One of the highlights of my career here at Microsoft was working on version 1 of the CLS – Common Language Specification.  It started as just one meeting between a few of the compiler and framework folks to list off the framework design features that can be used in every language and it turned into a >2 year project involving the top folks in the division.  It was such fun to see Anders Hejlsberg, Paul Vick, Peter Kukol, Jim Miller and many others arguing about what makes good framework and programming language design.  And then, we got to take it to the 3rd party language community where I got to see Bertrand Meyer argue why method overloading should not be allowed in the CLS… He almost had me convinced!

 

In the end, I think we came out with a very balanced design.  It gives framework developers a wide range of tools to use while also requiring only the minimal number of changes to most languages targeting the runtime.

 

However there is one issue that keeps coming up:  Why did we not allow unsigned types (UInt32 and the like) in the CLS?

Well, there are really two answers to this question.  At the first level some languages (such as VB.NET) do not offer full support for unsigned types.  For example you can’t have unsigned literals in VB.NET….  But to be fair that is not a completely satisfying answer because when we started the CLS you could not subclass in VB.NET either, but we extended that language to support what we knew people would want.  We could have done the same thing with unsigned types.  But we didn’t.  Why not?  Well, that gets a deeper reason.  In fact the same reason why early betas of the C# language did not support unsigned types (no ushort, uint and the like). 

The general feeling among many of us is that the vast majority of programming is done with signed types.  Whenever you switch to unsigned types you force a mental model switch (and an ugly cast).  In the worst cast you build up a whole parallel world of APIs that take unsigned types.  The value of avoiding the “< 0” check is not worth the inclusion of generics in the CLS. 

 

As a side note the C# guys did cave and added unsigned types to the language primarily to support interop with unmanaged code.