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{ Category Archives } Computer Science

Finding Compiler Bugs by Removing Dead Code

I was pretty bummed to miss PLDI this year, it has been my favorite conference recently. One of the talks I was most interested in seeing was Compiler Validation via Equivalence Modulo Inputs by some folks at UC Davis. Although I had been aware of this paper (which I’ll call “the EMI paper” from now […]

We Need Hardware Traps for Integer Overflow

Processors should support integer math instructions that optionally trap on overflow. Because popular architectures lack this feature, otherwise excellent modern systems programming languages, such as Rust, Go, and D, have default integer types that wrap. This is bad because unexpected wrapping causes programs to produce incorrect results, although of course integer overflow in a safe […]

A Guide to Better Scripty Code for Academics

[Suresh suggested that I write a piece about unit testing for scripty academic software, but the focus changed somewhat while I was writing it.] Several kinds of software are produced at universities. At one extreme we have systems like Racket and ACL2 and HotCRP that are higher quality than most commercial software. Also see the […]

Early Superoptimizer Results

[Here's a shortcut to the results. But it would be best to read the post first.] Following my previous superoptimizer post, my student Jubi and I were getting up to speed on the prerequisites — SMT solvers, LLVM internals, etc. — when Googler Peter Collingbourne contacted me saying that he had recently gotten a superoptimizer […]

Too Much Milk: The Secret Origin Story

When I first taught operating systems 12 years ago, I based my teaching materials on a set of slides inherited from John Carter, the previous instructor at Utah. I was generally happy with these slides, and I’ve continued to evolve them since then, but one thing I was always curious about was the “too much […]

Hints for Computer System Design

On the last day of my advanced OS course this spring we discussed one of my all-time favorite computer science papers: Butler Lampson’s Hints for Computer System Design. Why is it so good? It’s hard-won advice. Designing systems is not easy — a person can spend a lifetime learning to do it well — and […]

How Should You Write a Fast Integer Overflow Check?

Detecting integer overflow in languages that have wraparound semantics (or, worse, undefined behavior on overflow, as in C/C++) is a pain. The issue is that programming languages do not provide access to the hardware overflow flag that is set as a side effect of most ALU instructions. With the condition codes hidden, overflow checks become […]

Testing with Small Capacities

The goal of testing is to expose bugs. To find a bug we must drive the software under test into a part of its state space where the bug becomes evident, for example by causing a crash. Many bugs lurk in dark corners of the state space that are ordinarily difficult to reach. This piece […]

Find the Integer Bug

Not all of the functions below are correct. The first person to leave a comment containing a minimal fix to a legitimate bug will get a small prize. I’m posting this not because the bug is particularly subtle or interesting but rather because I wrote this code for a piece about integer overflow and thought […]

Research Advice from Alan Adler

Although I am a happy French press user, I enjoyed reading an article about Alan Adler and the AeroPress that showed up recently on Hacker News. In particular, I love Adler’s advice to inventors: Learn all you can about the science behind your invention. Scrupulously study the existing state of your idea by looking at […]