Tail Recursive Stack Disciplines, redux

After taking once again a nearly year-long hiatus from Arcueid development I find that I’ve been thrust back into it thanks to Alexander Artemenko pointing out a fairly serious bug in it. The nature of the bug is fairly interesting, and is an artefact of my attempts last year to get Arcueid to do tail recursion with a stack.

The sample code that triggers the bug Mr. Artemenko discovered is fairly simple:

(let i 0 
  (while t
    (prn "Still going: " i)
    (++ i)))

This triggers a stack overflow exception because of the way the Arcueid interpreter handles moving environments from the stack to the heap. Expanding the macros and simplifying this we get the following:

((fn (i)
 (((fn (self)
   (assign self
       (fn (x)
         ((fn ()
            (prn "Still going: " i)
            (assign i (+ i 1))))
         (self t))))

The Arc compiler compiles the innermost function

  (fn (x) ((fn () (prn "Still going: " i) (assign i (+ i 1)))) (self t))

into the following virtual machine instruction sequence:

0000  env  01,00,00  ; environment has one element (fn (x) ...)
0001  cont 07,43     ; prepare for call to anonymous function (go to 0005)
0002  ldl  00        ; load anonymous function code (fn () (prn "Still going: " i) (assign i (+ i 1)))
0003  cls            ; turn into closure
0004  apply 00       ; apply (fn () (prn "Still going: " i) (assign i (+ i 1))) with no args
0005  true           ; parameter for call to self (destination of continuation created at 0001)
0006  push
0007  lde   01,00    ; self (created by assignments above)
0008  menv  01       ; tail recursion prepare
0009  apply 01       ; apply self with t

The whole thing falls apart because the cls instruction on line 0003, which creates a closure out of a code object and the current environment, has to then move the current environment from the stack to the heap. This is required because the closure could potentially be returned or assigned somewhere beyond its original scope, and the values in that environment might be needed by a subsequent invocation of the function (ah, the joys of static binding). But then what happens to the copy of the environment that’s still on the stack? It’s still there, but has become garbage. And so, as lines 0005 through 0009 are executed, and the application returns to line 0000 by the apply instruction on line 0009, the garbage environments accumulate, and eventually the stack fills up. So much for our tail recursion!

There are several possible solutions that could solve the problem. One would be to make the cls instruction destroy the environment on the stack that after transferring it to the heap. That involves moving everything on the stack below it back upwards. The only problem with this is that continuations on the stack are referenced as absolute offsets into the stack, so moving a continuation like that is problematic. Kartik Agaram also discovered this when he tried to hack Arcueid to make its stack grow dynamically.

Rereading Richard Kelsey’s paper on tail-recursive stack disciplines for an interpreter yields the following possibly simplest solution:

Another possibility is to wait until the stack is full and then reclaim any unused space. The stack can be treated as a constrained heap, containing only environments and continuations… The third possibility, copying the live data into a heap, reduces the possibility of thrashing… This is certainly the most attractive possibility for languages that already require a heap.

So what we can do is wait until all stack space is exhausted, and then move all environments and continuations that are still on the stack into the heap, and then drop everything on the stack except any scratch values that the program might have been computing that are still there. Let’s see how this all works.

~ by stormwyrm on 2014-04-02.

One Response to “Tail Recursive Stack Disciplines, redux”

  1. Now that I’ve seen your plan in the abstract I think it’ll help me gain fluency with the arcueid codebase to see how you make your fix. (Which is interesting on a meta level, since I’m fascinated by things that help me learn strange codebases.)

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