Awe and horror.

Alan Grimes alangrimes at
Tue Nov 1 20:41:53 UTC 2005

As I begin to grasp the scope of the optimizations in the interpreter
and C-Translator, I am filled with a sense of awe. These tweaks were
obviously done with a deep knowledge of Smalltalk, C, the behavior of C
compilers, and assembler. At the same time, I'm filled with horror as I
realize the people who wrote these must of have sold their souls, left
kidneys, and first born offspring in order to pull it off.

While the VM, as it exists today, is adequate for conventional Squeak as
 it is presently used. Unfortunately, however, the scope and nature of
its optimizations make it difficult to modify and extend. The
non-obvious things the C-translator does make VM hacking extremely
inhospitable to newcomers. For example, I would look at the class
definition and would think to myself: OK, these "instance" variables
will be put into a structure that can be instantiated by appropriate
calls to C, and the class variables will probably end up being static
variables in the same source file. -- thereby approximating the behavior
of Smalltalk classes.

Instead, class variables are optimized as constants, and while instance
variables are put in a structure, there is no way to instantiate the
structure or manage such instances should they be created. Much much
worse, however, is that the C translator will behave differently
depending on which class it is processing and apply special hacks where
it thinks nobody will notice. -- The hapless newbie probably won't
discover these hacks until he has read at least 500 messages...

I'm going to try to fork my own version of the vmmaker intended to be
much more flexible and robust to experimentation though, perhaps, a bit
slower... (The current version of my custom VM is half as fast but still

The current issue that I'm having trouble with is figuring out exactly
how the CCode generator interfaces with the system wide compiler. I am
especially curious as to how to implement scope-reduced variables.
(variables declared within a block instead of a function...)

How exactly are syntax elements mapped onto the translation classes?

In any event, I hope to have an interesting variation on the VM
technology someday...

Friends don't let friends use GCC 3.4.4
GCC 3.3.6 produces code that's twice as fast on x86!

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