John C Reynolds Doctoral Dissertation Award nominations for 2014

Presented annually to the author of the outstanding doctoral dissertation in the area of Programming Languages. The award includes a prize of $1,000. The winner can choose to receive the award at ICFP, OOPSLA, POPL, or PLDI.

I guess it is fairly obvious why professors should propose their students (the deadline is January 4th 2015). Newly minted PhD should, for similar reasons, make sure their professors are reminded of these reasons. I can tell you that the competition is going to be tough this year; but hey, you didn't go into programming language theory thinking it is going to be easy, did you?

Zélus : A Synchronous Language with ODEs

Zélus : A Synchronous Language with ODEs
Timothy Bourke, Marc Pouzet
2013

Zélus is a new programming language for modeling systems that mix discrete logical time and continuous time behaviors. From a user's perspective, its main originality is to extend an existing Lustre-like synchronous language with Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs). The extension is conservative: any synchronous program expressed as data-flow equations and hierarchical automata can be composed arbitrarily with ODEs in the same source code.

A dedicated type system and causality analysis ensure that all discrete changes are aligned with zero-crossing events so that no side effects or discontinuities occur during integration. Programs are statically scheduled and translated into sequential code that, by construction, runs in bounded time and space. Compilation is effected by source-to-source translation into a small synchronous subset which is processed by a standard synchronous compiler architecture. The resultant code is paired with an off-the-shelf numeric solver.

We show that it is possible to build a modeler for explicit hybrid systems à la Simulink/Stateflow on top of an existing synchronous language, using it both as a semantic basis and as a target for code generation.

Synchronous programming languages (à la Lucid Synchrone) are language designs for reactive systems with discrete time. Zélus extends them gracefully to hybrid discrete/continuous systems, to interact with the physical world, or simulate it -- while preserving their strong semantic qualities.

The paper is short (6 pages) and centered around examples rather than the theory -- I enjoyed it. Not being familiar with the domain, I was unsure what the "zero-crossings" mentioned in the introductions are, but there is a good explanation further down in the paper:

The standard way to detect events in a numeric solver is via zero-crossings where a solver monitors expressions for changes in sign and then, if they are detected, searches for a more precise instant of crossing.

The Zélus website has a 'publications' page with more advanced material, and an 'examples' page with case studies.

Facebook releases "Flow", a statically typed JavaScript variant

The goal of Flow is to find errors in JavaScript code with little programmer effort. Flow relies heavily on type inference to find type errors even when the program has not been annotated - it precisely tracks the types of variables as they flow through the program.

At the same time, Flow is a gradual type system. Any parts of your program that are dynamic in nature can easily bypass the type checker, so you can mix statically typed code with dynamic code.

Flow also supports a highly expressive type language. Flow types can express much more fine-grained distinctions than traditional type systems. For example, Flow helps you catch errors involving null, unlike most type systems.

Read more here.
Here's the announcement from Facebook.

Why do we need modules at all?

Post by Joe Armstrong of Erlang fame. Leader:

Why do we need modules at all? This is a brain-dump-stream-of-consciousness-thing. I've been thinking about this for a while. I'm proposing a slightly different way of programming here. The basic idea is:

  • do away with modules
  • all functions have unique distinct names
  • all functions have (lots of) meta data
  • all functions go into a global (searchable) Key-value database
  • we need letrec
  • contribution to open source can be as simple as contributing a single function
  • there are no "open source projects" - only "the open source Key-Value database of all functions"
  • Content is peer reviewed

Why does Erlang have modules? There's a good an bad side to modules. Good: Provides a unit of compilation, a unit of code distribution. unit of code replacement. Bad: It's very difficult to decide which module to put an individual function in. Break encapsulation (see later).

Conservation laws for free!

In this year's POPL, Bob Atkey made a splash by showing how to get from parametricity to conservation laws, via Noether's theorem:

Invariance is of paramount importance in programming languages and in physics. In programming languages, John Reynolds’ theory of relational parametricity demonstrates that parametric polymorphic programs are invariant under change of data representation, a property that yields “free” theorems about programs just from their types. In physics, Emmy Noether showed that if the action of a physical system is invariant under change of coordinates, then the physical system has a conserved quantity: a quantity that remains constant for all time. Knowledge of conserved quantities can reveal deep properties of physical systems. For example, the conservation of energy, which by Noether’s theorem is a consequence of a system’s invariance under time-shifting.

In this paper, we link Reynolds’ relational parametricity with Noether’s theorem for deriving conserved quantities. We propose an extension of System Fω with new kinds, types and term constants for writing programs that describe classical mechanical systems in terms of their Lagrangians. We show, by constructing a relationally parametric model of our extension of Fω, that relational parametricity is enough to satisfy the hypotheses of Noether’s theorem, and so to derive conserved quantities for free, directly from the polymorphic types of Lagrangians expressed in our system.

Seemingly impossible programs

In case this one went under the radar, at POPL'12, Martín Escardó gave a tutorial on seemingly impossible functional programs:

Programming language semantics is typically applied to
prove compiler correctness and allow (manual or automatic) program
verification. Certain kinds of semantics can also be applied to
discover programs that one wouldn't have otherwise thought of. This is
the case, in particular, for semantics that incorporate topological
ingredients (limits, continuity, openness, compactness). For example,
it turns out that some function types (X -> Y) with X infinite (but
compact) do have decidable equality, contradicting perhaps popular
belief, but certainly not (higher-type) computability theory. More
generally, one can often check infinitely many cases in finite time.

I will show you such programs, run them fast in surprising instances,
and introduce the theory behind their derivation and working. In
particular, I will study a single (very high type) program that (i)
optimally plays sequential games of unbounded length, (ii) implements
the Tychonoff Theorem from topology (and builds finite-time search
functions for infinite sets), (iii) realizes the double-negation shift
from proof theory (and allows us to extract programs from classical
proofs that use the axiom of countable choice). There will be several
examples in the languages Haskell and Agda.

A shorter version (coded in Haskell) appears in Andrej Bauer's blog.

EATCS Award 2014: Gordon Plotkin

Gordon Plotkin is renowned for his groundbreaking contributions to programming language semantics, which have helped to shape the landscape of theoretical computer science, and which have im-pacted upon the design of programming languages and their verification technologies. The in-fluence of his pioneering work on logical frameworks pervades modern proof technologies. In addition, he has made outstanding contributions in machine learning, automated theorem prov-ing, and computer-assisted reasoning. He is still active in research at the topmost level, with his current activities placing him at the forefront of fields as diverse as programming semantics, applied logic, and systems biology.

Well deserved, of course. Congrats!

CFP: Off-the-Beaten-Track (OBT) workshop at POPL 2015

Announcing the 2015 edition of the OBT workshop, to be co-located with POPL 2015, in Mumbai, India. Two-page paper submissions are due November 7, 2014.

From the web page (http://www.cs.rice.edu/~sc40/obt15/):

Programming language researchers have the principles, tools, algorithms and abstractions to solve all kinds of problems, in all areas of computer science. However, identifying and evaluating new problems, particularly those that lie outside the typical core PL problems we all know and love, can be a significant challenge. This workshop's goal is to identify and discuss problems that do not often show up in our top conferences, but where programming language research can make a substantial impact. We hope fora like this will increase the diversity of problems that are studied by PL researchers and thus increase our community's impact on the world.

While many workshops associated with POPL have become more like mini-conferences themselves, this is an anti-goal for OBT. The workshop will be informal and structured to encourage discussion. We are at least as interested in problems as in solutions.

Domain settings

I am about to make some changes to the name server definitions. Since changes take time to propagate, you may have trouble reaching the site for awhile. If this happens, try using the .com domain instead of the preferred .org domain.

sml-family.org

In his blog, Bob Harper, in joint effort with Dave MacQueen and Lars Bergstrom, announces the launch of sml-family.org:

The Standard ML Family project provides a home for online versions of various formal definitions of Standard ML, including the "Definition of Standard ML, Revised" (Standard ML 97). The site also supports coordination between different implementations of the Standard ML (SML) programming language by maintaining common resources such as the documentation for the Standard ML Basis Library and standard test suites. The goal is to increase compatibility and resource sharing between Standard ML implementations.

The site includes a history section devoted to the history of ML, and of Standard ML in particular. This section will contain a collection of original source documents relating to the design of the language.