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The Xoomonk Programming Language

Language version 0.1 Pretty Much Complete But Maybe Not Totally Finalized

Abstract

Xoomonk is a programming language in which malingering updatable stores are first-class objects. Malingering updatable stores unify several language constructs, including procedure activations, named parameters, and object-like data structures.

-> Functionality "Interpret Xoomonk program" is implemented by
-> shell command "python src/xoomonk.py %(test-file)"

-> Tests for functionality "Interpret Xoomonk program"

Description

Overall, Xoomonk looks like a "typical" imperative language. The result of evaluating an expression can be assigned to a variable, and the contents of a variable can be used in a further expression.

| a := 1
| b := a
| print b
= 1

However, blocks of these imperative statements can appear as terms in expressions; such blocks evaluate to entire updatable stores.

| a := {
|   c := 5
|   d := c
| }
| print a
= [c=5,d=5]

Once created, a store can be updated and accessed.

| a := {
|   c := 5
|   d := c
| }
| print a
| a.d := 7
| print a
| print a.c
= [c=5,d=5]
= [c=5,d=7]
= 5

A store can also be assigned to a variable after creation. Stores are accessed by reference, so this creates two aliases to the same store.

| a := {
|   c := 5
|   d := c
| }
| b := a
| b.c := 17
| print a
| print b
= [c=17,d=5]
= [c=17,d=5]

To create an independent copy of the store, the postfix * operator is used.

| a := {
|   c := 5
|   d := c
| }
| b := a*
| b.c := 17
| print a
| print b
= [c=5,d=5]
= [c=17,d=5]

Empty blocks are permissible.

| a := {}
| print a
= []

Once a store has been created, only those variables defined in the store can be updated and accessed -- new variables cannot be added.

| a := { b := 6 }
| print a.c
? Attempt to access an undefined variable

| a := { b := 6 }
| a.c := 12
? Attempt to assign an undefined variable

Stores and integers are the only two data types in Xoomonk. However, there are some special forms of the print statement, demonstrated here, which allow for textual output.

| a := 65
| print char a
| print string "Hello, world!"
| print string "The value of a is ";
| print a;
| print string "!"
= A
= Hello, world!
= The value of a is 65!

Xoomonk enforces strict block scope. Variables can be shadowed in an inner block.

| a := 14
| b := {
|   a := 12
|   print a
| }
| print a
= 12
= 14

The special identifier ^ refers to the lexically enclosing store, that is, the store which was in effect when the this store was defined.

| a := 14
| b := {
|   a := 12
|   print ^.a
| }
| print b.a
= 14
= 12

As long as a variable is assigned somewhere in a block, it can be accessed before it is first assigned. In this case, it will hold the integer value 0. It need not stay an integer, for typing is dynamic.

| b := {
|   print a
|   a := 12
|   print a
|   a := { c := 13 }
|   print a
| }
| print b
= 0
= 12
= [c=13]
= [a=[c=13]]

We now present today's main feature.

It's important to understand that a block need not define all the variables used in it. Such blocks do not immediately evaluate to a store. Instead, they evaluate to an object called an unsaturated store.

Or, to put it another way:

If, in a block, you refer to a variable which has not yet been given a value in that updatable store, the computations within the block are not performed until that variable is given a value. Such a store is called an unsaturated store.

| a := {
|   d := c
| }
| print a
= [c=?,d=*]

An unsaturated store behaves similarly to a saturated store in certain respects. In particular, unsaturated stores can be updated. If doing so means that all of the undefined variables in the store are now defined, the block associated with that store is evaluated, and the store becomes saturated. In this sense, an unsaturated store is like a promise, and this bears some resemblance to lazy evaluation (thus the term malingering).

| a := {
|   print string "executing block"
|   d := c
| }
| print a
| a.c := 7
| print a
= [c=?,d=*]
= executing block
= [c=7,d=7]

Once a store has become saturated, the block associated with it is not executed again.

| a := {
|   d := c
| }
| a.c := 7
| print a
| a.c := 4
| print a
= [c=7,d=7]
= [c=4,d=7]

The main program is a block. If it is unsaturated, no execution occurs at all.

| print string "hello"
| a := 14
| b := c
=

Variables cannot generally be accessed from an unsaturated store.

| a := {
|   d := c
| }
| x := a.c
? Attempt to access an unassigned variable

| a := {
|   d := c
| }
| x := a.d
? Attempt to access an unresolved variable

This is true, even if the variable is assigned a constant expression inside the block.

| a := {
|   b := 7
|   d := c
| }
| x := a.b
? Attempt to access an unresolved variable

If, however, the unsaturated store contains some variables that have been updated since the store was created, those variable may be accessed.

| a := {
|   print string "executing block"
|   p := q
|   d := c
| }
| a.q := 7
| print a.q
= 7

Nor is it possible to assign a variable in an unsaturated store which is defined somewhere in the block.

| a := {
|   b := 7
|   d := c
| }
| a.b := 4
? Attempt to assign an unresolved variable

A variable is considered unresolved even if it is assigned within the block, if that assignment takes place during or after its first use in an expresion.

| a := {
|   b := b
| }
| a.b := 5
| print a
= [b=5]

| a := {
|   print string "executing block"
|   l := b
|   b := 3
|   l := 3
| }
| print string "saturating store"
| a.b := 5
| print a
= saturating store
= executing block
= [b=3,l=3]

We now describe how this language is (we reasonably assume) Turing-complete.

Operations are accomplished with certain built-in unsaturated stores. For example, there is a store called add, which can be used for addition. These built-in stores are globally available; they do not exist in any particular store themselves. One uses the $ prefix operator to access this global namespace.

| print $add
| $add.x := 3
| $add.y := 5
| print $add.result
| print $add
= [x=?,y=?,result=*]
= 8
= [x=3,y=5,result=8]

Because using a built-in operation store in this way saturates it, it cannot be used again. Typically you want to make a copy of the store first, and use that, leaving the built-in store unmodified.

| o1 := $add*
| o1.x := 4
| o1.y := 7
| o2 := $add*
| o2.x := o1.result
| o2.y := 9
| print o2.result
= 20

Since Xoomonk is not a strictly minimalist language, there is a selection of built-in stores which provide useful operations: $add, $sub, $mul, $div, $gt, and $not.

Decision-making is also accomplished with a built-in store, if. This store contains variables caled cond, then, and else. cond should be an integer, and then and else should be unsaturated stores where x is unassigned. When the first three are assigned values, if cond is nonzero, it is assigned to x in the then store; otherwise, if it is zero, it is assigned to x in the else store.

| o1 := $if*
| o1.then := {
|   y := x
|   print string "condition is true"
| }
| o1.else := {
|   y := x
|   print string "condition is false"
| }
| o1.cond := 0
= condition is false

| o1 := $if*
| o1.then := {
|   y := x
|   print string "condition is true"
| }
| o1.else := {
|   y := x
|   print string "condition is false"
| }
| o1.cond := 1
= condition is true

Repetition is also accomplished with a built-in store, loop. This store contains an unassigned variable called do. When it is assigned a value, assumed to be an unsaturated store, a copy of it is made. The variable x inside that copy is assigned the value 0. This is supposed to saturate the store. The variable continue is then accessed from the store. If it is nonzero, the process repeats, with another copy of the do store getting 0 assigned to its x, and so forth.

| l := $loop*
| counter := 5
| l.do := {
|   y := x
|   print ^.counter
|   o := $sub*
|   o.x := ^.counter
|   o.y := 1
|   ^.counter := o.result
|   continue := o.result
| }
| print string "done!"
= 5
= 4
= 5
= 2
= 1
= done!

Because the loop construct will always execute the do store at least once (even assuming its only unassigned variable is x), it acts like a so-called repeat loop. It can be used in conjunction with if to simulate a so-called while loop. With this loop, the built-in operations provided, and variables which may contain unbounded integer values, Xoomonk should be uncontroversially Turing-complete.

Finally, there is no provision for defining functions or procedures, because malingering stores can act as these constructs.

| perimeter := {
|   o1 := $mul*
|   o1.x := x
|   o1.y := 2
|   o2 := $mul*
|   o2.x := y
|   o2.y := 2
|   o3 := $add*
|   o3.x := o1.result
|   o3.y := o2.result
|   result := o3.result
| }
| p1 := perimeter*
| p1.x := 13
| p1.y := 6
| print p1.result
| p2 := perimeter*
| p2.x := 4
| p2.y := 1
| print p2.result
= 38
= 10

Grammar

Xoomonk ::= { Stmt }.
Stmt    ::= Assign | Print.
Assign  ::= Ref ":=" Expr.
Print   ::= "print" ("string" <string> | "char" Expr | Expr) [";"].
Expr    ::= (Block | Ref | Const) ["*"].
Block   ::= "{" { Stmt } "}".
Ref     ::= Name {"." Name}.
Name    ::= "^" | "$" <alphanumeric> | <alphanumeric>.
Const   ::= <integer-literal>.

Discussion

There is some similarity with Wouter van Oortmerssen's language Bla, in that function environments are very close cousins of updatable stores. But Xoomonk, quite unlike Bla, is an imperative language; once created, a store may be updated at any point. And, of course, this property is exploited in the introduction of malingering stores.

Xoomonk originally had an infix operator &, which takes two stores as its arguments, at least one of which must be saturated, and evaluates to a third store which is the result of merging the two argument stores. This result store may be saturated even if only one of the argument stores was saturated, if the saturated store gave all the values that the unsaturated store needed. This operator was dropped because it is mostly syntactic sugar for assigning each of the desired variables from one store to the other. However, it does admittedly provide a very natural syntax, which orthogonally includes "named arguments", when using unsaturated stores as procedures:

perimeter = {
  # see example above
}
g := perimeter* & { x := 13 y := 6 }
print g.result

Xoomonk, as a project, is also an experiment in test-driven language design. As you can see, I've described the language with a series of examples, written in (something close to) Falderal format, each of which could be used as a test case. This should make implementing an interpreter or compiler for the language much easier, when I get around to that.

Happy malingering!

-Chris Pressey
Cat's Eye Technologies
August 7, 2011
Evanston, IL