[pypy-dev] amsterdam sprint reports (20th december 2003)

holger krekel hpk at trillke.net
Sun Dec 21 21:24:10 CET 2003

Hello PyPy,

the Amsterdam sprint has just finished and here is a report and some
surrounding and outlook information. As usual please comment/add/correct
me - especially the sprinters.  I also wouldn't mind some discussion of
what and how we could do things better at the next sprint.  First of
all, big thanks to *Etienne Posthumus* who patiently helped organizing
this sprint even though he had to deal with various other problems at
the same time. 

Before i start with details i recommend reading through the new
Architecture document at


in case you don't know what i am talking about regarding the Amsterdam
sprint results :-)

Originally, we intended to go rather directly for translation and thus
for a first release of PyPy.  But before the sprint we decided to
go differently about the sprint not only because Michael Hudson and
Christian Tismer had to cancel their participation but we also wanted to
give a smooth introduction for the new developers attending the sprint. 
Therefore we didn't press very hard at translation and type inference 
and major suprises were awaiting us anyway ... 

fixing lots and lots of bugs, adding more builtins and more introspection

On this front mainly Alex Martelli, Patrick Maupin, Laura Creighton and 
Jacob Hallen added and fixed a lot of builtins and modules and made it
possible to run - among other modules - the pystone benchmark: on most machines
we have more than one pystone with PyPy already :-)  While trying to
get 'long' objects working Armin and Samuele realized that the StdObjSpace 
multimethod mechanism now desparately needs refactoring.  Thus the current
"long" support is just another hack (TM) which nevertheless allows to execute
more of CPython's regression tests. 

In a releated effort, Samuele and yours truly made introspection of
frames, functions and code objects compatible to CPython so that the
"dis.dis(dis.dis)" goal finally works i.e can be run through
PyPy/StdObjSpace. This is done by the so called "pypy_" protocol which
an object space uses to delegate operations on core execution objects
(functions, frames, code ...) back to the interpreter. 

redefining our standard type system at application level

Originally we thought that we could more or less easily redefine the python
type objects at application level and let them access interpreter level
objects and implementations via some hook. This turned out to be a
bootstrapping nightmare (e.g. in order to instantiate classes you need
type objects already but actually we want our first classes to define
exactly those).  While each particular problem could be worked around 
somehow Armin and Samuele realized they were opening a big can of worms ...
and couldn't close it in due time. 

The good news is that after lots of discussions and tossing ideas around
we managed to develop a new approach (see the end of the report) which
raised our hopes we can finally define the types at application level 
and thus get rid of the ugly and hard to understand interpreter level

Improving tracing and debugging of PyPy

With PyPy you often get long tracebacks and other problems which make
it hard to debug sometimes.  Richard Emslie, Tomek Meka and me implemented 
a new Object Space called "TraceObjSpace" which can wrap the Trivial and 
Standard Object Space and will trace all objectspace operations as well as 
frame creation into a long list of events.  Richard then in a nightly hotel
session wrote "tool/traceinteractive.py" which will nicely reveal
what is going on if you execute python statements: which frames are created
which bytecodes are executed and what object space operations are involved. 
Just execute traceinteractive.py (with python 2.3) and type some random function 
definition and see PyPy's internals at work ...  It only works with python 2.3
because we had to rewrite python's dis-module module to allow programmatic access
to dissassembling byte codes. And this module has considerably changed 
from python 2.2 to 2.3 (thanks, Michael :-) 

"finishing" the Annotation refactoring

That should be easy, right?  Actually Guido van Rossum and Armin had
started doing type inference/annotation in Belgium just before
EuroPython and we have since refactored it already at the Berlin sprint
and in between the sprints several times.  But it turned out that
Annotations as we did them are *utterly broken* in that we try to do a
too general system (we had been talking about general inference engines
and such) thus making "merging" of two annotations very hard to do in
a meaningful way. But after beeing completly crushed on one afternoon, Samuele
and Armin came up with a new *simpler* approach that ... worked and 
promises to not have the same flaws.  It got integrated into the 
translator already and appears to work nicely. 

I think this is the fourth refactoring of just "three files" and, of course, we
already have the 'XXX' virus spreading again :-) 

refactoring/rewriting the test framework

PyPy has an ever increasing test-suite which requires a lot of flexibility 
that the standard unittest.py module just doesn't provide.  Currently, we have 
in tool/test.py and interpreter/unittest_w.py a collection of more or less
weird hacks to make our (now over 500) tests run either at interpreter level 
or at application level which means they are actually interpreted by PyPy. 
Tests from both levels can moreover be run with different object spaces. 
Thus Stefan Schwarzer and me came up with a rewrite of unittest.py which
is currently in 'newtest.py'.  During my train ride back to germany i 
experimentally used our new approach which let our tests run 
around 30% faster (!) as a side effect.  More about this in separate mails
as this is - as almost every other area of PyPy - refactoring-in-progress. 

Documentation afternoon

We (apart from Richard who had a good excuse :-) also managed on Friday
to devote a full afternoon to documentation.  There is now an emerging
"architecture" document, a "howtopypy" (getting started) and a "goals"
document here:


Moreover, we deleted misleading or redundant wiki-pages. In case you miss
one of them you can still access them through the web by following 
"Info on this page" and "revision history".  

We also had a small lecture from Theo de Ridder who dived into 
our flowgraph and came up with some traditional descriptions from 
compiler theory to describe what we are doing. He also inspired us with
some other nice ideas and we certainly hope he revisits the projects
and continues to try to use it for his own purposes. 

There of course is no question that we still need more higher 
level documentation. Please don't use the wiki for serious 
documentation but make ReST-files in the doc-subtree. I guess 
that we will make the "documentation afternoon" a permanent 
event on our sprints. 

Towards more applevel code ...

As mentioned before the approach of defining the python types at
application level didn't work out as easy as hoped for.  But luckily, we
had - again in some pub - the rescuing idea: a general mechanism that
lets us trigger "exec/eval" of arbitrary interpreter level code given
as a string.  Of course this by itself is far too dynamic to be
translatable but remember: we can perform *arbitrarily dynamic* pythonic
tricks while still *initializing* object spaces and the interpreter.  
Translation will start with executing the initialized interpreter/objspace
through another interpreter/flowobjspace instance. 

Some hacking on the last day showed that this new approach makes the
definition of "builtin" modules a lot more pythonic: modules are not
complicated class instances anymore but really look like a normal module
with some "interpreter level escapes".  It appears now that in combination
with some other considerations we will finally get to "types.py" defining
the python types thus getting rid of the cumbersome 10-12 *type.py files
in objspace/std.  There are still some XXX's to fight, though.  


Patrick Maupin 
Richard Emslie
Stefan Schwarzer
Theo de Ridder
Alex Martelli
Laura Creighton
Jacob Hallen
Tomek Meka
Armin Rigo
Guenter Jantzen
Samuele Pedronis
Holger Krekel

and Etienne Posthumus who made our Amsterdam Sprint possible. 

outlook, what comes next? 

On the Amsterdam sprint maybe more than ever we realized how strongly 
refactoring is the key development activity in PyPy. Watch those "XXX" :-)
Some would argue that we should instead think more about what we are doing 
but then you wouldn't call that extreme programming, would you? 

However, we haven't fixed a site and date for the next sprint, yet. We would 
like to do it sometime February in Suitzerland on some nice mountain but there hasn't
emerged a nice facility, yet.  Later in the year we might be able to do a
sprint in Dublin and of course one right before EuroPython in Sweden.
Btw, if someone want to offer helping to organize a sprint feel free 
to contact us. 

Also there was some talk on IRC that we might do a "virtual sprint" so
that our non-european developers can more easily participate. This would
probably mean doing screen-sessions and using some Voice-over-IP
technology ... we'll see what will eventually evolve.  After all, we
might also soon get information from the EU regarding our recent
proposal which should make sprint planning easier in the long run.
We'll see.

For now i wish everyone some nice last days of the year which has 
been a fun one regarding our ongoing pypy adventure ...


    holger (who hopes he hasn't forgotten someone or something ...)

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