Equality Saturation: A New Approach to Optimization, Ross Tate, Michael Stepp, Zachary Tatlock, Sorin Lerner, POPL 2009.

Optimizations in a traditional compiler are applied sequentially, with each optimization destructively modifying the program to produce a transformed program that is then passed to the next optimization.

We present a new approach for structuring the optimization phase of a compiler. In our approach, optimizations take the form of equality analyses that add equality information to a common intermediate representation. The optimizer works by repeatedly applying these analyses to infer equivalences between program fragments, thus saturating the intermediate representation with equalities. Once saturated, the intermediate representation encodes multiple optimized versions of the input program.

At this point, a profitability heuristic picks the final optimized program from the various programs represented in the saturated representation. Our proposed way of structuring optimizers has a variety of benefits over previous approaches: our approach obviates the need to worry about optimization ordering, enables the use of a global optimization heuristic that selects among fully optimized programs, and can be used to perform translation validation, even on compilers other than our own.

We present our approach, formalize it, and describe our choice of intermediate representation. We also present experimental results showing that our approach is practical in terms of time and space overhead, is effective at discovering intricate optimization opportunities, and is effective at performing translation validation for a realistic optimizer.

I thought this was one of the more interesting papers at POPL this year. The idea of tackling the phase ordering problem by splitting the problem into two steps --- first computing classes of equivalent programs, and second picking the best member of the equivalence class --- is very clever.

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