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Title: The construction of high-performance virtual machines for dynamic languages
Author: Shannon, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0004 2710 8978
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2011
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Dynamic languages, such as Python and Ruby, have become more widely used over the past decade. Despite this, the standard virtual machines for these languages have disappointing performance. These virtual machines are slow, not because methods for achieving better performance are unknown, but because their implementation is hard. What makes the implementation of high-performance virtual machines difficult is not that they are large pieces of software, but that there are fundamental and complex interdependencies between their components. In order to work together correctly, the interpreter, just-in-time compiler, garbage collector and library must all conform to the same precise low-level protocols. In this dissertation I describe a method for constructing virtual machines for dynamic languages, and explain how to design a virtual machine toolkit by building it around an abstract machine. The design and implementation of such a toolkit, the Glasgow Virtual Machine Toolkit, is described. The Glasgow Virtual Machine Toolkit automatically generates a just-in-time compiler, integrates precise garbage collection into the virtual machine, and automatically manages the complex inter-dependencies between all the virtual machine components. Two different virtual machines have been constructed using the GVMT. One is a minimal implementation of Scheme; which was implemented in under three weeks to demonstrate that toolkits like the GVMT can enable the easy construction of virtual machines. The second, the HotPy VM for Python, is a high-performance virtual machine; it demonstrates that a virtual machine built with a toolkit can be fast and that the use of a toolkit does not overly constrain the high-level design. Evaluation shows that HotPy outperforms the standard Python interpreter, CPython, by a large margin, and has performance on a par with PyPy, the fastest Python VM currently available.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science