[racket-dev] Abstract classes

From: Asumu Takikawa (asumu at ccs.neu.edu)
Date: Tue Feb 7 12:50:57 EST 2012

Hi all,

Stevie and I have been hacking on an addition to the class system that
would allow classes to be made abstract. Abstract classes are already
used in the codebase, so the idea here is to make this a language feature
rather than a pattern.

e.g., the private editor% class that implements the editor<%> interface
and is a superclass of text% and pasteboard% contains many methods
defined with the body (void) that aren't meant to be called.

We have an implementation on github here:

Currently, abstract methods can be defined with a new class clause:

  (abstract m)

that defines `m` as an abstract method. A class with at least one
abstract method is an abstract class.

Abstract methods are concretized using the `define/override` form.
The idea is to be compatible with how people currently implement
abstract methods as a design pattern (i.e., dummy method and an
override).  This means that we could even go back and change existing
classes, e.g., in the GUI libraries, to use the abstract form without
breaking compatibility with existing clients.

There are several design questions that we're still pondering:

 * Should abstract classes be instantiatable or not? If so, abstract
   methods would only fail when they are called. If not, `new` will
   fail on an abstract class.  Currently our implementation disallows
   instantiation of abstract classes.

 * What should the syntax of the abstract clause be?
   Matthias had the idea of specifying a method header to communicate
   intent, e.g. (abstract [m x y z]) for a method `m` that takes
   arguments `x`, `y`, and `z`.
   This gets complicated if we support the full range of argument
   options for a `define/public` (e.g., keywords).

Any thoughts or suggestions?


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