Worstsort revisited: Is Haskell's type system stronger?

My recent post about worstsort has a problem: the code doesn’t actually work at all. I first had issues when I was rejigging it to fit the API of the sorting crate, and then when adding tests. The latest code on Pijul Nest has the tests, so you can download it and play along at home:

$ cargo build
   Compiling worstsort v0.1.0 (/home/josh/r/worstsort)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 0.21s
$ cargo test
   Compiling worstsort v0.1.0 (/home/josh/r/worstsort)
error: reached the recursion limit while instantiating `badsort::<s
  --> src/lib.rs:30:1
30 | / pub fn badsort<T: Ord + Clone>(k: usize, l: &mut [T]) {
31 | |     if k == 0 {
32 | |         bubblesort(l);
33 | |     } else {
...  |
37 | |     }
38 | | }
   | |_^

error: aborting due to previous error

error: Could not compile `worstsort`.

To learn more, run the command again with --verbose.

That’s quite an error! I posted this problem on Stack Overflow and got some interesting replies.

To explain what’s going on, remember how Rust generics work. The key idea is monomorphisation: the compiler generates specialised code essentially by copy-and-pasting for every type a generic function is called with1. Let’s do this by hand. If we aren’t compiling in testing mode, badsort is never called, so the compiler doesn’t have to generate any code for it. In tests::badsort_zero, the type T is instantiated as Vec<i32>, so the compiler has to produce code for badsort_veci32. As it does that, it encounters another call to badsort, but this time it’s on the permutations of the list, so T is now Vec<Vec<i32>>. This means it has to generate badsort_vecveci32, and then from there it will keep going forever.

So, there are two key questions: why was this not a problem for Haskell, and is there a way to get round it in Rust? At the moment, I don’t know! I hope to get some free time to investigate this at some point, and I’ll definitely write up whatever I find on here.

  1. I’m glossing over trait bounds since they aren’t relevant for this problem.