Scala woes?

A fork in the back? See discussion over at HN. People in the know are encouraged to shed light on the situation.


It is increasingly important for applications to protect user privacy. Unfortunately, it is often non-trivial for programmers to enforce privacy policies. We have developed Jeeves to make it easier for programmers to enforce information flow policies: policies that describe who can see what information flows through a program. Jeeves allows the programmer to write policy-agnostic programs, separately implementing policies on sensitive values from other functionality. Just like Wooster's clever valet Jeeves in Wodehouse's stories, the Jeeves runtime does the hard work, automatically enforcing the policies to show the appropriate output to each viewer.

From what I gather, Jeeves takes Aspect Oriented approach to privacy. This is of course not a new idea. I presume that many of the classic problems with AOP would apply to Jeeves. Likewise, using information flow analysis for handling privacy policies is not an new idea. Combining the two, however, seems like a smart move. Putting the enforcement at the run-time level makes this sound more practical than other ideas I have heard before. Still, I personally think that specifying privacy policies at the end-user level and clarifying the concept of privacy at the normative, legal and conceptual levels are more pressing concerns. Indeed, come to think of it: I don't really recall a privacy breach that was caused by a simple information flow bug. Privacy expectations are broken on purpose by many companies and major data breaches occur when big databases are shared (recall the Netflix Prize thing). Given this, I assume the major use-case is for Apps, maybe even as a technology that someone like Apple could use to enforce the compliance of third-party Apps to their privacy policies.

I haven't looked too closely, so comments from more informed people are welcome.

Jeeves is implemented as an embedded DSL in Scala and Python.

Typesafe Activator

A new addition to the Typesafe Platform is Activator, a unique, browser-based tool that helps developers get started with Typesafe technologies quickly and easily. Getting started is a snap; just download, extract and run the executable to start building applications immediately via the easy to use wizard based interface. Common development patterns are presented through reusable templates that are linked to in-context tutorials which explain step-by-step exactly how things work. The Activator environment supports each stage of the application development lifecycle: Code, Compile, Run, and Test. At the appropriate time, Activator can generate fully-fledged projects for the leading IDE's so that application development can continue in these environments.

You can download Activator here.

Truth be told, the web site has too much hype and not enough details for my tastes. Had I not known about some of the technologies behind the Typesafe Platform I wouldn't go past the first page. Hopefully this side of things will be improved. People developing in Scala might want to share their experiences in the comments.

Tool Demo: Scala-Virtualized

Tool Demo: Scala-Virtualized

This paper describes Scala-Virtualized, which extends the Scala language and compiler with a small number of features that enable combining the benefits of shallow and deep embeddings of DSLs. We demonstrate our approach by showing how to embed three different domain-specific languages in Scala. Moreover, we summarize how others have been using our extended compiler in their own research and teaching. Supporting artifacts of our tool include web-based tutorials, nightly builds, and an Eclipse update site hosting an up-to-date version of the Scala IDE for Eclipse based on the Virtualized Scala compiler and standard library.

Scala has always had a quite good EDSL story thanks to implicits, dot- and paren-inference, and methods-as-operators. Lately there are proposals to provide it with both macros-in-the-camlp4-sense and support for multi-stage programming. This paper goes into some depth on the foundations of the latter subject.

Effective Scala

It's from Twitter, It's open source, It's about Scala. What's not to like?

Announcing Ozma: extending Scala with Oz concurrency

I am happy to announce the release of Ozma, a conservative extension to Scala that adds Oz concurrency. Ozma was developed as a master's thesis by Sébastien Doeraene under my supervision (see the implementation and the master's thesis).

Oz is a multi-paradigm language that has strong support for concurrent and distributed programming. It compiles to its own virtual machine (called Mozart) that supports dataflow synchronization and lightweight threads.

Scala is a functional and object-oriented language with implementations for the JVM and .Net. It is completely interoperable with Java.

Ozma is an attempt at making the concurrency concepts of Oz available to a larger public. Ozma implements the full Scala specification and runs on the Mozart VM. It can therefore be seen as a new implementation of Scala. Ozma extends Scala with dataflow variables (allowing tail-recursive list functions), declarative (deterministic) concurrency, lazy declarative concurrency, and message-passing concurrency based on ports. Almost all the concurrency examples of CTM can be translated easily to Ozma. We can say that Ozma lifts the duality of Scala, namely the combination of functional and object styles, to concurrent programming.

Scala Team Wins ERC Grant

The Scala research group at EPFL is excited to announce that they have won a 5 year European Research Grant of over 2.3 million Euros to tackle the "Popular Parallel Programming" challenge. This means that the Scala team will nearly double in size to pursue a truly promising way for industry to harness the parallel processing power of the ever increasing number of cores available on each chip.

As you can see from a synopsis of the proposal, Scala will be providing the essential mechanisms to allow a simpler programming model for common problems that benefit from parallel processing. The principal innovation is to use "language virtualization", combining polymorphic embeddings with domain-specific optimizations in a staged compilation process.

This may yet lead to very interesting developments.

Type Classes as Objects and Implicits

Type Classes as Objects and Implicits

Type classes were originally developed in Haskell as a disciplined alternative to ad-hoc polymorphism. Type classes have been shown to provide a type-safe solution to important challenges in software engineering and programming languages such as, for example, retroactive extension of programs. They are also recognized as a good mechanism for concept-based generic programming and, more recently, have evolved into a mechanism for type-level computation. This paper presents a lightweight approach to type classes in object-oriented (OO) languages with generics using the CONCEPT pattern and implicits (a type-directed implicit parameter passing mechanism).

This paper also shows how Scala’s type system conspires with implicits to enable, and even surpass, many common extensions of the Haskell type class system, making Scala ideally suited for generic programming in the large.

Martin Odersky and team's design decisions around how to do type classes in a unified OO and FP language continue to bear fascinating fruit. Implicits look less and less like "poor man's type classes," and more and more like an improvement upon type classes, in my opinion given a quick read of this paper.

Compiling Structural Types on the JVM

Here's a little sausage making article for JVM language implementors. In Compiling Structural Types on the JVM: A Comparison of Reflective and Generative Techniques from Scala’s Perspective, Gilles Dubochet and Martin Odersky describe

Scala’s compilation technique of structural types for the JVM. The technique uses Java reflection and polymorphic inline caches. Performance measurements of this technique are presented and analysed. Further measurements compare Scala’s reflective technique with the “generative” technique used by Whiteoak to compile structural types. The article ends with a comparison of reflective and generative techniques for compiling structural types. It concludes that generative techniques may, in specific cases, exhibit higher performances than reflective approaches, but that reflective techniques are easier to implement and have fewer restrictions.

There's no discussion of the the proposed JVM "method handles" and whether they might be an even better solution than runtime reflection.

Whiteoak was mentioned previously on LtU.

Scala Lift Off 2009

Last year, Ehud said the only reason he missed the Scala Lift Off was because it didn't have enough marketing. So this year I'm spam^h^h^h^h posting it on the LtU front page.

The Scala Lift Off San Francisco will be held on Saturday, June 6th in San Francisco. This is the Saturday after JavaOne. Admission to the event is $200. If you are a full time student or faculty member, the cost is $50. We'll have hot and cold running food and beverages, improved wifi, and lots of terrific members of the Scala and Lift community.

Further details and registration are at the conference site. I'll add comments to this topic as more information becomes available.

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