Today, I gave a talk on implementing languages based on the ideas behind RPython and Truffle at FOSDEM on the main track. Please find abstract and slides below.

Thanks again also to the FOSDEM organizers for having me! 🙂


This talk shows how languages can be implemented as self-optimizing interpreters, and how Truffle or RPython go about to just-in-time compile these interpreters to efficient native code.

Programming languages are never perfect, so people start building domain-specific languages to be able to solve their problems more easily. However, custom languages are often slow, or take enormous amounts of effort to be made fast by building custom compilers or virtual machines.

With the notion of self-optimizing interpreters, researchers proposed a way to implement languages easily and generate a JIT compiler from a simple interpreter. We explore the idea and experiment with it on top of RPython (of PyPy fame) with its meta-tracing JIT compiler, as well as Truffle, the JVM framework of Oracle Labs for self-optimizing interpreters.

In this talk, we show how a simple interpreter can reach the same order of magnitude of performance as the highly optimizing JVM for Java. We discuss the implementation on top of RPython as well as on top of Java with Truffle so that you can start right away, independent of whether you prefer the Python or JVM ecosystem.

While our own experiments focus on SOM, a little Smalltalk variant to keep things simple, other people have used this approach to improve peek performance of JRuby, or build languages such as JavaScript, R, and Python 3.