Compile-time vs Run-time (Aaron Sloman)
Sun, 24 Jan 1993 03:59:05 GMT

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Newsgroups: comp.lang.pop,comp.compilers
From: (Aaron Sloman)
Organization: School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK
Date: Sun, 24 Jan 1993 03:59:05 GMT
Keywords: pop-11

  -- Introduction
  -- A minimal concept of compilation
  -- Forms of interaction at run time
  -- -- Case a: compile then execute.
  -- -- Case b: alternating compilation and execution:
  -- -- Case c: nested as well as alternated compilations and executions:
  -- -- Case d: Merging compilation streams
  -- -- Case e: allowing multiple interleaved compilation streams.
  -- -- Case f: Time-shared concurrent streams:
  -- To summarise:
  -- Notes and qualifications

-- Introduction

There has been considerable discussion recently about dynamic vs lexical
binding of variables in comp.lang.pop

My impression is that there are more distinctions between different
variable binding schemes than have so far been clearly defined in the
discussion, and I thought it might be useful to list them, if only because
Pop-11 offers more choices to the programmer than any other language I
know of. (Maybe this should be a chapter in the Pop-11 primer.)

Before I present the options regarding variable bindings I need to clarify
some distinctions concerning compile time, run time, and compilation
streams, as there are some issues concerning variable binding that concern
only compile time, some concern only run time, and some involve relations
between the two. These distinctions get complicated when there are
different compilation streams in the same process.

This article merely goes into the compile-time/run-time distinction and
the notion of a compilation stream. In a later article, when I have time,
I'll return to variable binding.

I've cross-posted to comp.compilers in case someone who knows about other
languages than Pop wishes to comment on the generality of my remarks.

-- A minimal concept of compilation

In what follows I shall talk about source code being "compiled",
independently of whether it is compiled all the way to machine code, or to
some intermediate interpreted form (e.g. lisp-like parse trees, or some
interpreted intermediate machine language), or whether the source code is
stored directly in the machine as strings of text and interpreted, or
whether it is compiled into an object file which has to be linked and
loaded before it can be run.

In this sense, compiling is just the process of taking source code from a
file or from the terminal and storing it in the machine in some form in
which it can then be run. This process can include compiling whole
procedure definitions, or compiling individual commands or declarations
such as "let X = 99", in Basic or "vars X = 99" in Pop-11.

-- Forms of interaction at run time

Before I go on to distinguish various questions about access to variables,
I need to clarify an important notion, namely that the language allows the
programmer to interact with programs at run time using the original
programming language. Unfortunately this is not a simple concept, as there
are several slightly different cases to be considered.

The question is whether there is a clearly separate phase in which
source-code programs are read in ("compile time"), after which programs
can only be executed ("run time"), or whether new source code can be added
to the running system at any time, including "top level" source code
instructions such as "print the value of X" or instructions to alter the
contents of datastructures. Different cases will be distinguished.

-- -- Case a: compile then execute.

In most programming language systems (e.g. C, Pascal, Fortran) there is a
sharp distinction between compile time and run time and they cannot be
alternated or interleaved: for any program there is first a process of
compilation, and then later on the program is run, perhaps on many
occasions in different contexts. Within this paradigm, no program
execution is possible till the whole program has been compiled (whether to
machine code or an interpreted intermediate form), and once program
execution has begun no more code can be added.

In such a system, it is not possible for the user to interact with the
running system unless the program contains a procedure that reads in text
typed by the user (or responds to mouse actions, or whatever), and
performs appropriate actions. I.e. a special "command interpreter" may be
part of the program, and it will generally allow a command language that
is different from the programming language used to create the program.

-- -- Case b: alternating compilation and execution:

By contrast, in BASIC, and many AI languages (Lisp, Prolog, Pop-11) and
functional languages (Scheme, ML, Miranda) a procedure to support
interaction is provided by the language system itself in the form of a
built in command interpreter or an incremental compiler that remains
available at run time.

In its simplest form the compiler accepts, either from the user or from a
specified file, commands which can either add declarations or procedure
definitions or give commands to run system or user procedures. Such a
compiler simply reads in definitions, declarations and commands and obeys
them, always returning to the top level read loop whenever something has
been completed. Sometimes this is referred to in connection with Lisp as a
"read-eval-print" loop. In this case, compilation and execution are

-- -- Case c: nested as well as alternated compilations and executions:

In more sophisticated systems, compiling and running can be nested as well
as alternated. For instance many AI systems allow the compiler to be
invoked as a subroutine by user procedures. Then besides the top-level
invocation, there is a new invocation of the compiler. That in turn can
read in new commands which cause procedures to run which invoke the
compiler. In that case there can be several coexisting "compilation
streams", a point I'll return to later. By contrast if the compiler is
always a top-level process, which continues running after each command is
completed, then there is always only one compilation stream.

Nesting is useful in several different contexts, e.g.
  o The decision to compile some additional files can be taken
        by a user procedure at run time, depending on task requirements.
  o The process of compiling one file can cause the compiler to be
        invoked to compile another file. The latter process will then have
        its own compilation stream, in most languages.
  o A learning program can create and compile new procedures on the
        basis of what it has learnt.
  o When testing programs it is sometimes useful to enter a "break" in
        which the compiler is invoked to give the user a chance to type in
        commands to interrogate values of variables, contents of
        datastructures, the current call stack, etc. Alternatively this may
        be required for the application, e.g. if the user is allowed to
        tailor the application by typing in procedures to be invoked in
        certain circumstances.

When compilation streams are nested, compilation process C1 may cause
procedure P1 to be invoked which then invokes compilation process C2,
which may run P2, etc. P1 will not resume execution until C2 is complete.
Similarly C1 will not continue until procedure P1 is complete.

-- -- Case d: Merging compilation streams

Note that Poplog Pop-11 allows different compilation streams to be merged
into a single stream using #_INCLUDE (or the macro "include" which copes
with search lists for directories of files to be "included").

The advantage of allowing merged compilation streams as well as nested
streams is that declarations that are normally local to a compilation
stream, but which need to be shared between different libraries, need not
be copied into all those libraries. Instead a single file contains the
declarations, and it can be invoked by several different files. This is
analogous to the use of #include in C, and the use of "source" in the Unix

Note that the reason why this facility is required in Pop-11 is that there
are certain types of variables that cannot be shared across different
compilation streams, namely file-local, or stream-local lexical variables.
Thus if such declarations are encountered in a in a file whose compilation
is nested they will not be inherited by the calling environment.

Similarly if a unix shell script is run, the calling environment will not
pick up any environment variables declared in the shell script, nor any
directory changes, whereas using "source" to merge the script with the
current shell overcomes this.

It is interesting that the need for the merging facility became apparent
only after the introduction of lexical scoping at the level of whole
files. The need would have been apparent earlier had there been other
things local to the current compilation stream, such as the current

-- -- Case e: allowing multiple interleaved compilation streams.

A yet more sophisticated system can support multi-threading, or
lightweight processes, which can resume or suspend one another. In that
case procedure P1, instead of invoking C2 as a sub-routine may start it up
as an independent compilation process. Then at some point C2 may be
suspended, and P1 resumed. If P1 exits, then compilation process C1 is
resumed. After a while it may be suspended and C2 resumed. For example, C1
and C2 may run in different windows, and a mouse or keyboard event could
be used to determine which compilation stream to use next to read in
commands. So the processes C1 and C2 are then interleaved. (This is used,
for example, by "immediate mode" in the Poplog editor, VED, where
interleaving allows you to suspend a procedure definition or command,
switch to another command stream to give commands to gain information
about the language or the current state of the system, then return and
complete the previous command.) Having different concurrent compilation
streams in different windows for different purposes, can be helpful to the
user, even if, in principle, it could all be done in one window using
nested commands. Another case is where the system (like Poplog) actually
supports different high level languages, in which case different
concurrent compilation streams can be used for the different languages.

-- -- Case f: Time-shared concurrent streams:

A yet more sophisticated system will allow "backgrounding" - i.e. while
one process continues running "in the background", e.g. compiling large
files, another process reacts to user commands. This requires some kind of
scheduler which allocates time-slices between the different compilation
streams and the processes they generate. In Pop-11 a scheduler is not
built in, but the combination of timed interrupts and the process
mechanism makes it fairly easy to implement. (See HELP ACTOR)

-- To summarise:

a. Simple systems allow only compilation then execution
b. Interactive language systems allow alternating compilation and
      execution processes.
c. Systems in which the compiler is itself a procedure allow nested
      compilations as well as alternating compilation and execution.
d. Systems that allow compilation streams involving different files
      to be merged.
e. Systems that support multi-processing, permit interleaved compilation
      streams, as well as nested and alternating compilation and execution
f. A multi-processing system with a scheduler allows process switching
      on a time-sliced basis instead of waiting for an active stream to
      complete a sub-task and pause before another one can be resumed.

-- Notes and qualifications

[Note 1: A non-interactive system that allows object files to be
dynamically linked in while a program is running blurs the distinction
between programs that allow interaction at run time and those that don't.
If, for example, a running program checks every now and again whether you
have created a new object file called "commands.o" and if so takes steps
to link it in (possibly after giving it a unique name), and then runs its
top level procedure you have a sort of run time command interpreter,
though it may feel clumsy to use.]

[Note 2: The availability of a debugger, especially if it can be invoked
after a program has started running, can also blur the distinction, if it
provides commands for interrogating variables and data-structures, or
calling procedures. If the debugger allows commands to be given in the
same language as the original program, then it fits one of the previous
categories. Conversely, languages that are fully interactive and allow
nested compilation streams provide their own debugging facilities.]

[Note 3: There are operating system command languages like the Unix shell
languages that support all the above facilities. For instance, a shell
command file can spawn a new shell. Two windows on the same machine can
run two shells concurrently.]

[Note 4: I have so far written as if variable binding environments, or
identifier scopes, are tied entirely to compilation streams. But that is
not the case, since when variables are local to a procedure the scope may
be restricted to the portion of the compilation stream during which the
procedure is being compiled, and in addition, if the same procedure is
concurrently active more than once in a procedure calling hierarchy
different bindings for those variables can be associated with each
activation. Thus if the variable n is local to a recursive definition of
factorial, then calling factorial(5) may create 5 different activations,
in which the value of n is respectively 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1. This point is
common to both lexical and dynamic binding, though shallow dynamic binding
allows temporary sharing of activation values.]

Later, I hope to turn back to the discussion of different variable binding
regimes. Meanwhile I'd welcome comments on all this. Have I missed
anything important?
Aaron Sloman,
School of Computer Science, The University of Birmingham, B15 2TT, England
Phone: +44-(0)21-414-3711 Fax: +44-(0)21-414-4281

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