Publications

Attached and detached closures in actors

Published in AGERE'18, 2018

Expressive actor models combine aspects of functional programming into the pure actor model enriched with futures. Such functional features include first-class closures which can be passed between actors and chained on futures. Combined with mutable objects, this opens the door to race conditions. In some situations, closures may not be evaluated by the actor that created them yet may access fields or objects owned by that actor. In other situations, closures may be safely fired off to run as a separate task.

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Forward to a Promising Future

Published in COORDINATION'18, 2018

In many actor-based programming models, asynchronous method calls communicate their results using futures, where the fulfilment occurs under-the-hood. Promises play a similar role to futures, except that they must be explicitly created and explicitly fulfilled; this makes promises more flexible than futures, though promises lack fulfilment guarantees: they can be fulfilled once, multiple times or not at all. Unfortunately, futures are too rigid to exploit many available concurrent and parallel patterns. For instance, many computations block on a future to get its result only to return that result immediately (to fulfil their own future). To make futures more flexible, we explore a construct, forward, that delegates the responsibility for fulfilling the current implicit future to another computation. Forward reduces synchronisation and gives futures promise-like capabilities. This paper presents a formalisation of the forward construct, defined in a high-level source language, and a compilation strategy from the high-level language to a low-level, promised-based target language. The translation is shown to preserve semantics. Based on this foundation, we describe the implementation of forward in the parallel, actor-based language Encore, which compiles to C.

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A Survey of Active Object Languages

Published in Journal ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR), Volume 50 Issue 5, November 2017. Article No. 76, 2017

To program parallel systems efficiently and easily, a wide range of programming models have been proposed, each with different choices concerning synchronization and communication between parallel entities. Among them, the actor model is based on loosely coupled parallel entities that communicate by means of asynchronous messages and mailboxes. Some actor languages provide a strong integration with object-oriented concepts; these are often called active object languages. This article reviews four major actor and active object languages and compares them according to carefully chosen dimensions that cover central aspects of the programming paradigms and their implementation.

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ParT: An Asynchronous Parallel Abstraction for Speculative Pipeline Computations

Published in COORDINATION'16, 2016

The ubiquity of multicore computers has forced programming language designers to rethink how languages express parallelism and concurrency. This has resulted in new language constructs and new combinations or revisions of existing constructs. In this line, we extended the programming languages Encore (actor-based), and Clojure (functional) with an asynchronous parallel abstraction called ParT, a data structure that can dually be seen as a collection of asynchronous values (integrating with futures) or a handle to a parallel computation, plus a collection of combinators for manipulating the data structure. The combinators can express parallel pipelines and speculative parallelism. This paper presents a typed calculus capturing the essence of ParT, abstracting away from details of the Encore and Clojure programming languages. The calculus includes tasks, futures, and combinators similar to those of Orc but implemented in a non-blocking fashion. Furthermore, the calculus strongly mimics how ParT is implemented, and it can serve as the basis for adaptation of ParT into different languages and for further extensions.

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Parallel Objects for Multicores: A Glimpse at the Parallel Language Encore

Published in SFM 2015: Formal Methods for Multicore Programming, 2015

The age of multi-core computers is upon us, yet current programming languages, typically designed for single-core computers and adapted post hoc for multi-cores, remain tied to the constraints of a sequential mindset and are thus in many ways inadequate. New programming language designs are required that break away from this old-fashioned mindset. To address this need, we have been developing a new programming language called Encore, in the context of the European Project UpScale. The paper presents a motivation for the Encore language, examples of its main constructs, several larger programs, a formalisation of its core, and a discussion of some future directions our work will take. The work is ongoing and we started more or less from scratch. That means that a lot of work has to be done, but also that we need not be tied to decisions made for sequential language designs. Any design decision can be made in favour of good performance and scalability. For this reason, Encore offers an interesting platform for future exploration into object-oriented parallel programming.

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