Beginning Parrot on RTEMS

My proposal for porting Parrot to RTEMS was accepted for the Google Summer of Code! Though it’s a little late, this post will introduce and explain what I’ll be doing.

Parrot

Parrot is a virtual machine designed with dynamic languages in mind. Historically, Parrot started out as the virtual machine for Perl 6 Rakudo, but now it has many languages (or “High Level Languages” or “HLLs”) being actively developed to run on top of the virtual machine. Parrot comes with a number of tools to make implementing new languages easier – the Parrot Compiler Tools. Like other VMs, Parrot can compile down to platform independent bytecode (called PBC). Parrot was designed with “HLL Interop” in mind – to quote the docs,

Parrot is also designed to provide interoperability between languages that compile to it. In theory, you will be able to write a class in Perl, subclass it in Python and then instantiate and use that subclass in a Tcl program.

How cool is that? That means progress for one HLL is progress for all. Any optimization to the underlying architecture is an optimization for every HLL. Any low-level bindings will automatically work for all HLLs.

RTEMS

RTEMS stands for Real-Time Executive for Multiprocessor Systems. It is a real time operating system designed for embedded systems. RTEMS is free and open source and POSIX (1003.1b API) compliant. RTEMS comes with a full ANSI C, ANSI C++ (with STL), and ADA support. RTEMS has a full TCP/IP stack as well as other networking features like HTTP servers and support for RPC. Finally, RTEMS has full debugging support through GDB.

RTEMS is cross-compiled – that means the programmer might be on an x86 architecture but compile programs to run on Sparc. RTEMS currently supports 116 hardware configurations (“Broad Support Packages” or “BSPs”) on a number of chip architectures (x86, ARM, Sparc) which can all co-exist on the same development machine and run with the same development code.

Potential

I think the potential here is staggering – not only does RTEMS get new languages to target the hardware, Parrot gets new platforms to test and run on. Someone could write something in Rakudo Perl using classes from other languages like Python or Ruby or Tcl, compile to bytecode and then be run on a hundred or so different hardware configurations.

Current Work

Of course it’s not all puppy dogs and ice cream – there’s work to do! Things don’t quite work yet, but by the end of the summer I hope to have Parrot’s bleeding edge building on RTEMS and running the test suite on the BSPs. I’ll update this blog once a week with my progress after my Tuesday meeting with my mentors at the Parrot Foundation and RTEMS. The first work that needs to get knocked out:

  1. Hints Makefile – This Makefile will extract all the BSP information necessary for compiling Parrot and then generate a hints file that will be used by Parrot at compile time.
  2. Cross compilation support for Configure.PL – We need to be able to specify which platform we want to target at compile time for Parrot. Currently Configure.PL figures this out automatically by checking the system that we are running, but with cross-compilation the system we are running is not the system we are targeting.
  3. Write blog post detailing plan of attack
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