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Delimited continuations library for native-code OCaml
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Date: -- (:)
From: oleg@o...
Subject: Delimited continuations library for native-code OCaml

The library delimcc directly implementing delimited continuations on
OCaml now supports native code (ocamlopt) on selected platforms.

      http://okmij.org/ftp/continuations/caml-shift.tar.gz


The library delimcc implements shift/reset, prompt/control, shift0,
control0 delimited continuation operators with multiple, arbitrarily
typed prompts. The delimcc implementation is direct: it copies only
the relevant fragment of the OCaml stack. The implementation is fully
integrated with OCaml exceptions: exception handlers may be captured
in delimited continuations (and re-instated when the captured
continuation is installed); exceptions remove the prompts along the
way. The implementation has no typing problems, no bizarre 'a cont
types, and no use for magic.

The library delimcc does *no* patching of the OCaml system and is a
regular (static or dynamically-loaded) library.  The library is
therefore _perfectly_ compatible with any existing OCaml code, source
or binary.

The native- and byte-code versions of the library implement the
identical interface, described in delimcc.mli. Furthermore, the OCaml
code for the two versions is identical. Only the C code files,
implementing scAPI, differ for native-code. 

Using the native-code version is identical to the byte-code version of
delimcc. No source code has to be changed; it has to be compiled using
ocamlopt rather than ocamlc.


This is the first release of the library, for OCaml 3.11.  It has been
tested on i386 (x86_32) platform, on FreeBSD and Linux.  The library
could perhaps be used on other platforms (on which stack grows
downwards); x86_32 is the only platform available to me. At any write,
the library contains no custom-written assembly code (although I
couldn't avoid reading a lot of assembly code).


This is the first release of the native-code version, hence stressing
correctness at the expense of performance. A notable performance drain
is emulating data types with a custom GC scanning
function. Custom-scanned data types are possible without any changes
to OCaml, thanks to the provided GC hooks. Alas, the emulation doesn't
seem to be efficient. A co-operation from the OCaml system would be
greatly appreciated. I have a hunch that custom-scan data types could
be useful for many other applications, for heap-allocating structures
with OCaml values intermixed with unboxed data.

It should be noted that the very operation of capturing and
reinstalling a delimited continuations will always be faster in
byte-code than in the native code. First of all, the byte-code
delimited continuation is smaller. Second, it is a uniform a sequence
of values or code pointers. In contrast, the corresponding captured
native-code delimited continuation -- the portion of the C stack -- is
not only bigger, but also contains unboxed values. We have to use
frame tables to figure out which stack slots contain live heap
pointers. Saving native-code delimited continuation is inherently more
complex.  In fact, all the complexity of the native-code delimcc was
tidying the stack to please GC.


One should keep in mind the fundamental limitation of native-code
delimited continuations -- the limitation that also holds for Scheme
and other systems with delimited control. The limitation concerns
capturing continuations in the OCaml code invoked as a call-back from
C code, which was, in turn, called from OCaml. It is safe to capture a
delimited continuation in the callback _provided_ the extent of the
captured continuation is limited to the call-back. The continuation
captured in the callback may be resumed within the call-back or after
the call-back has exited.  One must not capture the continuation
through the C code that invoked the call-back. In short, no C frames
may be captured in delimited continuations. The library detects C
frames in captured continuations, and throws a run-time error. Such a
behavior of delimcc is consistent with the behavior of native-code
Scheme systems.