Programming Journal, Volume 7, Issue 3
The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming
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Programming Journal, Volume 7, Issue 3 – Preliminary Table of Contents

Contents - Abstracts - Authors


Title Page

Message from the Chairs




Notes on “Notes on the Synthesis of Form”: Dawning Insights in Early Christopher Alexander
Richard P. Gabriel ORCID logo
(Hasso Plattner Institute, Germany)
This essay is a picaresque—a first-person narrative relating the adventures of a rogue (me) sifting through the mind of Christopher Alexander as he left behind formalized design thinking in favor of a more intuitive, almost spiritual process.
The work of Christopher Alexander is familiar to many computer scientists: for some it’s patterns, for some it’s the mystical quality without a name and “Nature of Order”; for many more it’s “Notes on the Synthesis of Form”—Alexander’s formalized design method and foreshadowing ideas about cohesion and coupling in software. Since the publication of “Design Patterns” by Gamma et ‍al. in ‍1994, there have been hundreds of books published about design / software patterns, thousands of published pattern languages, and tens of thousands of published patterns.
“Notes,” published in 1964, was quickly followed by one of Alexander’s most important essays, “A City is Not a Tree,” in which he repudiates the formal method described in “Notes,” and his Preface to the paperback edition of ‍“Notes” in ‍1971 repeats the repudiation. For many close readers of Alexander, this discontinuity is startling and unexplained.
When I finally read “Notes” in 2015, I was struck by the detailed worked example, along with a peculiar mathematical treatment of the method, and a hint that the modularization presented in the example was reckoned by a computer program he had written—all in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Because of my fascination with metaheuristic optimization, I couldn’t resist trying to replicate his experimental results.
Computers and their programs relish dwelling on flaws in your thinking—Alexander was not exempt. By engaging in hermeneutics and software archeology, I was able to uncover ‍/ discover the trajectory of his thinking as he encountered failures and setbacks with his computer programs. My attempted replication also failed, and that led me to try to unearth the five different programs he wrote, understand them, and figure out how one led to the next. They are not described in published papers, only in internal reports. My search for these reports led to their being made available on the Net.
What I found in my voyage were the early parts of a chain of thought that started with cybernetics, mathematics, and a plain-spoken computer; passed through “A City is Not a Tree”; paused to “make God appear in the middle of a field”; and ended with this fundamental design goal: I try to make the volume of the building so that it carries in it all feeling. To reach this feeling, I try to make the building so that it carries my eternal sadness. It comes, as nearly as I can in a building, to the point of tears.

Control Flow Duplication for Columnar Arrays in a Dynamic Compiler
Sebastian KloibhoferORCID logo, Lukas MakorORCID logo, David LeopoldsederORCID logo, Daniele Bonetta ORCID logo, Lukas Stadler, and Hanspeter MössenböckORCID logo
(Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria; Oracle Labs, Austria; Oracle Labs, Netherlands)
Columnar databases are an established way to speed up online analytical processing (OLAP) queries. Nowadays, data processing (e.g., storage, visualization, and analytics) is often performed at the programming language level, hence it is desirable to also adopt columnar data structures for common language runtimes.
While there are frameworks, libraries, and APIs to enable columnar data stores in programming languages, their integration into applications typically requires developer interference. In prior work, researchers implemented an approach for automated transformation of arrays into columnar arrays in the GraalVM JavaScript runtime. However, this approach suffers from performance issues on smaller workloads as well as on more complex nested data structures. We find that the key to optimizing accesses to columnar arrays is to identify queries and apply specific optimizations to them.
In this paper, we describe novel compiler optimizations in the GraalVM Compiler that optimize queries on columnar arrays. At JIT compile time, we identify loops that access potentially columnar arrays and duplicate them in order to specifically optimize accesses to columnar arrays. Additionally, we describe a new approach for creating columnar arrays from arrays consisting of complex objects by performing multi-level storage transformation. We demonstrate our approach via an implementation for JavaScript Date objects.
Our work shows that automatic transformation of arrays to columnar storage is feasible even for small workloads and that more complex arrays of objects could benefit from a multi-level transformation. Furthermore, we show how we can optimize methods that handle arrays in different states by the use of duplication. We evaluated our work on microbenchmarks and established data analytics workloads (TPC-H) to demonstrate that it significantly outperforms previous efforts, with speedups of up to 10x for particular queries. Queries additionally benefit from multi-level transformation, reaching speedups of around 2x. Additionally, we show that we do not cause significant overhead on workloads not suitable for storage transformation.
We argue that automatically created columnar arrays could aid developers in data-centric applications as an alternative approach to using dedicated APIs on manually created columnar arrays. Via automatic detection and optimization of queries on potentially columnar arrays, we can improve performance of data processing and further enable its use in common—particularly dynamic—programming languages.

Profiling and Optimizing Java Streams
Eduardo Rosales ORCID logo, Matteo Basso ORCID logo, Andrea Rosà ORCID logo, and Walter Binder ORCID logo
(USI Lugano, Switzerland)
The Stream API was added in Java 8 to allow the declarative expression of data-processing logic, typically map-reduce-like data transformations on collections and datasets. The Stream API introduces two key abstractions. The stream, which is a sequence of elements available in a data source, and the stream pipeline, which contains operations (e.g., map, filter, reduce) that are applied to the elements in the stream upon execution. Streams are getting popular among Java developers as they leverage the conciseness of functional programming and ease the parallelization of data processing.
Despite the benefits of streams, in comparison to data processing relying on imperative code, streams can introduce significant overheads which are mainly caused by extra object allocations and reclamations, and the use of virtual method calls. As a result, developers need means to study the runtime behavior of streams in the goal of both mitigating such abstraction overheads and optimizing stream processing. Unfortunately, there is a lack of dedicated tools able to dynamically analyze streams to help developers specifically locate issues degrading application performance.
In this paper, we address the profiling and optimization of streams. We present a novel profiling technique for measuring the computations performed by a stream in terms of elapsed reference cycles, which we use to locate problematic streams with a major impact on application performance. While accuracy is crucial to this end, the inserted instrumentation code causes the execution of extra cycles, which are partially included in the profiles. To mitigate this issue, we estimate and compensate for the extra cycles caused by the inserted instrumentation code.
We implement our approach in StreamProf that, to the best of our knowledge, is the first dedicated stream profiler for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). With StreamProf, we find that cycle profiling is effective to detect problematic streams whose optimization can enable significant performance gains. We also find that the accurate profiling of tasks supporting parallel stream processing allows the diagnosis of load imbalance according to the distribution of stream-related cycles at a thread level.
We conduct an evaluation on sequential and parallel stream-based workloads that are publicly available in three different sources. The evaluation shows that our profiling technique is efficient and yields accurate profiles. Moreover, we show the actionability of our profiles by guiding stream-related optimizations on two workloads from Renaissance. Our optimizations require the modification of only a few lines of code while achieving speedups up to a factor of 5x.
Java streams have been extensively studied by recent work, focusing on both how developers are using streams and how to optimize them. Current approaches in the optimization of streams mainly rely on static analysis techniques that overlook runtime information, suffer from important limitations to detect all streams executed by a Java application, or are not suitable for the analysis of parallel streams. Understanding the dynamic behavior of both sequential and parallel stream processing and its impact on application performance is crucial to help users make better decisions while using streams.

Published Artifact
Primrose: Selecting Container Data Types by Their Properties
Xueying Qin ORCID logo, Liam O'ConnorORCID logo, and Michel SteuwerORCID logo
(University of Edinburgh, UK)
Context  Container data types are ubiquitous in computer programming, enabling developers to efficiently store and process collections of data with an easy-to-use programming interface. Many programming languages offer a variety of container implementations in their standard libraries based on data structures offering different capabilities and performance characteristics. Inquiry  Choosing the best container for an application is not always straightforward, as performance characteristics can change drastically in different scenarios, and as real-world performance is not always correlated to theoretical complexity. Approach  We present Primrose, a language-agnostic tool for selecting the best performing valid container implementation from a set of container data types that satisfy properties given by application developers. Primrose automatically selects the set of valid container implementations for which the library specifications, written by the developers of container libraries, satisfies the specified properties. Finally, Primrose ranks the valid library implementations based on their runtime performance. Knowledge  With Primrose, application developers can specify the expected behaviour of a container as a type refinement with semantic properties, e.g., if the container should only contain unique values (such as a set) or should satisfy the LIFO property of a stack. Semantic properties nicely complement syntactic properties (i.e., traits, interfaces, or type classes), together allowing developers to specify a container’s programming interface and behaviour without committing to a concrete implementation. Grounding  We present our prototype implementation of Primrose that preprocesses annotated Rust code, selects valid container implementations and ranks them on their performance. The design of Primrose is, however, language-agnostic, and is easy to integrate into other programming languages that support container data types and traits, interfaces, or type classes. Our implementation encodes properties and library specifications into verification conditions in Rosette, an interface for SMT solvers, which determines the set of valid container implementations. We evaluate Primrose by specifying several container implementations, and measuring the time taken to select valid implementations for various combinations of properties with the solver. We automatically validate that container implementations conform to their library specifications via property-based testing. Importance  This work provides a novel approach to bring abstract modelling and specification of container types directly into the programmer’s workflow. Instead of selecting concrete container implementations, application programmers can now work on the level of specification, merely stating the behaviours they require from their container types, and the best implementation can be selected automatically.

Published Artifact
Black Boxes, White Noise: Similarity Detection for Neural Functions
Farima Farmahinifarahani and Cristina V. Lopes
(University of California at Irvine, USA)
Similarity, or clone, detection has important applications in copyright violation, software theft, code search, and the detection of malicious components. There is now a good number of open source and proprietary clone detectors for programs written in traditional programming languages. However, the increasing adoption of deep learning models in software poses a challenge to these tools: these models implement functions that are inscrutable black boxes. As more software includes these DNN functions, new techniques are needed in order to assess the similarity between deep learning components of software.
Previous work has unveiled techniques for comparing the representations learned at various layers of deep neural network models by feeding canonical inputs to the models. Our goal is to be able to compare DNN functions when canonical inputs are not available – because they may not be in many application scenarios. The challenge, then, is to generate appropriate inputs and to identify a metric that, for those inputs, is capable of representing the degree of functional similarity between two comparable DNN functions.
Our approach uses random input with values between −1 and 1, in a shape that is compatible with what the DNN models expect. We then compare the outputs by performing correlation analysis.
Our study shows how it is possible to perform similarity analysis even in the absence of meaningful canonical inputs. The response to random inputs of two comparable DNN functions exposes those functions’ similarity, or lack thereof. Of all the metrics tried, we find that Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient is the most powerful and versatile, although in special cases other methods and metrics are more expressive.
We present a systematic empirical study comparing the effectiveness of several similarity metrics using a dataset of 56,355 classifiers collected from GitHub. This is accompanied by a sensitivity analysis that reveals how certain models’ training related properties affect the effectiveness of the similarity metrics.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work that shows how similarity of DNN functions can be detected by using random inputs. Our study of correlation metrics, and the identification of Spearman correlation coefficient as the most powerful among them for this purpose, establishes a complete and practical method for DNN clone detection that can be used in the design of new tools. It may also serve as inspiration for other program analysis tasks whose approaches break in the presence of DNN components.

Technical Dimensions of Programming Systems
Joel Jakubovic ORCID logo, Jonathan EdwardsORCID logo, and Tomas Petricek ORCID logo
(University of Kent, UK; Charles University, Czechia)
Context. Programming requires much more than just writing code in a programming language. It is usually done in the context of a stateful environment, by interacting with a system through a graphical user interface. Yet, this wide space of possibilities lacks a common structure for navigation. Work on programming systems fails to form a coherent body of research, making it hard to improve on past work and advance the state of the art.
Inquiry. In computer science, much has been said and done to allow comparison of programming languages, yet no similar theory exists for programming systems; we believe that programming systems deserve a theory too.
Approach. We present a framework of technical dimensions which capture the underlying characteristics of programming systems and provide a means for conceptualizing and comparing them.
Knowledge. We identify technical dimensions by examining past influential programming systems and reviewing their design principles, technical capabilities, and styles of user interaction. Technical dimensions capture characteristics that may be studied, compared and advanced independently. This makes it possible to talk about programming systems in a way that can be shared and constructively debated rather than relying solely on personal impressions.
Grounding. Our framework is derived using a qualitative analysis of past programming systems. We outline two concrete ways of using our framework. First, we show how it can analyze a recently developed novel programming system. Then, we use it to identify an interesting unexplored point in the design space of programming systems.
Importance. Much research effort focuses on building programming systems that are easier to use, accessible to non-experts, moldable and/or powerful, but such efforts are disconnected. They are informal, guided by the personal vision of their authors and thus are only evaluable and comparable on the basis of individual experience using them. By providing foundations for more systematic research, we can help programming systems researchers to stand, at last, on the shoulders of giants.

Symphony: Expressive Secure Multiparty Computation with Coordination
Ian Sweet, David Darais ORCID logo, David Heath, Ryan Estes, William Harris, and Michael HicksORCID logo
(Galois, n.n.; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA; University of Vermont, USA; University of Maryland, USA)
Context Secure Multiparty Computation (MPC) refers to a family of cryptographic techniques where mutually untrusting parties may compute functions of their private inputs while revealing only the function output.
Inquiry It can be hard to program MPCs correctly and efficiently using existing languages and frameworks, especially when they require coordinating disparate computational roles. How can we make this easier?
Approach We present Symphony, a new functional programming language for MPCs among two or more parties. Symphony starts from the single-instruction, multiple-data (SIMD) semantics of prior MPC languages, in which each party carries out symmetric responsibilities, and generalizes it using constructs that can coordinate many parties. Symphony introduces first-class shares and first-class party sets to provide unmatched language-level expressive power with high efficiency.
Knowledge Developing a core formal language called λ-Symphony, we prove that the intuitive, generalized SIMD view of a program coincides with its actual distributed semantics. Thus the programmer can reason about her programs by reading them from top to bottom, even though in reality the program runs in a coordinated fashion, distributed across many machines. We implemented a prototype interpreter for Symphony leveraging multiple cryptographic backends. With it we wrote a variety of MPC programs, finding that Symphony can express optimized protocols that other languages cannot, and that in general Symphony programs operate efficiently.
Grounding In addition to developing the formal proofs, the prototype implementation, and the MPC program case studies, we measured the performance of Symphony’s implementation on several benchmark programs and found it had comparable performance Obliv-C, a state-of-the-art two-party MPC framework for C, when running the same programs. We also measured Symphony’s performance on an optimized secure shuffle protocol based on a coordination pattern that no prior language can express, and found it has far superior performance to the standard alternative.
Importance Programming MPCs is in increasing demand, with a proliferation of languages and frameworks. This work lowers the bar for programmers wanting to write efficient, coordinated MPCs that they can reason about and understand. The work applies to developers and cryptographers wanting to design new applications and protocols, which they are able to do at the language level, above the cryptographic details. The λ-Symphony formalization of Symphony, and the proofs about it, are also surprisingly simple, and can be a basis for follow-on formalization work in MPC and distributed programming. All code and artifacts are available, open-source.

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