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A wrong question: Is a Square a Rectangle?

dannypsnl profile image 林子篆 Originally published at on ・2 min read


  1. what is Subtyping?
  2. what is Liskov Substitution Principle?
  3. what's the problem?
  4. how to solve this mistake of type system

What is Subtyping?

A common misunderstanding is OOP must have subtyping and generic at the same time, but they are independent features, generic is just a type-level function with takes a type, generates a type. Subtyping is a relationship between type, when we say A <: B, which means A is a subtype of B. In Java, we use concrete syntax extends or implements.

What is Liskov Substitution Principle(LSP)?

LSP said

if S is a subtype of T, then objects of type T in a program may be replaced with objects of type S without altering the program

What's the problem

Square is a special Rectangle where all four sides are equal in length. Thus we might write down:

public class Rectangle {
    double x, y;
    Rectangle(double initX, double initY) { x = initX; y = initY; }

    public void setX(double x) { this.x = x; }
    public void setY(double y) { this.y = y; }

class Square extends Rectangle {
    Square(double initX, double initY) throws SquareException {
        super(initX, initY);
        if (initX != initY) {
            throw new SquareException(initX, initY);
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Ok, so we can have following program:

Square s = new Square(2, 2);
Rectangle r = s;
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Oops, s is not a square anymore, this correctly follows LSP but incorrect generally.


Here is a solution: refinement type. By using refinement type, we can claim type Square = Rectangle when (x = y). Then problem solved, when programming if we can't proof x = y this predicate then compiler won't think that is a Square but a Rectangle. Since Square is a Rectangle, method in Rectangle still can be using by Square, thus we didn't lose our power. However, program like s.setX(v), would need to prove v = y, to prove it is a Square. Here we have two choices:

  1. change s type to Rectangle, the problem of this solution is if we write r = s; r.setX(v), compiler might not work for this(this is also why I'm designing controllable-refinement), mutable semantic always needs more effort.
  2. throw compile error that Square constraint was broke by the statement.

Choose one and work with it, that's all, have a nice day.

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