The SingleAssignment structure provides a reference that can be assigned a value only once.
structure SingleAssignment: sig type 'a saref val saref: unit -> 'a saref exception Locked val saset: 'a saref * 'a -> unit val savalue: 'a saref -> 'a option end
The type of a single-assignment reference. It is similar to the standard ref type constructor.
This exception is raised if an attempt is made to assign a value twice to the same reference.
Assign a value to the reference. If it has already been assigned a value this will raise Locked. Note that this function is not thread-safe. A mutex must be associated with reference if there is the possibility that two different threads may attempt to assign to the same reference.
Extract the current value of the reference. If it has not yet been assigned a value it will return NONE. If it has, it will return SOME v where v is the value that was assigned.
The reason behind the SingleAssignment structure has to do with the way the Poly/ML storage management system deals with mutable and immutable data. Immutable memory cells are given a value when they are created and once created never change. They are used for lists, tuples, vectors and other datatypes. In contrast, refs and arrays are mutable data. They are given a value when they are created in the same way as immutable data but their contents can change by assignment. In addition Standard ML also distinguishes between mutable and immutable data in the treatment of equality. Immutable data structures are considered equal if their contents are the same, mutable cells are considered equal only if they are the pointers to the same cell.
Because of these differences mutable data has to be handled separately from immutable data by the garbage collector. Using mutable cells imposes an extra cost on each collection when compared with immutable data. In addition it is possible to reduce the heap size by merging immutable cells that have the same contents. In some circumstances the garbage collector may do this automatically; more often it is done explicitly using PolyML.shareCommonData.
The SingleAssignment structure allows for a combination of mutable and immutable data. A value of type saref is initially mutable but once it has been assigned a value it is marked as immutable. This allows the garbage-collector and sharing code to treat it as purely immutable once it has been locked.
A typical use for a single-assignment reference is when a data structure is being built by multiple threads. A saref can be used within the data structure to represent a portion of the structure to be built and a thread created to build it. When the thread completes it assigns the saref with the results of its work. The full structure is now immutable with all the advantages of immutable data.