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STM update (and thanks everybody)

A short update on the Software Transactional Memory (STM) side. Let me remind you that the work is to add STM internally into PyPy, with the goal of letting the user's programs run on multiple cores after a minor adaptation. (The goal is not to expose STM to the user's program.) I will soon write some official documentation that explains in more details exactly what you get. For now you can read the previous blog posts, and you can also find technical details in the call for donation itself; or directly look at how I adapted the examples linked to later in this post.

I have now reached the point where the basics seem to work. There is no integration with the JIT so far; moreover the integration with the Garbage Collection subsystem is not finished right now, but at least it is "not crashing in my simple tests and not leaking memory too quickly". (It means that it is never calling __del__ so far, although it releases memory; and when entering transactional mode or when going to the next transaction, all live objects become immortal. This should still let most not-too-long-running programs work.)

If you want to play with it, you can download this binary (you need to put it in a place with the paths lib-python and lib_pypy, for example inside the main directory from a regular nightly tarball or from a full checkout). This version was compiled for Linux x86 32-bit from the stm-gc branch on the 25th of April. It runs e.g. the modified version of richards. This branch could also be translated for Linux x86-64, but not for other OSes nor other CPUs for now.

The resulting pypy-stm exposes the same interface as the pure Python transaction module, which is an emulator (running on CPython or any version of PyPy) which can be used to play around and prepare your programs. See the comments in there. A difference is that the real pypy-stm doesn't support epoll right now, so it cannot be used yet to play with a branch of Twisted that was already adapted (thanks Jean-Paul Calderone); but that's coming soon. For now you can use it to get multi-core usage on purely computational programs.

I did for example adapt PyPy's own see the tweak in rpython/ Lines 273-281 are all that I needed to add, and they are mostly a "simplification and parallelization" of the lines above. There are a few more places in the whole that could be similarly modified, but overall it is just that: a few places. I did not measure performance, but I checked that it is capable of using multiple cores in the RTyping step of translation, with --- as expected --- some still-reasonable number of conflicts, particularly at the beginning when shared data structures are still being built.

On a few smaller, more regular examples like richards, I did measure the performance. It is not great, even taking into account that it has no JIT so far. Running pypy-stm with one thread is roughly 5 times slower than running a regular PyPy with no JIT (it used to be better in previous versions, but they didn't have any GC; nevertheless, I need to investigate). However, it does seem to scale. At least, it scales roughly as expected on my 2-real-cores, 4-hyperthreaded-cores laptop (i.e. for N between 1 and 4, the N-threaded pypy-stm performs similarly to N independent pypy-stm's running one thread each).

And finally...

...a big thank you to everyone who contributed some money to support this! As you see on the PyPy site, we got more than 6700$ so far in only 5 or 6 weeks. Thanks to that, my contract started last Monday, and I am now paid a small salary via the Software Freedom Conservancy (thanks Bradley M. Kuhn for organizational support from the SFC). Again, thank you everybody!

UPDATE: The performance regression was due to disabling an optimization, the method cache, which caused non-deterministic results --- the performance could vary from simple to double. Today, as a workaround, I made the method cache transaction-local for now; it is only effective for transactions that run for long enough (maybe 0.1ms or 1ms), but at least it is there in this situation. In the version of richards presented above, the transactions are too short to make a difference (around 0.015ms).


Anonymous wrote on 2012-04-27 20:37:

I don't get it. It's great that pypy libs and so on will be multithreaded with good performance, but how does that help you to write a multithreaded program with good performance, if you don't expose the tools you used to do that?

Alexander Sedov wrote on 2012-04-27 20:44:

Interface is exposed; transaction module it is.

Texatril wrote on 2012-04-27 20:44:

I think the idea is that the GIL would be gone since internally the interpreter would use STM, and at the programmer level, you would be free to use the normal threading mechanisms

Maciej Fijalkowski wrote on 2012-04-27 20:49:

@Texatril no, the point is you would not have to. You write a normal event-based program with transaction module and boom it works. It's easier than writing correct multithreaded code.

Anonymous wrote on 2012-04-27 20:50:

Ah, you kinda contradicted yourself by saying the goal wasn't to expose STM to users' programs, but then saying that it exposed the same API as the transaction module.

The transaction module is pretty horrible though. Might I suggest a better syntax than the transaction module? Something like exceptions would be better:




perhaps with an option (in a later version?) to replace the "retry" with alternate code.

Maciej Fijalkowski wrote on 2012-04-27 20:52:

@Anonymous that would be a bad API, because you cannot fail a transaction. It'll be automatically retried until it finishes. That's in-line with correct programs, just multithreaded

Unknown wrote on 2012-04-28 09:37:

Anonymous: the user level API is any asynchronous event handling framework that uses the transaction library internally to handle events in parallel.

So, for example, you take *any* Twisted program and run it on pypy-stm and it will use the available number of cores to process events without losing any of the normal correctness guarantees of event-based programming.

Armin Rigo wrote on 2012-04-29 07:43:

The goal is really not to expose STM to the user. The pure Python transaction module is a working implementation, running on a single core but running. The fact that pypy-stm provides an alternate implementation, based on STM and giving multi-core usage --- this is the implementation detail.

That's why it has the kind of API you see, and not some STM syntax like "begin: rollback: commit". I also dislike custom keywords, because then we can no longer run the program on CPython or non-STM-based PyPys. But I know I am no language designer myself, so the details are open for discussion.

Nick: thanks for the precisions. Note however that the transaction module is also meant to be used directly, e.g. in CPU-intensive computational programs that don't use any event framework, like I did in rpython/

Unknown wrote on 2012-05-01 06:10:

That sounds great!

From the code I wondered, though, if it’s not actually only 2 lines:

for block in pending:
transaction.add(self.specialize_block, block)

That sounds like map() - for example like the futures module:

with concurrent.futures.ThreadExecutor() as e:

Similarly something like

with transaction.Runner() as r:, block)

might be easier.

Anyway: Your STM project sounds great!

Armin Rigo wrote on 2012-05-01 08:51:

@arne: right, maybe. It points to a similarity, at least. This simple example corresponds nicely to map(), but in other examples (like richards) we add() more transactions from within transactions. Nevertheless, using the "with ... as t:" syntax might work, by passing the "t" inside transactions in order to call or t.add() on it too.

This would also open the door to naturally nest these constructs. Right now if you call inside a transaction, you get an error. Such a case is more work to support in the current implementation, but from the surface it looks like a transaction.Runner() kind of interface should allow us to express what we need.

Unknown wrote on 2012-05-03 19:51:

@Armin: Nice! Congrats for the great project!