Older blog entries for wingo (starting at number 403)

opengl particle simulation in guile

Hello, internets! Did you know that today marks two years of Guile 2? Word!

Guile 2 was a major upgrade to Guile's performance and expressiveness as a language, and I can say as a user that it is so nice to be able to rely on such a capable foundation for hacking the hack.

To celebrate, we organized a little birthday hack-feast -- a communal potluck of programs that Guilers brought together to share with each other. Like last year, we'll collect them all and publish a summary article on Planet GNU later on this week. This is an article about the hack that I worked on.


Figl is a Guile binding to OpenGL and related libraries, written using Guile's dynamic FFI.

Figl is a collaboration between myself and Guile super-hacker Daniel Hartwig. It's pretty complete, with a generated binding for all of OpenGL 2.1 based on the specification files. It doesn't have a good web site yet -- it might change name, and probably we'll move to savannah -- but it does have great documentation in texinfo format, built with the source.

But that's not my potluck program. My program is a little demo particle simulation built on Figl.

Source available here. It's a fairly modern implementation using vertex buffer objects, doing client-side geometry updates.

To run, assuming you have some version of Guile 2.0 installed:

git clone git://gitorious.org/guile-figl/guile-figl.git
cd guile-figl
autoreconf -vif
# 5000 particles
./env guile examples/particle-system/vbo.scm 5000

You'll need OpenGL development packages installed -- for the.so links, not the header files.


If you look closely on the video, you'll see that the program itself is rendering at 60 fps, using 260% CPU. (The CPU utilization drops as soon as the video starts, because of the screen capture program.) This is because the updates to the particle positions and to the vertices are done using as many processors as you have -- 4, in my case (2 real and 2 threads each). I've gotten it up to 310% or so, which is pretty good utilization considering that the draw itself is single-threaded and there are other things that need to use the CPU like the X server and the compositor.

Each particle is has a position and a velocity, and is attracted to the center using a gravity-like force. If you consider that updating a particle's position should probably take about 100 cycles (for a square root, some divisions, and a few other floating point operations), then my 2.4GHz processors should allow for a particle simulation with 1.6 million particles, updated at 60fps. In that context, getting to 5K particles at 60 fps is not so impressive -- it's sub-optimal by a factor of 320.

This slowness is oddly exciting to me. It's been a while since I've felt Guile to be slow, and this is a great test case. The two major things to work on next in Guile are its newer register-based virtual machine, which should speed things up by a factor of 2 or so in this benchmark; and an ahead-of-time native compiler, which should add another factor of 5 perhaps. Optimizations to an ahead-of-time native compiler could add another factor of 2, and a JIT would probably make up the rest of the difference.

One thing I was really wondering about when making this experiment was how the garbage collector would affect the feeling of the animation. Back when I worked with the excellent folks at Oblong, I realized that graphics could be held to a much higher standard of smoothness than I was used to. Guile allocates floating-point numbers on the heap and uses the Boehm-Demers-Weiser conservative collector, and I was a bit skeptical that things could be smooth because of the pause times.

I was pleasantly surprised that the result was very smooth, without noticeable GC hiccups. However, GC is noticeable on an overloaded system. Since the simulation advances time by 1/60th of a second at each frame, regardless of the actual frame rate, differing frame processing times under load can show a sort of "sticky-zipper" phenomenon.

If I ever got to optimal update performance, I'd probably need to use a better graphics card than my Intel i965 embedded controller. And of course vertex shaders are really the way to go if I cared about the effect and not the compiler -- but I'm more interested in compilers than graphics, so I'm OK with the state of things.

Finally I would note that it has been pure pleasure to program with general, high-level macros, knowing that the optimizer would transform the code into really efficient low-level code. Of course I had to check the optimizations, with the ,optimize, command at the REPL. I even had to add a couple of transformations to the optimizer at one point, but I was able to do that without restarting the program, which was quite excellent.

So that's my happy birthday dish for the Guile 2 potluck. More on other programs after the hack-feast is over; until then, see you in #guile!

Syndicated 2013-02-16 19:20:14 from wingolog

knocking on private back doors with the web browser

I woke up at five this morning with two things in my head.

One was, most unfortunately, Rebecca Black's Friday, except with "Monday" -- you know, "Monday, Monday, gettin' up on Monday, hack, hack, hack, hack, which thing should I hack?", et cetera.

The other was a faint echo of Patrick McKenzie's great article on the practical implications of the recent Rails vulnerabilities. In particular, he pointed out that development web servers running only on your local laptop could be accessed by malicious web pages.

Of course this is not new, strictly speaking, but it was surprising to me in a way that it shouldn't have been. For example, Guile has a command-line argument to run a REPL server on a local port. This is fantastic for interactive development and debugging, but it is also a vulnerability if you run a web server on the same machine. A malicious web page could request data from the default Guile listener port, which is a short hop away from rooting your machine.

I made a little test case this morning: a local port scanner. It tries to fetch http://localhost:port/favicon.ico for all ports between 1 and 10000 on your machine. (You can click that link; it doesn't run the scan until you click a button.)

If it finds a favicon, that indicates that there is a running local web application, which may or may not be vulnerable to CSRF attacks or other attacks like the Rails yaml attack.

If the request for a favicon times out, probably that port is vulnerable to some kind of attack, like the old form protocol attack.

If the request fails, the port may be closed, or the process listening at the port may have detected invalid input and closed the connection. We could run a timing loop to determine if a connection was made or not, but for now the port scanner doesn't output any information for this case.

In my case, the page finds that I have a probably vulnerable port 2628, which appears to be dictd.

Anyway, I hope that page is useful to someone. And if you are adding backdoors into your applications for development purposes, be careful!

Syndicated 2013-02-04 08:47:09 from wingolog

an opinionated guide to scheme implementations

Hark, the beloved programing language! But hark, also: for Scheme is a language of many implementations. If Scheme were a countryside, it would have its cosmopolitan cities, its hipster dives, its blue-collar factory towns, quaint villages, western movie sets full of façades and no buildings, shacks in the woods, and single-occupancy rent-by-the-hour slums. It's a confusing and delightful place, but you need a guide.

And so it is that there is a steady rivulet of folks coming into the #scheme IRC channel asking what implementation to use. Mostly the regulars are tired of the question, but when they do answer it's in very guarded terms -- because the topic is a bit touchy, and a bit tribal. There's a subtle tension between partisans of the different implementations, but people are polite enough not to avoid controversial, categorical statements. Unfortunately the end result of this is usually silence in the channel.

Well I'm tired of it! All that silence is boring, and so I thought I'd give you my opinionated guide to Scheme implementations. This is necessarily subjective and colored, as I co-maintain the Guile implementation and do all of my hacking in Guile. But hey, to each folk their stroke, right? What I say might still be valuable to you.

So without further introduction, here are seven recommendations for seven use cases.

The embedded Scheme

So you have a big project written in C or C++ and you want to embed a Scheme interpreter, to allow you to extend this project from the inside in a higher-level, dynamic language. This is the sort of thing where Lua really shines. So what Scheme to use?

Use Chibi Scheme! It's small and from all accounts works great for static linking. Include a copy of it in your project, and save yourself the headache of adding an external dependency to something that changes.

Embedding Scheme is a great option if you need to ship an application on Windows, iOS, or Android. The other possibility is shipping a native binary created by a Scheme that compiles natively, so...

The Scheme that can make a binary executable

Sometimes what you want to do is just ship an executable, and not rely on the user to install a runtime for a particular Scheme system. Here you should use Chicken or Gambit. Both of these Schemes have a compiler that produces C, which it then passes on to your system's C compiler to generate an executable.

Another possibility is to use Racket, and use its raco exe and raco dist commands to package together a program along with a dynamically-linked runtime into a distributable directory.

The dynamically linked Scheme

What if you want to extend a project written in C, C++, or the like, but you want to dynamically link to a Scheme provided with the user's system instead of statically linking? Here I recommend Guile. Its C API and ABI are stable, parallel-installable, well-documented, and binary packages are available on all Free Software systems. It's LGPL, so it doesn't impose any licensing requirements on your C program, or on the Scheme that you write.

The Scheme with an integrated development environment

What if you really like IDEs? For great justice, download you a Racket! It has a great debugger, an excellent Scheme editor, on-line help, and it's easy to run on all popular platforms. Incidentally, I would say that Racket is probably the most newbie-friendly Scheme there is, something that stems from its long association with education in US high schools and undergraduate programs. But don't let the pedagogical side of things fool you into thinking it is underpowered: besides its usefulness for language research, Racket includes a package manager with lots of real-world modules, and lots of people swear by it for getting real work done.

The Scheme for SICP

Many people come by #scheme asking which Scheme they should use for following along with Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. SICP was originally written for MIT Scheme, but these days it's easier to use Neil Van Dyke's SICP mode for Racket. It has nice support for SICP's "picture langauge". So do that!

The server-side Scheme

So you write the intertubes, do you? Well here you have a plethora of options. While I write all of my server-side software in Guile, and I think it's a fine implementation for this purpose, let me recommend Chicken for your consideration. It has loads of modules ("eggs", they call them) for all kinds of tasks -- AWS integration, great HTTP support, zeromq, excellent support for systems-level programming, and they have a good community of server-side hackers.

The Scheme for interactive development with Emacs

Install Guile! All right, this point is a bit of an advertisement, but it's my blog so that's OK. So the thing you need to do is install Paredit and Geiser. That page I linked to gives you the procedure. From there you can build up your program incrementally, starting with debugging the null program. It's a nice experience.

You and your Scheme

These recommendations are starting points. Most of these systems are multi-purpose: you can use Gambit as an interpreter for source code, Racket for server-side programing, or Chicken in Emacs via SLIME. And there are a panoply of other fine Schemes: Chez, Gauche, Kawa, and the list goes on and on (and even farther beyond that). The important thing in the beginning is to make a good starting choice, invest some time with your choice, and then (possibly) change implementations if needed.

To choose an implementation is to choose a tribe. Since Scheme is so minimal, you begin to rely on extensions that are only present in your implementation, and so through code you bind yourself to a world of code, people, and practice, loosely bound to the rest of the Scheme world through a fictional first-person-plural. This is OK! Going deep into a relationship with an implementation is the only way to do great work. The looser ties to the rest of the Scheme world in the form of the standards, the literature, the IRC channel, and the mailing lists provide refreshing conversation among fellow travellers, not marching orders for a phalanx.

So don't fear implementation lock-in -- treat your implementation's facilities as strengths, until you have more experience and know more about how your needs are served by your Scheme.


Just do it! You wouldn't think that this point needs elaboration, but I see so many people floundering and blathering without coding, so it bears repeating. Some people get this strange nostalgic "Scheme is an ideal that I cannot reach" mental block that is completely unproductive, not to mention lame. If you're thinking about using Scheme, do it! Install your Scheme, run your REPL, and start typing stuff at it. And try to write as much of your program in Scheme as possible. Prefer extension over embedding. Use an existing implementation rather than writing your own. Get good at using your REPL (or the IDE, in the case of Racket). Read your implementation's manual. Work with other people's code so you get an idea of what kind of code experienced Schemers write. Read the source code of your implementation.

See you in #scheme, and happy hacking!

Syndicated 2013-01-07 13:43:35 from wingolog

corps: bespoke text codecs

Happy 12/12/12, peoples! In honor of repeated subsequences, today I'm happy to release a new set of compression tools, Corps.

Corps is a toolkit for generating custom text codecs, specialized to particular bodies of text. You give it an example corpus to analyze, and Corps can generate codecs based on what it finds.

For example, if you want to develop a compression algorithm that operates on JavaScript source text, you probably want to use a special code to represent the multi-character sequence function.

I say "probably", because in reality you don't know what substrings are most common. Corps uses the Re-Pair algorithm to build up an optimal token set. This algorithm treats all characters in the input as tokens, and recursively creates composite tokens from the most common pair of adjacent tokens, repeating the process until there are no more repeated pairs of tokens. For full details, see "Off-Line Dictionary-Based Compression" by Larsson and Moffat.

Corps is mostly useful for creating special-purpose fixed codecs based on a dictionary generated by its offline analysis. Although pre-generated codecs often do not compress as well as adaptive codecs like the one used by gzip, fixed codecs are typically faster as they can use the fixed code table to generate optimized encoders and decoders. Corps currently generates encoders in C and Scheme, and decoders in C, Scheme, and JavaScript.

Special-purpose codecs can also provide some interesting properties, such as the ability to decompress a substring of the original text.

get source

Corps is written for Guile version 2.0. See http://gnu.org/s/guile for more information on Guile and how to install it on your system.

To build Corps from git, do:

git clone git://gitorious.org/corps/corps.git
cd corps
./autogen.sh && ./configure && make && make check

You can install using make install, but it's often more convenient to just run corps uninstalled, using the env script.

stinky cheese

Corps includes a simple command-line tool called corps. For full documentation, run corps help. You can run it uninstalled by prefixing the ./env from the build tree.

As an example, say you want to build a database of wikipedia pages on cheese. Let's fetch a page:

$ curl -s 'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maroilles_(cheese)' > cheese
$ ls -l cheese
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 43123 Dec 12 15:12 cheese

Now we analyze it to determine common substrings:

./env corps extract-all cheese > cheese-tokens

This generates a list of (string,frequency) pairs. An extract-all token set is usually quite large. We can pare it down to something manageable, the 500 most common substrings:

./env corps extract-subset cheese-tokens 500 cheese > 500-tokens

With this dictionary, we can huffman-code the page:

$ ./env corps encode -t 500-tokens -m huffman cheese cheese.huff
$ ls -l cheese.huff
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 18060 Dec 12 16:09 cheese.huff

Well that's pretty cool -- it's less than half the size of the source text. We can also pare down this set of tokens to an appropriate number of tokens for a bytecode, and try doing a byte-encode of the file:

$ ./env corps extract-subset 500-tokens 254 cheese > 254-tokens
$ ./env corps encode -t 254-tokens cheese > cheese.bc
$ ls -l cheese.bc
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 22260 Dec 12 16:19 cheese.bc

It's larger than the huffman-code, not only because of the smaller dictionary, but also because a bytecode is less dense. In practice though a bytecode is good enough while being very fast, so we'll continue with the bytecode.

Now let's generate a C encoder and decoder for this token set.

$ ./env corps generate-c-byte-encoder 254-tokens > encoder.inc.c
$ ./env corps generate-c-byte-decoder 254-tokens > decoder.inc.c
$ cp ~/src/corps/corps/decoder.c .
$ cp ~/src/corps/corps/encoder.c .
$ gcc -o decoder -O3 decoder.c
$ gcc -o encoder -O3 encoder.c
$ ls -l encoder decoder
-rwxr-xr-x 1 wingo wingo 13192 Dec 12 16:23 decoder
-rwxr-xr-x 1 wingo wingo 31048 Dec 12 16:23 encoder

Nice! We could use the corps tool to decode cheese.bc, but to vary things up we can use our zippy C decoder:

$ ./decoder < cheese.bc > cheese.out
$ cmp cheese.out cheese && echo 'excellent!'

The performance of the C encoder is pretty good:

$ for ((x=0;x<1000;x++)) do cat cheese >> megacheese; done
$ time gzip -c < megacheese > megacheese.gz
real	0m1.418s
user	0m1.396s
sys	0m0.016s
$ time ./encoder < megacheese > megacheese.bc
real	0m0.523s
user	0m0.480s
sys	0m0.044s
$ ls -l megacheese*
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 43123000 Dec 12 17:03 megacheese
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 22370002 Dec 12 17:04 megacheese.bc
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 11519311 Dec 12 17:04 megacheese.gz

Gzip gets better compression results for many reasons, but our quick-and-dirty bytecode compressor does well enough and is quite fast. The decoder is also quite good:

$ time ./decoder < megacheese.bc > /dev/null
real	0m0.179s
user	0m0.160s
sys	0m0.016s
$ time gunzip -c < megacheese.gz > /dev/null
real	0m0.294s
user	0m0.284s
sys	0m0.008s

Amusingly, for this text, gzipping the bytecoded file has quite an impact:

$ gzip -c < megacheese.bc > megacheese.bc.gz
$ ls -l megacheese*
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 43123000 Dec 12 17:03 megacheese
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 22370002 Dec 12 17:04 megacheese.bc
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo   175246 Dec 12 17:12 megacheese.bc.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 wingo wingo 11519311 Dec 12 17:04 megacheese.gz

It so happens that byte-compressing the original text allows it to fit within the default gzip "window size" of 32 KB, letting gzip detect the thousandfold duplication of the source text. As a codec that works on bytes, gzip tends to work quite well on bytecoded files, and poorly on bit-coding schemes like huffman codes. A gzipped bytecoded file is usually smaller than a gzipped raw file and smaller than a gzipped huffman-coded file.


I'll close with a link to the 254 most common substrings in one corpus of JavaScript code that I analyzed: here. I have a set of patches to integrate a codec optimized for JavaScript source into V8, to try to reduce the memory footprint of JS source code. More on that quixotic endeavor in some future post. Until then, happy scheming!

Syndicated 2012-12-12 16:57:56 from wingolog


silence on the wire

It's been pretty quiet in this electro-rag, and for a simple but profound reason. I don't know about all of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but for me there is definitely a hierarchy between housing and anything else.

Thing is, my partner and I drove up to Geneva almost three months ago, but we only moved in somewhere permanent last week. Everything was up in the air! Sublets and couches and moving vans and storage units. All the things in all the places.

In a way it should have been liberating, but I reckon I'm just a homebody: someone who likes to have a spritual and physical base to come back to. It's the classic introverted/extroverted "where do you get your energy" thing -- in private, or in society? Of course it's both, but for me the private side is important and necessary.

society, nations, states

Incidentally, October made ten years since I left the US. I lived in Namibia for a couple of years, moved to Spain in 2005, and as you know, left for Switzerland in September. In that time, a third of my life, I have not been able to vote for my local government. Representative democracy isn't very democratic, of course, but not even having that nominal connection to collective decision-making is a bit unmooring.

In Spain I have what is called "EU long-term residency". In 2003, the EU standardized visas for "third-country nationals": folks like me that do not have citizenship in a EU country. After 5 years, you automatically get country-specific "long-term residency", and can optionally apply for "EU long-term residency" (as I just did), which has the additional benefit of being transferable to other EU countries.

The idea of EU long-term residency was to make third-country nationals have the same rights as EU citizens, but several restrictions placed on the agreement by individual nations make it not very attractive compared to full nationality. EU citizens have the right to move around the EU, whereas third-country nationals have to apply to do so.

And in many countries, you can get nationality just as easy as long-term residency. In France for example, you only have to wait 5 years to be able to apply for nationality. In Spain, if you come from a Latin American country, you only have to wait 2 years (in theory; I have heard of unreasonable delays). As that is not my particular case, I would have to wait 10 years to get Spanish nationality, making this "EU long-term residency" attractive. However if I move away from Spain officially, I would have to "start over".

Man. The EU. What a bizarre institution. I think few normal citizens can describe the structure of the the EU -- you know, what's the deal with the parliament and the commisioners and the president and the central bank? The operations of the EU have very little to do with democracy. The tenuous accountability of the Members of European Parlaiment is mostly to political parties rather than to the people. Finance in rich countries basically runs the bank. The commission seems to run itself, with limited accountability to the governments of member states. To the extent that the EU is a democracy, it is its weakest form: vast, physically removed from its constituency, composed of representatives of representatives.

and yet

It's been interesting to see the contrast in Switzerland. Switzerland has its own currency, protectionist trade policies, and a smattering of EU-à-la-carte. So, yes, it is relatively easy for EU citizens to move to Switzerland, but on the other hand it's quite difficult if you are a "third-country national" like myself.

Switzerland is also very local. Most legislation involves the citizens directly, via referendum. The other day, voters here just approved a new constitution, by simple majority, for Geneva. Contrast this to the EU, which centralizes its power more every year.

There are good things and bad things about this. I suppose that specifically, it's mostly good for the Swiss, neutral for EU nationals, and worse for third-country nationals. Policies that enable local agricultural and industrial production are great for local workers, businesses, consumers (with Swiss salary), and the environment. These policies are quite difficult to have in the EU. Even the existence of the Swiss franc is great for local decision-making power, although its policies are mostly controlled by finance.

On the other hand, the immigration policy is quite reactionary, often bordering on xenophobia. In the EU, the institutions were able to achieve some limited forms of freedom of movement of persons, including third-country nationals, in exchange for the freedom of movement of capital. No such arrangement has been made in Switzerland. (They'll happily take your capital, of course.)

As you probably know, I mostly identify as an anarchist, a kind of libertarian socialism that is suspicious of hierarchical power structures. So Switzerland has its attractions in that sense. But I've had discussions with folks arguing that the EU has actually been the emancipatory institution, in contrast to reactionary governments, and there is something there. For all its decentralized, democratic principles, women did not get the right to vote in Swiss federal elections until 1971, and the last canton (local government) held out until 1990, when it was forced to allow women to vote by a federal court.


There's no way around it: Geneva stinks of money.

An illustration, if you don't mind. When we first came here to visit in August, we got out of the car, went to a cash machine, and tried to get out 120 francs (approximately 120 dollars, or 100 euros). No. The minimum amount was 100 francs, and the next was 200. Well, OK. We got 200. It came out in two bills. The machine did not dispense any lower denomination. There was nothing wrong with that machine; it was marked as only dispensing 100-franc bills and higher.

On the other hand, unlike Spain, all shopkeepers carry around fat bankrolls and are quite happy to break a 100, even on a 50 cent purchase. You can do that only if you can find something that costs that little, of course.

If you walk around the center of town, it's designer tailors, caviar bars (not kidding), and private banks. It is truly disgusting. It makes me think of a butcher's counter: bleach covering a faint smell of blood, but without the redeeming earthiness. Perhaps this is just a personal analogy though.

That's the macro-level. Of course there are normal folks here too, but that's tempered by the cost: things are in general really expensive here. Starbucks drip coffee for 5 dollars. You can easily spend 70 dollars a person at a normal restaurant. A normal one-hour tram ticket is 5 dollars. Etc.

From what I can tell, the cost of things is not a problem if you have a Swiss salary. I'm in something of an irregular state: an American with Spanish residency, working for a Spanish company, living in Geneva (but actually France). Administrativia aside, it has been quite a shock coming from Spain to here. In Igalia, the cooperative I work at, we try to pay everyone the same when everything is going well, but when the budget is a little tighter salaries get scaled down to something approaching "the cost of living" (whatever that is).

We had to open a whole new round of discussions about how to determine compensation after I moved here. Geneva just didn't fit in anyone's conception about what was reasonable! It raises all kinds of issues: what does it mean to work in a cooperative with people in all different kinds of places? What does fair and equal compensation actually mean in San Francisco and A Coruña and Madrid and Geneva, and how do you calculate it? It looks like we've come to an interesting and probably unique solution there, so perhaps more on that as discussions progress.


Of course it's strange to come to this capital of, well, capital with these values, but here I am. You end up talking about money a lot. Of course you need a place to put your money and take it out. For an anarchist I've got a lot of bank accounts: Spanish, Swiss, French, and US somewhere... For all the new EU regulations, cross-border ATM fees still make it attractive to have an account in the place where you need to withdraw money.

Same thing with mobile phone companies. As I said, we ended up moving to France. The rent is a lot cheaper, it's more compatible with our residency permits, and it's still only a 25 minute bike or tram into the center of Geneva so it's not totally in the boon-docks. But this makes me carry around two phones because I cross the border all the time, and then of course there's the old Spanish SIM I need to do something with. I've done the PIN-to-PUK dance multiple times, because I can't remember so many numbers.

It's a pretty strange identity to have: to have a house in France, but feel attached to Switzerland. It's tough to catch the dominant social story, of who is the "us" in this place. It's problem with Geneva in general, transient city that it is.


Well, this post grows long, and it's mostly a rant, right? And I needed to rant and be done with it. But I don't want to be too negative. We have an actual house, with a garden, and we're going to plant things and compost and such. It's warm and cozy inside and there are snowy mountains about, and there's a cosmopolitan city within a close if brisk bike ride. I have a French grocery store five minute's walk away. It's a dark season, but there is cheese and wine enough to carry me through to springtime :) So things are good. I'll still rant, but things are all right.

Bon. Catch you internauts later. Next time, with code!

Syndicated 2012-12-05 23:16:13 from wingolog

quasiconf 2012: lisp @ froscon

Are you a Lisper, in the big-tent sense of the term? You within a day's transport of St. Augustin in Germany? Well shucks, have I got a thing for you: Quasiconf, a lisp sub-conference of FrOSCon, held next weekend (25-26 August 2012).

The full program isn't quite out yet, but they invited yours truly to talk there, and talk I will. In fact I'll talk thrice: they gave me 90 minutes, so I'll do three little presentations.

In the first, I'll finally give that talk I've been threatening to do for years, about why delimited continuations are the bee's knees, how they can be implemented, and what kind of lovely code they enable. The example will be a small memcached server and client.

Next I'll talk about things that implementing JavaScript has taught me about Scheme implementations. They were very surprising lessons to me, so I hope they will entertain the attendees. No spoilers, though!

Finally, now that Guile 2.0 has been out for a year and a half or so, it's a good time to look back at what worked well and what didn't. If you are even remotely interested about what it takes to maintain and enhance a mature language implementation, this will be an interesting talk for you. I'll also take the opportunity to summarize the progress on the development branch, which will probably be Guile 2.2.

So that's the thing. It's somewhat of a late announcement, but hey, if you can go, it's pretty much free and should be an interesting get-together. See you there!

Syndicated 2012-08-15 21:34:25 from wingolog


Time passes! And it takes us along with it: now a lazy float, now the running rapids, now an eerie calm.

And now, for me, a rising white noise of waterfall. In a month my partner and I move to Geneva. It's exciting and terrifying and anxiety-producing, but the nice thing about time is that I know it will carry me over the stress of, you know, learning French and such things.

I have loved my time in Barcelona, since moving here in 2005. The city has been pretty good to me. While I am indeed ready to go and try new things, I won't be leaving it without regret.

As a practical matter, I'll be (quite happily) staying on with Igalia, in their compilers group. Practically speaking, my move doesn't change much, work-wise; I've always met with customers over the net or on-site, never in Barcelona itself.

There are loads of practicalities to sort out, but if you have any knowledge about the town, I'm all digital ears. Also, if you happen to need some responsible caretakers for your alpine villa, do let me know. It doesn't even have to have a hot tub. I'm not particular. Just sayin'.

Syndicated 2012-08-15 21:10:07 from wingolog

inside javascriptcore's low-level interpreter

Good day, hackers! And hello to the rest of you, too, though I fear that this article isn't for you. In the vertical inches that follow, we're going to nerd out with JavaScriptCore's new low-level interpreter. So for those of you that are still with me, refill that coffee cup, and get ready for a look into a lovely hack!

hot corn, cold corn

Earlier this year, JavaScriptCore got a new interpreter, the LLInt. ("Low-level interpreter", you see.). As you probably know, JavaScriptCore is the JavaScript implementation of the WebKit project. It's used in web browsers like Safari and Epiphany, and also offers a stable API for embedding in non-web applications.

In this article, we'll walk through some pieces of the LLInt. But first, we need to describe the problem that the LLInt solves.

So, what is the fundamental problem of implementing JavaScript? Of course there are lots of things you could say here, but I'm going to claim that in the context of web browsers, it's the tension between the need to optimize small amounts of hot code, while minimizing overhead on large amounts of cold code.

Web browsers are like little operating systems unto themselves, into which you as a user install and uninstall hundreds of programs a day. The vast majority of code that a web browser sees is only executed once or twice, so for cold code, the name of the game is to do as little work as possible.

For cold code, a good bytecode interpreter can beat even a very fast native compiler. Bytecode can be more compact than executable code, and quicker to produce.

All of this is a long introduction into what the LLInt actually is: it's a better bytecode interpreter for JSC.


Before the introduction of the LLInt, the so-called "classic interpreter" was just a C++ function with a bunch of labels. Every kind of bytecode instruction had a corresponding label in the function.

As a hack, in the classic interpreter, bytecode instructions are actually wide enough to hold a pointer. The opcode itself takes up an entire word, and the arguments also take up entire words. It is strange to have such bloated bytecode, but there is one advantage, in that the opcode word can actually store the address of the label that implements the opcode. This is called direct threading, and presumably its effects on the branch prediction table are sufficiently good so as to be a win.

Anyway, it means that Interpreter.cpp has a method that looks like this:

// vPC is pronounced "virtual program counter".
JSValue Interpreter::execute(void **vPC)
  goto *vPC;
  // add dst op1 op2: Add two values together.
    int dst = (int)vPC[1];
    int op1 = (int)vPC[2];
    int op2 = (int)vPC[3];

    fp[dst] = add(fp[op1], fp[op2]);

    vPC += 4;
    goto *vPC;

  // jmp offset: Unconditional branch.
    ptrdiff_t offset = (ptrdiff_t)vPC[1];
    vPC += offset;
    goto *vPC;

It's a little different in practice, but the essence is there.

OK, so what's the problem? Well, readers who have been with me for a while might recall my article on static single assignment form, used as an internal representation by compilers like GCC and LLVM. One conclusion that I had was that SSA is a great first-order IR, but that its utility for optimizing higher-order languages is less clear. However, this computed-goto thing that I showed above (goto *vPC) is a form of higher-order programming!

Indeed, as the GCC internals manual notes:

Computed jumps contain edges to all labels in the function referenced from the code. All those edges have EDGE_ABNORMAL flag set. The edges used to represent computed jumps often cause compile time performance problems, since functions consisting of many taken labels and many computed jumps may have very dense flow graphs, so these edges need to be handled with special care.

Basically, GCC doesn't do very well at compiling interpreter loops. At -O3, it does get everything into registers on my machine, but it residualizes 54 KB of assembly, whereas I only have 64 KB of L1 instruction cache. Many other machines just have 32 KB of L1 icache, so for those machines, this interpreter is a lose. If I compile with -Os, I get it down to 32 KB, but that's still a tight fit.

Besides that, implementing an interpreter from C++ means that you can't use the native stack frame to track the state of a computation. Instead, you have two stacks: one for the interpreter, and one for the program being interpreted. Keeping them in sync has an overhead. Consider what GCC does for op_jmp at -O3:

    mov    %rbp,%rax
    ; int currentOffset = vPC - bytecode + 1
    sub    0x58(%rbx),%rax
    sar    $0x3,%rax
    add    $0x1,%eax
    ; callFrame[CurrentOffset] = currentOffset
    mov    %eax,-0x2c(%r11)

    ; ptrdiff_t offset = (ptrdiff_t)vPC[1]
    movslq 0x8(%rbp),%rax

    ; vPC += offset
    lea    0x0(%rbp,%rax,8),%rbp

    ; goto *vPC
    mov    0x0(%rbp),%rcx
    jmpq   *%rcx

First there is this strange prelude, which effectively stores the current vPC into an address on the stack. To be fair to GCC, this prelude is part of the DEFINE_OPCODE macro, and is not an artifact of compilation. Its purpose is to let other parts of the runtime see where a computation is. I tried, but I can't convince myself that it is necessary to do this at the beginning of every instruction, so maybe this is just some badness that should be fixed, if the classic interpreter is worth keeping.

The rest of the opcode is similar to the version that the LLInt produces, as we will see, but it is less compact.

the compiler to make the code you want

The goal of compilation is to produce good code. It can often be a good technique to start from the code you would like to have, and then go backwards and see how to produce it. It's also a useful explanatory technique: we can take a look at the machine code of the LLInt, and use it to put the LLInt's source in context.

In that light, here is the code corresponding to op_jmp, as part of the LLInt:

    ; offset += bytecode[offset + 1]
    add    0x8(%r10,%rsi,8),%esi
    ; jmp *bytecode[offset]
    jmpq   *(%r10,%rsi,8)

That's it! Just 9 bytes. There is the slight difference that the LLInt moves around an offset instead of a pointer into the bytecode. The whole LLInt is some 14 KB, which fits quite confortably into icache, even on mobile devices.

This assembly code is part of the LLInt as compiled for my platform, x86-64. The source of the LLInt is written in a custom low-level assembly language. Here is the source for the jmp opcode:

    dispatchInt(8[PB, PC, 8])

You can define macros in this domain-specific language. Here's the definition of dispatchInt:

macro dispatchInt(advance)
    addi advance, PC
    jmp [PB, PC, 8]

At this point it's pretty clear how the source corresponds to the assembly. The WebKit build system will produce a version of the LLInt customized for the target platform, and link that interpreter into the JavaScriptCore library. There are backend code generators for ARMv7, X86-32, and X86-64. These interpreters mostly share the same source, modulo the representation differences for JSValue on 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

Incidentally, the "offlineasm" compiler that actually produces the native code is written in Ruby. It's clear proof that Ruby can be fast, as long as you don't load it at runtime ;-)

but wait, there's more

We take for granted that low-level programs should be able to determine how their data is represented. C and C++ are low-level languages, to the extent that they offer this kind of control. But what is not often remarked is that for a virtual machine, its code is also data that needs to be examined at runtime.

I have written before about JSC's optimizing DFG compiler. In order to be able to optimize a computation that is in progress, or to abort an optimization because a speculation failed -- in short, to be able to use OSR to tier up or down -- you need to be able to replace the current stack frame. Well, with the classic interpreter written in C++, you can't do that, because you have no idea what's in your stack frame! In contrast, with the LLInt, JSC has precise control over the stack layout, allowing it to tier up and down directly from the interpreter.

This can obviate the need for the baseline JIT. Currently, WebKitGTK+ and Apple builds still include the baseline, quick-and-dirty JIT, as an intermediate tier between the LLInt and the DFG JIT. I don't have sure details about about long-term plans, but I would speculate that recent work on the DFG JIT by Filip Pizlo and others has had the goal of obsoleting the baseline JIT.

Note that in order to tier directly to the optimizing compiler, you need type information. Building the LLInt with the DFG optimizer enabled causes the interpreter to be instrumented to record value profiles. These profiles record the types of values seen by instructions that load and store values from memory. Unlike V8, which stores this information in executable code as part of the inline caches, in the LLInt these value profiles are in non-executable memory.

Spiritually speaking, I am all for run-time code generation. But it must be admitted that web browsers are a juicy target, and while it is unfair to make safe languages pay for bugs in C++ programs, writable text is an attack surface. Indeed in some environments, JIT compilation is prohibited by the operating system -- and in that sort of environment, a fast interpreter like the LLInt is a big benefit.

There are a few more LLInt advantages, like being able to use the CPU's overflow flags, doing better register allocation, and retaining less garbage (JSC scans the stack conservatively). But the last point I want to mention is memory: an interpreter doesn't have to generate executable code just to display a web page. Obviously, you need to complement the LLInt with an optimizing compiler for hot code, but laziness up front can improve real-world page load times.

in your webs, rendering your kittens

So that's the LLInt: a faster bytecode interpreter for JSC.

I wrote this post because I finally got around to turning on the LLInt in the WebKitGTK+ port a couple weeks ago. That means that in September, when GNOME 3.6 comes out, not only will you get an Epiphany with the one-process-per-tab WebKit2 backend, you also get cheaper and faster JavaScript with the LLInt. Those of you that want the advance experience can try it out with last Monday's WebKitGTK+ 1.9.4 release.

Syndicated 2012-06-27 11:25:30 from wingolog

dltool mines dwarf

This is going to sound like quite a yak-shave, but here goes: I was spending some research time here at Igalia working on a new virtual machine for Guile when I got interested by DWARF, the debugging format used in many UNIX systems (GNU, the BSDs, Mac OS). For various reasons, we needed a new debugging format, and DWARF seemed suitable.

I was going to need tools that would both produce and consume DWARF information, so I started with the parser. Of course there is a ready source of DWARF information on a GNU system, in all of the shared libraries. So I wrote a tool to snarf information out of those libraries. It is suprising how much there is!


Enough of the strange introduction! Let's try it out:

$ dltool print-one libc wmemchr
  (name "wmemchr")
  (prototyped #t)
  (type (pointer-type
          (byte-size 8)
          (type (named-type-reference (typedef "wchar_t")))))
    (name "s")
    (type (pointer-type
            (byte-size 8)
            (type (const-type
                    (type (named-type-reference (typedef "wchar_t"))))))))
    (name "c")
    (type (named-type-reference (typedef "wchar_t"))))
    (name "n")
    (type (named-type-reference (typedef "size_t")))))

Nifty, no? It even prints the names of the formal parameters. The structure of the printout mirrors the structure of the DWARF information quite closely, so for a detailed reference you should refer to the DWARF standard. Note though that the "type" child of a "subprogram" (procedure, function, etc) denotes its return type. If it's missing, the function does not return a value.

In this case we see that wmemchr returns a pointer to a wchar_t, and we see that the pointer is 8 bytes wide. We don't see the definition of wchar_t though. You can pass a --depth=N to see more information, recursively, but it's most useful to simply have the tool print out a tree of needed declarations, this time with the print-decls command instead of print-one:

$ dltool print-decls libc wmemchr
  (name "wchar_t")
  (type (base-type
          (byte-size 4)
          (encoding signed)
          (name "int"))))
  (name "size_t")
  (type (base-type
          (byte-size 8)
          (encoding unsigned)
          (name "long unsigned int"))))
  (name "wmemchr")

Here the body of the subprogram is the same as before. If I leave off the wmemchr argument, I get all the declarations that are publically exported by libc, and that have debugging information.

locating debug information

In the examples above, I'm just passing the basename of the library. dltool is smart enough to look in the library paths if needed, via parsing /etc/ld.so.conf and $LD_LIBRARY_PATH.

These days it is not so common for a stock GNU distribution to have debugging symbols installed for its libraries. Instead the debugging information is packaged separately, and a .gnu_debuglink section is left in the main binary (library, or executable, or both -- have you ran /lib/ld-linux.so.2 lately?). dltool can deal with that.

The only thing it doesn't handle is compressed debug info (.zdebug_info sections). Hopefully these sections go away at some point though: they prevent debuggers from mapping the debugging information directly, they don't save any distribution cost (packages being zipped already), and have no other runtime impact, as they debuginfo isn't normally loaded.


Oddly enough, dltool works with C++ too. In this case, I point it at a debugging version of the JavaScriptCore library, looking for a definition of the JSC::JSCell class.

$ dltool print-one --grovel .libs/libjavascriptcoregtk-3.0.so JSC::JSCell
      (structure-type "JSCell")
      (namespace "JSC")))
  (byte-size 16)
    (name "TypedArrayStorageType")
    (type (const-type
            (type (named-type-reference
                    (enumeration-type "TypedArrayType")
                    (namespace "JSC")))))
    (declaration #t)
    (const-value 0))
    (name "m_classInfo")
    (type (pointer-type
            (byte-size 8)
            (type (const-type
                    (type (named-type-reference
                            (structure-type "ClassInfo")
                            (namespace "JSC")))))))
    (data-member-location ((plus-uconst 0)))
    (accessibility private))

In this case I used the --grovel option to indicate that I wanted to traverse all the debugging entries to find the one I wanted, instead of looking in the symbol table. That was necessary in this case because type definitions aren't present in a symbol table. The actual result is some 1500 lines long, with member variables and functions, and of course it's not complete as it's just a print-one output.

If the data-member-declaration entry looks a little odd to you, that's because it is odd: it's a sequence of opcodes for a virtual machine that computes locations of values. DWARF specifies a couple of little machines like this. For class members, there's usually only the one plus-uconst opcode, but with bitfields, different opcode sequences are possible.


Making dltool was quite an interesting hack. Oddly, writing the DWARF parser was the easy part. I had an ELF parser and linker already, and although quite flexible, DWARF is regular and well-specified.

One tricky part was making dltool fast, while not consuming too much memory. There can be a lot of data in a debugging object. For example, the debugging version of libwebkitgtk-3.0.so is bigger than 1GB. In a number of cases, we have to trade off the cost of re-parsing versus the cost of storing parsed data in memory. dltool can indeed handle WebKit, which is something I'm proud of, though printing all the exported declarations takes 2 GB of memory and some three or four minutes. More modest tasks like describing libcairo only take a second or two.

Another tricky part was determining which types are actually the same. In C and C++, typically you compile each file on its own, and then link them together. Each time you compile a file, the compiler loads the headers that the file needs and creates instances of those types, internal to the compiler. The debugging information that the compiler writes can contain as many (or more) definitions of (for example) size_t as there are compilation units that reference it. dltool needs to unify those types that are the same, not only to prevent multiple type declarations, but also to prevent divergence when processing recursive types.

C++'s nested namespaces also presented a problem. DWARF information is organized in trees, though they can also be reference each other by offset. However, there are no up-pointers in the tree nodes. It seems that you need to pre-traverse the node trees to determine the ranges of the namespaces so you can determine the right context for a node at any given offset. C does not have this issue, partly because it is less expressive, and partly due to some DWARF design decisions.

dltool doesn't currently demangle C++ names, for what that's worth.

Oddly, C++ templates were not very much of a problem. They simply create debugging entries with really crazy names, that's all.

"automatic" ffi?

I think dltool is pretty cool. Given an opaque information-ful object, I always want some tool to spread information on a screen in a structured way. So it's an interesting tool for binary spelunkers.

There are some obvious applications, though. One is to use the information that dltool finds to automatically generate bindings from C (or even C++) libraries to your language of choice. You can use a dltool run to generate the bindings at "compile-time", or save it to a file and generate bindings at run-time with node-ffi or ctypes or whatever the kids use these days.

Of course in Guile, besides importing the dlhacks module and creating bindings at runtime, we can get the best situation by running the dltool groveller from within a macro. That way we pull the DWARF groveller into our language, without having the module depend on dlhacks or on the presence of debugging information at runtime.

There are some limitations, though. DWARF is a flexible and extensible format, but it doesn't currently get all of the information you would want in a binding. For example there's no way to tell the C compiler to serialize an association between "struct ClutterActor" and a GType named "ClutterActor". You can't tell it that the return value of wcsdup is actually owned by the caller. You can't annotate pointer arguments to indicate that they are "out" or "in/out" or whatever. But this is not a failing of DWARF: it is a current limitation of our toolchain.

Actually it's also a limitation of C -- I mean, everything you would want to say about a variable or a function or whatever is, loosely speaking, the type of that object. We can't really change C's type system, but we can improve our toolchain by allowing for GCC to recognize and plumb through more relevant __attribute__ annotations.

all right, all ready

Anyway, that's the thing! The tool itself requires Guile 2.0. If you're running Debian, just install guile-2.0, then:

git clone git://gitorious.org/guile-dlhacks/guile-dlhacks.git
cd guile-dlhacks
autoreconf -vif && ./configure && make
./env dltool help

Visit the gitorious page for more, and find me on #guile for more.

Happy spelunking!

Syndicated 2012-06-19 15:55:52 from wingolog

rococo, and then rubble

Why is it that we in GNOME came to view GLib as the lowest level of our stack?

Forget, for the moment, about such small barbarisms as gint32, and even gint. Forget things like gnome-keyring versus GnuPG. Let us even pass over GObject as a whole. Today I had a thought that was new to me. Let's talk about DWARF.

DWARF describes ABIs. It is ubiquitous: it is on GNU systems as well as Mac and BSD, and could be on Windows if we put it there. It's extensible. It is mostly controlled by like-minded free software people.

So why is it that we invented GIR?


Syndicated 2012-06-08 14:31:38 from wingolog

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