[swift-evolution] Contiguous Memory and the Effect of Borrowing on Safety

Dave Abrahams dabrahams at apple.com
Thu Nov 10 12:30:48 CST 2016

on Thu Nov 10 2016, Joe Groff <jgroff-AT-apple.com> wrote:

>> On Nov 8, 2016, at 9:29 AM, John McCall <rjmccall at apple.com> wrote:
>>> On Nov 8, 2016, at 7:44 AM, Joe Groff via swift-evolution <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>>>> On Nov 7, 2016, at 3:55 PM, Dave Abrahams via swift-evolution <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>>>> on Mon Nov 07 2016, John McCall <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>>>>>> On Nov 6, 2016, at 1:20 PM, Dave Abrahams via swift-evolution <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>>>>>> Given that we're headed for ABI (and thus stdlib API) stability, I've
>>>>>> been giving lots of thought to the bottom layer of our collection
>>>>>> abstraction and how it may limit our potential for efficiency.  In
>>>>>> particular, I want to keep the door open for optimizations that work on
>>>>>> contiguous memory regions.  Every cache-friendly data structure, even if
>>>>>> it is not an array, contains contiguous memory regions over which
>>>>>> operations can often be vectorized, that should define boundaries for
>>>>>> parallelism, etc.  Throughout Cocoa you can find patterns designed to
>>>>>> exploit this fact when possible (NSFastEnumeration).  Posix I/O bottoms
>>>>>> out in readv/writev, and MPI datatypes essentially boil down to
>>>>>> identifying the contiguous parts of data structures.  My point is that
>>>>>> this is an important class of optimization, with numerous real-world
>>>>>> examples.
>>>>>> If you think about what it means to build APIs for contiguous memory
>>>>>> into abstractions like Sequence or Collection, at least without
>>>>>> penalizing the lowest-level code, it means exposing UnsafeBufferPointers
>>>>>> as a first-class part of the protocols, which is really
>>>>>> unappealing... unless you consider that *borrowed* UnsafeBufferPointers
>>>>>> can be made safe.  
>>>>>> [Well, it's slightly more complicated than that because
>>>>>> UnsafeBufferPointer is designed to bypass bounds checking in release
>>>>>> builds, and to ensure safety you'd need a BoundsCheckedBuffer—or
>>>>>> something—that checks bounds unconditionally... but] the point remains
>>>>>> that
>>>>>> A thing that is unsafe when it's arbitrarily copied can become safe if
>>>>>> you ensure that it's only borrowed (in accordance with well-understood
>>>>>> lifetime rules).
>>>>> UnsafeBufferPointer today is a copyable type.  Having a borrowed value
>>>>> doesn't prevent you from making your own copy, which could then escape
>>>>> the scope that was guaranteeing safety.
>>>>> This is fixable, of course, but it's a more significant change to the
>>>>> type and how it would be used.
>>>> It sounds like you're saying that, to get static safety benefits from
>>>> ownership, we'll need a whole parallel universe of safe move-only
>>>> types. Seems a cryin' shame.
>>> We've discussed the possibility of types being able to control
>>> their "borrowed" representation. Even if this isn't something we
>>> generalize, arrays and contiguous buffers might be important enough
>>> to the language that your safe BufferPointer could be called
>>> 'borrowed ArraySlice<T>', with the owner backreference optimized
>>> out of the borrowed representation. Perhaps Array's own borrowed
>>> representation would benefit from acting like a slice rather than a
>>> whole-buffer borrow too.
>> The disadvantage of doing this is that it much more heavily
>> penalizes the case where we actually do a copy from a borrowed
>> reference — it becomes an actual array copy, not just a reference
>> bump.
> Fair point, though the ArraySlice/Array dichotomy strikes me as
> already kind of encouraging this—you might pass ArraySlices down into
> your algorithm, but we encourage people to use Array at storage and
> API boundaries, forcing copies.
> From a philosophical perspective of making systems Swift feel like
> "the same language" as Swift today, it feels better to me to try to
> express this as making our high-level safe abstractions efficient
> rather than making our low-level unsafe abstractions safe. 

+1, or maybe 10

What worries me is that if systems programmers are trying to get static
guarantees that there's no ARC traffic, they won't be willing to handle
a copyable thing that carries ownership.

> Given our short-term goals for the borrow model as I understand them,
> I don't think we can really make a BufferPointer-like type safe in the
> way Dave is suggesting, since the pointer fields *inside* the struct
> need to be first class lifetime-qualified rather than the value of the
> struct itself. 

Well now, those fields don't have to be public API, and it would be fine
for the implementation of this thing to use unsafe constructs.

> Since Array and ArraySlice already communicate an ownership stake in
> the memory they reference, a borrowed Array or ArraySlice value
> *would* safely and efficiently provide access to contiguous memory
> with only support for first-order borrowed/consumed property
> declarations and not full first class lifetime support.


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