Static values language extension proposal

Tim Watson watson.timothy at
Mon Jan 27 16:20:03 UTC 2014

Hi Brandon,

On 26 Jan 2014, at 19:01, Brandon Allbery wrote:

> On Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 1:43 PM, Tim Watson <watson.timothy at> wrote:
> In Erlang, I can rpc/send *any* term and evaluate it on another node. That includes functions of course. Whether or not we want to be quite that general is another matter, but that is the comparison I've been making.
> Note that Erlang gets away with this through being a virtual machine architecture; BEAM is about as write-once-run-anywhere as it gets, and the platform specifics are abstracted by the BEAM VM interpreter. You just aren't going to accomplish this with a native compiled language, without encoding as a virtual machine yourself (that is, the AST-based mechanisms).

Yeah, I do realise this. Of course we're not trying to reproduce the BEAM really, but what we /do/ want is to be able to do is exchange messages between nodes that are not running the same executable. The proposal does appear to address this requirement, at least to some extent. There may be complementary (or better) approaches. I believe Carter is going to provide some additional details viz his work in this area at some point.

Anything that reduces the amount of Template Haskell required to work with Cloud Haskell is a "good thing (tm)" IMO. Not that I mind using TH, but the programming model is currently quite awkward from the caller's perspective, since you've got to (a) create a Static/Closure out of potentially complex chunks of code, which often involves creating numerous top level wrapper APIs and (b) fiddle around with the remote-table (both in the code that defines remote-able thunks *and* in the code that starts a node wishing to operate on them.

Also note that this problem isn't limited to sending code around the network. Just sending arbitrary *data* between nodes is currently discouraged (though not disallowed) because the receiving program *might* not understand the types you're sending it. This is very restrictive and the proposal does, at the very least, allow us to safely serialise, send and receive types that both programs "know about" by virtue of having been linked to the same library/libraries. 

But yes - there are certainly constraints and edge cases aplenty here. I'm not entirely sure whether or not we'd need to potentially change the (binary) encoding of raw messages in distributed-process, for example, in response to this change. Currently we serialise a pointer (i.e., the pointer to the fingerprint for the type that's being sent), and I can imagine that not working properly across different nodes running on different architectures etc.

> Perhaps you should consider fleshing out ghc's current bytecode support to be a full VM?

After discussing this with Simon M, we concluded there was little point in doing so. The GHC RTS is practically a VM anyway, and there's probably not that much value to be gained by shipping bytecode around. Besides, as you put it, the AST-based mechanisms allow for this anyway (albeit with some coding required on the part of the application developer) and Carter (and others) assure me that the mechanisms required to do this kind of thing already exist. We just need to find the right way to take advantage of them.

> Or perhaps an interesting alternative would be a BEAM backend for ghc.

I've talked to a couple of people that want to try this. I'm intrigued, but have other things to focus on. :)

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