Options for targeting Windows XP?

Ben Gamari ben at well-typed.com
Tue Mar 30 03:06:28 UTC 2021

Clinton Mead <clintonmead at gmail.com> writes:

> Thanks again for the detailed reply Ben.
> I guess the other dream of mine is to give GHC a .NET backend. For my
> problem it would be the ideal solution, but it looks like other attempts in
> this regard (e.g. Eta, GHCJS etc) seem to have difficulty keeping up with
> updates to GHC. So I'm sure it's not trivial.
> It would be quite lovely though if I could generate .NET + Java + even
> Python bytecode from GHC.
> Whilst not solving my immediate problem, perhaps my efforts are best spent
> in giving GHC a plugin architecture for backends (or if one already
> exists?) trying to make a .NET backend.
This is an interesting (albeit ambitious, for the reasons others have
mentioned) idea. In particular, I think the CLR has a slightly advantage
over the JVM as a Haskell target in that it has native tail-call
support [1]. This avoids a fair amount of complexity (and performance
overhead) that Eta had to employ to work around this lack in the JVM.

I suspect that writing an STG -> CLR IR wouldn't itself be difficult.
The hard part is dealing with the primops, RTS, and core libraries.

[1] https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/previous-versions/windows/silverlight/dotnet-windows-silverlight/56c08k0k(v=vs.95)?redirectedfrom=MSDN

> I believe "Csaba Hruska" is working in this space with GRIN, yes?

Csaba is indeed using GHC's front-end and Core pipeline to feed his own
compilation pipeline. However, I believe his approach is currently quite
decoupled from GHC. This may or may not complicate the ability to
integrate with the rest of the ecosystem (e.g. Cabal; Csaba, perhaps you could
comment here?)

> I read SPJs paper on Implementing Lazy Functional Languages on Stock
> Hardware: The Spineless Tagless G-machine
> <https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/implementing-lazy-functional-languages-on-stock-hardware-the-spineless-tagless-g-machine/>
> which
> implemented STG in C and whilst it wasn't trivial, it didn't seem
> stupendously complex (even I managed to roughly follow it). I thought to
> myself also, implementing this in .NET would be even easier because I can
> hand off garbage collection to the .NET runtime so there's one less thing
> to worry about. I also, initially, don't care _too_ much about performance.
Indeed, STG itself is reasonably straightforward. Implementing tagged
unions in the CLR doesn't even look that hard (F# does it, afterall).
However, there are plenty of tricky bits:

 * You still need to implement a fair amount of RTS support for a full
   implementation (e.g. light-weight threads and STM)

 * You need to shim-out or reimplement the event manager in `base`

 * What do you do about the many `foreign import`s used by, e.g.,

 * How do you deal with `foreign import`s elsewhere?

> Of course, there's probably a whole bunch of nuance. One actually needs to,
> for example, represent all the complexities of GADTs into object orientated
> classes, maybe converting sum types to inheritance hierarchies with Visitor
> Patterns. And also you'd actually have to make sure to do one's best to
> ensure exposed Haskell functions look like something sensible.
> So I guess, given I have a bit of an interest here, what would be the best
> approach if I wanted to help GHC develop more backends and into an
> architecture where people can add backends without forking GHC? Where could
> I start helping that effort? Should I contact "Csaba Hruska" and get
> involved in GRIN? Or is there something that I can start working on in GHC
> proper?
At the moment we rather lack a good model for how new backends should
work. There are quite a few axes to consider here:

 * How do core libraries (e.g. `text`) work? Various choices are:

   * Disregard the core libraries (along with most of Hackage) and just
     take the Haskell language

   * Reimplement many of the core libraries in the target language (e.g.
     as done by GHCJS)

 * How does the compiler interact with the Haskell build toolchain (e.g.
   Cabal)? Choices are:

   * Disregard the Haskell build toolchain. My (possibly incorrect)
     understanding is this is what GRIN does.

   * Implement something that looks enough like GHC to fool Cabal.

   * Upstream changes into Cabal to make your new compiler a first-class
     citizen. This is what GHCJS did.

 * How does the backend interact with GHC? Choices:
   * The GRIN model: Run the GHC pipeline and serialise the resulting IR
     (in the case of GRIN, STG) to a file to be slurped up by another process

   * The Clash/GHCJS model: Implement the new compiler as an executable
     linking against the GHC API. 

   * The frontend plugin model: For many years now GHC has had support
     for "front-end plugins". This mechanism allows a plugin to
     fundamentally redefine what the GHC executable does (e.g.
     essentially adding a new "mode" to GHC, a la --interactive or
     --make). It's not impossible that one could use this to implement a
     new backend.

   * A hypothetical "backend plugin" mechanism: Currently GHC has no
     means of introducing plugins after the Core pipeline. Perhaps this
     should change? This would need a fair amount of design as aspects
     of the backend currently tend to leak into GHC's frontend. John
     Ericson has been keen on cleaning this up.

Anyways, lots to think about.

> Considering that I've been playing around with Haskell since 2002, and I'd
> like to actually get paid to write it at some point in my career, and I
> have an interest in this area, perhaps this is a good place to start, and
> actually helping to develop a pluggable backend architecture for GHC may be
> more useful for more people over the long term than trying to hack up an
> existing GHC to support 32 bit Windows XP, a battle I suspect will have to
> be refought every time a new GHC version is released given the current
> structure of GHC.
Yes, 32-bit Windows support sounds like something of a futile exercise.
If the problem were *merely* GHC, then perhaps it would be possible.
However, the entirety of the open-source compiler community struggles
with Windows. For instance, binutils struggles to support even 64-bit
Windows without regressions (e.g. see


- Ben

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