Type piracy

Type piracy is a term used to describe adding methods to a foreign function with only foreign arguments. This is considered bad practice because it can cause unexpected behavior when the function is called, in particular, it can change the behavior of one of your dependencies depending on if your package is loaded or not. This makes it hard to reason about the behavior of your code, and may introduce bugs that are hard to track down.

See Julia documentation for more information about type piracy.


Say that PkgA is foreign, and let's look at the different ways that PkgB extends its function bar.

module PkgA
    struct C end
    bar(x::C) = 42
    bar(x::Vector) = 43

module PkgB 
    import PkgA: bar, C
    struct D end
    bar(x::C) = 1
    bar(xs::D...) = 2
    bar(x::Vector{<:D}) = 3
    bar(x::Vector{D}) = 4 # slightly bad (may cause invalidations)
    bar(x::Union{C,D}) = 5 # slightly bad (a change in PkgA may turn it into piracy)
    #                        (for example changing bar(x::C) = 1 to bar(x::Union{C,Int}) = 1)

The following cases are enumerated by the return values in the example above:

  1. This is the worst case of type piracy. The value of bar(C()) can be either 1 or 42 and will depend on whether PkgB is loaded or not.
  2. This is also a bad case of type piracy. bar() throws a MethodError with only PkgA available, and returns 2 with PkgB loaded. PkgA may add a method for bar() that takes no arguments in the future, and then this is equivalent to case 1.
  3. This is a moderately bad case of type piracy. bar(Union{}[]) returns 3 when PkgB is loaded, and 43 when PkgB is not loaded, although neither of the occurring types are defined in PkgB. This case is not as bad as cases 1 and 2, because it is only about behavior around Union{}, which has no instances.
  4. Depending on ones understanding of type piracy, this could be considered piracy as well. In particular, this may cause invalidations.
  5. This is a slightly bad case of type piracy. In the current form, bar(C()) returns 42 as the dispatch on Union{C,D} is less specific. However, a future change in PkgA may change this behavior, e.g. by changing bar(x::C) to bar(x::Union{C,Int}) the call bar(C()) would become ambiguous.

The test function below currently only checks for cases 1 and 2.

Test function


Test that m does not commit type piracies.

Keyword Arguments

  • broken::Bool = false: If true, it uses @test_broken instead of @test.
  • skip_deprecated::Bool = true: If true, it does not check deprecated methods.
  • treat_as_own = Union{Function, Type}[]: The types in this container are considered to be "owned" by the module m. This is useful for testing packages that deliberately commit some type piracies, e.g. modules adding higher-level functionality to a lightweight C-wrapper, or packages that are extending StatsAPI.jl.