PLDI 2013 Trip Report

As you can see, this post is late. Very late. PLDI was in June. At least I posted this in the right year. I had some trip notes but never got around to turning them into a post.

I was presenting a paper about a static analysis to infer memory ownership properties for C libraries at ISMM this year, co-located with PLDI. Overall, I enjoyed the conference. Presenting is always fun, as is putting faces to all of the names you read about. I just want to cover a few papers that stood out for me (in roughly chronological order):

One of my favorite papers was presented early: Scalable Variable and Data Type Detection in a Binary Rewriter. This work takes (stripped) x86 binaries and converts them into the LLVM IR with reasonable precision. As the title hints, they recover many complex types, which is both impressive and necessary for many tools. My own work is on the LLVM IR and having a tool like this would be very useful to let me apply my work to a wider range of inputs. Not having perfect accuracy would probably be fine for many of my purposes, so this was an especially exciting piece of work for me.

Being mostly a software person, I learned a bit about different types of hardware, specifically memory that deteriorates.

On the last day of PLDI, I was actually torn between the two post-lunch sessions. I actually wanted to see all of the presentations from both sessions (one session was about Monads and FRP, while the other was about alias analysis). Being a mostly functional programmer, I decided to go to the Monads and FRP session. I couldn’t digest the whole thing during the presentation, but Monadic Abstract Interpreters seemed very elegant. I’d like to spend some more time on that paper soon, actually. That said, I was more immediately excited about Asynchronous Functional Reactive Programming for GUIs, otherwise known as Elm. I’ve been vaguely familiar with FRP for a while, but this was a good presentation introducing it and actually demonstrating how to use it. I find that most of the discussions of FRP assume you are already an expert, rendering them somewhat unapproachable. I’m not directly interested in Elm itself, but I would very much like to try out an FRP library or two in Haskell. A side project I am working on now should afford me the opportunity soon.

On the ISMM. I am not really an expert on memory management, but I am interested in the topic, obviously. I found myself nodding along with the keynote, which basically argued that sequential consistency (i.e., what most programmers who are not computer architects or compiler writers expect) does not need to be prohibitively expensive. Maybe we will actually see sequential consistency in the wild one day.

My favorite paper in ISMM (besides mine, of course) was Control Theory for Principled Heap Sizing. I know nothing about control theory and I have never implemented a garbage collector myself (though, like everyone, I have all sorts of opinions about what makes a good garbage collector). I am not really qualified to evaluate the approach or results in the paper, but I really liked the connection between a well-known problem in Computer Science and a field of mathematics that I have never really seen before. It makes a lot of sense to look to other fields for inspiration, especially since the programming languages and compiler communities do not often focus on this type of modeling.