# Understanding the relationship between values, types, and kinds using an analogy to regexes

So what’s all this fuss about values and types? I’ve written about the relationship before, so obviously I’m at least slightly insane for really liking the relationship between the two.

Here we go again:

Regexes describe sets of strings: `(a|b)` describes `{"a", "b"}`

The sets can get really big: `[a-z][a-z][a-z]` describes `{"aaa", "aab", ..., "baa", ..., "zzy", "zzz"}`

The sets can get infinitely big: `(a|b)*` describes `{"", "a", "b", "aa", "ab", "ba", "bb", "aaa", ...}`

Types describe sets of values: `bool` describes `{false, true}`

The sets can get really big: `uint32` describes `{0, 1, 2, 3, ..., 2147483647}`

The sets can get infinitely big: `bool[]` describes `{[], [false], [true], [false, false], [false, true], ...}`

Wow, that certainly looks similar! Let’s see if we explore the operations regexes can have and see if there’s an analogy for types:

Leaving holes inside a regex for more regexes:

``````// `{hole}` is a syntax I made up - it's like string interpolation,
// you can replace the hole with another regex
let regex_twice = /{hole}{hole}/
let a_or_b = /(a|b)/
let twice_a_or_b = regex_twice.with(hole = a_or_b)
twice_a_or_b == /(a|b)(a|b)/
twice_a_or_b == {"aa", "ab", "ba", "bb"}
``````

Well then, that looks awfully similar to a tuple containing two bools:

``````type TypeTwice<T> = (T, T);
type TrueOrFalse = bool;
type TwiceTrueOrFalse = TypeTwice<TrueOrFalse>;
TwiceTrueOrFalse == (bool, bool);
TwiceTrueOrFalse == {(false, false), (false, true), (true, false), (true, true)}
``````

Cool! So generics are regexes with holes. Let’s try another: can we get HKTs?

``````// takes a regex, and fills in the hole of *that* with "a|b",
// and then makes the whole thing repeated
let funky_thing = /{hole.with("a|b")*}/
let twice = /{hole}{hole}/
let result = funky_thing.with(twice)
result == ((a|b)(a|b))*
``````

And the same thing, with HKTs:

``````type FunkyThing<M> = M<bool>[]
type Twice<T> = (T, T);
FunkyThing<Twice> == (bool, bool)[]
``````

Awesome!! Seems like we can represent a bunch of cool typing concepts with regexes.

But wait, there’s more! What’s this “dependent typing” thing? It’s actually pretty simple with regexes!

``````let num_times = Int::Parse(Console::ReadLine());
// note that the syntax /(blah){4}/ in regex means
// "repeat blah four times - blahblahblahblah"
let that_many_chars = /[a-z]{num_times}/
``````

Woah. Okay. I can’t even show the result of that computed: the regex depends on a value in the program. If the user types in “3”, that’s certainly not a regex - it’s an int! However, we dynamically compile the regex, and sure enough, the result (if the user types in “3”), is `/[a-z]{3}/`

Now, the related type:

``````let array_size = Int::Parse(Console::ReadLine());
type ThatManyInts = int[array_size];
``````

Woah. Dynamically sized arrays, strongly-typed, at runtime. Only incredibly fancy languages, like Idris, and the advanced research language C (with gcc extensions), have this feature!

The opposite, going from types to values, is pretty simple:

``````let regex = /(a|bc)/;
let value = regex.ToString();
``````

Neat!

Okay, I promised describing Kinds too - the thing in Haskell called `*`. Super wacky, it’s like a type for types. Let’s use our regex analogy: replace type with regex. Now it’s “a regex for regexes”. Well, that’s pretty simple!

Let’s say we want to validate regexes coming in from a user, and make sure they only use regexes that can be translated to globs (we’re also bad coders and forgot to include anything other than lowercase letters): any character from `a-z`, `.` (same as ? in a glob), `.*` (same as * in a glob).

``````let incoming_regex = scary_source();
let validator = /([a-z]|\.|\.\*)/
assert validator.matches(incoming_regex)
``````

But… wait a minute! “Validator” is a regex that performs on regexes - it’s a regex for regexes! It’s the same thing for Kinds: stuff like `* -> *` validates that the incoming type is a type that takes a type as an argument.

Neato.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something cool!