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Types and methods

Inko provides two kinds of types: classes and traits. In this chapter we'll take a look at how to define and use such types.


Classes store state and provide methods, and are created using the class keyword:

class Person {
  let @name: String
  let @age: Int

Instances of classes are created using the class literal syntax:

Person { @name = 'Alice', @age = 42 }

Within a class you can also create instances of the class itself using Self:

Self { @name = 'Alice', @age = 42 }

When creating an instance, all fields must be assigned a value, and a field can't be assigned a value multiple times.

Classes don't support inheritance, and instead rely on traits to provide reusable behaviour.

Classes come in three forms: regular classes, enum classes, and async classes. Enum classes are algebraic data types created using the class enum syntax, and its variants are specified using the case keyword:

class enum Error {
  case FileDoesntExit
  case PermissionDenied

When pattern matching against enum classes, the compiler ensures the match is exhaustive.

Async classes are created using the class async syntax and are used to define and spawn processes. This is covered in greater detail in the Concurrency chapter.


Methods may be defined when defining the class or when reopening it:

class Person {
  let @name: String
  let @age: Int

  fn name -> String {

impl Person {
  fn age -> Int {

The default return type of a method is Nil. When the return type is Nil, any expression implicitly returned in the method is ignored:

fn example {

example # => nil

If a method is defined as returning Nil, you can't explicitly return a value that isn't Nil:

fn example {
  return 42 # => Compile-time error

For enum classes the compiler generates a static method for each variant, using the same name as the variant:

class enum Error {
  case FileDoesntExit
  case PermissionDenied

Error.FileDoesntExit # Same as Error.FileDoesntExit()


Fields default to being private to the module the class is defined in. You can make them public using let pub:

class Person {
  let pub @name: String
  let pub @age: Int

Fields are accessed using the same syntax as method calls, making it easier to introduce custom getter/setter methods without having to change every line that uses the fields:

let alice = Person { @name = 'Alice', @age = 42 } # => 'Alice'
alice.age  # => 42

Enum classes can't define custom fields.


Traits are a sort of contract for classes to adhere to: a trait can specify one or more required methods as well as default methods. A class implementing a trait must implement the required methods, and is automatically given a copy of the default methods; unless the class overrides the implementation. Traits may also list other traits a class must implement.

A simple example of a trait is std::string::ToString, defined as follows:

trait pub ToString {
  fn pub to_string -> String

A class implementing this trait must provide a to_string implementation compatible with the one of the trait. Here's what such an implementation might look like:

import std::string::ToString

class Person {
  let @name: String
  let @age: Int

impl ToString for Person {
  fn pub to_string -> String {

A class can only implement a trait once, even if the trait is generic.

Type and method visibility

Types and methods default to being private to the module they are defined in, and can be made public using the pub keyword. For example, a public class is defined as follows:

fn pub foo {
  # ...

A private type can't be used in the signature of a public method or field. Private types can define public methods, which in practise means they're the same as private methods. This is allowed so private types can implement traits that expose public methods, without requiring the type to also be public.

Core types

Inko provides various core types, such as String, Int, and Array.

Some of these types are value types, which means that when they are moved a copy is created and then moved. This allows you to continue using the original value after it would be moved.


The Int class is used for integers. Integers are 64 bits signed integers.

Int is a value type.


The Float class is used for IEEE 754 double-precision floating point numbers.

Float is a value type.


The String class is used for strings. Strings are UTF-8 encoded immutable strings. Internally strings are represented such that they can be efficiently passed to C code, at the cost of one extra byte of overhead per string.

String uses atomic reference counting when copying. This means that ten copies of a 1 GiB String only require 1 GiB of memory.

String is a value type.


Inko's boolean type is Boolean. Instances of Boolean are created using true and false.

Boolean is a value type.


Array is a contiguous growable array type and can store any value, as long as all values in the array are of the same type.


ByteArray is similar to Array, except its optimised for storing bytes. A ByteArray needs less memory compared to an Array, but can only store Int values in the range of 0 up to (and including) 255.


Option is an algebraic data type/enum class used to represent an optional value. It has two variants: Some(T) and None, with None signalling the lack of a value.


Map is a hash map and can store key-value pairs of any type, as long as the keys implement the traits std::hash::Hash and std::cmp::Equal.


Nil is Inko's unit type, and used to signal the complete lack of a value. The difference with Option is that a value of type Nil can only ever be Nil, not something else. Nil is used as the default return type of methods, and in some cases can be used to explicitly ignore the result of an expression (e.g. in pattern matching bodies).

Nil is a value type.

Special types

Inko has three special types: Self, Any and Never. These types are special in that they don't exist at runtime as some sort of structure, instead they only exist in the compiler.

Self is a type that refers to either the surrounding class, or when used in a trait refers to the class that implements the trait.

Any is a type used for a value that could be anything, including data not managed by the Inko runtime such as a pointer to a C structure. Types can't be cast to an Any (nor are they compatible with Any), but you can cast Any to any other type. This is useful when working with Inko's FFI, but you should avoid Any anywhere else. ref Any is a variation of this type that doesn't take ownership of a value. This type is used in the FFI for function arguments.

Never is a type that indicates something never happens. When used in a return or throw type it means a method never returns or throws. If a method doesn't define a throw type, it defaults to Never.

Generic types

Types can be made generic, allowing them to operate on a wide range of types. For example, here's how you'd might define a generic linked list:

class Node[T] {
  let @next: Option[Node[T]]
  let @value: T

class List[T] {
  let @head: Option[Node[T]]
  let @tail: Option[mut Node[T]]

Classes, traits, methods and variants can all be made generic. Here's how you'd define a generic Result type commonly found in functional languages:

class enum Result[T, E] {
  case Ok(T)
  case Error(E)

Type inference

Inko supports type inference, removing the need for type annotations in most cases. For example, the type signature of an Array can be inferred based on its usage:

# Here the compiler infers `a` as `Array[Int]`, because of the `push` below.
let a = []


This works for any type, including generic types such as the Option type:

# `a` is inferred as `Option[Int]`.
let mut a = Option.None

a = Option.Some(42)

If a generic type can't be inferred, the compiler produces an error. In this case explicit type signatures are necessary:

let mut a: Option[Int] = Option.None

The prelude

Inko automatically imports certain symbols into your modules. These symbols are part of what is called "the prelude".

The prelude includes the following types and methods:

Symbol Source module
Int std::int
Float std::float
String std::string
Array std::array
Boolean std::bool
Nil std::nil
ByteArray std::byte_array
Option std::option
Map std::map
panic std::process