The goal of this idea is to make it easy for the LabVIEW ecosystem to create reusable libraries for LabVIEW that would be type independent. Let's think for a second dictionaries, also called as key-value stores. Dictionaries are data structures that allow storing and retrieving values with a specific key. To create a generic reusable strongly typed dictionary is currently impossible with the LabVIEW type system. One can create a dictionary that is type specific but then it's not reusable. Or one can create a reusable dictionary but then it's not strongly typed. Type Parameters and Parametrized Generic Types as explained in this idea would allow creating strongly typed dictionaries that are widely reusable across applications. Specifically type parameters and parametrized generic types would allow LabVIEW ecosystem to develop highly reusable strongly typed components to solve various common programming problems. This would allow National Instruments to put more focus on the core of the language as the LabVIEW ecosystem could solve much wider range of problems that preivously have required National Instruments to contribute.
Add a new control type Type Parameter to LabVIEW that augments the current Control, Type Def and Strict Type Def control types. The Type Parameter type would act like a regular Type Def control with one special and important distinction. You could wire anything to an input terminal expecting a specific Type Parameter type and the downstream type would adapt at compile time to the type wired to the type parameter input.
In a single VI type parameter could be used in multiple places but all instances of the type parameter would adapt to the same type.
When a VI that uses Type Parameters in the front panel is used on a block diagram, the template VI is replaced by the compiler by a type specific instance that has adapted the type parameters to the type wired to the Type Parameter input. Notice below how in our VI the control and the indicator were of type Type Parameter with a default type of DBL and the instance got adapted to type U32 that was wired to the input.
The same type parameter could be used on multiple inputs of a VI.
And all of the type parameters would adapt to the same type when the VI is being used.
Note that in the above example we chose the element of the array to be a specific type specified by a type parameter. However the arrays themselves could as well have been specified by a type parameter.
So far we have focused on VI boundary where type parameters adapt the whole VI to specific type or types if multiple different type parameters are being used in the connector pane of the VI. Type parameters can also be used in composite types (e.g. arrays, clusters, classes) and the downstream composite types would adapt to what is wired to the type parameter input.
Note that x and y as instances of the same type parameter have to be of the same or compatible type.
Type parameters can also be used in class private data to create parameterized custom types. This is where type parameters become extremely powerful. Let's assume that we have a class 3D Vector.lvclass that has three instances of a "Data Element.ctl" Type Parameters. The default type of the Data Element is set to be DBL. The cluster private data has three instances of the Data Element, one for each of X, Y and Z.
Now we could create a Create 3D Vector method VI for this class that allows us to construct type parametrized instance of the class type.
Now calling this Create 3D Vector.vi with string as the inputs for type parametrized inputs X, Y and Z will create an instance of class 3D Vector with compile time type 3D Vector[String].
And this is where we now start seeing the superpowers of type parameters and parametrized types as well as generic type parameterized VIs that go along with them. Now we have a capability of creating custom VIs and custom types that both can adapt to different parameter types at usage time.
Let's get back to the question of dictionaries. We could easily construct a dictionary that allows the key type to be parametrized with one parameter and the value type to be parametrized with another parameter. For example we could use the dictionary with I32s as keys and Strings as values. Or we could use it with Strings as keys and File Paths as values. Constructor for such custom type would be trivial to create.
Once we have constructed the dictionary we would naturally like to use it. We could now use method VIs of the Dictionary class to add and fetch elements from the dictionary. As an example Get Element By Key would look something like this in it's simplest form.
Note that Dictionary In is type parametrized with two different type parameters Key Type and Value Type. In the class library there is a Type Parameter control Key Type.ctl and Value Type.ctl. Now type parameter Key Type.ctl is used both inside the private data of the class and on the fron panel as the Key input, the type of these two must be the same. The same is true for the Value Type element of private data and the Value indicator that both derive from Value Type.ctl type parameter. The has function is any function that can convert any LabVIEW types to some strings that we can use as keys for the variant attribute node. We are using variant attributes as the store implementation is this basic example.
Calling the Dictionary with integer as the type parameter and string as the value would look something like this.
As you can see the 0 and empty string will define propagate as type parameter types for Key Type and Value Type in the dictionary wire. Now Add Element.vi would have to adapt to these elections for Key Type and Value Type the moment the Dictionary wire is connected. The Key input immediately change to type INT32 and the Value input to type String. Similar would be true if the wires would be connected in reverse order. Connecting University of Texas string to the Value input of Add Element and connecting number 1 of type INT32 to the Key input of the Add Element would immediately adapt the Dictionary in and Dictionary out inputs to be of type Dictionary[Key Type = INT32, Value Type = String]. A type error would occur if Dictionary in would be of different type.
Type Parametrized Generic Types are an extremely powerful concept to incldue in a language and this idea describes a feasible way to implement them in a visual dataflow model of LabVIEW. This is and has been for maybe ten years my absolute #1 feature I have wanted to see in LabVIEW. I think the time is right for me to officially make this request. Ideally Type Parameters can be bounded but that's a topic for a whole other idea post.