[Haskell-cafe] Runtime strictness analysis for polymorphic HOFs?

Paul Chiusano paul.chiusano at gmail.com
Sun Jun 14 19:42:50 EDT 2009

I was recently trying to figure out if there was a way, at runtime, to do
better strictness analysis for polymorphic HOFs, for which the strictness of
some arguments might depend on the strictness of the strictness of function
types that are passed as arguments [1]. As an example, consider foldl. The
'seed' parameter of foldl can be made strict as long as the binary function
used for the fold is strict in its arguments. Unfortunately, because
strictness analysis is done statically, Haskell can't assume anything about
the strictness of the binary function - assuming we only compile one
instance of foldl, it must be the most conservative version possible, and
that means making the seed parameter lazy. :-(

I started thinking about ways you could to a check at runtime for this sort
of thing, something to the effect of asking foldl, before heap-allocating a
thunk for the seed parameter, whether that parameter could be made strict.
foldl could then inspect other arguments that have been supplied, and based
on these arguments, evaluate or go ahead with creating a thunk the seed
parameter. It's a runtime cost, sure, but would it be more than the cost of
having to do an additional heap allocation? In any case a small runtime cost
might be worth it if the analysis becomes more uniform.

So, my question is: does doing this sort of runtime analysis seem like a
horrible idea? Is it even possible? Has anyone tried this in the past? (So
far I haven't found anything, but would love references if people have

Note that I'm not suggesting Haskell should do anything like this. I'm
playing around with the ideas because I'm interesting in creating a lazy
language and I was hoping to have strictness analysis be very predictable
and uniform, something the programmer can count on and use to simply reason
about space usage ... which might be hopelessly unrealistic goal! I guess
the more general question is - is "perfect" strictness analysis (however
that is defined) possible, if we're willing to incur some runtime cost? What
would that look like?


More background on my thinking here - a bit half-baked, so bear with me!


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