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

Dave Abrahams dabrahams at apple.com
Thu Nov 10 19:17:57 CST 2016

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

>> On Nov 10, 2016, at 1:02 PM, Dave Abrahams <dabrahams at apple.com> wrote:
>> on Thu Nov 10 2016, Stephen Canon <scanon-AT-apple.com> wrote:
>>>> On Nov 10, 2016, at 1:30 PM, Dave Abrahams via swift-evolution <swift-evolution at swift.org> wrote:
>>>> 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.
>>> FWIW, we (frequently) only need a static guarantee of no ARC traffic
>>> *within a critical section*. If we can guarantee that whatever ARC
>>> operations need to be done happen in a precisely-controlled manner at
>>> a known interface boundary, that’s often good enough.
>> I don't think you can get those guarantees without static protection
>> against escaping borrowed references, though, can you?
> You shouldn't be able to do that without copying it, and copying a
> borrow seems like it ought to at least be explicit.

I don't think that's true for all types (e.g. Int).

But regardless, we've come full circle, because I'm talking
about needing to do something explicit to copy a a borrowed type when
copying it will be unsafe.


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