Compiler Construction

Volume 4959 of the series Lecture Notes in Computer Science pp 163-177

Compiler-Guaranteed Safety in Code-Copying Virtual Machines

  • Gregory B. ProkopskiAffiliated withSable Research Group School of Computer Science, McGill University
  • , Clark VerbruggeAffiliated withSable Research Group School of Computer Science, McGill University


Virtual Machine authors face a difficult choice between low performance, cheap interpreters, or specialized and costly compilers. A method able to bridge this wide gap is the existing code-copying technique that reuses chunks of the VM’s binary code to create a simple JIT. This technique is not reliable without a compiler guaranteeing that copied chunks are still functionally equivalent despite aggressive optimizations. We present a proof-of-concept, minimal-impact modification of a highly optimizing compiler, GCC. A VM programmer marks chunks of VM source code as copyable. The chunks of native code resulting from compilation of the marked source become addressable and self-contained. Chunks can be safely copied at VM runtime, concatenated and executed together. This allows code-copying VMs to safely achieve speedup up to 3 times, 1.67 on average, over the direct interpretation. This maintainable enhancement makes the code-copying technique reliable and thus practically usable.