Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI
Hasso-Plattner-Institut25 Jahre HPI

Fabio Niephaus

Exploratory Tool-Building Platforms for Polyglot Virtual Machines

Polyglot programming allows developers to use multiple programming languages within the same software project. While it is common to use more than one language in certain programming domains, developers also apply polyglot programming for other purposes such as to re-use software written in other languages. Although established approaches to polyglot programming come with significant limitations, for example, in terms of performance and tool support, developers still use them to be able to combine languages.

Polyglot virtual machines (VMs) such as GraalVM provide a new level of polyglot programming, allowing languages to directly interact with each other. This reduces the amount of glue code needed to combine languages, results in better performance, and enables tools such as debuggers to work across languages. However, only a little research has focused on novel tools that are designed to support developers in building software with polyglot VMs. One reason is that tool-building is often an expensive activity, another one is that polyglot VMs are still a moving target as their use cases and requirements are not yet well understood.

In this thesis, we present an approach that builds on existing self-sustaining programming systems such as Squeak/Smalltalk to enable exploratory programming, a practice for exploring and gathering software requirements, and rapid tool-building in the context of polyglot VMs. Based on TruffleSqueak, our implementation for the GraalVM building on Squeak/Smalltalk, we further present five case studies that demonstrate how our approach helps tool developers to design and build tools for polyglot programming. We further show that TruffleSqueak can also be used by application developers to build and evolve polyglot applications at run-time and by language and runtime developers to understand the dynamic behavior of GraalVM languages and internals. Since our platform allows all these developers to apply polyglot programming, it can further help to better understand the advantages, use cases, requirements, and challenges of polyglot VMs. Moreover, we demonstrate that our approach can also be applied to other polyglot VMs and that insights gained through it are transferable to other programming systems.

We conclude that our research on tools for polyglot programming is an important step toward making polyglot VMs more approachable for developers in practice. With good tool support, we believe polyglot VMs can make it much more common for developers to take advantage of multiple languages and their ecosystems when building software.