A talk by Brian Kernighan at The University of Nottingham.
Describes all the usual suspects: AWK, EQN, PIC. Even AMPL. I was wondering which languages he had in mind when he mentioned that some of his creations were total flops. I'd love to learn from those!
The talk is a fun way to spend an hour, and the audio would be good for commuters. For real aficionados I would recommend reading Jon Bentley's articles on the design of these languages (as well as CHEM and others) instead.
Designers of Elm want their compiler to produce friendly error messages. They show some examples of helpful error messages from their newer compiler on the blog post.
Compilers as Assistants
One of Elm’s goals is to change our relationship with compilers. Compilers should be assistants, not adversaries. A compiler should not just detect bugs, it should then help you understand why there is a bug. It should not berate you in a robot voice, it should give you specific hints that help you write better code. Ultimately, a compiler should make programming faster and more fun!
Breaking Through the Normalization Barrier: A Self-Interpreter for F-omega, by Matt Brown and Jens Palsberg:
According to conventional wisdom, a self-interpreter for a strongly normalizing λ-calculus is impossible. We call this the normalization barrier. The normalization barrier stems from a theorem in computability theory that says that a total universal function for the total computable functions is impossible. In this paper we break through the normalization barrier and define a self-interpreter for System Fω, a strongly normalizing λ-calculus. After a careful analysis of the classical theorem, we show that static type checking in Fω can exclude the proof’s diagonalization gadget, leaving open the possibility for a self-interpreter. Along with the self-interpreter, we program four other operations in Fω, including a continuation-passing style transformation. Our operations rely on a new approach to program representation that may be useful in theorem provers and compilers.
I haven't gone through the whole paper, but their claims are compelling. They have created self-interpreters in System F, System Fω and System Fω+, which are all strongly normalizing typed languages. Previously, the only instance of this for a typed language was Girard's System U, which is not strongly normalizing. The key lynchpin appears in this paragraph on page 2:
Our result breaks through the normalization barrier. The conventional wisdom underlying the normalization barrier makes an implicit assumption that all representations will behave like their counterpart in the computability theorem, and therefore the theorem must apply to them as well. This assumption excludes other notions of representation, about which the theorem says nothing. Thus, our result does not contradict the theorem, but shows that the theorem is less far-reaching than previously thought.
Pretty cool if this isn't too complicated in any given language. Could let one move some previously non-typesafe runtime features, into type safe libraries.
From F to DOT: Type Soundness Proofs with Definitional Interpreters by Tiark Rompf and Nada Amin:
Scala's type system unifies aspects of ML-style module systems, object-oriented, and functional programming paradigms. The DOT (Dependent Object Types) family of calculi has been proposed as a new theoretic foundation for Scala and similar expressive languages. Unfortunately, type soundness has only been established for a very restricted subset of DOT (muDOT), and it has been shown that adding important Scala features such as type refinement or extending subtyping to a lattice breaks at least one key metatheoretic property such as narrowing or subtyping transitivity, which are usually required for a type soundness proof.
The first main contribution of this paper is to demonstrate how, perhaps surprisingly, even though these properties are lost in their full generality, a richer DOT calculus that includes both type refinement and a subtyping lattice with intersection types can still be proved sound. The key insight is that narrowing and subtyping transitivity only need to hold for runtime objects, but not for code that is never executed. Alas, the dominant method of proving type soundness, Wright and Felleisen's syntactic approach, is based on term rewriting, which does not make an adequate distinction between runtime and type assignment time.
The second main contribution of this paper is to demonstrate how type soundness proofs for advanced, polymorphic, type systems can be carried out with an operational semantics based on high-level, definitional interpreters, implemented in Coq. We present the first mechanized soundness proof for System F<: based on a definitional interpreter. We discuss the challenges that arise in this setting, in particular due to abstract types, and we illustrate in detail how DOT-like calculi emerge from straightforward generalizations of the operational aspects of F<:.
Not only they solve a problem that has been open for 12 years, but they also deploy interesting techniques to make the proof possible and simple. As they write themselves, that includes the first type-soundness proof for F<: using definitional interpreters — that is, at least according to some, denotational semantics.
Understated Twitter announcement here.
GADTs Meet Their Match: Pattern-Matching Warnings That Account for GADTs, Guards, and Laziness by Georgios Karachalias, Tom Schrijvers, Dimitrios Vytiniotis, Simon Peyton Jones:
For ML and Haskell, accurate warnings when a function definition has redundant or missing patterns are mission critical. But today’s compilers generate bogus warnings when the programmer uses guards (even simple ones), GADTs, pattern guards, or view patterns. We give the first algorithm that handles all these cases in a single, uniform framework, together with an implementation in GHC, and evidence of its utility in practice.
Another great paper on a very useful incremental improvement on GADTs as found in Haskell, OCaml and Idris. Exhaustiveness checking is critical for a type system's effectiveness, and the redundant matching warnings are a nice bonus.
Optimizing Closures in O(0) time, by Andrew W. Keep, Alex Hearn, R. Kent Dybvig:
The flat-closure model for the representation of first-class procedures is simple, safe-for-space, and efficient, allowing the values or locations of free variables to be accessed with a single memory indirect. It is a straightforward model for programmers to understand, allowing programmers to predict the worst-case behavior of their programs. This paper presents a set of optimizations that improve upon the flat-closure model along with an algorithm that implements them, and it shows that the optimizations together eliminate over 50% of run-time closure-creation and free-variable access overhead in practice, with insignificant compile-time overhead. The optimizations never add overhead and remain safe-for-space, thus preserving the benefits of the flat-closure model.
Looks like a nice and simple set of optimizations for probably the most widely deployed closure representation.
Dependent Types for Low-Level Programming by Jeremy Condit, Matthew Harren, Zachary Anderson, David Gay, and George C. Necula:
In this paper, we describe the key principles of a dependent type system for low-level imperative languages. The major contributions of this work are (1) a sound type system that combines dependent types and mutation for variables and for heap-allocated structures in a more flexible way than before and (2) a technique for automatically inferring dependent types for local variables. We have applied these general principles to design Deputy, a dependent type system for C that allows the user to describe bounded pointers and tagged unions. Deputy has been used to annotate and check a number of real-world C programs.
A conceptually simple approach to verifying the safety of C programs, which proceeeds in 3 phases: 1. infer locals that hold pointer bounds, 2. flow-insensitive checking introduces runtime assertions using these locals, 3. flow-sensitive optimization that removes the assertions that it can prove always hold.
You're left with a program that ensures runtime safety with as few runtime checks as possible, and the resulting C program is compiled with gcc which can perform its own optimizations.
This work is from 2007, and the project grew into the Ivy language, which is a C dialect that is fully backwards compatible with C if you #include a small header file that includes the extensions.
It's application to C probably won't get much uptake at this point, but I can see this as a useful compiler plugin to verify unsafe Rust code.
The Royal Society will award Xavier Leroy the Milner Award 2016
... in recognition of his research on the OCaml functional programming language and on the formal verification of compilers.
It is very moving to see how far we have come, from Milner's great ideas of the 1970s to tools as powerful and as widely used as OCaml and Coq.
Guido van Rossum reminisces a bit about early discussions of generators in the Python community (read the other messages in the thread as well). I think we talked about the articles he mentions way back when. Earlier still, and beyond the discussion by Guido here, was Icon, a clever little language that I have a soft spot for. i don't think we ever fully assessed its influence on Python and other languages.