An annotated bibliography

This page is still very much under construction. Please get in touch with us on slack if you'd like to help fill it out.

This page is for those curious about Unison's background. It covers some of the research backing Unison and lists related work and influences. You don't need to know about any of this to use Unison but we like to acknowledge that Unison is part of a big world where lots of interesting work happens. We are standing on the shoulders of giants!


The core Unison language was influenced primarily by Haskell for its ideas on purely functional programming, Erlang (for its ideas on distributed execution and handling of failures), and a research language by Lindley, McBride et. al called Frank (for its approach to working with effects / abilities).

We also have looked at and taken inspiration from lots of other languages, like Smalltalk, Scala, Elm, and many more.

Programming language theory

Formally, Unison's type system is an implementation of the system described by Joshua Dunfield and Neelakantan R. Krishnaswami in their 2013 paper Complete and Easy Bidirectional Typechecking for Higher-Rank Polymorphism.

Unison's system of abilities is based on the Frank language by Sam Lindley, Conor McBride, and Craig McLaughlin. Unison diverges slightly from the scheme detailed in this paper. In particular, Unison's ability polymorphism is provided by ordinary polymorphic types, and a Unison type with an empty ability set explicitly disallows any abilities. In Frank, the empty ability set implies an ability-polymorphic type.

The effects bibliography is a good resource for additional background on algebraic effects. Related languages with this feature are Eff and Koka.

Other references:

Functional programming

🚧 Almost too many things to cite here, would focus on references that provide good background on FP and then specific work that is notable

Distributed systems

🚧 A few categories of work to cite here ...

  • "classics" establishing the nature of distributed systems, "Time, Clocks, and the ordering of events"
  • consensus protocols like Paxos, Raft
  • work on things like vector clocks, causal consistency
  • CRDTs work
  • Distributed hash tables, overlay networks
  • Modern systems work