The Heap Model

I will use a storeless heap model, where locations in the abstract heap are labeled by their access paths. An access path is a variable followed by zero or more field dereferences:


At some point I’ll need to add in array dereferencing as well.

An abstract heap state is defined as follows:

                     | (wr PATH VALUE ABSTRACT-HEAP-STATE)

This is just a linked list with some extra data:

  • A heap node represents an abstract heap state that we don’t know anything about. Thus it could represent the heap state { x -> Integer(3) } or { x -> String("hello world!"), y -> Pair<Integer, Integer>(fst=1, snd=2) }, etc. Since heap nodes can represent multiple values, I need to disambiguate them with an int index.

  • A wr node represents writing a value to a location in an abstract heap state. A wr node expects an access path, a value to be stored at the location represented by the access path, and an abstract heap state to modify.

In addition to heap and wr nodes, we need to be able to read from a heap. There are a few ways to do this and I’m not sure the best way; I’ll discuss these options below.

Reading From The Heap

To complement the wr node I define a rd node that can read values from a heap. The basic idea is that every rd node has a path argument and a heap argument; rd and wr nodes are related by the following rewrite rule:

(rd ?path (wr ?path ?val ?heap)) => ?val

I’m running into a problem though. Consider the two programs, which are equivalent:

int double_deref_a() {
    return this.x.y;

int double_deref_b() {
    Foo x = this.x;
    return x.y;

These translate into the following pegs:

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_a()
(rd "this.x.y" (heap 0))

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_b()
(rd "x.y" (heap 0))

So from this perspective it makes sense to decompose access paths into individual field dereferences.

The above approach also has other problems: "x" can correspond to different values in different places, so using this lexically doesn’t make sense.

Decomposing will involve creating a list-like structure for paths, where each node is a field dereference of some value:

(deref BASE FIELD)

where BASE is an actual PEG node, and FIELD is the string name of the field dereference. The path "this.x" will become:

(deref (var "this") "x")

At first I’m tempted to represent this.x.y as

(deref (deref (var "this") "x") "y") ;; THIS IS WRONG

but this makes no sense: (deref (var "this") "x") isn’t a value, it’s a location. This causes some kludge in our above example:

;; Using naive decomposed access paths

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_a()
(rd (deref (deref (var "this") "x") "y") (heap 0))

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_b()
(rd (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y") (heap 0))

Now this could be handled with some rewrite rules, but I’m not sure how sound they would be. The ‘obvious’ way to fix the above is to identify (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) with (deref (var "this") "x"). But this means that each place that the pure (deref (var "this") "x") occurs will be identified with this value. In particular, if we also have (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 97)), then the two values in the two different heaps will be identified.

Instead, I want to make each deref node take a base value and a single field dereference. The above becomes

;; Using naive decomposed access paths

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_a()
(rd (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y") (heap 0))

;; peg for the returned value of double_deref_b()
(rd (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y") (heap 0))

Great! They match!

How does this play with wr nodes? Consider the following program

int write_then_read(int a) {
    this.x.y = a;
    return this.x.y;

Using the decomposed access paths, the write node becomes:

(wr (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y") (var "a") (heap 0))

This represents our new heap, so the subsequent rd node, which will represent the returned value, is

  ;; The path
  (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y")
  ;; The heap
  (wr (deref (rd (deref (var "this") "x") (heap 0)) "y") (var "a") (heap 0)))

The path to the rd and wr nodes are identical, so the simple rewrite rule cancels out, and the method returns (var "a"), plus modifies the heap.

Commuting wr nodes

If the most recent write to the heap was to the path from which we are trying to read, then we can just take the value that was written. This has an obvious problem. The program:

String updateFoo(Foo foo) {
    foo.string = "hello world";
    foo.integer = 7;
    return foo.string;

returns the value (represented as a PEG):

(rd (deref (var "foo") "string")
    (wr (deref (var "foo") "integer")
        (wr (deref (var "foo") "string")
            (string "hello world")
            (heap 0))))

We should be able to rewrite this to (string "hello world") but this involves commuting of either wr nodes with one another, or rd nodes commuting with wr nodes. This is difficult because of the aliasing problem: I can only commute writes if they don’t interfere with one another.

There are a few ways that I could partially address this, such as type-driven rewrites and formal access-path based rewrites but I’d like to chat some more with folks who know this domain better than I do.

Encoding Heapy Operations in PEGs

The next question is: how do I encode heapy Java programs? I’m not using loops yet, so let’s dive in with some different language features

Field Access

Let’s say I have the Java expression a.b.c.d. First I’ll look up a in my Context that is storing local variables: Context: Map<String, PegNode>.

  • If a corresponds to a method parameter, it will just get a VarPegNode node back.
  • If a is this, then the context will return a (var this) node.
  • If a is a field (not a local variable) using implicit this dereferencing, I’ll prefix the access path with a this node.
  • If var corresponds to a non-parameter local variable it will be mapped to a PegNode stored in the context.
  • Otherwise, error

Assuming that a is a field with an implicit this prefix, the expression a.b.c.d (in abstract heap state (heap 0)) will be encoded as:

  (rd (deref
        (rd (deref
              (rd (deref (var this) "a") (heap 0))
            (heap 0))
      (heap 0))

I’m Still Unsatisfied

It’s kind of unsatisfying to have all of the heap nodes and the rds in there, though…I would like to be able to have a pure access path that is looked up in a heap.

Aside from me being unsatisfied, there is also room for nonsense deref chains, like

(rd (deref (rd (deref (var this) "a") (heap 3)) "b") (heap 19))

What does that even mean?? It’s utter nonsense, and I’d rather my representation didn’t include this.

Size of Heap Representations

In my my previous post I spent some time worrying about unbounded access paths and unbounded wr nodes. The fact is, I don’t actually have to worry about this, even with loops. A loop in a PEG is recorded as a theta node, a bounded representation of all the states that will happen during a loops execution. While a theta node represents all of these different states, it doesn’t actually construct them explicitly. This means that:

  1. all access paths that will be explicitly constructed by Cornelius are known statically
  2. all abstract heap states that will be explicitly constructed by Cornelius have statically known depths

Summary and Future Work

This should give Cornelius basic heapy operations. In particular, writing to and reading from the heap is now possible, though very limited, and kind of hacky. There are a few constraints that I’m trying to solve, including:

  1. the interplay between pure access paths and values used in dereferencing (see this example of the incompatibility of derefs and values)
  2. the fact that an access path should, in its purest form, be independent from a heap. (see the nonsense example in the section I’m Still Unsatisfied)

In future posts I’ll explore:

  1. How to invoke methods
  2. How to allocate and construct objects
  3. How to commute reads with writes
  4. How to commute writes with writes

Briefly I’ll mention a couple things (so I don’t forget)

Type-Driven Rewrites

This technique uses type information to help handle special cases of the aliasing problem.

If I have heap

(wr ("g1.g2" peg2) bar
    (wr "f1.f2" peg1 foo
        (heap 0)))

(write foo to peg1.f1.f2, then write bar to peg2.g1.g2), and I know that something assignable to the type of f2 can’t be assigned to either g1 or g2, then I know that the first wr node couldn’t have updated anything in the access path of peg2 (that is, neither g1 or g2 was updated). Likewise, if a value assignable to g2 cannot possible be a value assignable to either f1 or f2, then I know that the second wr node couldn’t have updated anything in the access path of peg1. I can now commute the two wr nodes.

Formal Access-Path Based Rewrites

Can I use the actual access paths to allow certain rewrites? If so, is this any more powerful than the type driven rewrites above?