Operational Semantics for Multi-Language Programs

Jacob Matthews; Robby Findler. 26 October, 2006.
Communicated by Robby Findler.


Inter-language interoperability is big business, as the success of Microsoftís .NET and COM and Sunís JVM show. Programming language designers are designing programming languages that reflect that fact ó SML#, Mondrian, and Scala, to name just a few examples, all treat interoperability with other languages as a central design feature. Still, current multi-language research tends not to focus on the semantics of interoperation features, but only on how to implement them efficiently. In this paper, we take first steps toward higher-level models of interoperating systems. Our technique abstracts away the low-level details of interoperability like garbage collection and representation coherence, and lets us focus on semantic properties like type-safety and observable equivalence.

Beyond giving simple expressive models that are natural compositions of single-language models, our studies have uncovered several interesting facts about interoperability. For example, higher-order contracts naturally emerge as the glue to ensure that inter-operating languages respect each otherís type systems. While we present our results in an abstract setting, they shed light on real multi-language systems and tools such as the JNI, SWIG, and Haskellís stable pointers.

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