Trustworthy Systems

Draining the swamp: Micro virtual machines as a solid foundation for language development


Kunshan Wang, Yi Lin, Stephen M Blackburn, Michael Norrish and Tony Hosking

Australian National University


Purdue University


Many of today’s programming languages are broken. Poor performance, lack of features and hard-to- reason-about semantics can cost dearly in software maintenance and inefficient execution. The problem is only getting worse with programming languages proliferating and hardware becoming more complic- ated. An important reason for this brokenness is that much of language design is implementation-driven. The difficulties in implementation and insufficient understanding of concepts bake bad designs into the language itself. Concurrency, architectural details and garbage collection are three fundamental concerns that contribute much to the complexities of implementing managed languages.

We propose the micro virtual machine, a thin abstraction designed specifically to relieve implementers of managed languages of the most fundamental implementation challenges that currently impede good design. The micro virtual machine targets abstractions over memory (garbage collection), architecture (compiler backend), and concurrency. We motivate the micro virtual machine and give an account of the design of and initial experience with a concrete instance, which we call μVM, built over a two year period. Our goal is to remove an important barrier to performant and semantically sound managed language design and implementation.

BibTeX Entry

    address          = {Asilomar, California},
    author           = {Wang, Kunshan and Lin, Yi and Blackburn, Stephen M and Norrish, Michael and Hosking, Tony (Antony)},
    booktitle        = {SNAPL},
    doi              = {10.4230/LIPIcs.SNAPL.2015.321},
    editor           = {{Thomas Ball and Rastislav Bodik and Shriram Krishnamurthi and Benjamin S. Lerner and Greg
    keywords         = {virtual machines, concurrency, just-in-time compiling, garbage collection},
    month            = may,
    pages            = {321--336},
    paperurl         = {},
    publisher        = {LIPICS},
    title            = {Draining the Swamp: Micro Virtual Machines as a Solid Foundation for Language Development},
    year             = {2015}