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Re: What exactly can be GC'ed?
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Date: -- (:)
From: Ching-Tsun Chou <ctchou@m...>
Subject: Re: What exactly can be GC'ed?

Damien Doligez <Damien.Doligez@inria.fr> wrote:

   ># let x = String.make 3 'a' ;;
   >val x : string = "aaa"
   ># let w = Weak.create 1 ;;
   >val w : '_a Weak.t = <abstr>
   ># Weak.set w 0 (Some (x)) ;;
   >- : unit = ()
   ># Weak.get w 0 ;;
   >- : string option = Some "aaa"
   ># let x = "bbb" ;;
   >val x : string = "bbb"
   ># Gc.full_major () ;;
   >- : unit = ()
   ># Weak.get w 0 ;;
   >- : string option = Some "aaa"

   >It seems to me that since x has been re-bound to "bbb", its old value
   >"aaa" is no longer reachable and hence can be GC'ed.  But clearly I
   >was wrong.  Where did I go wrong?  What exactly can be GC'ed?

   Caml is a language with static binding.  The new definition of x does
   not replace the old one in any way, except in the table that maps
   names to slots in the table of globals.  When you define the second x,
   the first one only loses its name.  It still exists as a global
   variable.

But an inaccessible global variable!  Indeed, since the new definition
replaces the old one "in the table that maps names to slots in the
table of globals", why is it difficult to figure out that the value
object pointed to by the old definition is no longer reachable?

   Assume that you insert "let f () = x;;" anywhere between the two
   bindings of x.  Then the old value is still reachable through f.

But not through x.  In fact, suppose that the definition of f is:

        let f () = String.sub x 0 1 ;;

The old value of x, "aaa", should still be garbage-collectible after
the re-definition of x.

It seems to me that the fact that O'Caml is a language with static
binding (and eager evaluation), if anything, should enable more
aggressive GC, not less.  This is important for the following reason.
O'Caml is ideally suitable as a "meta language" (indeed, what does ML
stand for?) for manipulating objects which themselves are not
necessarily implemented in O'Caml.  These objects can be very large.
Hence it is crucial that O'Caml does GC aggressively so that pointers
from the O'Caml heap to those objects can be removed whenever possible
to enable GC on those objects.  Many scientific applications of O'Caml
can benefit from a more aggressive GC.

There is another point that I'd like to make.  In O'Caml, GC *already*
works as one (well, I anyway) would expect in most cases.  Consider
the following two O'Caml sessions:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
# let w = Weak.create 1 ;;
val w : '_a Weak.t = <abstr>
# Weak.set w 0 (Some (String.make 3 'a')) ;;
- : unit = ()
# Weak.get w 0 ;;
- : string option = Some "aaa"
# Gc.full_major () ;;
- : unit = ()
# Weak.get w 0 ;;
- : string option = None
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

------------------------------------------------------------------------
# let dummy () =
    let x = String.make 3 'a' in
    let w = Weak.create 1 in
    let _ = Weak.set w 0 (Some (x)) in
    w ;;
val dummy : unit -> string Weak.t = <fun>
# let w = dummy () ;;
val w : string Weak.t = <abstr>
# Weak.get w 0 ;;
- : string option = Some "aaa"
# Gc.full_major () ;;
- : unit = ()
# Weak.get w 0 ;;
- : string option = None
------------------------------------------------------------------------

I really don't see why it would be hard to "fix" it for top-level
variables.

Thanks!
- Ching Tsun

========================================================================
  Ching-Tsun Chou                       E-mail: ctchou@mipos2.intel.com 
  Intel Corporation, RN6-16             Tel: (408) 765-5468             
  2200 Mission College Blvd.            Fax: (408) 653-7933             
  Santa Clara, CA 95052, U.S.A.         Sec: (408) 653-8849             
========================================================================