CPS to LLVM SSA conversion in literate programming

My L compiler's toolchain is now complete, in that every necessary transformation pass is here. The various passes are parsing, macro-expansion, type checking and inference, CPS transformation, closure conversion, and compilation to LLVM instructions.

Most of the passes are still simple, and a lot of work remains to obtain something usable. For instance I do not propagate informations about locations, so typing error does not explain where the error is. All values, including integers, are boxed, allocated with malloc and never freed; and L code cannot call external C functions. The CPS transformations are not very efficient, and do not carry type informations. These are the points I am going to improve next.

However having a complete toolchain is nice: it gives a complete overview so now I know how changing a pass can benefit to both the above and below layers.

The nice thing about the passes being simple is that they are easy to understand, so this is a good opportunity to publish the code. To further improve the comprehension, I have decided for the last pass I wrote, which is the transformation from CPS to LLVM, to give a try at literate programming. It basically consists in writing your code in the manner of a text book.

There is a nice tool to do literate programming in ocaml, named ocamlweb. It allows to write the literate parts in standard comments, so that the Ocaml files can either be compiled or transformed into a document. The default HTML output of ocamlweb (based on HEVEA is not very nice however, but some configuration allows to improve it. Here is is mine, that I put in a file heveaprefix.tex. This file changes the HTML output of the code parts of OcamlWeb to look like the HTML output of source code in Emacs Org-mode (to maintain consistency with this blog).

%% Note: The colors code are those of Emacs org-mode output (which I
%% think just put those of Emacs).

%% This makes \url links as clickables urls.

%% Big code blocks.
<div style="border: solid 1px gray; background:#eeeeee;
            margin: 0.5em 1em 0.5em 1em;
            padding: 0.5em 1em 0.5em 1em;


%% Inline code blocks inside comments (given with [])

%% Keywords. We distinguish some keywords (those that ``create''
%% something, and begin, in blue). We rely on HEVEA native support for
%% the ifthen package.
\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #a020f0; ">\end{rawhtml}#1%

\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #a52a2a; ">\end{rawhtml}#1%

\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #0000ff; font-weight: bold;">\end{rawhtml}#1%


%% Ids that begin in lower case. The textrm command (note: Hevea does
%% not know about mathrm) allows non-italic typesetting. We also
%% consider failwith as a keyword (even if it is a function that calls
%% raise).

%% Ids that begin in upper case.
\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #228b22; ">\end{rawhtml}#1%


%% Comments are type set in red, with the leading (* and closing *).
\renewcommand{\ocwbc}{\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #b22222">(&#X2217; \end{rawhtml}}
\renewcommand{\ocwec}{\begin{rawhtml} &#X2217;)</span>\end{rawhtml}}

%% Strings are typeset in brown.
\begin{rawhtml}<span style="color: #8b2252; ">\end{rawhtml}#1%

%% Base types and type variables are in green.

The compilation command I use to perform the Ocaml to HTML transformation is:

ocamlweb -p "\usepackage{hevea}\usepackage{url}" --no-index heveaprefix.tex cps/cpsbase.ml llvm/cpsllvm.mli llvm/cpsllvm.ml > web/cpsllvm.tex \ 
&& cd web && hevea -I /usr/share/texmf/tex/latex/misc ocamlweb.sty cpsllvm.tex 

Below is the result (no need to explain it since this is literate programming! :))

Update: Apparently editing the post with blogger's editor mixes up the HTML, but this should be fixed now.

Module Cpsbase

1.  These definitions originates from the "compiling with continuations, continued" paper, by Andrew Kennedy (we currently use the simplified, non-graph version).

CPS (for continuation passing style) puts constraints on functional programs so that a function f never returns; instead it is passed a continuation k, which is a function that represents what is executed on f has finished its execution. So instead of returning a value x, f "returns" by calling k(x). CPS style makes returning from functions, and more generally control flow, explicit, at the expense or more verbosity.

This file presents a particular representation of CPS terms that separates continuations, calling a continuations, variables holding continations from respectively normal functions, normal function calls, and normal variables. This distinction allows to compile the CPS program using a stack (see the Cpsllvm module for an implementation of that).

The representation also forces all values (including constants such as integers) to be held in variables, which simplify later transformation algorithms.

2.  We define variables and continuation variables a unique, to avoid any need for alpha conversion.

module UniqueCPSVarId = Unique.Make(struct end)

module UniqueCPSContVarId = Unique.Make(struct end)

type var = Var of UniqueCPSVarId.t
type contvar = ContVar of UniqueCPSContVarId.t

Many algorithms use sets and maps of variables and continuation variables.
module VarMap = Map.Make(struct
   type t = var
   let compare = compare

module VarSet = Set.Make(struct
   type t = var
   let compare = compare

module ContVarMap = Map.Make(struct
   type t = contvar
   let compare = compare

module ContVarSet = Set.Make(struct
   type t = contvar
   let compare = compare

3.  Values are primitive objects, held in continuation variables.
type value = 
   ∣ Void 
   ∣ Constant of Constant.t
   ∣ Tuple of var list 
   ∣ Lambda of contvar × var × term
4.  The representation of CPS terms separates continuations from usual functions. The various terms are:

  • let x = value; body creates a binding to a primitive value, or to the result of a primitive operation (to be used in body)
  • let k(x) = t; body creates a binding to a continuation k. x is bound in t, but not in body. The k continuation variable is bound both in body and t (this allows loops).
  • k(x) calls the continuation k with x. It can be seen as a "jump with argument x"
  • v(k,x) calls the function v, k being the return continuation, and x a parameter. v does not return; instead it will call k with the "return value" as a parameter.
  • halt(x) is used only as a base case, to stop induction. Its semantics is that it returns the value x, which is the result of the computation, to the caller.

and term = 
   ∣ Let_value of var × value × term
   ∣ Let_primop of var × primitive_operation × term
   ∣ Let_cont of contvar × var × term × term
   ∣ Apply_cont of contvar × var
   ∣ Apply of var × contvar × var
   ∣ Halt of var
5.  Primitive operations return a value. The various operations do not take values as parameters (even constants such as int), only variables: the representation forces all values to be bound in a variable. This allows a uniform treatment that helps transformation passes.

The various operations are:

  • x[i] get the ith element out of x. x is a variable bound to a tuple.
  • x1 op x2 applies binary op to two arguments.

Note that there are no primitive that would allow to write let x = y, where y is a variable; thus there cannot be two variables that directly share the same value.

and primitive_operation = 
   ∣ Projection of var × int
   ∣ Integer_binary_op of Constant.integer_binary_op × var × var

Interface for module Cpsllvm

6.  This module translates CPS representation to the LLVM IR. CPS terms must observe that

  • Functions do not have free (unbound) variables or continuation variables (use closure conversion to get rid of free variables in functions)
  • Constants functions (such as +,−) have been η-expanded, and translated to the use of CPS primitive operations.

7.  All translations are done using Llvm.global_context(), and in a single Llvm module named the_module.

val the_module : Llvm.llmodule
8.  build_nodef name expr builds an expr, an expression in CPS form that is not part of a function, (for instance if it was typed in the interactive prompt). It is translated to a Llvm function that take no argument, named name.
val build_nodef : string → Cpsbase.term → Llvm.llvalue

Module Cpsllvm

9.  This module translates a term written in CPS representation to LLVM instructions in SSA form.

The CPS representations stems from the paper "Compiling with continuations, continued" by Andrew Kennedy. In particular this representation separates continuations from standard lambda functions, which allows calling and returning from functions using the normal stack.

This module assumes that functions have no free variables (or continuation variables). Closure conversion removes free variables from functions. Free continuation variables should never happen when translating normal terms to CPS.

The module also assumes that the CPS values do not refer to primitive operations, such as +,-,*,/. Previous passes must transform calls to primitive operations to let x = primitive(args); and η-expand primitive operations passed as functions (e.g. let x = f() must have been transformed).

To keep things simple in this first version, no external functions is called (only lambdas defined in the body of the expression, and primitive operations, can be called).

In addition, all data is boxed, allocated using malloc (and never freed; this could be improved by using libgc). Unboxed data would requires to carry typing information in the CPS terms.
10.  To get an overview of the translation algorithm, the best is to understand how the CPS concepts are mapped to the SSA concepts. In the following, we denote by [x] the translation of x.

  • Lambda are translated to LLVM functions with one argument and one return value.
  • Other values (i.e. int, floats, and tuples) are all translated boxed. Thus they all have a single llvm type, which is i8 *.
  • A CPS variable x is mapped to a SSA variables (of type Llvm.llvalue). CPS variables are introduced as arguments to lambda and continuations, and in the let x = ... form.
  • A CPS continuation variable k introduced by λ k. x. t corresponds to the return from the lambda. A call k(y) to this continuation with a value y is translated to a "ret" instruction returning the translation of y.
  • A CPS continuation variable k introduced by let k(x) = t1; t2 is mapped to the SSA basic block [t1] (of type Llvm.basicblock). The x formal argument of k corresponds to a phi node at the start of [t1]. A call k( y to this continuation with a value y is translated to a "jmp" instruction to the basic block [t1], that binds [y] to the phi node at the start of [t1].
  • A call f( k, x) of a regular (non-continuation) function f with first argument being a continuation variable argument k and second argument being a variable v is translated to a call to [f] with argument [x], followed by the translation of k( r), with r being the value returned by the call to f. This is because after calling a function in the LLVM SA, the control is returned to the following instruction. LLVM optimization passes like simplifycfg can optimize this if needed. Note: this allows tail call optimizations http://llvm.org/docs/CodeGenerator.html#tail-calls to take place.
  • Primitive operations, such as let x = primitive(args) are translated to the corresponding LLVM operations.

Note that the SSA representation are well-formed only if "the definition of a variable %x does not dominate all of its uses" (http://llvm.org/docs/LangRef.html#introduction). The translation from a CPS term (without free variables) ensures that.
11.  Here is a simplified example of how the translation from CPS to SSA works.

The CPS code:

  let v = 3;
  let k(x) = k(2+x);

Is translated to SSA (ignoring boxing):

    v = 3
    n_ = 11
    jmp k

    x = phi (entry n_) (k o_)
    m_ = 2 
    o_ = m_ + x
    jmp k 

This shows how k is translated to a separate basic block, and the argument x to a phi node connected to all the uses of k.

12.  If one encounters segmentation faults when changing the LLVM related code, this may be caused by:

  • Calling Llvm.build_call on a value which does not have the function lltype, or Llvm.build_gep with operations that do not correspond to the lltype of the value.
  • Calling build_phi with an empty list of "incoming".
  • Calling ExecutionEngine.create the_module before calling Llvm_executionengine.initialize_native_target() can also segfault.

Using valgrind or gdb allows to quickly locate the problematic Ocaml Llvm binding.

let context = Llvm.global_context()

let the_module = Llvm.create_module context "my jitted module"

let void_type = Llvm.void_type context

let i32_type = Llvm.i32_type context

let i32star_type = Llvm.pointer_type i32_type

let anystar_type = Llvm.pointer_type (Llvm.i8_type context)

open Cpsbase

Creating and accessing memory objects

13.  These helper functions create or read-from memory object. Currently LLVM compiles using a very simple strategy: every value is boxed (including integers and floats). This simplifies compilation a lot: every value we create has type void *, and we cast the type from void * according to how we use it.

LLVM does not (yet?) know how to replace heap allocations with stack allocations, so we should do that (using an escape analysis). But LLVM has passes that allow promotion of stack allocations to register ("mem2reg" and "scalarrepl"), so once this is done (plus passing and returning arguments in registers), many values should be unboxed by the compiler (and this would not be that inefficient). Additional performances could then be obtained by monomorphizing the code.
14.  Store llvalue in heap-allocated memory.

let build_box llvalue name builder = 
   let lltype = Llvm.type_of llvalue in
   let pointer = Llvm.build_malloc lltype name builder in
   ignore(Llvm.build_store llvalue pointer builder);
   Llvm.build_bitcast pointer anystar_type (name ^ "box") builder
15.  Unbox a llvalue of type lltype.
let build_unbox llvalue lltype name builder = 
   let typeptr = Llvm.pointer_type lltype in
   let castedptr = Llvm.build_bitcast llvalue typeptr (name ^ "castedptr") builder in
   Llvm.build_load castedptr (name ^ "unbox") builder
16.  A n-tuple is allocated as an array of n anystar_type. Each element of the array contains the llvalue in l.
let build_tuple l builder = 
   let length = List.length l in
   let array_type = Llvm.array_type anystar_type length in 
   let pointer = Llvm.build_malloc array_type "tuple" builder in

   let f () (int,elem) = 
     (∗ Note: the first 0 is because pointer is not the start of the array, but a pointer to the start of the array, that must thus be dereferenced. ∗)
     let path = [| (Llvm.const_int i32_type 0); (Llvm.const_int i32_type int) |] in
     let gep_ptr = Llvm.build_gep pointer path "gep" builder in
     ignore(Llvm.build_store elem gep_ptr builder) in

   Utils.Int.fold_with_list f () (0,l);
   Llvm.build_bitcast pointer anystar_type ("tuplecast") builder

17.  Retrieve an element from a tuple.
let build_letproj pointer i builder = 
   let stringi = (string_of_int i) in 
   (∗ First we compute an acceptable LLvm type, and cast the pointer to that type (failure to do that makes Llvm.build_gep segfault). As we try to access the ith element, we assume we are accessing an array of size i+1. ∗)
   let array_type = Llvm.array_type anystar_type (i+1) in 
   let arraystar_type = Llvm.pointer_type array_type in
   let cast_pointer = Llvm.build_bitcast pointer arraystar_type ("castptr") builder in
   let gep_ptr = Llvm.build_gep cast_pointer [| (Llvm.const_int i32_type 0);
                                                 (Llvm.const_int i32_type i) |] 
     ("gep" ^ stringi) builder in 
   let result = Llvm.build_load gep_ptr ("builder" ^ stringi) builder in
18.  Apply primitive operations.
let build_integer_binary_op op a b builder = 
   let build_fn = match op with
     ∣ Constant.IAdd → Llvm.build_add
     ∣ Constant.ISub → Llvm.build_sub
     ∣ Constant.IMul → Llvm.build_mul
     ∣ Constant.IDiv → Llvm.build_udiv in
   let a_unbox = (build_unbox a i32_type "a" builder) in
   let b_unbox = (build_unbox b i32_type "b" builder) in
   let res = build_fn a_unbox b_unbox "bop" builder in
   build_box res "res" builder
19.  Build a call instruction, casting caller to a function pointer.
let build_call caller callee builder =
   let function_type = Llvm.pointer_type (Llvm.function_type anystar_type [| anystar_type |]) in
   let casted_caller = Llvm.build_bitcast caller function_type "function" builder in 
   let retval = Llvm.build_call casted_caller [| callee |] "retval" builder in

Creating and accessing basic blocks

20.  This special value is used to ensure, via the type checker, that compilation to LLVM never leaves a basic-block halfly built. LLVM basic blocks should all end with a terminator instruction; whenever one is inserted, the function should return End_of_block. When building non-terminator instructions, the code must continue building the basic block.

type termination = End_of_block
21.  This creates a new basic block in the current function.

Note that LLVM basic blocks are associated to a parent function, that we need to retrieve to create a new basic block.

let new_block builder = 
   let current_bb = Llvm.insertion_block builder in
   let the_function = Llvm.block_parent current_bb in
   let new_bb = Llvm.append_block context "k" the_function in
22.  Returns Some(phi) if the block already begins with a phi instruction, or None otherwise.
let begin_with_phi_node basic_block = 
   let pos = Llvm.instr_begin basic_block in
   match pos with
     ∣ Llvm.At_end(_) → None
     ∣ Llvm.Before(inst) → 
       (match Llvm.instr_opcode inst with
         ∣ Llvm.Opcode.PHI → Some(inst)
         ∣ _ → None)
23.  This builds a jmp instruction to destination_block, also passing the v value. This is achieved by setting v as an incoming value for the phi instruction that begins destination_block. If destination_block does not start with a phi node, then it is the first time that destination_block is called, and we create this phi node.
let build_jmp_to_and_add_incoming destination_block v builder =

   let add_incoming_to_block basic_block (value,curblock) = 
     match begin_with_phi_node basic_block with
       ∣ Some(phi) → Llvm.add_incoming (value,curblock) phi
       ∣ None → 
         (∗ Temporarily create a builder to build the phi instruction. ∗)
         let builder = Llvm.builder_at context (Llvm.instr_begin basic_block) in
         ignore(Llvm.build_phi [value,curblock] "phi" builder) in

   let current_basic_block = Llvm.insertion_block builder in
   add_incoming_to_block destination_block (v, current_basic_block);

   ignore(Llvm.build_br destination_block builder);

24.  We use the following sum type to establish a distinction between:

  • continuation variables bound with lambda: calling them returns from the function, and the parameter x of the call k( x) is returned;
  • and continuation variables bound with letcont: calling them jumps to the corresponding basic block, and the parameter x of the call k( x) is passed to the phi node starting this basic block.

The CPS→LLVM translation maps continuation variables to dest_types.

type dest_type = 
   ∣ Ret 
   ∣ Jmp_to of Llvm.llbasicblock

Build a call to a continuation k x.
let build_applycont k x builder = 
   match k with
     ∣ Ret → ignore(Llvm.build_ret x builder); End_of_block
     ∣ Jmp_to(destination) → build_jmp_to_and_add_incoming destination x builder

Main CPS term translation

It is important for LLVM that function names are unique.

module UniqueFunctionId = Unique.Make(struct end)
25.  This function builds the CPS term cps, in the current block pointed to by builder. varmap maps CPS variables to LLVM llvalues. contvarmap maps CPS continuation variables to values of type contvar_type.

All the free variables or continuation variables in cps must be in contvarmap or in varmap. cps can contain lambda, but they must not contain any free variables or free continuation variables (even the one in varmap and contvarmap). Closure conversion deals with this. Note: previously-defined global variables are not considered free.

let rec build_term cps (contvarmap, varmap) builder =
26.  Helper functions to retrieve/add values from/to maps.
   let lookup_var x = 
     try VarMap.find x varmap 
     with _ → failwith "in lookup" in

   let lookup_contvar k = 
     try ContVarMap.find k contvarmap 
     with _ → failwith "in contvar lookup" in

   let add_to_varmap var value = VarMap.add var value varmap in
   let add_to_contvarmap contvar block = ContVarMap.add contvar (Jmp_to block) contvarmap in

27.  Converting the term is done by inductive decomposition. There are three kind of cases:

  • those that only build new values (letvalue, letproj, letprimop...) in the current basic block
  • those that return a value and end a basic block (apply, applycont, and halt)
  • the one that build a new basic blocks (letcont).

To keep the implementation simple, all values are boxed (i.e. put in the heap and accessed through a pointer), and of llvm type "i8 *". Pointer conversions are done according to the use of the value.

   match cps with
28.  These cases build a new value, then continue building the basic block.
     ∣ Let_value(x, value, body) → 
       let newllvalue = 
         (match value with 
           ∣ Constant(Constant.Int i) →
             let llvalue = Llvm.const_int i32_type i in
             build_box llvalue ("int" ^ string_of_int i) builder

           ∣ Tuple(l) →
             let llvalues = List.map lookup_var l in
             build_tuple llvalues builder

           This build a new function, with private linkage (since that it can be used only by the current term), which allows llvm optimizations.

Note that build_function will use a new builder, so the lambda can be built in parallel with the current function. Also it will use new variables and continuation variable maps (with only the x parameter), so the lambda expression must not contain any free variables.

           ∣ Lambda(k,x,body) → 
             let f = build_function "lambda" k x body in
             Llvm.set_linkage Llvm.Linkage.Private f;
             Llvm.build_bitcast f anystar_type "lambdacast" builder

           Expressions such as let x = primitive] should have been translated into something like let x = (a,b) -> primitiveop( a,b) ] in previous compilation stage, so should fail here.
           ∣ Constant(c) → 
             assertConstant.is_function c);
             failwith "ICE: primitive operations as value in LLVM translation."
       in build_term body (contvarmap, (add_to_varmap x newllvalue)) builder

     Primitive operations are similar to letvalue.
     ∣ Let_primop(x,prim,body) → 
       let result = (match prim with 
         ∣ Integer_binary_op(op,xa,xb) → 
           build_integer_binary_op op (lookup_var xa) (lookup_var xb) builder
         ∣ Projection(x,i) → build_letproj (lookup_var x) i builder
       ) in
       build_term body (contvarmap, (add_to_varmap x result)) builder
29.  Building new basic blocks. The algorithm first creates an empty basic block, bound to [k], then build [body], then build [term] (if [k] is really called), binding [x] to the phi node.

The tricky part is that the llvm bindings do not allow to create an "empty" phi node (even if it would, in future implementations which would not box everything we would still have to know the llvm type of the phi node, and that llvm type is not known until we have processed the jumps to that node). So it is the calls to k that create or change the phi node; no phi node means [k] is never called.

Doing the operations in this order ensures that calls to [k] are processed before [k] is built.

     ∣ Let_cont(k,x,term,body) → 
       let new_bb = new_block builder in
       let newcvm = add_to_contvarmap k new_bb in
       let End_of_block = build_term body (newcvm, varmap) builder in
       Llvm.position_at_end new_bb builder;
       (match begin_with_phi_node new_bb with
         ∣ None → End_of_block
         ∣ Some(phi) → build_term term (newcvm, (add_to_varmap x phi)) builder)
30.  Cases that change or create basic blocks.
     Depending on k, applycont either returns or jumps to k.
     ∣ Apply_cont(k,x) → 
       build_applycont (lookup_contvar k) (lookup_var x) builder

     The CPS semantics state that caller should return to k, but LLVM SSA does not require that calls end basic blocks. So we just build a call instruction, and then a call to [k]. LLVM optimizations will eliminate the superfluous jump if needed.
     ∣ Apply(caller,k,callee) → 
       let retval = build_call (lookup_var caller) (lookup_var callee) builder in
       build_applycont (lookup_contvar k) retval builder

     ∣ Halt(x) → ignore(Llvm.build_ret (lookup_var x) builder); End_of_block

Expression built out of a definition are put in a "void -> void" function.
and build_nodef name cpsbody = 
   prepare_build name cpsbody None

and build_function name contparam param cpsbody =
   prepare_build name cpsbody (Some (contparam,param))

Build the function around the main term cpsbody, possibly taking some parameters k and x.
and prepare_build name cpsbody param = 
   let params_type = match param with None → [| |] ∣ _ → [| anystar_type |] in
   let function_type = Llvm.function_type anystar_type params_type in
   (∗ Note: it is important for LLVM that function names are unique. ∗)
   let funname = name ^ "#" ^ (UniqueFunctionId.to_string (UniqueFunctionId.fresh())) in
   let the_function = Llvm.declare_function funname function_type the_module in
   let bb = Llvm.append_block context "entry" the_function in
   (∗ Note that we use a new builder. We could even build the functions in parallel. ∗)
   let builder = Llvm.builder context in
   Llvm.position_at_end bb builder;
     let initial_varmaps = 
       match param with 
         ∣ None → (ContVarMap.empty, VarMap.empty)
         ∣ Some(k,x) → (ContVarMap.singleton k Ret,
                         VarMap.singleton x (Llvm.param the_function 0)) in

     ignore(build_term cpsbody initial_varmaps builder);
     (∗ Prints the textual representation of the function to stderr. ∗)
     Llvm.dump_value the_function;
     (∗ Validate the code we just generated. ∗)
     Llvm_analysis.assert_valid_function the_function;
   (∗ Normally, no exception should be thrown, be we never know. ∗)
   with e → Llvm.delete_function the_function; raise e


  1. Cool ! Tu envisages quoi pour gérer la mémoire ? Un gc off-the shelf, custom, quelque chose à base de régions ?

    1. Hi Ilias,

      I was thinking I would use a conservative garbage collector (i.e. the Boehm gc) in the first place. This should require approximatively no work, while still allowing multi-thread computation that I would like to provide soon.

      Before improving on the GC, I would like to limit its use, using escape analysis to maximize stack allocation. I would like to provide some "guaranteed optimizations" on stack allocations; I believe that many system programs can be written with few or no allocation (for instance those I write at work), and that this will also be useful for all programs. Also this would help be fix the ABI.

      After that, I would like to provide a default memory manager based on gc/stack, but also allow other styles of memory management, like regions or linear references, upon explicit annotations. But this is still sci-fi for now...

    2. Also, I did not perform any study on existing off-the-shelf GC that I could use, besides Boehm gc. Do you know any?

    3. Not really. There's the web page for this book: http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/people/staff/rej/gc.html which lists some possible alternatives. It will be interesting to see whether an escape analysis is enough to take care of the programs you target, it this is the case then an efficient GC would be indeed pointless. Can an escape analysis handle nested data-structures (like arrays containing structs, etc), or do you have to fall back on a full-fledged abstract interpretation ?

    4. Thanks for your link, implementing at least a minimal GC is something I definitely need to do in the near future. Escape analysis can handle nested data structures, i.e. can tell that some parts of a data structure escape while others do not. Escape analysis is actually an abstract interpretation; the best information I found for implementing it for ML-like languages is Bruno Blanchet PhD thesis, in http://www.di.ens.fr/~blanchet/escape-eng.html