[Haskell-cafe] Tiger compiler: variable escaping analysis phase

Vo Minh Thu noteed at gmail.com
Tue Jun 22 08:54:08 EDT 2010

2010/6/22 José Romildo Malaquias <j.romildo at gmail.com>:
> Hello.
> I have been teaching an introductory course on compiler construction to
> our undergraduates students using Appel's "Modern Compiler
> Implementation in Java". There are also versions of the book in ML and
> C. The books explain how to write a compiler for the Tiger programming
> language.
> Now I want to implement a Tiger compiler in Haskell.
> The lexer and parser (built with the help of alex and happy) and the
> type checker are already working.
> Next step is implementing a variable escape analysis phase, needed for
> the intermediate code generator. The objective of this phase is to find
> out if each variable escapes or not. In general an escaping variable
> should be allocated in the stack frame (in memory). Non escaping
> variables may be allocated in the stack frame or in a register.
> Generally, a variable escapes if it is passed by reference, its address
> is taken (using C's & operator, for instance), or it is accessed from a
> nested function. Only the last is possible with Tiger.
> The approach adopted by Appel in his books is easy: a muttable field in
> the abstract syntax of variable declarations, of for expressions, and of
> function formal parameters, which introduce new variables, is used to
> collect the escaping information of the variable. In the ML version of
> the book this is a reference to boolean (bool ref). Initially, in a
> conservative approach, the reference is initialized to true.
> In the variable escaping analysis phase of the compiler, a function
> findEscape looks for escaping variables and record this information in
> the escape fields of the abstract syntax. To do this the entire abstract
> syntax tree is traversed looking for escaping uses of every variable,
> and, when found, the field is set to true.
> findEscape uses a symbol table to accomplish its work, binding variable
> names to a reference to boolean (the same reference used in the abstract
> syntax tree). When processing a variable declaraction, for instance, it
> inserts the variable name into the symbol table, binding it to its
> escaping field. When processing an expression which is a simple
> variable, if the variable occurs in a nested function, its binding in
> the symbol table is set to true. This reflects directly in the abstract
> syntax tree of the variable declaration, as the escape field in the
> variable declaration and the binding in the symbol table are the same
> reference to bool.
> I am look for good ways to implement the variable escaping analysis
> phase in Haskell, which is a pure language. I see two alternatives:
> 1) adopt the same approach as Appel used in his ML version of the
>   compiler: use a mutable reference in the IO monad (Data.IORef) to
>   hold the variable escaping information, and write everything inside
>   the IO monad
> 2) build a new abstract syntax tree with updated information regarding
>   variable escaping
> The second option is more elegant in my point of view, but would be much
> less efficient than the first one.
> So I want to know what advices Haskell programmers has to me about
> implementing this phase of the Tiger compiler in Haskell.


I think there is a third way to do what you describe (if I understood
everything). You can use a Writer monad (basically a state monad where
the state is never read, only written to).

Essentially you walk the tree and record the information you want (a
mapping from variable name to a boolean 'does-escape'). That
information is threaded through the tree-walking functions.

The information you record is the underlying monoid of the Writer monad.

Anyway, the second option sounds better than the first one as you
don't have to rely on IO (for which IMO there is no real reason in the
problem you provide).


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