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Re: [Qemu-devel] [PATCH v3 1/8] qapi: Add default-variant for flat union

From: Eric Blake
Subject: Re: [Qemu-devel] [PATCH v3 1/8] qapi: Add default-variant for flat unions
Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2019 08:01:50 -0600
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:60.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/60.4.0

On 2/7/19 12:56 AM, Markus Armbruster wrote:
> Max Reitz <address@hidden> writes:
>> This patch allows specifying a discriminator that is an optional member
>> of the base struct.  In such a case, a default value must be provided
>> that is used when no value is given.
>> Signed-off-by: Max Reitz <address@hidden>
>> ---

> I'm afraid this could become awkward later on.  Let me explain.
> In many programming languages, absent optional arguments / members
> default to a default value specified in the declaration.  Simple.
> In others, 'absent' is effectively an additional value.  The code
> consuming the argument / member can interpret 'absent' however it wants.
> It may eliminate the additional value by mapping it to a default value,
> but it can also interpret 'absent' unlike any value.  If there's more
> than one consumer, their interpretations need not be consistent.  The
> declaration provides no clue on semantics of 'absent'.
> QAPI is in the latter camp.  I trust you can already sense how much I
> like that.
> Now you want to permit optional variant discriminators.  As per general
> rule, their interpretation is left to the code consuming it.  One
> instance of such code is the generated union visitor, which needs to
> decide which variant to visit.  Your default-variant tells it which
> variant to visit.  Other code interpreting the discriminator better be
> consistent with that, but that's the other code's problem.  Hmm.
> If I could go back in time, I'd flip QAPI to "'absent' defaults to a
> default value".  Lacking a time machine, we're stuck with cases of
> "'absent' means something you can't express with a value" and "'absent'
> means different things in different contexts" that have been enshrined
> in external interfaces.  Is there anything we could do to improve
> matters for saner cases?
> I think there is: we could provide for an *optional* default value.  If
> the schema specifies it, that's what 'absent' means.  If it doesn't, all
> bets are off, just like they are now.

And we already have the planned syntax, thanks to our recent work on
adding conditionals - where we now have:

{ '*field': 'mytype' }

we can also do long-hand:

{ { 'name': '*field', 'type': 'mytype' } }

which also lends itself well to declaring a default:

{ { 'name': '*field', 'type': 'mytype', 'default': 'xyz' } }

> Say we do that (for what it's worth, introspect.json is already prepared
> for it).  How would it play with your default-variant?
> If an optional discriminator specifies a default value, then that's the
> default variant.  But wait, if there's also a default-variant, *that's*
> the default variant!  Awkward clash.  To resolve it, we could either
> forbid combining the two, or rule default-variant overrides the default.
> Feels needlessly complicated.
> Could we get away with "if you want a default variant, the discriminator
> must specify a default"?

I like the idea. It means finally biting the bullet and implementing
default values, but we've known we've wanted them for a while (as
evidenced by the existing introspection output, and by the syntax that
we have ready to put into use for it).

It means that representing the default variant in a union now depends on
the base class declaring a default for the optional parameter (that is,
an optional parameter can only be used as discriminator if it has a
declared default), and gives us variable defaults in more uses than just

Eric Blake, Principal Software Engineer
Red Hat, Inc.           +1-919-301-3226
Virtualization:  qemu.org | libvirt.org

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