Causal Commutative Arrows and Their Optimization, Hai Liu. Eric Cheng. Paul Hudak. ICFP 2009.

Arrows are a popular form of abstract computation. Being more general than monads, they are more broadly applicable, and in particular are a good abstraction for signal processing and dataflow computations. Most notably, arrows form the basis for a domain specific language called Yampa, which has been used in a variety of concrete applications, including animation, robotics, sound synthesis, control systems, and graphical user interfaces.

Our primary interest is in better understanding the class of abstract computations captured by Yampa. Unfortunately, arrows are not concrete enough to do this with precision. To remedy this situation we introduce the concept of commutative arrows that capture a kind of non-interference property of concurrent computations. We also add an init operator, and identify a crucial law that captures the causal nature of arrow effects. We call the resulting computational model causal commutative arrows.

To study this class of computations in more detail, we define an extension to the simply typed lambda calculus called causal commutative arrows (CCA), and study its properties. Our key contribution is the identification of a normal form for CCA called causal commutative normal form (CCNF). By defining a normalization procedure we have developed an optimization strategy that yields dramatic improvements in performance over conventional implementations of arrows. We have implemented this technique in Haskell, and conducted benchmarks that validate the effectiveness of our approach. When combined with stream fusion, the overall methodology can result in speed-ups of greater than two orders of magnitude.

One way of understanding what is going on in this paper is that in terms of dataflow programming, FRP programs correspond to programs with single-entry, single-exit dataflow graphs. This means that none of the internal dataflow nodes in an FRP program are actually necessary -- you can coalesce all those nodes into a single node while preserving the observable behavior. (They briefly touch on this point when they mention that synchronous languages try to compile to "single loop code".) What's very slick is that they have a nice normal form procedure that (a) is defined entirely in terms of their high-level language, and (b) always yields code corresponding to the the coalesced dataflow graph. It's an elegant demonstration of the power of equational reasoning.

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