I was watching the discussion between Gilad Bracha and Matthias Felleisen on gradual typing this afternoon (it's available on YouTube). This was the last event at the STOP workshop, part of ECOOP 2015 in Prague. I couldn't attend it because I was somewhere else (Curry On) at the time. The discussion is interesting, but if you go all the way, in the last 10 minutes or so, you will notice that Matthias seems to be completely obsessed with what he calls the "Return of the SegFaults".

Basically, the point is the following. Mathias dislikes the optional types in Common Lisp because it's opening the door to unsafety. Initially, any dynamic language has a sound type system (all type errors are caught; at run-time, yes, but they are caught). As soon as you introduce an optional type system ala Lisp, the compiler implementors are "pushed" to use the provided type information for optimization, hence weakening the type system and breaking soundness. It's the "return of segfauts".

Of course, I agree with that, at least on the principle. Yes, Common Lisp's weak, optional type system is an antiquated thing. However, it seems to me that Matthias is forgetting two important things on the practical level:

  1. by default in many implementations that I know, if not all of them, introducing type declarations doesn't actually break the soundness of the type system but leads to even more type checking. For example, (defun plus (a b) (+ a b)) works on every possible numerical value, but add (declare (type fixnum a b)) in there and it will suddenly stop working on anything else but integers. It's only if you require the compiler to optimize for speed at the expense of safety that you effectively weaken your type system.
  2. In practice, the risk of re-introducing segfaults in your application may be mitigated by the interactive aspect of the development (TDD made easier, simultaneous write / compile / run / test / debug phases etc.).

So my impression is that Matthias is largely exaggerating the problem, but I'm not really qualified to tell. That's why I would like to know from you guys, working with Lisp in the industry, writing large applications, lots of type annotations, and (declaim (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0) (debug 0)) (EDIT: that's exaggerated of course, I really mean breaking safety for performance reasons): how much of a problem the "return of the segfaults" really is in practice ?

As a side note, this reminds me of the dynamic vs. lexical scoping debate. Many people were and still are strongly opinionated against dynamic scoping by default. Of course, I too, at least in principle. But how dangerous dynamic scoping really is in practice (EDIT: I'm not talking about expressiveness, e.g. closures, here. Only unsafety.)? What I can tell you is that in the 15 years I was actively maintaining the XEmacs codebase, I may have run into name clashes due to dynamic scoping... twice.