Tag Archives: dynamic languages

dtrace -G on Mac OS 10.5 or dtrace for Python

Let’s suppose that you were trying to port dtrace probes from (Open)Solaris to Mac OS X, and the makefile for the probes on (Open)Solaris calls for the -G option, which isn’t recognized by dtrace in 10.5. You might want to check out this mail thread to find out what to do.   

The driver for this is an effort to port OpenSolaris’ dtrace probes for Python to run on OS X. One benefit of this will be that we’ll have access to John Levon’s ustack provider for Python on the Mac. If someone wants to tackle a port for FreeBSD 7.1, it would be great to get this support into all dtrace enabled platforms.

Retry: Dynamic Languages for Desktop Apps

Apparently, I wasn’t very clear in my previous post, because almost all of the commenters seem to think that I was talking about using a dynamic language to script parts of a desktop application. That’s not at all what I mean. I think that it will be a success point when a dynamic language (I don’t care which one) is used to write a substantial portion of a desktop application that enjoys reasonably widespread success/distribution. I used Lightroom as my example because that’s the kind of application that is the target. While 63% of the code written by the Lightroom team is in Lua, only around 40% of all the code in the application is written in Lua. I am looking for a much higher percentage. I don’t have quibble with Lightroom’s percentages, because it’s very sensible for Adobe to reuse their C/C++ code for RAW processing etc, and there’s no commercial justification for even trying to rewrite that code in Lua.

We already know that dynamic language interpreters can be embedded in applications. That’s been happening for years and years. But since we are starting to see progress in the performance of dynamic language runtimes, it should be possible to write really good desktop applications using them.

Lua in Lightroom

One of the points that I discussed in my PyConUK keynote was the role (or lack thereof) of dynamic languages in desktop software development. I know that some people believe that desktop software is dead, but I am not one of them. I think that the nature of desktop software is changing, but that it is still relevant. In my discussion of dynamic languages and desktop software, I used the example of Adobe’s Lightroom, as the best example of commercial software that is written in a dynamic language. Lightroom is written in Lua, and according to this presentation by Troy Gaul, 63% of the code written by the Lightroom team is Lua (there is a bunch of C code for the low level image processing code, which is shared with Adobe Camera Raw). A number of people at PyConUK had no idea of the role of Lua in Lightroom, which is unsurprising. The only reason that I knew was that I was following Lightroom as a photography nut, and the information flew by on some boards. Troy’s presentation is pretty illuminating, so if you are interested in dynamic languages in desktop applications, you should watch the whole thing.

The First Annual JVM Language Summit

You know that a conference is good when you go home with a list of stuff that you never heard of but now need to go follow up on. The JVM Language Summit was exceptional in this regard. Sun provided a location and a few of the speakers, but most of the speakers at the Summit were not Sun employees, although there were a few Sun alumni amongst the speaker ranks. The topics that were discusssed went all the way from type theory (including the usual greekified type proofs), typical language design stuff, VM design, all the way down to discussions of how high allocation rates can cause hot data to get flushed out of caches on the bare metal. Slides for all the talks are available on the wiki for the conference, and some of the talks will have video at either InfoQ or YouTube. Here are some of my favorites from the three days.


I’d been aware of Clojure prior to the summit and had looked at the page on Clojure’s use of persistent data structures, so I thought that I had some idea of what was interesting about Clojure. I was wrong. Rich Hickey’s 30 minute presentation on Clojure had a really large amount of information per unit time. By the end of the time I was really interested in Clojure, and I was able to find out a bit more about it by going to an open space session and by being at the same table as Rich during dinner one night. As and old Lisp guy, my usual reaction to Lisps on the JVM or CLR is why? They don’t typically fit in that well with the host VM, and there are great implementations of Common Lisp that can compile to very efficient machine code. I was looking forward to Arc, but that has turned out to be very disappointing. Clojure has taken a very practical approach to the Lisp parts of the language. It fits in very nicely with the JVM, is able to call Java code easily and has the potential to achieve very good performance on the JVM. Also, Rich has made a number of design decisions which improve the syntax (he showed a short program in both Python and Clojure, and they occupy the same amount of vertical space and have roughly the same visual density) of Clojure. He’s also generalized many operations that would have worked on lists to work on sequences, which really means any Java sequence type. Like many Lisps, you can supply data type hints, and the compiler will use those to make the program more efficient. There is a nice library of collection operations, which look very comparable (or better) than Python or Ruby’s facilities for collection types. There are some other really interesting data structures in the libraries, like bit partitioned hash tries and zippers.

Beyond the Lispish stuff in Clojure, there are a several interesting features in Clojure related to the problem of concurrency. In Clojure things are immutable by default, which is a huge benefit – a benefit shared by functional languages, and quasi functional languages like Erlang. Beyond that, Clojure supports persistent data structures as a way of managing state in a concurrency friendly manner. The idea is that “updating” a persistent data structure yields both the version before and after the update. This means that updates don’t impede readers of the old version, and are not blocked by readers of the old version.

Lastly, Clojure provides an interesting mechanism for utilizing Software Transactional Memory. Normally STM systems make all accesses to memory transactional. This makes the STM a bottleneck, and makes it much more likely that the performance of the STM system will be the limiting factor in a concurrent system. Clojure requires you to make uses of the STM explicit via its Ref structure. This yields a potentially much more controlled usage of the STM, which could help preventing the STM from being a bottleneck.

My original impression of Clojure was that it was still in the very early stages, but it seems to be bit further along that that. I was surprised by the size of the community, and by other parts of the ecosystem, like the tool support. There are several Emacs modes, integration with SLIME, and even a Netbeans plugin for Clojure.

I will definitely be giving Clojure a closer look, and I am not alone. There was a lot of energy in the room during and after Rich’s talk, and there was a burst of Twitter traffic during the talk. It’s pretty interesting to see the number of language geeks on Twitter.

Davinci Machine

If you’ve been following John Rose’s blog and Charlie Nutter’s recent writings on invokedynamic, you wouldn’t be very surprised by the content of John’s presentation on the DaVinci Machine Project. This is a highly important piece of work for non-Java languages on the JVM, so it was good to hear John tell a more complete version of what he’s been up to. It was also my chance to meet John in person. We somehow missed each other at JavaOne, so it was good to put a face to the name, and have some in person contact. John and Brian Goetz did a great job of organizing the summit, and John was always trying to find out what kind of features would be useful to JVM implementors. JSR-292 can’t happen soon enough.


David Chase talked about the work that folks at Sun labs have been doing on Fortress. I never really paid much attention to Fortress, since they are really aiming at the scientific, high performance computing space, and that’s kind of outside of my interests. The Fortress guys are doing some interesting explorations as far as concurrency is concerned. In fact, David referred to Fortress as “infested with parallelism”. My todo item from the Fortress talk has to do with the work-stealing model that they have for concurrency. Apparentl this work is based on a data structure known as an ABP queue, so I’ll be tracking down the paper on that one.


I’ve heard Charlie Nutter talk about JRuby several times, and have talked with him a little about JRuby. Even so, his talk on JRuby was really interesting, because he was able to go full out for an hour to a very sophisticated audience. I know from talking to some of the Jython guys, that there were a few aha moments for them, even though they’ve been to the same talks that I’ve been to.

Dynalang MOP

Attila Szegedi described his proposal for a MOP for dynamic languages. Once you start hosting a bunch of languages on the JVM (or any VM), then people start to ask if they can call code written in language A (say Clojure) from language B (say Python). The tough part is that the code in language A may have compiled to Java bytecodes in a way that doesn’t really resemble Java code, and you can end up in a situation where B can call A but does it by grabbing things which are really artifacts of A’s implementation. Of course, A’s implementors will continue to improve A, and in the process of doing so, might change the details. You can see what the problem is going to be. Attilla’s MOP would go a long way towards helping here. I hope that people will give it a serious look.

Gradual Typing

Jython committer Jim Baker has been after me about the work that Jeremy Siek (UC Boulder) has been doing on adding types to Python. His system is called gradual typing and allows a programmer to selectively add type annotations to a program. It’s a cool idea in principle, and I hope that it will end up being cool when it finally gets implemented all the way. I have to admit that the first time that I saw an annotated program, I had a violent reaction. There were a ton of angle brackets due to the type annotations. Jeremy and his students are working on ways the reduced the amount of notation that is needed. I hope that they’ll be successful — in Python at least, it’s going to be key to whether people will adopt it or not.

Fundamentalist FP

I’ve been an admirer of Erik Meijer‘s work for some time, so I was glad to be able to hear him speak in person. There was another talk on LINQ, so Erik didn’t talk about that. Instead he talked about what he called “Fundamentalist Functional Programming”, which is really just the functional programming that the old school functional programming people have always talked about. I think that Erik is concerned about the amount of lifting of functional programming ideas and idioms, without a full understanding of the essence of functional programming. His presentation style is very entertaining. The major thrust of his argument was that for the past 50 years of computing, we have been abstracting, but abstracting over the wrong things. He asserted that the thing that we really need to do is to abstract over evaluation order. Given the coming many/multicore world, this is understandable, but don’t think that I agree that all the other lessons that we’ve learned about abstraction are invalid. He provided the simplest explanation of monads that I have ever heard or read, as well as showing how to handle things like object creation and process creation monadically. In the end, though, his talk reduced to the essentials of lazy pure functional programming.

Bytecodes for fast JVM’s

Cliff Click asked that JVM language implementors send him an implementation of a particular program written in their language. Cliff then ran those programs (in their respective languages) on Hotspot and on the Azul JVM. His talk was a report of his findings as to what was keeping various languages from getting the best results on the JVM. He said that he wasn’t trying to compare the merits of one language versus another, but more to give the implementors insight into what was up with their code. I found this talk to be tremendously interesting because Cliff really knows the guts of HotSpot and because he was able to be very specific about what was causing problems for the various languages.


I’ve known Allison Randal for several years now, mostly via her organizing of the FLOSSFoundations meetings that happen every year at OSCON. In all that time, we’ve never really sat down and talked about her work on Parrot, and it’s been several years since I heard a talk on Parrot. I give John and Brian a lot of credit for inviting Allison to come and talk about Parrot. The architecture of Parrot is very unlike either the JVM or the CLR. They started with very different assumptions and goals, which unsurprisingly lead to a different design. As far as I can tell, Parrot is looking reasonable on the performance front, will be able to use the C libraries of Python, Ruby, PHP, etc, without much hassle, and will have a good story for interoperability between hosted languages. Control flow is modeled using continuations which means that continuations are really cheap to create. Allison also talked about what a different method of doing call site caching – Parrot does the caching in the Parrot class object, not in little caches strewn all over the call sites. This makes it easy to invalidations the cache when the class hierarchy changes, for example. I’m still trying to digest all of what I heard, as well as the conversation that several of us had with Allison after her talk.

The Parrot team has been lying low and working away on Parrot, and they are definitely making progress. Allison showed some very preliminary benchmarks of the incomplete Python, Ruby, and PHP implementations on top of Parrot versus the C based versions. She told me afterwards that the project has reached the point where they are working to time based milestones, and that they are hoping to do a 1.0 release early in 2009. Chalk up another to-do.

Random Thoughts

There aren’t any pictures to go with this report because I was not motivated to take any. There were several people snapping away quite frequently during the conference, and I didn’t want to add the slaps from the D3 to the cacophany and the flash light show.

It seems clear to me that many folks share some of the same problems, and I hope that on result of the summit will be that people will start to work together when it makes sense. I know that the Jython and JRuby folks are working in that direction, and it seems likely to me that there will be some collaboration around the dynalang MOP as well. There was a lot of good energy in the room: people were very respectful and curious about other people’s work.

I think that the only regret that I had was that this was the first annual JVM Language Summit. Imagine where we’d be if this had been the fifth…

Update: finished the sentences about persistent data structures in Clojure

IDE’s and Dynamic Languages

Just about two weeks ago, Stephen O’Grady was wondering about the market for IDE’s for dynamic languages. His post followed on Sun’s announcement that we’re going to be doing some work on IDE support for Python. Here’s his closing pondering:

But I do wonder how much success IDEs will have in markets currently dominated by text editors, and what the metrics for success will look like for IDE advocates and purveyors.

Back to the Future

One of the points that I’ve been trying to make since I’ve gotten back in to the languages space is that a lot of what is happening in languages now is unpausing the nuclear winter that Java imposed on the programming language space. If you haven’t been following this space for a while, you’d believe that all this dynamic language stuff was invented in the last 5 or 10 years or so. But it wasn’t. Today when you say dynamic languages, people assume that you are talking about Ruby, Python, Groovy, Javascript, PHP, or Perl, with a number of other languages also entering the mix. The truth is that the intellectual forbears of these languages, Lisp and Smalltalk, were invented about 30 years ago or so. At their height, both of them were running on hardware that was specifically designed to execute programs written in these languages. The ideas for GUI’s which we now take for granted in our modern desktop work environments were pioneered on these systems. These systems included the predecessors of today’s IDE’s. They were written in dynamic languages, for use on dynamic languages. They did not include some of the most maligned features of “modern” IDE’s, such as bloat or wizards that spew out pages of autogenerated boilerplate code. People that actually have used these systems were highly productive on them.

I don’t think that word means what you think it means…

Stephen asserts that he’s talked to lots of dynamic language developers and that they don’t use IDE’s. He cites the Rails committers usage of Textmate as proof that IDE’s are not being used. I guess it depends what an IDE is. Textmate includes automatic syntax verification and code completion, which are not really features that have anything to do with edit text, and both of which require some understanding of what a program means in order to do their job. I’d call those IDE features. The ability to perform semantic manipulations on programs is the essence of what I think an IDE is. Maybe we should just say “good tools” instead of IDE, since a number of people that I’ve talked to seem to think that in order to be an IDE, the tool has to be huge, written in Java, and include feature for generating reams of boiler plate code – none of which fit my criteria for what makes a good programming tool. As best I can tell, Textmate (and other text editors) do not provide features like “find all uses of an identifier” or the ability to refactor ones code. Given the high Test Driven nature of the Ruby community, and to a lesser extent the Python community, I’d be surprised if a tool that could correctly and reliably refactor programs would be uninteresting.

The flight to dynamic languages is a flight away from boilerplate code, a flight to semantically richer control abstractions via mechanism like closures, a flight to appropriate use of metalinguistic programming via meta-level functionality (also known as Doman Specific Languages), and generally a flight to more productivity. If developers are willing to change languages to get more productivity, I believe that sufficiently powerful tools will also be adopted if they can consistently deliver higher degrees of productivity.

Chasm crossing

Stephen talked to existing dynamic language developers. While early adopters are highly valuable audience, they are not the only audience. The lack (or perceived lack, depending on your point of view) of good tools is a barrier to the adoption of dynamic languages. If dynamic languages are to attract a much larger audience, then I think that the development of good tools is an important step towards making that happen. If you think that that tool is named an “IDE”, then we need that.

My experience working at OSAF was that we hired a number of people who were skilled developers but had no previous Python experience. These folks were able to learn the language without any problems, but many of them wanted richer tools. Most of the available tools for Python had problems of one kind or another, including slowness, instability, unreliability and lack of refactoring tools. These were highly skilled people who had worked on and shipped big systems before, who both appreciated the benefits of Python, and the benefits of high quality tools. There are more of these people who are the target audience to jump to using dynamic languages, and I think that having a good tool story for these folks is important.

What is success?

Stephen wants to know what success looks like. Here’s my personal take:

Deliver tools that understand programs at a semantic level and which use that knowledge to reliably refactor dynamic languages using a substantial number of the refactorings in the book “Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code” (Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, John Brant, William Opdyke, Don Roberts). These tools should have outstanding user experiences, including performance and footprint characteristics. People coming from Eclipse/Netbeans/IntelliJ/Visual Studio/XCode should not be wishing for their old tools when using these tools.

Once such tools are actually shipping, there are several possible definitions of success:

In the Java world (not so much the C# world) you have your IDE people, and you have the people using vi and emacs. If the percentage breakdown of IDEs vs text editors for dynamic languages, is the same as that for Java, then that’s success.

Real success would be when lots of people willingly give up their text editors with IDE features for these tools – I was an Emacs guy until Eclipse started refactoring programs.

Thoughts on MagLev – VM’s for everybody!

One of the most visible presentations from last weeks RailsConf was Avi Bryant’s demonstration of MagLev, which is a RubyVM that is based on Gemstone’s S/64 VM for Smalltalk. This caused a stir because the micro benchmark performance of MagLev looks really good because S/64 has been out in production for a while and because it appears to have some really interesting features (an OODB, shared VM’s, etc). MagLev is a reminder that the world of production quality, high-performance virtual machines is bigger than many of us remember at times.

I believe that over the next few years we will see a flourishing of virtual machines, as well as languages atop existing virtual machines. Take for example Reia, a Ruby/Pythonesque experiment atop Erlang’s BEAM VM. As we return to a multi language world, we will also necessarily return to a multiple implementation world. Before Java, there were many languages and many implementations of those languages. You could argue that there were probably too many, and I think that’s probably true. I would argue that we need to enter a new period of language and runtime experimentation. A big driver, but not the only driver, for this is the approaching multi-core world. When you don’t know how to solve something, more attempts at solutions is better.

Notes on A History of Erlang

Joe Armstrong wrote a paper for last year’s HOPL-III conference on the history of Erlang. For some reason, I didn’t get a paper copy of those proceedings, and was too busy to notice their absence. Fortunately Lambda the Ultimate picked it up and supplied links to the paper and the accompanying presentation. Digging into the history of something like Erlang is always fascinating, and Armstrong has done a good job of explaining how Erlang came to be.

Here are a bunch of quotes on topics that I found interesting. I’ve grouped them into categories, but searching the PDF of the paper shouldn’t be hard if you want to know where they originated.

Sources of inspiration

Those familiar with Prolog will not find it at all surprising that Erlang has its roots in Prolog (mostly due to implementation reasons). What I did find interesting was the origin/history/viewpoint on the concurrency model

The explanations of what Erlang was have changed with time:

1. 1986 – Erlang is a declarative language with added concurrency.

2. 1995 – Erlang is a functional language with added concurrency.

3. 2005 – Erlang is a concurrent language consisting of communicating components where the components are written in a functional language.

Today we emphasize the concurrency.

Note that the word actor never appears in those descriptions. Indeed, the word actor does not appear in the paper at all. So for all the discussion about Erlang’s usage of the actor model, it appears that the Erlang folks independently duplicated many of the ideas for Hewitt’s Actors. I think that is kind of interesting.

Lisp and Smalltalk are cited as inspirations, but more for the implementation of the runtime than for any features in the language. I came away from the paper with the impression that Armstrong and his colleagues are not paradigm ideologues. They are trying to get the job done.


There is a huge emphasis on reliability throughout the paper, supporting Steve Vinoski’s remarks about Erlang. I’l just include a series of quotes, which you can interpret as you see fit:

Erlang was designed for writing concurrent programs that “run forever”

At an early stage we rejected any ideas of sharing resources between processes because of the difficulty of error handling. In many circumstances, error recovery is impossible if part of the data needed to perform the error recovery is located on a remote machine and if that remote machine has crashed.

In order to make systems reliable, we have to accept the extra cost of copying data structures between processes and always make sure that processes have enough data to continue by themselves if other processes crash

The key observation here is to note that the error-handling mechanisms were designed for building fault-tolerant systems, and not merely for protecting from program exceptions. You cannot build a fault-tolerant system if you only have one computer. The minimal configuration for a fault-tolerant system has two computers. These must be configured so that both observe each other. If one of the computers crashes, then the other computer must take over whatever the first computer was doing.

This means that the model for error handling is based on the idea of two computers that observe each other. Error detection and recovery is performed on the remote computer and not on the local computer.

Links in Erlang are provided to control error propagation paths for errors between processes.

It was about this time that we realized very clearly that shared data structures in a distributed system have terrible properties in the presence of failures. If a data structure is shared by two physical nodes and if one node fails, then failure recovery is often im-possible. The reason why Erlang shares no data structures and uses pure copying message passing is to sidestep all the nasty problems of figuring out what to replicate and how to cope with failures in a distributed system.

In our world, we were worried by software failures where replication does not help.

Design criteria

Here are some quotes related the design criteria for Erlang.

Changing code on the fly was an initial key requirement

the notion that three properties of a programming language were central to the efficient operation of a concurrent language or operating system. These were:

1) the time to create a process

2) the time to perform a context switch between two different processes

3) the time to copy a message between two processes

The performance of any highly-concurrent system is dominated by these three times.

One of the earliest design decisions in Erlang was to use a form of buffering selective receive

Pipes were rejected in favor of messages

In the concurrent logic programming languages, concurrency is implicit and extremely fine-grained. By comparison Erlang has explicit concurrency (via processes) and the processes are coarse-grained.

The final strategy we adopted after experimenting with many different strategies was to use per-process stop-and-copy GC. The idea was that if we have many thousands of small processes then the time taken to garbage collect any individual process will be small.

Current systems run with tens to hundreds of thousands of processes and it seems that when you have such large numbers of processes, the effects of GC in an individual process are insignificant.

The BEAM compiler compiled Erlang programs to BEAM instructions.

On functionalness

This next series of quotes will probably make the pure functional language people shake their heads, but i think that it’s important to understand Erlang in contrast with pure functional languages.

Erlang is not a strict side-effect-free functional language but a concurrent language where what happens inside a process is described by a simple functional language.

Behaviors in Erlang can be thought of as parameterizable higher-order parallel processes.

… the status of Erlang as a fully fledged member of the functional family is dubious. Erlang programs are not referentially transparent and there is no system for static type analysis of Erlang programs. Nor is it relational language. Sequential Erlang has a pure functional subset, but nobody can force the programmer to use this subset; indeed, there are often good reasons for not using it.

An Erlang system can be thought of as a communicating network of black boxes.

In the Erlang case, the language inside the black box just happens to be a small and rather easy to use functional language, which is more or less a historical accident caused by the implementation techniques used.

History and Usage

One thing that I was looking for in the paper was more details on how long Erlang had been around (besides before Java), how big the largest programs/systems were, and so forth. Here is what I found.

This history spans a twenty-year period…

(The history starts in 1986)

The largest ever system built in Erlang was the AXD301. At the time of writing, this system has 2.6 millions lines of Erlang code.

The AXD301 is written using distributed Erlang. It runs on a cluster using pairs of processors and is scalable up to 16 pairs of processors.

In the analysis of the AXD reported in [7], the AXD used 20 supervision trees, 122 client-server models, 36 event loggers and10 finite-state machines. All of this was programmed by a team of 60 programmers.

As regards reliability, the AXD301 has an observed nine-nines reliability [7]—and a four-fold increase in productivity was observed for the development process [31].

The AXD 301 is circa 1998.

Perhaps the most exciting modern development is Erlang for multicore CPUs. In August 2006 the OTP group released Erlang for an SMP.

This corroborates something that David Pollak told me at the RedMonk unconference during CommunityOne, namely that SMP support in Erlang had not been there very long. Of course, Erlang was running on systems with 16 physical (pairs, no less) of processings in a distributed environment. So while the runtime might not be that mature on SMP, the overall runtime for concurrency is probably a bit more mature than that. Nonetheless, worthwhile to know the precise facts.

All in all, I found the paper to be a very worthwhile read – (and a nice change from my usual intake of blog posts and tweets). One of my pet peeves about the computer business is the lack of awareness of the history of the field. At least I’ve removed a bit of my own ignorance as relates to Erlang.

The Scala vs Erlang whirlwind

Over the last week or two there’s been a bit of commotion with various parties in the blogosphere making the case for Scala against Erlang or for Erlang against Scala. Here’s a see spot run summary of the main writers and their positions / content:

Ted Neward (1, 2) – Ted (how confusing) is in the Scala camp, and thinks that the library approach of Scala’s actor library is preferable to Erlang’s VM (BEAM). He cites managability as a major concern. He also thinks that adapting a process style model into the JVM would be easier than adding SNMP monitoring to BEAM. The length of the Barcelona project bibliography suggests otherwise, but we’ll never know unless some brave soul goes and tries to do this. Fortunately, the JDK is open source now. One has to wonder whether such a change could make its way through the JCP, though. Unfortunately for Ted, I found that many of his arguments were weakened by his lack of knowledge about Erlang.

Steve Vinoski (1, 2, 3) – Steve’s articles are more about the reliability aspects of Erlang, and he’s mostly trying to correct Ted’s facts on Erlang. He thinks that Erlang had proven its reliability chops by running for years non-stop. Given the frequency with which Java app servers need to be (or are) bounced, this doesn’t seem that incredible to me.

Patrick Logan (1, 2, 3) – Patrick piled on after Steve and has spent most of his writing trying to correct/challenge Ted’s assertions about Erlang. Patrick thinks that the conventional (i.e. JVM and CLR) runtimes will have problems implementing an Erlang style shared-nothing model, since the pre-existing libraries for those runtimes are not engineered in a shared-nothing manner.

Barry Kelly was an observer of the Neward-Vinosk-Logan discussion, and added some commentary on the impact of VM primitives on things like lift. This is a point which resonates with me, because it seems to me that both languages and language runtimes will need some work to meet the challenges of large scale multicore computing.

Yariv Sadan has done a pile of stuff in Erlang, and supplied his own summary of the differences between Scala and Erlang. There is a very informative exchange between Yariv and lift author David Pollak in the comments of this one.

That’s the short rundown. This is a very interesting problem space — before I turned into database programming language guy in graduate school, I was angling to be a concurrent programming language guy. Along the way to that I got pretty good doses of functional and logic programming, as well as actor programming. That work was in the context of people planning to build (for the day) highly concurrent computers, on the order of 1000’s of processors. Today, multicore hardware is not quite up to that level, but it is approaching it pretty quickly. If there is any force in computing that is likely to precipitate the need for a new programming ecosystem (language, runtime, libraries), I think concurrent programming is it. I also think there is just not enough experience with this problem to have a real sense of what is really going to work. Cliff Click and Brian Goetz were right when they said that we just don’t have a good programming model for this stuff. Absent a model, I don’t know how we can think that we really understand what the runtime needs to deliver.

Erlang == CGI?

Jay Nelson, in the comments to Damien Katz’s Lisp as Blub:

The two relevant issues are system granularity and garbage collector behavior (if it is related to memory and garbage collection).

Erlang encourages an architecture of many small-granularity processes. To the extent that this approach is followed, failures are localized. It is possible to do this with other languages, but erlang does encourage the approach more so than other languages.

The other difference is that erlang uses a single-threaded garbage collector per process. This makes the garbage collection process simpler, more finely grained and distributed. Smaller processes mean less complicated memory structures, and thus the language encourages a simpler model with localized garbage collection failure. Determining the cause of overburdened memory usage (or any other resource because of the localized nature of small processes) becomes easier.

An erlang system can get wedged, but following the principle of many small processes makes it less likely to happen than in other languages which encourage large processes with shared memory structures.

It strikes me that this is a sort of CGI’ish view of the world (well except for the garbage collector). CGI scripts run, use (non-shared) resources, release them all and die. The entire post and comment thread is worth some pondering.

Python at CommunityOne

CommunityOne is a free and open developer conference that is run by Sun on the day before JavaOne. This year, there will a space at CommunityOne dedicated to the Python community, complete with whiteboards and wifi. If you are in the Bay Area for JavaOne, or in the Bay Area, or just plain interested in Python, please register for CommunityOne — space is limited.

Registering for CommunityOne gets you a bag of swag, a free lunch the day of CommunityOne, access to all the CommunityOne events and sessions, and a free pass for Day 1 of JavaOne. When you register, put “Python/Jython” in for the referral code.

I will be on a panel on community models during the general session from 9:30AM – 10:45AM, and Frank Wierzbicki and I will be doing a Python/Jython panel. In addition to the usual developer stuff, there will also be a two day Startup Camp, and the folks from RedMonk will be back to do their day long unconference thing.