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Workshop: Advances in Programming Languages and Neurosymbolic Systems (AIPLANS)

Type Inference as Optimization

Eirini V. Pandi · Earl Barr · Andrew Gordon · Charles Sutton


Optionally typed dynamic languages can permit multiple valid type assignments. When this happens, developers can prefer one valid type assignment over another because it better reflects how they think about the program and the problem it solves. Natural type inference (NTI) uses natural language text within source code, such as identifiers, to help choose valid programming language types. A growing body of techniques has been proposed for NTI. These techniques predict types; they seek to return natural type assignments (assignments that reflect developer preferences) while striving for correctness. They are empirically effective, but they are not sound by construction: they do not leverage programming language theory to formalize their algorithms and show correctness and termination. Filling this foundational gap is the purpose of this paper. We are the first to present a detailed algorithm for NTI that is validated with theorems and proofs. Valid type assignments obey logical constraints arising from type rules; natural type assignments obey natural constraints arising from the natural language text associated with a variable and its uses.The core intuition of this work is that logical and natural constraints can interact to speed finding a type valuation that 1. type checks (satisfies the logical constraints) and 2. is most natural.We formulate NTI as a joint optimization problem. To do this, we define a numerical relaxation over boolean logical constraints that give us a condition that we treat as a hard constraint, while simultaneously we minimize distance from natural constraints, which we treat as soft constraints for our optimization problem. Our main result, the first formal proof of soundness for natural type inference, is that our algorithm always terminates, either with an error or with a tuple that is guaranteed to be a type signature for its input.