Candidate: Hseu-Ming Chen
Advisor: Malcolm C. Harrison

Prototyping a Prototyping Language

Case study: An Action-Semantics-Based Approach for High-level Source-to-source Language Translation

10:30 a.m., Tuesday, March 23, 1999
7th floor conference room, 715 Broadway


The development of a prototyping language should follow the usual software-engineering methodology: starting with an evolvable, easily modifiable, working prototype of the proposed language. Rather than committing to the development of a mammoth compiler at the outset, we can design a translator from the prototyping language to another high-level language as a viable alternative. From a software-engineering point of view, the advantages of the translator approach are its shorter development cycle and lessened maintenance burden.

In prototyping language design, there are often innovative cutting-edge features which may not be well-understood. It is inevitable that numerous experimentations and revisions will be made to the current design, and hence supporting evolvability and modifiability is critical in the translator design.

In this dissertation we present an action-semantics-based framework for high-level source-to-source language translation. Action semantics is a form of denotational semantics that is based on abstract semantic algebra rather than Scott domain and lambda-notation. More specifically, this model not only provides a formal semantics definition for the source language and sets guidelines for implementations as well as migration, but also facilitates mathematical reasoning and a correctness proof of the entire translation process. The translation is geared primarily towards readability, maintainability, and type-preserving target programs, only secondarily towards reasonable efficiency.

We have acquired a collection of techniques for the translation of certain non-trivial high-level features of prototyping languages and declarative languages into efficient procedural constructs in imperative languages like Ada95, while using the abstraction mechanism of the target languages to maximize the readability of the target programs. In particular, we translate Griffin existential types into Ada95 using its object-oriented features, based on coercion calculus. This translation is actually more general, in that one can add existential types to a language (with modicum of extra syntax) supporting object-oriented paradigm without augmenting its type system, through intra-language transformation. We also present a type-preserving translation of closures which allows us to drop the whole-program-transformation requirement.