# Generic Functions

Generic functions are defined by adding a generic clause with a list of type parameters. For example:

generic [T: Type]
function identity(x: T): T is
return x;
end;


Or:

generic [R: Region]
function bufferLength(ref: &[ByteBuffer, R]): Index;


# Return-Type Polymorphism

Austral doesn’t have type inference: type information flows in one direction, from the innermost expressions to the outermost.

For most generic functions, where the type parameters that appear in the parameter list are the same as those that appear in the return type, this isn’t a problem: the return type can be inferred from the types of the parameters.

But there are cases where you have a type parameter that appears only in the return type, and not in the value parameters. This typically happens with type classes(explained later). Consider a type class:

typeclass Bounded(T: Type) is
method smallestValue(): T;
method largestValue(): T;
end;


And we have instances defined for all the basic integer types. Then, an expression like:

print(smallestValue());


Is ill-typed. What is the return type of smallestValue()?

Functions and methods that have type parameters that appear in the return type but not in the parameters are said to be return-type polymorphic. Calls to these functions have to be disambiguated. There are two ways to do this. One is to use the type casting operator:

print(smallestValue(): Int32);


This tells the compiler that the type of smallestValue() is Int32. By asserting the return type, the compiler can figure out which typeclass instance to use.

The other way is with the let statement:

let min: Int32 := smallestValue();


Here we’re doing the same thing: asserting the return type.