(x));
// TypeError: Expected value type as return

// The following should work:
Array.from(tuple).map(x => new MyClass(x))

Syntax

This defines the new pieces of syntax being added to the language with this proposal.

We define a record or tuple expression by using the # modifier in front of otherwise normal object or array expressions.

Examples

#{}
#{ a: 1, b: 2 }
#{ a: 1, b: [2, 3, { c: 4 }] }
#[]
#[1, 2]
#[1, 2, { a: 3 }]

Runtime verification

At runtime, if a non-value type is placed inside a Record or Tuple, it is a TypeError. This means that a Record or Tuple expression can only contain value types.

At runtime, attempting to create a Record with a key that is not a string or symbol is a TypeError.

At runtime, it is a TypeError to add a value to a Record or Tuple of any type except the following: Record, Tuple, string, number, symbol, boolean, bigint, undefined, or null.

Equality

Instances of Record and Tuple are deeply immutable, so their equality works like that of other JS primitive value types like boolean and string instances:

assert(#{ a: 1 } === #{ a: 1 });
assert(#[1, 2] === #[1, 2]);

This is distinct from how equality works for JS objects. Strict comparison of objects will observe that each object is distinct:

assert({ a: 1 } !== { a: 1 });
assert(Object(#{ a: 1 }) !== Object(#{ a: 1 }));
assert(Object(#[1, 2]) !== Object(#[1, 2]));

Insertion order of record keys does not affect equality of records:

assert(#{ a: 1, b: 2 } === #{ b: 2, a: 1 });

Record and Tuple types are completely and deeply immutable, if they have the same values stored, they will be considered strictly equal.

=== and == follows SameValue equality when comparing values inside Record or Tuple. Further discussion on this will be found here.

assert(#{ a:  1 } === #{ a: 1 });
assert(#[1] === #[1]);
assert(#{ a:  1 } == #{ a: 1 });
assert(#[1] == #[1]);

assert(#{ a: -0 } !== #{ a: +0 });
assert(#[-0] !== #[+0]);
assert(#{ a: NaN } === #{ a: NaN });
assert(#[NaN] === #[NaN]);

assert(#{ a: -0 } != #{ a: +0 });
assert(#[-0] != #[+0]);
assert(#{ a: NaN } == #{ a: NaN });
assert(#[NaN] == #[NaN]);

assert(!Object.is(#{ a: -0 }, #{ a: +0 }));
assert(!Object.is(#[-0], #[+0]));
assert(Object.is(#{ a: NaN }, #{ a: NaN }));
assert(Object.is(#[NaN], #[NaN]));

// SameValueZero
assert(new Map().set(#{ a: 1 }, true).get(#{ a: 1 }));
assert(new Map().set(#[1], true).get(#[1]));

Record and Tuple Globals

We add to the global namespace two objects that you can use to manipulate records and tuples. Those objects have multiple properties that are in line with how records and tuples behave.

Instantiation and converting from non-const types

You can't instantiate (as in, getting a reference of) any Record or Tuple so using new will throw a TypeError. However, you can convert any structure that can be deeply represented as const using Record.from() or Tuple.from() available in the global namespace:

const record = Record({ a: 1, b: 2, c: 3 });
const record2 = Record.fromEntries([#["a", 1], #["b", 2], #["c": 3]]); // note that an iterable will also work
const tuple = Tuple.from([1, 2, 3]); // note that an iterable will also work
assert(record === #{ a: 1, b: 2, c: 3 });
assert(tuple === #[1, 2, 3]);
Record.from({ a: {} }); // TypeError: Can't convert Object with a non-const value to Record
Tuple.from([{}, {} , {}]); // TypeError: Can't convert Iterable with a non-const value to Tuple

Note that the whole structure needs to be shallowly convertable to any acceptable value type at runtime. This means that any of the values supported in the array/iterable/object must be one of these: Record, Tuple, string, number, symbol, boolean, bigint, undefined, or null.

Note: adding a recursive way of converting data structures should be possible, as long as we introduce a way to control the depth of the conversion.

Record and Tuple namespace

As we've seen previously, we have a Record and Tuple namespace. The Record global namespace has some associated functions similar to Object. Same goes for Tuple and Array. The Object namespace and the in operator should also be able to work with Records and return as usual equivalent. For instance:

assert(Record.keys(#{ a: 1, b: 2 }) === #["a", "b"]);
const keysArr = Object.keys(#{ a: 1, b: 2 }); // returns the array ["a", "b"]
assert(keysArr[0] === "a");
assert(keysArr[1] === "b");
assert(keysArr !== #["a", "b"]);
assert("a" in #{ a: 1, b: 2 });

See the appendix to learn more about the Record & Tuple namespaces.

Record and Tuple Wrapper Objects

Most users will not have to think about Record and Tuple wrapper objects. They exist for consistency with other ECMAScript features.

  • Object(record) creates an instance of Record, which is the wrapper object for record values. These instances are not extensible.
  • Object(tuple) creates an instance of Tuple, which is the wrapper object for tuple values. These instances are not extensible.

Record.prototype is an ordinary object, is not a Record instance, and its prototype is Object.prototype. record values are not an instances of the Record prototype.

Tuple.prototype is an ordinary object, is not a Tuple instance, and its prototype is Object.prototype. tuple values are not instances of the Tuple prototype.

Accessing a member expression of a tuple or record via . or [] follows the standard GetValue semantics, and implicitly converts to an instance of the corresponding wrapper type.

An instance of Record has the same keys and values as the record value it was created from. These keys are all writable: false, enumerable: true, configurable: false.

An instance of Tuple has keys that are ${index} for each index in the original tuple. The value for each of these keys is the corresponding value in the original tuple. These keys are all writable: false, enumerable: true, configurable: false. In addition, there is a non-enumerable length key. This behavior matches that of the String wrapper object. That is, Object.getOwnPropertyDescriptors(Object(#["a", "b"])) and Object.getOwnPropertyDescriptors(new String("ab")) each return an object that looks like this:

{
  "0": {
    "value": "a",
    "writable": false,
    "enumerable": true,
    "configurable": false
  },
  "1": {
    "value": "b",
    "writable": false,
    "enumerable": true,
    "configurable": false
  },
  "length": {
    "value": 2,
    "writable": false,
    "enumerable": false,
    "configurable": false
  }
}

Iteration of properties

Similar to objects and arrays, Records are not iterable, while Tuples are iterable. For example:

const record = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };
const tuple = #[1, 2];

// TypeError: record is not iterable
for (const o of record) { console.log(o); }


// output is:
// 1
// 2
for (const o of tuple) { console.log(o); }

Object.from

Object.from(record) creates an object with the same keys and values as record. Note that it is not recursive.

assert.deepEqual(Object.from(#{ a: #[1, 2, 3] }), { a: #[1, 2, 3] });

Object.from(object) behaves identically to Object.assign({}, object)

Object.from(somethingElse) where somethingElse is not a Record or object returns {}.

This is similar to the behavior of Array.from

JSON.stringify

  • The behavior of JSON.stringify(record) is equivalent to calling JSON.stringify on the object resulting from recursively converting the record to an object that contains no records or tuples.
  • The behavior of JSON.stringify(tuple) is equivalent to calling JSON.stringify on the array resulting from recursively converting the record to an object that contains no records or tuples.
JSON.stringify(#{ a: #[1, 2, 3] }); // '{"a":[1,2,3]}'
JSON.stringify(#[true, #{ a: #[1, 2, 3] }]); // '[true,{"a":[1,2,3]}]'

Record prototype

The Record prototype is an empty object.

Tuple prototype

The Tuple prototype is an object that contains the same methods as Array with a few changes:

  • We added Tuple.prototype.with() that returns a new tuple with a value changed at a given index.
  • Tuple.prototype.pop() and Tuple.prototype.shift() do not return the removed element, they return the result of the change

See the appendix Tuple's prototype.

typeof

The typeof operator will return a new value for Records and Tuples.

assert(typeof #{ a: 1 } === "record");
assert(typeof #[1, 2]   === "tuple");

Usage in {Map|Set|WeakMap}

It is possible to use a Record or Tuple as a key in a Map, and as a value in a Set. When using a Record or Tuple in this way, key/value equality behaves as expected.

It is not possible to use a Record or Tuple as a key in a WeakMap, because Records and Tuples are not Objects, and their lifetime is not observable. Attempting to set a value in a WeakMap using a Record or Tuple as the key will result in a TypeError.

Examples

Map

const record1 = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };
const record2 = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };

const map = new Map();
map.set(record1, true);
assert(map.get(record2));

Set

const record1 = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };
const record2 = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };

const set = new Set();
set.add(record1);
set.add(record2);
assert(set.size === 1);

WeakMap

const record = #{ a: 1, b: 2 };
const weakMap = new WeakMap();

// TypeError: Can't use a Record as the key in a WeakMap
weakMap.set(record, true);

FAQ

What are the performance expectations of those Data Structures?

This proposal in itself does not put any performance guarantees and does not require specific optimizations on the implementers. It is however built in a way that some performance optimizations can be done in most cases if implementers choose to do so.

This proposal is designed to enable classical optimizations for purely functional data structures, including but not limited to:

  • Optimizations for making deep equality checks fast:
    • For returning true quickly, intern ("hash-cons") some data structures
    • For returning false quickly, maintain a hash up the tree of the contents of some structures
  • Optimizations for manipulating data structures
    • In some cases, reuse existing data structures (e.g., when manipulated with object spread), similar to ropes or typical implementations of functional data structures
    • In other cases, as determined by the engine, use a flat representation like existing JavaScript object implementations

These optimizations are analogous to the way that modern JavaScript engines handle string concatenation, with various different internal types of strings. The validity of these optimizations rests on the unobservability of the identity of records and tuples. It's not expected that all engines will act identically with respect to these optimizations, but rather, they will each make decisions about particular heuristics to use. Before Stage 4 of this proposal, we plan to publish a guide for best practices for cross-engine optimizable use of Records and Tuples, based on the implementation experience that we will have at that point.

Why #{}/#[] syntax? What about an existing or new keyword?

Using a keyword as a prefix to the standard object/array literal syntax presents issues around backwards compatibility. Additionally, re-using existing keywords can introduce ambiguity.

ECMAScript defines a set of reserved keywords that can be used for future extensions to the language. Defining a new keyword that is not already reserved is possible, but requires significant effort to validate that the new keyword will not likely break backwards compatibility.

Using a reserved keyword makes this process easier, but it is not a perfect solution because there are no reserved keywords that match the "intent" of the feature, other than const. The const keyword is also tricky, because it describes a similar concept (variable reference immutability) while this proposal intends to add new immutable data structures. While immutability is the common thread between these two features, there has been significant community feedback that indicates that using const in both contexts is undesirable.

Instead of using a keyword, {| |} and [||] have been suggested as possible alternatives. For example:

const first = {| a: 1, b: 2 |};
const second = [|1, 2, 3|];

What about const classes?

"Const" classes are being considered as a followup proposal that would let us associate methods to Records.

You can see an attempt at defining them in an earlier version of this proposal.

Are there any follow up proposals being considered?

As this proposal adds a new concept to the language, we expect that other proposals might use this proposal to extend an another orthogonal feature.

We consider exploring the following proposals once this one gets considered for higher stages:

  • "Computed" and "Deep" update by copy operation (see previous version of this proposal with the with keyword integrated)
  • Value type classes
  • ConstSet and ConstMap, the const versions of Set and Map

A goal of the broader set of proposals (including operator overloading and extended numeric literals is to provide a way for user-defined types to do the same as BigInt.

If value type classes are standardized, features like Temporal Proposal which might be able to express its types using const classes. However, this is far in the future, and we do not encourage people to wait for the addition of const classes.

A previous version of this proposal included with syntax for creating new const value types. The community has suggested alernative syntax that could be considered in a follow up proposal.

Glossary

Value type

In a broad sense, a value type is anything in JavaScript that is not an Object. This includes the primitives string, number, etc... up to Records and Tuples.

Record

A value type data structure that stores values in form of value types associated to keys.

Tuple

A value type data structure that stores a series of values in form of value types.

Primitive value types

string, number, boolean, undefined, null and symbol

Immutable Data Structure

A Data Structure that doesn't accept operations that change it internally, it has operations that return a new value type that is the result of applying that operation on it.

In this proposal Record and Tuple are deeply immutable data structures.

Strict Equality

In this proposal we define strict equality as it is broadly defined in JavaScript. The operator === is a strict equality operator.

Structural Sharing

Structural sharing is a technique used to limit the memory footprint of immutable data structures. In a nutshell, when applying an operation to derive a new version of an immutable structure, structural sharing will attempt to keep most of the internal structure intact and used by both the old and derived versions of that structure. This greatly limits the amount to copy to derive the new structure.

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