Writing Papers with Completely Automated Data Processing

One of the first things that I found problematic about paper writing was the manual processing and updating of numbers based on experiments. Ever since my master thesis, this felt like a unnecessary and error prone step.

Since a couple of years, I am using R to do the necessary statistics and data processing on for instance benchmark results. R provides very convenient libraries to produce high quality and beautiful plots.

Over the years, my setup evolved to automate more and more things based on a Latex/ReBench/KnitR tool chain. Now, I finally put together a stripped down template project that combines some of the scripts and documents the setup. The result takes a ReBench data file and generates a PDF that looks like this:

Example PDF The code is available on GitHub: https://github.com/smarr/perf-latex-paper

Adding Debugging Support to a Truffle Language

Beside the great performance after just-in-time compilation, the Truffle Language implementation framework provides a few other highly interesting features to language implementers. One of them is the instrumentation framework, which includes a REPL, profiler, and debugger.

To support debugging, an interpreter needs to provide only a few tags on its AST nodes, instruct the framework to make them instrumentable, and have the debugger tool jar on the classpath. In this post, I’ll only point at the basics, of course for a perfectly working debugger, a language needs to carefully decide which elements should be considered for breakpoints, how values are displayed, are how to evaluate arbitrary code during debugging.

The most relevant aspect is tagging. In order to hide implementation details of the AST from users of a tool, only relevant Truffle nodes are tagged for the use by a specific tool. For debugging support, we need to override the isTaggedWith(cls) method to indicate that all elements, which correspond to a statement at which a debugger could stop, return true for the StatementTag. Based on this information, the debugger can then instrument AST nodes to realize breakpoints, stepping execution, etc. In addition, we also need to make sure that a node has a proper source section attached, but that’s something a parser should already be taking care of.

To instrument nodes, they are essentially wrapped by the framework. To allow Truffle to wrap a node, its class, or one of the super classes, needs to be marked as @Instrumentable. This annotation can be used to generate the necessary wrapper classes and allow wrapping of such nodes. In most cases, this should work directly without requiring any custom code.

Before the tool is going to be useable, a language needs to explicitly declare that it supports the necessary tags by listing them on its subclass of TruffleLanguage using the @ProvidedTags annotation.

And lastly, we need to have the truffle-debug.jar on the classpath. With this, languages that use the mx build system, it should be possible to access the REPL with mx build, which then also allows debugging.

With a little bit more work, one could also adapt my prototype for a web-based debugger interface from SOMns. This prototype is language independent, but requires a few more tags to support syntax highlighting. Perhaps more on that in another post.

Below, you can see a brief demo of the debugger for SOMns:

Domains: Sharing State in the Communicating Event-Loop Actor Model

It has been a while since we started working on how to extended the Actor model with mechanisms to safely share state. Our workshop paper on Tanks was published in 2013. And now finally, an extended version of this work was accepted for publication. Below you can find the abstract with a few more details on the paper, and of course a preprint of the paper itself.


The actor model is a message-passing concurrency model that avoids deadlocks and low-level data races by construction. This facilitates concurrent programming, especially in the context of complex interactive applications where modularity, security and fault-tolerance are required. The tradeoff is that the actor model sacrifices expressiveness and safety guarantees with respect to parallel access to shared state.

In this paper we present domains as a set of novel language abstractions for safely encapsulating and sharing state within the actor model. We introduce four types of domains, namely immutable, isolated, observable and shared domains that each are tailored to a certain access pattern on that shared state. The domains are characterized with an operational semantics. For each we discuss how the actor model’s safety guarantees are upheld even in the presence of conceptually shared state. Furthermore, the proposed language abstractions are evaluated with a case study in Scala comparing them to other synchonisation mechanisms to demonstrate their benefits in deadlock freedom, parallel reads, and enforced isolation.

  • Domains: Sharing State in the Communicating Event-Loop Actor Model; Joeri De Koster, Stefan Marr, Tom Van Cutsem, Theo D’Hondt; Computer Languages, Systems & Structures (2016)
  • Paper: PDF
  • BibTex: BibSonomy

Open PostDoc Position on Programming Technology for Complex Concurrent Systems

We, or more specifically our colleagues from the Software Languages Lab in Brussels are looking for a post-doctoral researcher to work on a collaborative research project with us.

Head over to their page for the details.

For a bit more context on the position, have a look at the recently posted preprint titled “Towards Meta-Level Engineering and Tooling for Complex Concurrent Systems“. This position paper outlines some of the research challenges we want to work on.

Towards Meta-Level Engineering and Tooling for Complex Concurrent Systems

Last December, we got a research project proposal accepted for a collaboration between the Software Languages Lab in Brussels and the Institute for System Software here in Linz. Together, we will be working on tooling for complex concurrent systems. And with that I mean systems that use multiple concurrency models in combination to solve different problems, each with the appropriate abstraction. I have been working on these issues already for a while. Some pointers are available here in an earlier post: Why Is Concurrent Programming Hard? And What Can We Do about It?

End of February, I am going to talk about that a little more at the Arbeitstagung Programmiersprachen in Vienna. Below, you can find an abstract and link to the position paper. There is not a lot of concrete material in yet, but it sketches the problems we will try to address in the years to come.


With the widespread use of multicore processors, software becomes more and more diverse in its use of parallel computing resources. To address all application requirements, each with the appropriate abstraction, developers mix and match various concurrency abstractions made available to them via libraries and frameworks. Unfortunately, today’s tools such as debuggers and profilers do not support the diversity of these abstractions. Instead of enabling developers to reason about the high-level programming concepts, they used to express their programs, the tools work only on the library’s implementation level. While this is a common problem also for other libraries and frameworks, the complexity of concurrency exacerbates the issue further, and reasoning on the higher levels of the concurrency abstractions is essential to manage the associated complexity.

In this position paper, we identify open research issues and propose to build tools based on a common meta-level interface to enable developers to reasons about their programs based on the high-level concepts they used to implement them.

  • Towards Meta-Level Engineering and Tooling for Complex Concurrent Systems; Stefan Marr, Elisa Gonzalez Boix, Hanspeter Mössenböck; in ‘Proceedings of the 9th Arbeitstagung Programmiersprachen’ (ATPS’ 16).
  • Paper: PDF, HTML
  • BibTex: BibSonomy