The consensus seems to be building in the Computer Science community that object-oriented programming languages are a "good thing", and hence much effort has gone into the problem of implementing them efficiently on today's RISC architectures, e.g., [Borning81] [Ballard83,86] [Conroy83] [Hagmann83] [Deutsch84] [Suzuki84] [Atkinson86] [Johnson86] [Samples86] [Bush87] [Stroustrop87] [Ungar87] [Rose88] [Chambers89,90] [Dixon89] [Mellender89] [Kiczales90] [Cyphers90]. Unfortunately, object-oriented programming languages still suffer a significant performance penalty compared with procedure-oriented languages. While the price/performance of today's architectures is good enough that object-oriented programming is cost-effective, much can be gained by better object-oriented software architectures and smarter compilers. This paper is an attempt to trim some of the rough performance edges from the CLOS language, and to show how such languages can be more efficiently compiled.
We are interested in object-oriented Lisp systems which produce compiled code which is capable of high performance when executed in a delivery environment [Baker90b]. A delivery environment differs from a development environment chiefly by its lack of software development tools such as compilers, linkers and debuggers. Therefore, some techniques for achieving high performance [Deutsch84] [Ungar87] [Chambers89a,b] [Chambers90], are not applicable to our problem because they require the possibility of compiling additional code at run-time.
CLOS is a true object-oriented language, offering objects with "object identity" [Baker93], a multiple-inheritance class hierarchy and polymorphic "generic" (virtual) functions whose methods depend upon the classes of their arguments. Unlike Simula, Beta, C++ [Stroustrup86] and other "compile-time" object-oriented systems, CLOS has a system of first-class classes, which are accessible by a running program, and extreme flexibility, allowing classes to be redefined and moved, and allowing instances to dynamically change their class. In this way CLOS is more like Smalltalk [Goldberg83], Oaklisp [Lang86], and ObjVlisp [Cointe87], but offers additional flexibility in its generic functions, which can choose their methods based on multiple arguments instead of a single argument.
Common Lisp, on which CLOS is based, has already been criticized for its emphasis on generality and flexibility rather than execution speed. The "dynamic" or "weak" typing of Lisp does not allow the compiler to unambiguously determine the types of objects, and therefore its execution speed tends to be somewhat slower than "strongly-typed" languages such as Pascal, Ada and C. Type determination can be enhanced by type declarations [Steele90,ch.9] [Hagmann83] [Johnson86] [Suzuki81] and by clever type inference [Schwartz75] [Kaplan80] [Suzuki81] [Borning82] [Johnson86] [Ma90] [Baker90c] [Baker90d], which can provide substantial speedups in compiled code.
The introduction of CLOS polymorphic "generic" functions into Common Lisp greatly magnifies the type determination problem, because any ambiguity regarding the type of an argument can translate into ambiguity regarding which method to use. Conversely, the ambiguity regarding which methods are called propagates and increases the ambiguity for other calls to other generic functions. Whenever there is ambiguity over the type (hence class) of an argument, some portion of the method selection logic must be executed at run-time. If the method selection logic is quite complex, as it is in CLOS, then the execution time penalties can be quite large.
Currently, there are two major approaches used to speed method selection in dynamically-typed object-oriented languages like Smalltalk and CLOS. The first method utilizes a cache [Conroy83] which compares the classes of the arguments with the classes of arguments stored in the cache, and uses this information to retrieve the correct method. In the case of a cache miss, then an appropriate method must be selected or constructed. The second method utilizes a form of "partial evaluation" which is really a form of "partial compilation"; methods not in the cache may not even be compiled until such time as that particular method is needed [Chambers89a,b].
Dynamic methods for achieving generic function application speed can work well in the appropriate environment. Researchers have reported speeds of generic function application which average nearly as fast as a non-generic function application [Kiczales90a]. These techniques are not appropriate, however, for some environments, due to their stochastic behavior; e.g., some real-time applications cannot survive even an occasional method cache miss. These dynamic caches also become a source of bottleneck rather than speed in a multiprocessor environment, because they become a shared database, which--like all shared databases--must be protected by a synchronization protocol.
Our interest in more static mechanisms for method determination is four-fold. First, we would like to achieve compiled speeds that are competitive with more traditional compiled, but not object-oriented, languages. Secondly, we would like to determine methods at compile time so that more traditional type inference can reduce type ambiguity. Thirdly, the compile-time method determination allows for the inlining of small methods such as accessor functions (which do not require special treatment in our system); inlining can achieve far more efficiency than the traditional goal of equivalent function application and generic function application execution times. Lastly, we would like to gain a deeper understanding of the occasions and context of code reuse in the form of methods, so that more efficient object-oriented systems can be designed in the future.
A property of partial orders is that they can be consistently extended into a total order, but this total order is not unique unless the partial order is already a total order. The partial (rather than total) ordering of classes is an opportunity for optimization, because an implementation is then free to choose its own total ordering when it is required, rather than being given a total ordering within which there is no freedom to reorder classes. CLOS, however, closes off this opportunity for optimization.
For the set of classes which are superclasses of a given class, CLOS carefully defines a total ordering consistent with the class partial order called the class precedence list for the given class. The computation of this total ordering depends only upon the superclasses of the given class, and not upon the class hierarchy as a whole; thus, once all of the superclasses of a class are known, the class precedence list for the given class is well-defined. Furthermore, the definition of additional classes cannot affect an already computed class precedence list, so long as the class hierarchy above the given class is not modified (e.g., by using change-class).
CLOS carefully defines the ordering of the class precedence list due to the existence of :before and :after methods for generic functions (among other reasons). Since the computed results of :before and :after methods are ignored, they must achieve all of their results through side-effects. By ordering :before methods in class precedence list order, and :after methods in reverse class precedence list order, the effects of such :before and :after methods become well-defined. Since many CLOS implementations compile "combination" methods by concatenating the various :before or :after methods together, the definition of the class precedence list using only the local properties of the particular class assures the implementation that the additional of any new classes cannot cause any changes to previously-computed class precedence lists, and therefore previously-computed "combination" methods need not be recompiled.
While such a local treatment for class precedence lists is laudable for an incremental-development prototyping system, it has very negative consequences for a more compiler-oriented system. To fully appreciate the negative consequences of the local calculation of the class precedence lists, we need to give several examples, which will illustrate several non-obvious properties of the CLOS ordering rules, some of which are presented here for the first time.
Definition. We denote the class precedence list of A by cpl(A).
Theorem 1. If we form the class C from the direct superclasses A and B (in that order), then cpl(C) is not necessarily consistent with cpl(A).
Proof. The system generated by the following class definitions is a
counterexample, because y precedes x in cpl(a), but
not in cpl(c).
(defclass z () ()) ; cpl(z) = (z ...)
(defclass x (z) ()) ; cpl(x) = (x z ...)
(defclass y () ()) ; cpl(y) = (y ...)
(defclass b (y) ()) ; cpl(b) = (b y ...)
(defclass a (b x) ()) ; cpl(a) = (a b y x z ...)
(defclass c (a b x y) ()) ; cpl(c) = (c a b x z y ...)
Corollaries. 1) It is impossible in CLOS to form a global class
precedence list, of which all local class precedence lists are subsequences.
2) Class precedence lists cannot be computed by a simple merging of the class
precedence lists of the direct superclasses. 3) Class precedence list
structures cannot generally share tails with the class precedence list
structures of their superclasses. 4) The combined :before method for
a class cannot simply tail-call the combined :before method for one of
its superclasses. 5) A subclass can reorder the applicable methods of
its superclasses even when it does not itself define any methods! 6) A generic function may require
O(n!) method combinations for a class having only O(n) methods defined. 7) If
the ordering of an object's slots are determined by the ordering of the class
precedence list, then the slot accessor functions become gratuitously
Proof of 4). If there are separate :before methods defined for a generic function for every class, then the problem of constructing a :before combined method is isomorphic to the problem of constructing a class precedence list.
Proof Sketch of 6). We can define classes with O(n) unordered superclasses, and provide O(n!) subclasses whose class precedence lists reorder those superclasses. Even though there are no methods defined on the subclasses, we can be forced to make O(n!) different method combinations for the superclasses.
Theorem 2. Class construction is not associative; the classes
abc1 and abc2 are not isomorphic:
(defclass ab (a b) ())
(defclass abc1 (ab c) ())
(defclass bc (b c) ())
(defclass abc2 (a bc) ())
Proof. Consider the orderings induced by the following definitions of
a, b and c. The formation of abc1
succeeds, but the formation of abc2 fails due to the violation of a
(defclass a () ()) ; cpl(a) = (a ...)
(defclass b () ()) ; cpl(b) = (b ...)
(defclass c (a) ()) ; cpl(c) = (c a ...)
(defclass ab (a b) ()) ; cpl(ab) = (ab a b ...)
(defclass abc1 (ab c) ()) ; cpl(abc1) = (abc1 ab c a b ...)
(defclass bc (b c) ()) ; cpl(bc) = (bc b c a ...)
(defclass abc2 (a bc) ()) ; fails.
Theorem 3. The class constructed by (defclass a (b c d) ...)
is isomorphic to the class constructed by the sequence (defclass cd (c d)
()) and (defclass a (b cd) ...).
Proof Sketch. The only difference between the two definitions is the presence of the intermediate class cd in the class precedence lists of a and all of its subclasses; if cd is simply deleted from these lists, then they are identical to the first case. The presence of the intermediate class cd does not change the inherited slots, and so long as no methods are defined with cd as a specializer, then the presence of cd cannot affect either method selection or method combination, and hence the behavior remains the same. Intuitively, the b-c precedence constraint is converted into the pair of constraints b-cd and cd-c.
Corollary--"Double Inheritance in CLOS is Universal". CLOS class construction for multiple inheritance can be emulated by class construction using only single and double inheritance. The right-associative reading of class construction is analogous to Chomsky Normal Form for context-free grammars.
Theorem 4. The classes (defclass a (b c) ...) and (defclass a' (b d c) ...) are isomorphic when (b d c) is a subsequence of the class precedence list of a. (In other words, including additional direct superclasses which are mentioned in precedence order cannot change the behavior of a class.)
Proof Sketch. Since the slots of a class are formed as the union of the slots contributed by the superclasses, there is no harm in including a superclass twice. The behavior of a class is determined by the methods of the class and its superclasses, as interpreted by the class precedence list. Since we have introduced no new classes or methods, and since the class precedence lists are the same, the situations are isomorphic.
We believe that while the calculation of the class precedence list defined by the CLOS standard was well-intentioned, its specificity is gratuitous, because 1) no well-structured program should depend upon the detailed precedence order over and above those ordering constraints already evident in the construction order and class partial order; and 2) such an order dependence would be a violation of modularity for the program [Snyder86b]. Therefore, we recommend that the CLOS standard back down from its rigid class precedence order, and simply require that the local class precedence orders be consistent with the construction order and the class partial order, and that each local class precedence order be a subsequence of a single global total order. This new rule can dramatically simplify a compiled CLOS implementation, and while contrived software can detect the new orderings, well-constructed, modular software will not notice the difference.
Since we are most interested in high-performance delivery capabilities, we have developed a subset of CLOS which we call Static CLOS, which fixes many decisions at compile-time. The earlier binding of Static CLOS allows for a much greater level of compile-time optimization than would be possible under full CLOS. We have carefully chosen the characteristics to be fixed at compile time, however, so that most traditional object-oriented programming styles are preserved. In making the choices for Static CLOS, we have appealed to the experiences of other compiled object-oriented languages, such as Simula, Ada and C++, so that those users would not find our choices confining.
An alternative would be to separate objects into those whose types are fixed at compile time and those whose types can be varied at compile time and to focus most of the optimization on the first sort. Not only is this scheme more complex, but it conflicts with our whole philosophy of types, which we assert are statically-defined subsets of run-time objects.
Some would argue that changing the class of an object at run-time is necessary for the proper modeling of the real world; e.g., some might model state changes in real-world objects as changes in the class of the object. Philosophers have argued that objects have certain innate, fixed attributes or characteristics that are inseparable from their object identity, while other attributes and characteristics can change dynamically. Philosophers have called these necessary attributes of objects "formal properties", while those attributes which can be changed are called "material properties" [Hughes68,p.184]. Any material properties should be grouped into the object's states, leaving the object's identity and class fixed. Thus, the use of the class system which organizes representations and code-sharing to model real-world state changes is a nasty pun.
Others would argue that changing the class of an object is necessary for "database reorganization", in which a later "database schema" would use a more complex model requiring additional fields or "slots" for an object [Lerner90] [Penney87] [Skarra86]. While this sort of change is on more solid theoretical ground, one must still protest that object-oriented classes organize representations and code-sharing, and a change of representations should involve a change of class and a change of object identity. We feel that database reorganization is better served by the notion of an "abstract data type", which allows for a diversity of representations within a single user-visible specification type. We discuss the issue of fixed object type at greater length in [Baker92] [Baker93].
Statically fixing the class hierarchy is controversial, because it eliminates the possibility of dynamic "schema changes", which reorganize the structure of the knowledge embedded in the class hierarchy [Skarra86]. While such reorganizations are common during the development of an application's prototype, they are unlikely to be required after delivery. The use of a persistent object-oriented database may require such a reorganization, but even in such a database, the rearrangement of the class hieararchy is a traumatic and rare occurrence. If recompilation is required in such a situation, it would not be onerous.
The fixing of the class hierarchy at compile time also allows for a significant simplification in the creation of the class hierarchy--one could conceivably require classes to be defined in topological order. Since the class hierarchy must be a partial order [Steele,s.28.1.2], and since every partial order can be extended into a consistent total order, the requirement for no "forward references" in the class hierarchy cannot reduce the functionality of the system. In fact, a consistent ordering of the class hierarchy in the source file from more general to more specific could be a significant documentation aid.
We argued above that all class precedence lists should be subsequences of a global class precedence list which is consistent with both the hierarchy precedence order as well as the construction ordering constraints. With this additional assumption, we can equate the class definition ordering with the global class precedence ordering, and the programmer thus indicates by the ordering of class definitions in the source code exactly what the global precedence ordering should be. "Mixin" classes [Cannon82] [Stefik86] [Bracha90], which typically modify the behavior of "base" classes, would appear later in the source code (and earlier in the class construction lists), thus allowing them to replace base class behaviors.
(defgeneric foo (x y)) (defmethod foo ((x integer) y) (foo-integer x y)) (defmethod foo ((x character) y) (foo-character x y)) (defmethod foo ((x (eql 3)) y) (foo-3 x y)) (defmethod foo :before (x y) (format t "~%Entering foo...")) (defmethod foo :after ((x character) y) (format t "~%Did foo-char"))We wish to produce a non-CLOS implementation similar to the following:
(defun foo (x y) (format t "~%Entering foo...") (case x ; first "eql" dispatch (3 (foo-3 x y)) (t (typecase x ; then "type" dispatch (integer (foo-integer x y)) (character (multiple-value-prog1 (foo-character x y) (format t "~%Did foo-char"))) (t (no-applicable-method #'foo x y))))))Intuitively, we replace the implicit method dispatch code with explicit dispatch code, which can be optimized by traditional optimization techniques, including the use of a compiler-generated hash table for performing the dispatch. There have been previous object-oriented extensions of Lisp which achieved nearly this paradigm of simplicity and efficiency [Novak83]; the complexity and dynamism of CLOS, however, makes our task more difficult.
While the idea is simple, the translation is complicated by the presence of CLOS method combinations. Unlike traditional Smalltalk, which runs the most specific method, and perhaps calls upon the method of its superclass, CLOS allows for :before, :after and :around methods, in addition to "vanilla" primary methods. We need to translate generic functions in such a way that the correct behavior is produced, regardless of the details of the method code.
Methods are not themselves complete functions, because they assume a binding for two function names--call-next-method and next-method-p, which are to be bound as if by flet. These functions are used by the method programmer to check, and possibly call, the next applicable method on the precedence list. Generic functions must somehow "glue" these methods together into a traditional Lisp function. For primary, :before and :around methods, the ordering is identical to the precedence ordering, while for :after methods, the ordering is the reverse. Since reverse-ordered precedence lists cause an unintended dependence of a class on its subclasses, we provide a structure wherein :before and :after methods are called in a manner similar to :around methods. This scheme utilizes the run-time stack to remember to call the :after methods in the correct order. Thus, we compile the :before and :after methods into a single closure, the primary method into another closure, and the :around method into third closure.
The code for the generic function itself is a simple type dispatch on the type(s) of the required argument(s); the arms of this dispatch are calls to class-specific functions. We must include in the type dispatch every class that is mentioned as a specializer on one of the methods for the generic function. Each class-specific function glues together the applicable method closures in precedence order using lambda-binding techniques; straight-forward beta reduction ("inlining") optimizations on these glue functions substantially reduce the function-calling overhead. In particularly simple (but common) cases, the class-specific function could have simply called the class-specific function for a superclass in traditional Smalltalk "send-super" fashion; an optimization to do this would save space by sharing compiled code (not just source code).
The effectiveness of Static CLOS depends critically upon the ability of type inference to reduce the number of method choices--hopefully to a single method. Our type inference techniques [Baker92] [Baker90c] [Baker90d] are not based on ML-style unificational type inference [Milner78] [Suzuki81] [Cardelli89], but on dataflow techniques [Kaplan80] similar to, but more powerful than, traditional abstract interpretation [Cousot77]. As a result, our type inferencer handles full Common Lisp-84, with all of its ad hoc polymorphism, and includes the ability to predict a more precise type within the arm of a conditional or dispatch than in the expression as a whole. This ability to utilize the information generated by a predicate or a dispatch is well-suited to the job of disambiguating method selection at compile time. The generality of the Common Lisp type system and this type inferencer means that Static CLOS is remarkably free from the well-known typing restrictions of other compile-time object-oriented languages [Cardelli89] [Madsen90]--e.g., Simula, Beta, C++, etc. The significant restrictions of Static CLOS are those already mentioned--an object has a constant type and class, the class system is completely known at compile time, and local class precedence lists are consistent with a global linear precedence list. In particular, Static CLOS makes no restriction on first-class generic functions, and includes the ability to create anonymous generic functions at run-time, as well as the ability to locally add a method within a static context.
We are preparing some benchmark tests to compare the speed of our Static CLOS with the generally-available "PCL" implementation of CLOS. We have scanned the CLOS literature (e.g., [Keene89]), looking for examples in which our modified class precedence lists would fail, and have as yet found only the non-commutative and/or non-associative method combinations append, list, nconc, progn, whose users are already on notice regarding ordering dependencies. We have utilized a similar global linear class ordering for a prototype of the DARPA Pilot's Associate object library, and have yet to find the global linear ordering confining. Additional examples must be analyzed.
We have developed a Common Lisp-to-Ada translator to demonstrate the power of Lisp as a prototyping/specification language for Ada [Baker91a]. We have proposed the use of Static CLOS in conjunction with this translator to demonstrate the ability to translate an existing large CLOS system into Ada.
In implementing Static CLOS, we have bypassed much of the CLOS metaobject protocol (or "MOP" [Kiczales90b]), which offers the ability to customize CLOS for particular applications. Whether we could have used the CLOS MOP to implement Static CLOS requires more research; our current feeling is that MOP is too oriented towards a run-time implementation.
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 A pun on claustrophobia, a morbid dread of closed or narrow places. CLOS shows every indication of this disease, especially its meta-object protocol's fear of closed implementations.
 Other Lisp-based object-oriented programming systems include Flavors [Cannon82] [Moon86], CommonLoops [Bobrow86], CommonObjects [Snyder86a], Oaklisp [Lang86], GLISP [Novak83], ObjVlisp [Cointe87], EU_LISP [Queinnec88], HiOBJ-2 [Yasumura90], TAO [Takeuchi90], and EusLisp [Matsui90].
 "[CLOS] does not attempt to solve problems of encapsulation or protection" [DeMichiel89,s.2.2].
 GLISP [Novak83] and CommonObjects [Snyder86a] have some of the same goals.
 Within a method, however, argument specializers can provide valuable type information.
 For example, local treatment allows class inheritance to be finalized as soon as all superclasses have been defined.
 I'll bet that there exists a CLOS implementation that fails on this property.
 Slot ordering can be decoupled from the class precedence ordering to achieve substantial storage savings [Pugh90].
 It is interesting that the CLOS precedence ordering is substantially different from that in "old" Flavors, which occasionly violated the class hierarchy partial order [Cannon82]. Such differences lend credence to our contention that the current CLOS precedence ordering is not the last word on the subject of precedence orders. [Stefik86], [Snyder86b] and [Kempf87] discuss rationales for precedence orders.
 The pastry and pie classes in [Steele90,s.18.104.22.168] become incompatible as a result, but that example is already quite contrived.
 The CLOS "metaobject protocol" [Kiczales90b] [des Rivières90] may have to be modified to allow such global precedence calculations. It currently attempts to compute a precedence list as soon as all superclasses are known. The global class precedence list, of which all class precedence lists will be a subsequence, will not be known, however, until all classes have been defined. An alternative would be to guess the global precedence list, and be prepared to fix things if the guess proves wrong.
 While the class hierarchy must be fixed at compile time, there is no requirement that the class definitions be explicitly written out in a source file. They could be generated by a macro, for example.
 While there need be no forward references in the class precedence list, there may still be forward references in the slot definitions, because a slot can hold a reference to an arbitrary object, including one whose class has not yet been defined.
 This global ordering can be used to order the bits in the type inferencing bit-vectors [Baker90b] [Baker92].
 Some would say that a global linear precedence ordering violates the philosophy of object "independence", but this violation is already entailed by the presence of unrestricted side-effects in :before and :after methods. Our global precedence ordering is simply a way to make these side-effects predictable.
 Some advocated uses of the :before, :after and :around methods of CLOS include the management of multiprogramming locks [Keene89]. Locking protocols are required in order to avoid deadlock. One such protocol involves an arbitrary, but constant, ordering of lock acquisition; our global precedence order will guarantee that this protocol ordering is never violated.
 We do not discuss here method combinations like + and nconc, which combine the results of all like methods for all of superclasses; these combinations are simplified (but also modified if not commutative and associative) by our global class precedence list.
 Smalltalk programmers use an equivalent scheme to emulate :before/:after methods.
 If one of these kinds of methods is not present, then a suitable "null method" is used; it will be optimized away later by the compiler.
 If there are eql specializers, we must dispatch on them first.
 Static CLOS provides for uninstantiable classes [McAllester86], which can substantially reduce the sizes of these dispatches. We note that to implement full CLOS, with its local class precedence lists, then the generic dispatch would, in general, have to include every defined subclass that could have instances, not just those which have methods. A Corollary to Theorem 1 shows that this can exponentially blow up the number of cases that need to be considered. This unfortunate state of affairs results from the ability of a subclass to not just call the methods of its superclasses, but also to reorder them.
 Such late-bound code is likely to be less precisely typed, however, and may therefore be less efficiently compiled.
 The modified class precedence rule is not an essential part of Static CLOS, in that Static CLOS still generates correct code for the standard rule. Such code, however, may be exponentially larger than the code produced using the modified rule.