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Scopes and Frames Improve Meta-Interpreter Specialization

Authors Vlad Vergu, Andrew Tolmach , Eelco Visser

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Author Details

Vlad Vergu
  • Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
Andrew Tolmach
  • Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA
Eelco Visser
  • Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands


We thank the anonymous reviewers for their feedback on previous versions of this paper, and we thank Laurence Tratt for his guidance on obtaining reliable runtime measurements and analyzing the resulting time series.

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Vlad Vergu, Andrew Tolmach, and Eelco Visser. Scopes and Frames Improve Meta-Interpreter Specialization. In 33rd European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming (ECOOP 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 134, pp. 4:1-4:30, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


DynSem is a domain-specific language for concise specification of the dynamic semantics of programming languages, aimed at rapid experimentation and evolution of language designs. To maintain a short definition-to-execution cycle, DynSem specifications are meta-interpreted. Meta-interpretation introduces runtime overhead that is difficult to remove by using interpreter optimization frameworks such as the Truffle/Graal Java tools; previous work has shown order-of-magnitude improvements from applying Truffle/Graal to a meta-interpreter, but this is still far slower than what can be achieved with a language-specific interpreter. In this paper, we show how specifying the meta-interpreter using scope graphs, which encapsulate static name binding and resolution information, produces much better optimization results from Truffle/Graal. Furthermore, we identify that JIT compilation is hindered by large numbers of calls between small polymorphic rules and we introduce rule cloning to derive larger monomorphic rules at run time as a countermeasure. Our contributions improve the performance of DynSem-derived interpreters to within an order of magnitude of a handwritten language-specific interpreter.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Software and its engineering → Interpreters
  • Definitional interpreters
  • partial evaluation


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