Papers on Poly/ML

David C J Matthews
This report was first published as University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory Technical Report No.161, February 1989.
Preface: Various papers and research documents have been written while the Poly/ML project was underway and now that the project is completed it seemed appropriate to combine them into a single document. Some of these papers have been published, while others were written simply to help clarify thoughts on a particular subject.

Poly/ML started in 1983 when Dr Mike Gordon suggested that I should try to implement the Standard ML language which was then being designed by a group being led by Prof. Robin Milner. At that stage the core of the language had been more-or-less fixed though there was still no facility for modules.

I had finished a compiler for Poly written in Poly and had it running on a Vax. The compiler consisted of four sections. The first part was a parser and type-checker for Poly. The second section took the Poly parse tree and generated an intermediate code tree structure. The third phase was an optimiser which worked on the code tree, and in particular expanded inline functions, and the final section was a code generator producing the Vax machine-code. The whole compiler ran under a persistent storage system.

Although Poly and ML have different syntax and type-systems their execution models are remarkably similar. A new parser and type-checker had to be written but the code-generator and optimiser could be shared between Poly and ML. The same run-time system was used.

By the end of 1983 an experimental version of Poly/ML was running and being tested in the Computer Laboratory by Dr Larry Paulson and by Prof. Mike Fourman, then at Brunel. Subsequently there has been work in a number of areas. The ML language has changed and in particular a mechanism for modules has been added. The system has been ported to the Sun computer which necessitated a new code-generator and substantial changes to the run-time system. Recently a window system and parallel processes have been added.

What lessons have been learned from the project? Poly turned out to be an excellent language for the project. Modules based around Poly abstract types were used extensively. The lack of the kind of low-level ``bit-twiddling'' operations of a language like C was not a problem even in the machine-code generators. In practice compilers involve very few such low-level operations. Polymorphic operations were used extensively. Occasionally it would have been nice to use polytypes as in ML rather than having to explicitly declare instances of types, however there was at least one case where a polymorphic function was written in Poly which could not have been written in ML (because a polymorphic function in ML cannot contain a recursive application to a specific type).

The papers in this report have been grouped into sections according to their likely audience. The first section describes the Poly/ML system and the extensions for windows and processes. This section is likely to be of most interest to users of Poly/ML.

Section 2 contains various discussion papers about Poly and ML. Some of the ideas covered were never actually implemented, in particular the work on structure editing.

The third section contains two papers on the persistent storage system and its implementation.

The final section covers the implementation of Poly and ML and the run-time system. The papers in this section describe the internals of the compiler and the run-time system.

ECS-LFCS-95-335, October 1995.

This report is available in the following forms.

  1. Documentation for Poly/ML
    1. The Poly and Poly/ML distribution
    2. Processes for Poly and ML
    3. Windows for ML
  2. The Design of Poly and ML
    1. Exceptions with Parameters for Poly
    2. Structure editing in Poly and ML
    3. Static and Dynamic Type-Checking
  3. Persistent storage
    1. A Persistent Storage System for Poly and ML
    2. Progress with Persistence in Poly and Poly/ML
  4. The Implementation of Poly and Poly/ML
    1. An Implementation of Standard ML in Poly
    2. The Poly and ML System: Abstract Machine and Realisation
    3. Machine Independent Optimisation in Poly and Poly/ML
    4. Hardware Support for Poly and ML
    5. The Poly and ML System: Low Level Support
    6. Interfacing C Routines to Poly/ML
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