[Haskell-cafe] Parallel Haskell Digest 6

Eric Y. Kow eric at well-typed.com
Thu Oct 6 17:58:47 CEST 2011

Parallel Haskell Digest
Edition 6 

Hello Haskellers!

This edition of the Parallel Haskell Digest kicks off with some
[warm feelings][n1] from BioHaskeller Ketil Malde

> Blessing of the day goes to the authors of threadscope.  In fact, let me look
> it up: Donnie Jones, Simon Marlow, and Satnam Singh. I had an old STM
> experiment lying around, but couldn't quite make it go faster than the single
> threaded version.
> Today I installed threadscope, and a glance at the output sufficed to
> identify the problem, and now at least it's faster. Great tool! (But you all
> knew that, of course)

Thanks indeed to the original authors of ThreadScope! Ketil made good use
of the original ThreadScope. Since the original release, the folks at
Well-Typed have taken over development on ThreadScope (Andres, Duncan,
and Mikolaj) and are working to extend it so that it becomes even easier
to squash those pesky performance bugs.  These extensions, much like
this digest, are made possible by the [Parallel GHC Project][n0]. We
hope you'll love the results.

[Data Parallelism in Haskell][n2] slides and video 

Manuel Chakravarty came all the way from Sydney (that's 931 km!)
to tell the Brisbane FP Group about work going on at UNSW on
data parallel programming in Haskell. The talk covers a lot of
ground. It's an hour and a half long and
> [It] motivates the use of functional programming for parallel,
> and in particular, data parallel programming and explains the
> difference between regular and irregular (or nested) data
> parallelism. It also discusses the Repa library (regular data
> parallelism for multicore CPUs), the embedded language Accelerate
> (regular data parallelism for GPUs), and Data Parallel Haskell
> (nested data parallelism for multicore CPUs). 

Both video and slides are available, so check it out!

Word of the Month
The word of the month is *dataflow* as in dataflow parallelism.
(And if you've just seen Manuel's talk, not to be confused with
data paralellism).  With dataflow, we will be wrapping up our now
four-part series on parallel programming in Haskell.  In recent words of
the month, we've been looking at various approaches for parallelising
your way to faster code.  We started with the parallel arrays library
Repa, then moved on to the Haskell `par` and `pseq` primitives, and
built from there to get Strategies. Now we'll be looking at
`monad-par`, a library for *dataflow* parallelism.

First, the bigger picture: why do we have another way of doing parallel
programming in Haskell when we already have parallel arrays and
Strategies?  Part of the answer is parallelism is still a research
topic, with new ideas coming out from time to time and some old ideas
slowly withering away.  For another part of the answer, it may help to
think in terms of a trade-off between implicitness and performance, in
other words, between Easy and Fast.

![Degrees of implicitness](parallelism.png)

Not all problems are subject to the trade-off in the same way.  It's
also not always clear how they are. As a rough sketch, problems that
require applying the same operation on a large number of simple object
can get fast performance from a parallel arrays library.  This is a form
of data parallelism.  If the problem does not lend itself to data
parallelism, the next port of call is likely Strategies.  If Strategies
are not adequate for the desired speedups, the problem may require an
even more explicit approach.

Until recently, this meant “rolling your own” parallelism by using
Concurrent Haskell: forking off threads, assigning tasks to them, and
communicating finished work between them. Using concurrency for DIY
parallelism is risky.  It means venturing into IO, giving up
determinism, exposing ourselves to all manner of side-effects, not to
mention subtle concurrency bugs like deadlock.  As Haskellers, we should
demand better: safer, more predictable and easier to reason about.  We
want to have explicit fine-grained control without all the nasty
side-effects. And now we can have it!

The latest addition to the parallel Haskell quiver is the monad-par
library. Programming in monad-par looks a lot like programming in
Concurrent Haskell:

    data Par a
    instance Monad Par

    runPar :: Par a -> a     
    fork :: Par () -> Par ()
    data IVar a
    new :: Par (IVar a)
    put :: NFData a => IVar a -> a -> Par ()
    get :: IVar a -> Par a

Instead of using `forkIO`, we use `fork` to create threads (not sparks!) and
instead of using `MVar`s to communicate, we use `IVar`s. `MVar` and `IVar`
behave in somewhat similar ways, in that any attempt to read from an `IVar`
will wait until it has been filled. But this is also where differences emerge.
Unlike their concurrent counterparts `IVar` may only be written to once;
subsequent writes result in an error.  This aligns with our desire for
determinism.  We never have to worry about the `IVar` changing values
over time.  Moreover, the `Par` monad does not allow  for allow for any
`IO` (feature! not a bug) and computations in the `Par` monad can always
be extracted with a simple `runPar`.  

But this doesn't really tell us all that much about how to use this
library.  For now we come back to our word *dataflow*. The dataflow
model treats program as a little black box, an input goes in, an output
comes out, and what happens in between is immaterial:

![Input goes in, output comes out](dataflow-basic.png)

The program is represented as a directed graph (a *dataflow network*), with
each node representing an individual operation (black boxes in their own
right), and connections between the nodes expressing dependencies.  In the
graph above, `g` and `h` depend on the output of `f` (the same output - there
is only one) and in turn, `i` depends on the output of both `g` and `h`.  

![Dataflow network](dataflow-network.png)

Dataflow networks are handy thinking tools because one of the things
that makes it hard to get fast parallel code is the inherent
sequentially that dependencies introduce.  A dataflow network nicely
captures which parts of the program are parallel (`g` and `h` are
independent of each other) and which parts are sequential (`g` depends
on `f`).  This is a sort of parallelism topline; we can't go any faster
than what this network allows, but at the very least we should take the
shape of the network into account so we don't make matters worse and
find ourselves waiting a lot more on dependencies than is strictly

Using the `Par` monad essentially consists in translating dataflow
networks into code.

Suppose we have functions

    f :: In -> A
    g :: A  -> B
    h :: A  -> C
    j :: B  -> C -> Out

For the graph above, we might say:

    network :: IVar In -> Par Out
    network inp = do
     [vf,vg,vh] <- sequence [new,new,new]

     fork $ do x <- get inp
               put vf (f x)

     fork $ do x <- get vf
               put vg (g x)

     fork $ do x <- get vf
               put vh (h x)

     x <- get vg
     y <- get vh
     return (j x y)

It's useful to note that here dataflow graphs need not be static;
they may be dynamically generated to fit the shape of the input.
To see this and also a more realistic taste of monad-par, check out
Simon Marlow's [Parallel and Concurrent Programming
Haskell][sm-tutorial] tutorial.  It shows how a parallel type inferencer
might be implemented, its dataflow graph arising from the set of
bindings it receives as input.

Finally what about Strategies? How do we choose between the two? Both
are IO-free and deterministic, both require some but not a whole lot of
comfort with monads.  `Par` may be easier to use correctly than
Strategies because it is strict and forces you to explicitly delineate
the dependencies in parallel computations.  This also makes it more
verbose on the other hand.  Aside from being more verbose, `Par` can be
a little bit “messier” than Strategies because you don't get the same
separation between algorithm and parallelism.  And since we're
ultimately concerned with performance, it's worth knowing that the
`Par` monad currently involves more overhead than the `Eval` monad from
Strategies.  The latter may be more appropriate at finer granularities.

Perhaps one way to go about this is to start off with Strategies as they
have been around longer and may require less invasive modifications to
your code.  But if you find Strategies to be difficult, or you just
can't get the performance you want, don't reach for those `forkIO` yet.
Give `Par` a try.

For more about monad-par, do visit [Simon's tutorial][sm-tutorial]
and the [API on hackage][mp-haddock].  To dig deeper, you
may also find it instructive to read [A Monad of Deterministic
Parallelism][mp-paper] (Marlow et al), which was presented at this
year's Haskell Symposium.  Related to this are his CUFP [monad-par
slides][mp-cufp] tutorial slides.

This concludes our tour of current approaches to Haskell parallelism.
There is some new technology on the horizon which we may cover in a
later digest, particularly Data Parallel Haskell and nested data
parallelism (*data* parallelism not to be confused with *dataflow*
parallelism), but for next month, let's take a break from parallelism
and look at something a little different.

Parallel GHC Project Update
The Parallel GHC Project is an MSR-funded project, run by Well-Typed,
with the aim of demonstrating that parallel Haskell can be employed
successfully in real world projects.

This has been a month for releasing software.  We've recently put on
Hackage updates to ThreadScope and some helper libraries

* ThreadScope (0.2.0), with a new spark profiling visualisation, bookmarks, and other enhancements
* gtk2hs (0.12.1), adding GHC 7.2 compatibility,
* ghc-events (, adding support for spark events (GHC 7.3 needed
  for this)

Duncan Coutts presented [our recent work on ThreadScope][ts-talk] at
the Haskell Implementors Workshop in Tokyo (23 Sep).  He talked about
the new spark visualisation feature which show a graphical
representation of spark creation and conversion statistics with a demo
inspired by a program we are working on for Parallel GHC.

Meanwhile, we have also completed a pure Haskell implementation of the
“Modified Additive Lagged Fibonacci” random number generator. This
generator is attractive for use in Monte Carlo simulations because it is
splittable and has good statistical quality, while providing high
performance. The LFG implementation will be released on Hackage when it
has undergone more extensive quality testing.

Blogs, Papers, and Packages
*   [First Class Concurrency in Haskell][b3] (PDF) (31 Aug)
    Keegan McAllister posted slides from a talk he gave last year
    at the Boston Area Haskell Users' Group.  His slides give an
    overview of topics in concurrent imperative programming:

    - Using closures with concurrency primitives to improve your API
    - Using MVar to retrieve thread results
    - How System.Timeout works
    - Implementing IORef and Chan in terms of other primitives
    - Implementing the π-calculus, and compiling the λ-calculus to it

    You might find Keegan's slides to be a useful introduction to
    Haskell Concurrency.
*   [Lambda to pi][b1] (9 Sep)
    “If the λ-calculus is a minimal functional language, then the
    π-calculus is a minimal concurrent language”.  Following up on
    his recent slides, Keegan wrote a follow-up post elaborating on
    his pi-calculus interpreter and lambda-calculus to pi-calculus
    compiler.  If you want to run his blog post just pass the
    [lhs file][lam2pi] to GHCi.
    (note that I had to use `-hide-package=monads-tf`)

*   [Sirkle][b4] (17 Sep)

    Morten Olsen Lysgaard released Sirkle. It provides an implementation
    of the Chord [Distributed Hash Table][DHT], and a simple storage
    layer with fault tolerance and replication similar to DHash. The
    Sirkle DHT implementation uses Cloud Haskell, which we saw some
    interest about in the [last edition][phd5] of this digest.  Sirkle
    is available on hackage and GitHub.  “If you think distributed
    computing is fun”, Morten invites us, “and would love a hobby
    project, join me in discovering what can be done with a DHT in

*   [ThreadScope][b6] (5 Sep)

    Duncan Coutts released ThreadScope 0.2.0, the performance visualiser
    that we saw Ketil used to make his STM experiment faster.  The
    updated ThreadScope has a new spark profiling visualisation,
    bookmarks, and other enhancements.  Now if only we had some sort of
    user documentation…

Mailing list discussions
*    [Performance of concurrent array access][m1] (23 Aug)

     As a first step to his foray into writing concurrent parallel
     Haskell programs Andreas Voellmy wrote a bit of code to read
     that reads and writes concurrently to an IOArray. Unfortunately,
     the performance with multiple cores was not very good and using
     ThreadScope did not reveal anything obvious. What did help on
     the other hand was to switch to IOUArray, which puzzled Andreas.
     Why would this improve scalability to multiple threads and cores?
     Andrew Coppin and Brandon Allbery suggested it may have something
     to do with strictness. Johan Tibbell pointed out some places
     where Andreas would likely want to add a bit of strictness to his
     original IOArray version.  But this only seems to have helped
     slightly.  Anybody else have an idea?

*    [(Repa) hFlush: illegal operation][m2] (24 Aug)

     Michael Orlitzky is using Repa to process MRI data, but when
     writing the results to file, he gets the error message `spline3:
     output.txt: hFlush: illegal operation (handle is closed)`
     Trial and error is a bit hard to do here because it takes 45
     minutes to get to the point of failure. Ben Lippmeier offered to
     have a look if Michael could provide some data to go with the code
     he posted.  Ben also pointed out that the implementation of Repa's
     text IO functions is naive, and may have problem with massive
     files.  If the data is in some standard binary form, it may be
     worthwhile to write a Repa loader for it.

*    [how to read CPU time vs wall time report from GHC?][m3] (14 Aug)

     Wishnu Prasetya is just getting started with Parallel Haskell.
     He's having some trouble interpreting runtime statistics from
     the RTS (eg. `8.97s  (  2.36s elapsed)`).
     >     SPARKS: 5 (5 converted, 0 pruned)
     >     INIT  time    0.02s  (  0.01s elapsed)
     >     MUT   time    3.46s  (  0.89s elapsed)
     >     GC    time    5.49s  (  1.46s elapsed)
     >     EXIT  time    0.00s  (  0.00s elapsed)
     >     Total time    8.97s  (  2.36s elapsed)
     Why does the CPU time on the left exceed the wall clock time on the
     right? Iustin Pop pointed out that CPU time accumulates over the
     mulitple CPUs.  The roughly 4:1 ratio suggest Wish must be making
     95% use of 4 CPUs (or partial use of more CPUs).  This may sound
     efficient except that at the end of day what counts is the
     difference in wall clock times.  Iustin points out that the MUT/GC
     times show Wish spending 60% of his time in garbage colection,
     perhaps a sign of a space leak or an otherwise inefficient

*    [Can't link OpenCL on Windows][m4] (12 Sep)

     OpenCL (Open Computing Language) is a framework for writing
     parallel programs that run on GPUs (more generally, on
     heterogeneous systems with perhaps a mix of CPUs and other
     processors).  Jason Dagit is trying to get the OpenCLRaw
     bindings to work on Windows. On link time, however, he gets
     undefined symbol errors for everything he uses in the OpenCL
     API.  Mystery solved: Jason later reported that the binding
     was set to use ccall whereas OpenCL uses stdcall.

*    [Turn GC off][m5] (14 Sep) and [Build local-gc branch of GHC][m6] (26 Sep)

     Andreas Voellmy (who we saw above with IOArray woes) is writing a
     server handling multiple long-lived TCP connections with a bit of
     shared state among connections.  Ideally, it'd be a case of more
     cores = more clients, but the current stop-the-world garbage
     collection in GHC makes this expensive.  His first thought was
     to completely disable garbage collection, and just run until he
     is out of memory.  Perhaps there is an alternative.
     David Barbour commented that controlling the amount of live memory
     is important here, much more than avoiding allocations.  Austin
     Seipp pointed us to recent work on the [local-gc branch of
     GHC][local-gc] (see the paper [Multicore Garbage Collection with
     Local Heaps][local-gc-paper]).  This work has not been merged into
     GHC though (as it's not clear if the improvements are worth the
     complexity increase).
     Andreas decided to give it a shot.  Unfortunately, he can't get
     it to buid.  Help?

*    [A Missing Issue on Second Generation Strategies][m7] (24 Sep)

     Burak Ekici is trying to parallelize RSA encryption and decryption
     with Strategies, but all his sparks keep getting pruned!  Antoine
     Latter noticed that Burak's strategy wasn't actually doing anything
     to its input; it simply sparks off computations (themselves
     evaluated with `rdeepseq`) that nobody ever looks at.  Daniel
     Fischer made a similar point, providing some improved code
     with a refactor and clean up of repeated code along the way.

*    [Parallel Haskell Digest 5 followup][p1]

     Following up on the last word of the month (Strategies). Kevin
     Hammond observed that the first `parMap` example interweaves
     behavioural and functional code, defeating the point of strategies.
     The issue here is pedagogical: although I later follow up with the
     version using `parList rseq`, I run the risk of people simply
     copy and pasting while missing out on the benefits.  Thanks for the
     feedback, Kevin!  I'll see if I can avoid the try-the-wrong-way-first
     style in the future. 
     As a more general note, feedback people give, particularly
     criticism and suggestions for improvement are very valuable, so
     keep it coming, folks!

Stack Overflow and Reddit
* [Concurrent reading and writing to IOArray in Haskell][s1]
* [What's the best way to write some semaphore-like code in Haskell?][s2]
* [Help understanding MVar example in Haskell][s3]
* [How to exit from Hackstack Server App?][s4]

* [The most useful error message evar! : haskell][r1]
* [New IBM CPU has transactional memory built in : haskell][r2]

Help and Feedback
If you'd like to make an announcement in the next Haskell Parallel
Digest, then get in touch with me, Eric Kow, at
<parallel at well-typed.com>. Please feel free to leave any comments and

[sm-tutorial]: http://community.haskell.org/~simonmar/par-tutorial.pdf
[mp-paper]:    http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/simonpj/papers/parallel/monad-par.pdf
[mp-haddock]:  http://hackage.haskell.org/package/monad-par
[mp-cufp]:     http://community.haskell.org/~simonmar/slides/CUFP.pdf

[lam2pi]: http://ugcs.net/~keegan/code/pi-calc.lhs
[DHT]:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_hash_table
[phd5]: http://www.well-typed.com/blog/58
[ts-talk]: http://www.haskell.org/haskellwiki/HaskellImplementorsWorkshop/2011/Coutts

[local-gc]: https://github.com/ghc/ghc/tree/local-gc
[local-gc-paper]: http://research.microsoft.com/~simonpj/papers/parallel/local-gc.pdf 

[n0]: http://www.haskell.org/haskellwiki/Parallel_GHC_Project
[n1]: https://plus.google.com/108473609018577106562/posts/QHYorSiZr89
[n2]: http://justtesting.org/video-and-slides-of-data-parallelism-in-haske

[b1]: http://mainisusuallyafunction.blogspot.com/2011/09/lambda-to-pi.html  
[b3]: http://ugcs.net/~keegan/talks/first-class-concurrency/talk.pdf
[b4]: http://mortenlysgaard.com/?p=35
[b5]: http://bos.github.com/strange-loop-2011/talk/talk.html
[b6]: http://hackage.haskell.org/package/threadscope

[m1]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-August/094814.html
[m2]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-August/094863.html
[m3]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-August/094639.html
[m4]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-September/095289.html
[m5]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-September/095344.html
[m6]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-September/095616.html
[m7]: http://www.haskell.org/pipermail/haskell-cafe/2011-September/095589.html
[p1]: https://groups.google.com/d/topic/parallel-haskell/dhMkpgdswt0/discussion

[s1]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7194826/concurrent-reading-and-writing-to-ioarray-in-haskell
[s2]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7216149/whats-the-best-way-to-write-some-semaphore-like-code-in-haskell
[s3]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7256860/help-understanding-mvar-example-in-haskell
[s4]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7305625/how-to-exit-from-hackstack-server-app
[r1]: http://www.reddit.com/r/haskell/comments/k764g/the_most_useful_error_message_evar
[r2]: http://www.reddit.com/r/haskell/comments/jperf/new_ibm_cpu_has_transactional_memory_built_in/

Eric Kow <http://erickow.com>
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