Spoon progress 27 July 2006: shared variables (including "globals")

Craig Latta craig at netjam.org
Fri Jul 28 07:14:00 UTC 2006


	shared variables and compilation/execution
	other shared variables
	the root class
	the special objects array
	method references to "Smalltalk"
	another reminder about live behavior transfer
	why do this now


	Previously I mentioned that I wanted to rid Spoon of the system
dictionary. Here's how I'm currently doing it, and, more generally, how
I'm supporting shared variables in Spoon. Thanks in advance for any
feedback! First, a recap of the system dictionary concept and why I
don't like it. :)

shared variables and compilation/execution

	Shared variables in Smalltalk are stored as associations; the key is a
shared variable name, and the value is an object associated with that
name. When the compiler compiles source for a method that refers to a
shared variable's name, it attempts to find an appropriate
shared-variable association for that name. It stores that association in
the "literal frame" of the resulting compiled method (currently, a span
of the method's bytes after the header and before the instructions).

	There are instructions for pushing the value of a particular
shared-variable association from a method's literal frame onto the stack
(or "temporary frame") of a context running that method (see
Interpreter>>pushLiteralVariableBytecode, the implementation of
interpreter operations 16r40 to 16r5F).

	Traditionally, all of these shared-variables associations are stored in
dictionaries that the compiler knows about. As far as the compiler is
concerned, the outermost shared-variable scope is represented by the
"system dictionary", a singleton instance of the SystemDictionary class
called "Smalltalk". (Just to review, note that the system dictionary has
an association whose key is the symbol #Smalltalk and whose value is the
system dictionary itself. This association is used in the compiler
methods that make use of the system dictionary.)


	Most of the associations in the system dictionary refer to classes. The
key of each such association indicates the name of the corresponding
class as far as the compiler is concerned. Additionally, each class has
a "name" instance variable. That is, the name of each class is stored in
two distinct places: in the system dictionary, and in the class itself.
In effect, the compiler's notion of a class' name and the class' own
notion of its name are distinct (and possibly conflicting).

	I propose to make the compiler use the classes' notion of names
directly, so that there is only one naming scheme, and that the classes
themselves are responsible for it. To do this, instead of storing a
class' name symbol in its "name" instance variable, we can just store
the shared-variable association that the compiled methods use (and which
used to be in the system dictionary).

	When the compiler wants to find a class with some name in some source a
human just wrote, it can search the class hierarchy from the root (class
Object). As I discussed earlier here with Ralph Johnson, it's typically
not as fast as a dictionary lookup, but it's acceptable (the compiler
tends not to be a part of the system that needs every cycle squeezed out
of it).

	If the compiler finds multiple classes with some name in source
submitted for compilation, it can present other information about these
classes (e.g., class category or module) to the human, and ask for a
choice. When already-compiled methods are transferred between systems,
there is no ambiguity, since class names aren't used at all (see
"another reminder about live behavior transfer" below).

the root class

	As you might guess, this means that Spoon will not have multiple root
classes. So far, all the non-primary root classes in Squeak were
motivated by a desire to use method lookup failure for various
"proxyish" features. I support such features in Spoon directly with the
interpreter (see for example, class "Other"), so it's not necessary to
have more than one root class (it's also not necessary to have the
"ProtoObject" class).

	As for how to access the root class, there are a couple of options. We
could store the root class' shared-variable association directly in
methods, or we could store the root class in the "special objects array"
(it could take the system dictionary's place there, in fact).

the special objects array

	This brings me to the special objects array. :)  I've always found it
odd that it's chock-full of well-known and relatively unchanging things,
but it doesn't have its own class and protocol. I've never liked the
name "special objects array" either; it seems too vague. Metaphorically,
I think the special objects array represents the grip that the
interpreter has (and needs to have) on the object memory. So for Spoon
I've created a class called "InterpreterGrip" whose sole instance is a
collection of the objects that the interpreter knows about. I call each
of these objects a "grip point". There is protocol for accessing them
(for example, a "rootClass" message). I find this more pleasant than the
current scheme.

other shared variables

	Anyway, back to the system dictionary. I addressed the associations
there that refer to classes, but there are others. These are the other
so-called "global" variables (like Display, the primary display) as well
as all the "shared pools" (like TextConstants and, strictly speaking,
Undeclared). I think each global variable should be the responsibility
of some class. So the primary display could be something you get by
sending "primary" to DisplayScreen.

	Shared pools are dictionaries of shared-variable associations, similar
to the system dictionary (in fact, I'd call the system dictionary just
another shared pool). I know some think we should simply banish all
shared pools, but I'll assume for the moment that we're keeping them. I
find them useful, I just think some class should take responsibility for
each one. I've added a "publishedPools" instance variable to Class,
which stores all the shared pool dictionaries for which a class has
responsibility (i.e., the class that introduced the pool into the
system). I renamed the traditional "sharedPools" instance variable in
Class to "receivedPools"; these are the pools that a class merely uses.
Finally, I renamed the "classPool" instance variable to
"classVariablesPool", just to be clearer.

	When you want to use a shared pool, you access the pool by sending a
message to the responsible class, rather than relying on its name being
a global variable.

method references to "Smalltalk"

	So now we've got new homes for all the shared-variable associations
which used to be reachable through the system dictionary. The other
thing to do is refactor the methods which use the shared-variable
association for the system dictionary itself (the methods which refer to
"Smalltalk"). I'm working on this now. There are about a thousand of
them in a "full" object memory, but for most of them it's clear which
class should actually take responsibility. For example, there are
several methods which (in my opinion) are rightly the responsibility of
the Interpreter class (like the garbage collection messages). I've also
written some refactoring tools that automate a lot of this (e.g., a tool
which replaces the push of one literal variable with another when
followed by the sending of a particular message).

another reminder about live behavior transfer

	Some of these decisions would be problematic if we were limited to
using source code ("fileouts") to transfer behavior between systems.
Since Spoon can transfer methods directly, without recompilation (or
even source code) and without referring to shared-variable names at all,
it works (see the MethodLiteralTransmissionMarker hierarchy for details).

why do this now

	This work was always lurking in the future, but now the issue is forced
by my work on Naiad (Spoon's module system). I'm making a module which
reattaches the primary display (the system is initially headless), and
that meant deciding how to access it. Since access is traditionally
through a global variable (Display), the can of worms was opened. :)


	Again, thanks in advance for any feedback or questions. I'm usually
around on the Squeak IRC channel from 1700 to 0500 GMT, and I read the
squeak-dev and Spoon lists.

	thanks again,


Craig Latta

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