Story Programming is an approach that teaches complex computational and algorithmic thinking skills using simple stories anyone can relate to. One could learn these skills independent of a computer or with the use of a computer as a tool to interact with the computation in the tale. This research study examines the use of Story Programming before teaching coding in a computer science orientation course to determine if it is a viable alternative to the code-focused way of teaching the class in the past. We measure the viability of the new Story Programming approach by evaluating student-success and learning outcomes, as well as student reactions to post-survey questions.
With an ever-growing amount of collected data, the importance of visualization as an analysis component is growing in concert. The creation of good visualizations often doesn't happen in one step but is rather an iterative and exploratory process. However, this process is currently not well supported in most of the available visualization tools and systems. Visualization authors are forced to commit prematurely to particular design aspects of their creations, and when exploring potential variant visualizations, they are forced to adopt ad hoc techniques such as copying code snippets or keeping a collection of separate files. We propose variational visualizations as a model supporting open-ended exploration of the design space of information visualization. Together with that model, we present a prototype implementation in the form of a domain-specific language embedded in Purescript.
Spreadsheets often change owners and have to be used by people who haven't created the spreadsheet. This flux often contributes to a lack of understanding, which is a major reason for mistakes in the use and maintenance of spreadsheets. Based on the concept of explanation sheets, we present an approach to make spreadsheets easier to understand and thus easier to use and maintain. We identify the notion of explanation soundness and show that explanation sheets which conform to simple rules of formula coverage provide sound explanations. We also present a practical evaluation of explanation sheets based on samples drawn from widely used spreadsheet corpora and based on a small user study. In addition to supporting spreadsheet understanding and maintenance, our work on explanation sheets has also uncovered several general principles of explanation languages that can help guide the design of explanations for other programming and domain-specific languages. hr>
Comparative visualizations and the comparison tasks they support constitute a crucial part of visual data analysis on complex data sets. Existing approaches are ad hoc and often require significant effort to produce comparative visualizations, which is impractical especially in cases where visualizations have to be amended in response to changes in the underlying data. We show that the combination of parameterized visualizations and variations yields an effective model for comparative visualizations. Our approach supports data exploration and automatic visualization updates when the underlying data changes. We provide a prototype implementation and demonstrate that our approach covers most of existing comparative visualizations.
Paper.pdf (1.2MB)
Spreadsheet tables are often labeled, and these labels effectively constitute types for the data in the table. In such cases tables can be considered to be built from typed data where the placement of values within the table is controlled by the types used for rows and columns. We present a new approach to the transformations of spreadsheet tables that is based on transformations of row and column types. We illustrate the basic idea of type-based table construction and transformation and lay out a series of research questions that should be addressed in future work.
Paper.pdf (252KB)
Diagrams and pictures are a powerful medium to communicate ideas, designs, and art. However, authors of pictures are forced to use rudimentary and ad hoc techniques in managing multiple variants of their creations, such as copying and renaming files or abusing layers in an advanced graphical editing tool. We propose a model of variational pictures as a basis for the design of editors and other tools for managing variation in pictures. This model enjoys a number of theoretical properties that support exploratory graphical design and can help systematize picture creators' workflows.
Paper.pdf (671KB)
Adaptation Based Programming (ABP) allows programmers to employ "choice points" at program locations where they are uncertain about how to best code the program logic. Reinforcement learning (RL) is then used to automatically learn to make choice-point decisions to optimize the reward achieved by the program. In this paper, we consider a new approach to explaining the learned decisions of adaptive programs. The key idea is to include simple program annotations that define multiple semantically meaningful reward types, which compose to define the overall reward signal used for learning. Using these reward types we define the notion of reward difference explanations (RDXs), which aim to explain why at a choice point an alternative A was selected over another alternative B An RDX gives the difference in the predicted future reward of each type when selecting A versus B\ and then continuing to run the adaptive program. Significant differences can provide insight into why A was or was not preferred to B. We describe a SARSA-style learning algorithm for learning to optimize the choices at each choice point, while also learning side information for producing RDXs. We demonstrate this explanation approach through a case study in a synthetic domain, which shows the general promise of the approach and highlights future research questions.
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Gradual typing allows programs to enjoy the benefits of both static typing and dynamic typing. While it is often desirable to migrate a program from more dynamically-typed to more statically-typed or vice versa, gradual typing itself does not provide a way to facilitate this migration. This places the burden on programmers who have to manually add or remove type annotations. Besides the general challenge of adding type annotations to dynamically typed code, there are subtle interactions between these annotations in gradually typed code that exacerbate the situation. For example, to migrate a program to be as static as possible, in general, all possible combinations of adding or removing type annotations from parameters must be tried out and compared. In this paper, we address this problem by developing migrational typing, which efficiently types all possible ways of adding or removing type annotations from a gradually typed program. The typing result supports automatically migrating a program to be as static as possible, or introducing the least number of dynamic types necessary to remove a type error. The approach can be extended to support user-defined criteria about which annotations to modify. % We have implemented migrational typing and evaluated it on large programs. The results show that migrational typing scales linearly with the size of the program and takes only 2-4 times longer than plain gradual typing.
When type inference fails, it is often difficult to pinpoint the cause of the type error among many potential candidates. Generating informative messages to remove the type error is another difficult task due to the limited availability of type information. Over the last three decades many approaches have been developed to help debug type errors. However, most of these methods suffer from one or more of the following problems: (1) Being incomplete, they miss the real cause. (2) They cover many potential causes without distinguishing them. (3) They provide little or no information for how to remove the type error. Any one of this problems can turn the type-error debugging process into a tedious and ineffective endeavor. To address this issue, we have developed a method named counter-factual typing, which (1) finds a comprehensive set of error causes in AST leaves, (2)) computes an informative message on how to get rid of the type error for each error cause, and (3) ranks all messages and iteratively presents the message for the most likely error cause. The biggest technical challenge is the efficient generation of all error messages, which seems to be exponential in the size of the expression. We address this challenge by employing the idea of variational typing that systematically reuses computations for shared parts and generates all messages by typing the whole ill-typed expression only once. % We have evaluated our approach over a large set of examples collected from previous publications in the literature. The evaluation result shows that our approach outperforms previous approaches and is computationally feasible.
Algorithms are everywhere, and they affect everyone. As well as the obvious places—computers, smart phones, cars and appliances—they also occur outside of machines. A recipe is an example of such a machine-transcending algorithm. So are pieces of music, evacuation plans, the instructions on how to assemble furniture, card tricks and many other activities. If general interest in science and technology is not a sufficient reason to learn about them, maybe their omnipresence will persuade you.
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Variation is widespread in software artifacts (data and programs) and in some cases, such as software product lines, is widely studied. In order to analyze, transform, or otherwise manipulate such variational software artifacts, one needs a suitable data structure representation that incorporate variation. However, relatively little work has focused on what effective representations could be to support programming with variational data. In this paper we explore how variational data can be represented and what the implications and requirements are for corresponding variational data structures. Due to the large design space, we begin by focusing on linked lists. We discuss different variational linked-list representations and their respective strengths and weaknesses. Based on our experience, we identify some general design principles and techniques that can help with the development of other variational data structures that are needed to make variational programming practical.
Producing precise and helpful type error messages has been a challenge for the implementations of functional programming languages for over 3 decades now. Many different approaches and methods have been tried to solve this thorny problem, but current type-error reporting tools still suffer from a lack of precision in many cases. Based on the observation that different approaches work well in different situations, we have studied the question of whether a combination of tools that exploits their diversity can lead to improved accuracy. Specifically, we have studied Helium, a Haskell implementation particularly aimed at producing good type error messages, and Lazy Typing, an approach developed previously by us to address the premature-error-commitment problem in type checkers. By analyzing the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches we were able to identify a strategy to combine both tools that could markedly improve the accuracy of reported errors. Specifically, we report an evaluation of 1069 unique ill-typed programs out of a total of 11256 Haskell programs that reveals that this combination strategy enjoys a correctness rate of 82%, which is an improvement of 25%/20% compared to using Lazy Typing/Helium alone. In addition to describing this particular case study, we will also report insights we gained into the combination of error-reporting tools in general.
Paper.pdf (347K)
The visual language research community does not have a single, universally agreed-upon definition of exactly what a visual language is. This is surprising since the field of visual languages has been a vibrant research area for over three decades now. Disagreement about fundamental definitions can undermine a field, fragment the research community, and potentially harm the research progress. To address this issue we have analyzed two decades of VL/HCC publications to clarify the concept of visual language as accepted by the VL/HCC community, effectively adopting the approach of descriptive linguistics. As a result we have obtained a succinct visual language ontology, which captures the essential aspects of visual languages and which can be used to characterize individual languages through visual language profiles. These profiles can tell whether and in what sense a notation can be considered a visual language. We also report trends from and statistics about the field of visual languages.
Paper.pdf (226K)
Variation is ubiquitous in software. Many applications can benefit from making this variation explicit, then manipulating and computing with it directly---a technique we call variational programming. This idea has been independently discovered in several application domains, such as efficiently analyzing and verifying software product lines, combining bounded and symbolic model-checking, and computing with alternative privacy profiles. Although these domains share similar core problems, and there are also many similarities in the solutions, there is no dedicated programming language support for variational programming. This makes the various implementations tedious, prone to errors, hard to maintain and reuse, and difficult to compare. In this paper we present a calculus that forms the basis of a programming language with explicit support for representing, manipulating, and computing with variation in programs and data. We illustrate how such a language can simplify the implementation of variational programming tasks. We present the syntax and semantics of the core calculus, a sound type system, and a type inference algorithm that produces principal types.
Paper.pdf (675K) [with corrections]
We present a new method for GADT type inference that improves the precision of previous approaches. In particular, our approach accepts more type-correct programs than previous approaches when they do not employ type annotations. A side benefit of our approach is that can detect a wide range of runtime errors that are missed by previous approaches. Our method is based on the idea to represent type refinements in pattern-matching branches by choice types, which facilitate a separation of the typing and reconciliation phases and thus support for case expressions. This idea is formalized in a type system, which is both sound and a conservative extension of the classical Hindley-Milner system. We present the results of an empirical evaluation that compares our algorithm with previous approaches.
Many errors in spreadsheet formulas can be avoided if spreadsheets are built automatically from higher-level models that can encode and enforce consistency constraints in the generated spreadsheets. Employing this strategy for legacy spreadsheets is difficult, because the model has to be reverse engineered from an existing spreadsheet and existing data must be transferred into the new model-generated spreadsheet. We have developed and implemented a technique that automatically infers relational schemas from spreadsheets. This technique uses particularities from the spreadsheet realm to create better schemas. We have evaluated this technique in two ways: first, we have demonstrated its applicability by using it on a set of real-world spreadsheets. Second, we have run an empirical study with users. The study has shown that the results produced by our technique are comparable to the ones developed by experts starting from the same (legacy) spreadsheet data. Although relational schemas are very useful to model data, they do not fit spreadsheets well, as they do not allow expressing layout. Thus, we have also introduced a mapping between relational schemas and ClassSheets. A ClassSheet controls further changes to the spreadsheet and safeguards it against a large class of formula errors. The developed tool is a contribution to spreadsheet (reverse) engineering, because it fills an important gap and allows a promising design method (ClassSheets) to be applied to a huge collection of legacy spreadsheets with minimal effort.
Previous research on static analysis for program families has focused on lifting analyses for single, plain programs to program families by employing idiosyncratic representations. The lifting effort typically involves a significant amount of work for proving the correctness of the lifted algorithm and demonstrating its scalability. In this paper, we propose a parameterized static analysis framework for program families that can automatically lift a class of type-based static analyses for plain programs to program families. The framework consists of a parametric logical specification and a parametric variational constraint solver. We prove that a lifted algorithm is correct provided that the underlying analysis algorithm is correct. An evaluation of our framework has revealed an error in a previous "hand-lifted" analysis and indicates that the overhead incurred by the general framework is bounded by a factor of 2.
Variation is everywhere, but in the construction and analysis of customizable software it is paramount. In this context, there arises a need for variational data structures for efficiently representing and computing with related variants of an underlying data type. So far, variational data structures have been explored and developed ad hoc. This paper is a first attempt and a call to action for systematic and foundational research in this area. Research on variational data structures will benefit not only customizable software, but the many other application domains that must cope with variability. In this paper, we show how support for variation can be understood as a general and orthogonal property of data types, data structures, and algorithms. We begin a systematic exploration of basic variational data structures, exploring the tradeoffs between different implementations. Finally, we retrospectively analyze the design decisions in our own previous work where we have independently encountered problems requiring variational data structures.
Producing precise and helpful type error messages has been a challenge for the implementations of functional programming languages for over 3 decades now. Many different approaches and methods have been tried to solve this thorny problem, but current type-error reporting tools still suffer from a lack of precision in many cases. Based on the rather obvious observation that different approaches work well in different situations, we have studied the question of whether a combination of tools that exploits their diversity can lead to improved accuracy. Specifically, we have studied Helium, a Haskell implementation particularly aimed at producing good type error messages, and Lazy Typing, an approach developed previously by us to address the premature error commitment problem in type checkers. By analyzing the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches we were able to identify a strategy to combine both tools that could markedly improve the accuracy of reported errors. Specifically, we report an evaluation of 1069 unique ill-typed programs out of a total of 11256 Haskell programs that reveals that this combination strategy enjoys a correctness rate of 79%, which is an improvement of 22%/17% compared to using Lazy Typing/Helium alone. In addition to describing this particular case study, we will also report insights we gained into the combination of error-reporting tools in general.
Paper.pdf (168K)
We present a visual notation to support the understanding and reasoning about program edits. The graph-based representation directly supports a number of editing operations beyond those offered by a typical, linear program-edit model and makes obvious otherwise hidden states the code can reach through selectively undoing or redoing changes.
Paper.pdf (169K)
Information visualization construction tools generally tend to fall in one of two disparate categories. Either they offer simple but inflexible visualization templates, or else they offer low-level graphical primitives which need to be assembled manually. Those that do offer flexible, domain-specific abstractions rarely focus on incrementally building and transforming visualizations, which could reduce limitations on the style of workflows supported. We present a Haskell-embedded DSL for data visualization that is designed to provide such abstractions and transformations. This DSL achieves additional expressiveness and flexibility through common functional programming idioms and the Haskell type class hierarchy.
We present guided type debugging as a new approach to quickly and reliably remove type errors from functional programs. The method works by generating type-change suggestions that satisfy type specifications that are elicited from programmers during the debugging process. A key innovation is the incorporation of target types into the type error debugging process. Whereas previous approaches have aimed exclusively at the removal of type errors and disregarded the resulting types, guided type debugging exploits user feedback about result types to achieve better type-change suggestions. Our method can also identify and remove errors in type annotations, which has been a problem for previous approaches. To efficiently implement our approach, we systematically generate all potential type changes and arrange them in a lattice structure that can be efficiently traversed when guided by target types that are provided by programmers.
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Changing a program in response to a type error plays an important part in modern software development. However, the generation of good type error messages remains a problem for highly expressive type systems. Existing approaches often suffer from a lack of precision in locating errors and proposing remedies. Specifically, they either fail to locate the source of the type error consistently, or they report too many potential error locations. Moreover, the change suggestions offered are often incorrect. This makes the debugging process tedious and ineffective. We present an approach to the problem of type debugging that is based on generating and filtering a comprehensive set of type-change suggestions. Specifically, we generate all (program-structure-preserving) type changes that can possibly fix the type error. These suggestions will be ranked and presented to the programmer in an iterative fashion. In some cases we also produce suggestions to change the program. In most situations, this strategy delivers the correct change suggestions quickly, and at the same time never misses any rare suggestions. The computation of the potentially huge set of type-change suggestions is efficient since it is based on a variational type inference algorithm that type checks a program with variations only once, efficiently reusing type information for shared parts. We have evaluated our method and compared it with previous approaches. Based on a large set of examples drawn from the literature, we have found that our method outperforms other approaches and provides a viable alternative.
Current C++ implementations typecheck templates in two phases: Before instantiation, those parts of the template are checked that do not depend on template parameters, while the checking of the remaining parts is delayed until template instantiation time when the template arguments become available. This approach is problematic because it causes two major usability problems. First, it prevents library developers to provide guarantees about the type correctness for modules involving templates. Second, it can lead, through the incorrect use of template functions, to inscrutable error messages. Moreover, errors are often reported far away from the source of the program fault. To address this problem, we have developed a type system for Garcia's type-reflective calculus that allows a more precise characterization of types and thus a better utilization of type information within template definitions. This type system allows the static detection of many type errors that could previously only be detected after template instantiation. The additional precision and earlier detection time is achieved through the use of so-called "choice types" and corresponding typing rules that support the static reasoning about underspecified template types. The main contribution of this paper is a guarantee of the type safety of C++ templates (general definitions with specializations) since we can show that well-typed templates only generate well-typed object programs.
Through the use of conditional compilation and related tools, many software projects can be used to generate a huge number of related programs. The problem of typing such variational software is difficult. The brute-force strategy of generating all variants and typing each one individually is (1) usually infeasible for efficiency reasons and (2) produces results that do not map well to the underlying variational program. Recent research has focused mainly on efficiency and addressed only the problem of type checking. In this work we tackle the more general problem of variational type inference and introduce variational types to represent the result of typing a variational program. We introduce the variational lambda calculus (VLC) as a formal foundation for research on typing variational programs. We define a type system for VLC in which VLC expressions are mapped to correspondingly variational types. We show that the type system is correct by proving that the typing of expressions is preserved over the process of variation elimination, which eventually results in a plain lambda calculus expression and its corresponding type. We identify a set of equivalence rules for variational types and prove that the type unification problem modulo these equivalence rules is unitary and decidable; we also present a sound and complete unification algorithm. Based on the unification algorithm, the variational type inference algorithm is an extension of algorithm W. We show that it is sound and complete and computes principal types. We also consider the extension of VLC with sum types, a necessary feature for supporting variational data types, and demonstrate that the previous theoretical results also hold under this extension. Finally, we characterize the complexity of variational type inference and demonstrate the efficiency gains over the brute-force strategy.
In the context of software product lines, there is often a need to represent graphs containing variability. For example, extending traditional modeling techniques or program analyses to variational software requires a corresponding notion of variational graphs. In this paper, we introduce a general model of variational graphs and a theoretical framework for discussing variational graph algorithms. Specifically, we present an abstract syntax based on tagging for succinctly representing variational graphs and other data types relevant to variational graph algorithms, such as variational sets and paths. We demonstrate how (non-variational) graph algorithms can be generalized to operate on variational graphs, to accept variational inputs, and produce variational outputs. Finally, we discuss a filtering operation on variational graphs and how this interacts with variational graph algorithms.
We present an explanation-oriented, domain-specific, visual language for explaining probabilistic reasoning. Explanation-oriented programming is a new paradigm that shifts the focus of programming from the computation of results to explanations of how those results were computed. Programs in this language therefore describe explanations of probabilistic reasoning problems. The language relies on a story-telling metaphor of explanation, where the reader is guided through a series of well-understood steps from some initial state to the final result. Programs can also be manipulated according to a set of laws to automatically generate equivalent explanations from one explanation instance. This increases the explanatory value of the language by allowing readers to cheaply derive alternative explanations if they do not understand the first. The language is comprised of two parts: a formal textual notation for specifying explanation-producing programs and the more elaborate visual notation for presenting those explanations. We formally define the abstract syntax of explanations and define the semantics of the textual notation in terms of the explanations that are produced.
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The choice calculus, a formal language for representing variation in software artifacts, features syntactic forms to map dimensions of variability to local choices between source code variants. However, the process of selecting alternatives from dimensions was relegated to an external operation. The lack of a syntactic form for selection precludes many interesting variation and reuse patterns, such as nested product lines, and theoretical results, such as a syntactic description of the configuration process. In this paper we add a selection operation to the choice calculus and illustrate how that increases the expressiveness of the calculus. We investigate some alternative semantics of this operation and study their impact and utility. Specifically, we will examine selection in the context of static and dynamically scoped dimension declarations, as a well as a linear and comprehensive form of dimension elimination. We also present a design for a type system to ensure configuration safety and modularity of nested product lines.
The choice calculus provides a language for representing and transforming variation in software and other structured documents. Variability is captured in localized choices between alternatives. The space of all variations is organized by dimensions, which provide scoping and structure to choices. The variation space can be reduced through a process of selection, which eliminates a dimension and resolves all of its associated choices by replacing each with one of their alternatives. The choice calculus also allows the definition of arbitrary functions for the flexible construction and transformation of all kinds of variation structures. In this tutorial we will first present the motivation, general ideas, and principles that underlie the choice calculus. This is followed by a closer look at the semantics. We will then present practical applications based on several small example scenarios and consider the concepts of "variation programming" and "variation querying". The practical applications involve work with a Haskell library that supports variation programming and experimentation with the choice calculus.
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Conditional compilation and software product line technologies make it possible to generate a huge number of different programs from a single software project. Typing each of these programs individually is usually impossible due to the sheer number of possible variants. Our previous work has addressed this problem with a type system for variational lambda calculus (VLC), an extension of lambda calculus with basic constructs for introducing and organizing variation. Although our type inference algorithm is more efficient than the brute-force strategy of inferring the types of each variant individually, it is less robust since type inference will fail for the entire variational expression if any one variant contains a type error. In this work, we extend our type system to operate on VLC expressions containing type errors. This extension directly supports locating ill-typed variants and the incremental development of variational programs. It also has many subtle implications for the unification of variational types. We show that our extended type system possesses a principal typing property and that the underlying unification problem is unitary. Our unification algorithm computes partial unifiers that lead to result types that (1) contain errors in as few variants as possible and (2) are most general. Finally, we perform an empirical evaluation to determine the overhead of this extension compared to our previous work, to demonstrate the improvements over the brute-force approach, and to explore the effects of various error distributions on the inference process.
Polls and surveys are increasingly employed to gather information about attitudes and experiences of all kinds of populations and user groups. The ultimate purpose of a survey is to identify trends and relationships that can inform decision makers. To this end, the data gathered by a survey must be appropriately analyzed. Most of the currently existing tools focus on the user interface aspect of the data collection task, but pay little attention to the structure and type of the collected data, which are usually represented as potentially tag-annotated, but otherwise unstructured, plain text. This makes the task of writing data analysis programs often difficult and error-prone, whereas a typed data representation could support the writing of type-directed data analysis tools that would enjoy the many benefits of static typing. In this paper we present Surveyor, a DSEL that allows the compositional construction of typed surveys, where the types describe the structure of the data to be collected. A survey can be run to gather typed data, which can then be subjected to analysis tools that are built using Surveyor's typed combinators. Altogether the Surveyor DSEL realizes a strongly typed and type-directed approach to data gathering and analysis. The implementation of our DSEL is based on GADTs to allow a flexible, yet strongly typed representation of surveys. Moreover, the implementation employs the Scrap-Your-Boilerplate library to facilitate the type-dependent traversal, extraction, and combination of data gathered from surveys.
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We present a formal calculus for modeling and implementing variation in software. It unifies the compositional and annotative approaches to feature implementation and supports the development of abstractions that can be used to directly relate feature models to their implementation. Since the compositional and annotative approaches are complementary, the calculus enables implementers to use the best combination of tools for the job and focus on inherent feature interactions, rather than those introduced by biases in the representation. The calculus also supports the abstraction of recurring variational patterns and provides a metaprogramming platform for organizing variation in artifacts.
In the adaptation-based programming (ABP) paradigm, programs may contain variable parts (function calls, parameter values, etc.) that can be take a number of different values. Programs also contain reward statements with which a programmer can provide feedback about how well a program is performing with respect to achieving its goals (for example, achieving a high score on some scale). By repeatedly running the program, a machine learning component will, guided by the rewards, gradually adjust the automatic choices made in the variable program parts so that they converge toward an optimal strategy. ABP is a method for semi-automatic program generation in which the choices and rewards offered by programmers allow standard machine-learning techniques to explore a design space defined by the programmer to find an optimal instance of a program template. ABP effectively provides a DSL that allows non-machine learning experts to exploit machine learning to generate self-optimizing programs. Unfortunately, in many cases the placement and structuring of choices and rewards can have a detrimental effect on how an optimal solution to a program-generation problem can be found. To address this problem, we have developed a dataflow analysis that computes influence tracks of choices and rewards. This information can be exploited by an augmented machine-learning technique to ignore misleading rewards and to generally attribute rewards better to the choices that have actually influenced them. Moreover, this technique allows us to detect errors in the adaptive program that might arise out of program maintenance. Our evaluation shows that the dataflow analysis can lead to improvements in performance.
Convention dictates that the design of a language begins with its syntax. We argue that early emphasis should be placed instead on the identification of general, compositional semantic domains, and that grounding the design process in semantics leads to languages with more consistent and more extensible syntax. We demonstrate this semantics-driven design process through the design and implementation of a DSL for defining and manipulating calendars, using Haskell as a metalanguage to support this discussion. We emphasize the importance of compositionality in semantics-driven language design, and describe a set of language operators that support an incremental and modular design process.
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This paper considers the problem of testing a container class or other modestly-complex API-based software system. Past experimental evaluations have shown that for many such modules, random testing and shape abstraction based model checking are effective. These approaches have proven attractive due to a combination of minimal require- ments for tool/language support, extremely high usability, and low overhead. These "lightweight" methods are therefore available for almost any programming language or environment, in contrast to model checkers and concolic testers. Unfortunately, for the cases where random testing and shape abstraction perform poorly, there have been few alternatives available with such wide applicability. This paper presents a generalizable approach based on reinforcement learning (RL), using adaptation-based programming (ABP) as an interface to make RL-based testing (almost) as easy to apply and adaptable to new languages and environments as random testing. We show that learned tests differ from random ones, and propose a model for why RL works in this unusual (by RL standards) setting, in the context of a detailed large-scale experimental evaluation of lightweight automated testing methods.
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While a diverse array of approaches to applying machine learning to testing has appeared in recent years, many efforts share three central challenges, two of which are not always obvious. First, learning-based testing relies on adapting the tests generated to the program being tested, based on the results of observed executions. This is the heart of a machine learning approach to test generation. A less obvious challenge in many approaches is that the learning techniques used may have been devised for problems that do not share all the assumptions and goals of software testing. Finally, the usability of approaches by programmers is a challenge that has often been neglected. Programmers may wish to maintain more control of test generation than a "push button" tool generally provides, without becoming experts in software testing theory or machine learning algorithms, and with access to the full power of the language in which the tested system is written. In this paper we consider these issues, in light of our experience with adaptation-based programming as a method for automated test generation.
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Using spreadsheets is the preferred method to calculate, display or store anything that fits into a table-like structure. They are often used by end users to create applications, although they have one critical drawback - spreadsheets are very error-prone. Recent research has developed methods to reduce this error-proneness by introducing a new way of object-oriented modeling of spreadsheets before using them. These spreadsheet models, termed ClassSheets, are used to generate concrete spreadsheets on the instance level. By this approach sources of errors are reduced and spreadsheet applications become easier to understand. As usual for almost every other application, requirements on spreadsheets change due to the changing environment. Thus, the problem of evolution of spreadsheets arises. The update and evolution of spreadsheets is the uttermost source of errors that may have severe impact. In this article, we will introduce a model-based approach to spreadsheet evolution by propagating updates on spreadsheet models (i.e. ClassSheets) to spreadsheets. To this end, update commands for the ClassSheet layer are automatically transformed to those for the spreadsheet layer. We describe spreadsheet model update propagation using a formal framework and present an integrated tool suite that allows the easy creation and safe update of spreadsheet models. The presented approach greatly contributes to the problem of software evolution and maintenance for spreadsheets and thus avoids many errors that might have severe impacts.
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At present, the "testing community" is on good speaking terms, but typically lacks a common language for expressing some computational ideas, even in cases where such a language would be both useful and plausible. In particular, a large body of testing systems define a testing problem in the language of the system under test, extended with operations for choosing inputs, asserting properties, and constraining the domain of executions considered. While the underlying algorithms used for "testing" include symbolic execution, explicit-state model checking, machine learning, and "old fashioned" random testing, there seems to be a common core of expressive need. We propose that the dynamic analysis community could benefit from working with some common syntactic (and to some extent semantic) mechanisms for expressing a body of testing problems. Such a shared language would have immediate practical uses and make cross-tool comparisons and research into identifying appropriate tools for different testing activities easier. We also suspect that considering the more abstract testing problem arising from this minimalist common ground could serve as a basis for thinking about the design of usable embedded domain-specific languages for testing and might help identify computational patterns that have escaped the notice of the community.
Regular expressions are widely used, but they are inherently hard to understand and (re)use, which is primarily due to the lack of abstraction mechanisms that causes regular expressions to grow large very quickly. The problems with understandability and usability are further compounded by the viscosity, redundancy, and terseness of the notation. As a consequence, many different regular expressions for the same problem are floating around, many of them erroneous, making it quite difficult to find and use the right regular expression for a particular problem. Due to the ubiquitous use of regular expressions, the lack of understandability and usability becomes a serious software engineering problem. In this paper we present a range of independent, complementary representations that can serve as explanations of regular expressions. We provide methods to compute those representations, and we describe how these methods and the constructed explanations can be employed in a variety of usage scenarios. In addition to aiding understanding, some of the representations can also help identify faults in regular expressions. Our evaluation shows that our methods are widely applicable and can thus have a significant impact in improving the practice of software engineering.
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Many areas of computer science are concerned with some form of variation in software - from managing changes to software over time, to supporting families of related artifacts. We present the choice calculus, a fundamental representation for software variation that can serve as a common language of discourse for variation research, filling a role similar to the lambda calculus in programming language research. We also develop an associated theory of software variation, including sound transformations of variation artifacts, the definition of strategic normal forms, and a design theory for variation structures, which will support the development of better algorithms and tools.
The design of languages is still more of an art than an engineering discipline. Although recently tools have been put forward to support the language design process, such as language workbenches, these have mostly focused on a syntactic view of languages. While these tools are quite helpful for the development of parsers and editors, they provide little support for the underlying design of the languages. In this paper we illustrate how to support the design of languages by focusing on their semantics first. Specifically, we will show that powerful and general language operators can be employed to adapt and grow sophisticated languages out of simple semantics concepts. We use Haskell as a metalanguage and will associate generic language concepts, such as semantics domains, with Haskell-specific ones, such as data types. We do this in a way that clearly distinguishes our approach to language design from the traditional syntax-oriented one. This will reveal some unexpected correlations, such as viewing type classes as language multipliers. We illustrate the viability of our approach with several real-world examples.
Paper.pdf (176K)
We present a domain-specific embedded language (DSEL) in Haskell that supports the philosophical study and practical explanation of causation. The language provides constructs for modeling situations comprised of events and functions for reliably determining the complex causal relation- ships that emerge between these events. It enables the creation of visual explanations of these causal relationships and a means to systematically generate alternative, related scenarios, along with corresponding outcomes and causes. The DSEL is based on neuron diagrams, a visual notation that is well established in practice and has been successfully employed for causation explanation and research. In addition to its immediate applicability by users of neuron diagrams, the DSEL is extensible, allowing causation experts to extend the notation to introduce special-purpose causation constructs. The DSEL also extends the notation of neuron diagrams to operate over non-boolean values, improving its expressiveness and offering new possibilities for causation research and its applications.
Paper.pdf (430K)
We present an embedded DSL to support adaptation-based programming (ABP) in Haskell. ABP is an abstract model for defining adaptive values, which adapt in response to some associated feedback. We show how our design choices in Haskell motivate higher-level combinators and constructs and help us derive more complicated compositional adaptives. We also show an important specialization of ABP is in support of reinforcement learning constructs, which optimize adaptive values based on a programmer-specified objective function. This permits ABP users to easily define adaptive values that express uncertainty anywhere in their programs. Over repeated executions, these adaptive values adjust to more optimal ones allow the user's programs to self optimize. The design of our DSL depends significantly on the use of type classes. We will illustrate, along with presenting our DSL, how the use of type classes can support the gradual evolution of DSLs.
Paper.pdf (164K)
In reinforcement learning (RL) it is often possible to obtain sound, but incomplete, information about influences and independencies among problem variables and rewards, even when an exact domain model is unknown. For example, such information can be computed based on a partial, qualitative domain model, or via domain-specific analysis techniques. While, intuitively, such information appears useful for RL, there are no algorithms that incorporate it in a sound way. In this work, we describe how to leverage such information for improving the estimation of policy gradients, which can be used to speedup gradient-based RL. We prove general conditions under which our estimator is unbiased and show that it will typically have reduced variance compared to standard unbiased gradient estimates. We evaluate the approach in the domain of Adaptation-Based Programming where RL is used to optimize the performance of programs and independence information can be computed via standard program analysis techniques. Incorporating independence information produces a large speedup in learning on a variety of adaptive programs.
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Maintaining variation in software is a difficult problem that poses serious challenges for the understanding and editing of software artifacts. Although the C preprocessor (CPP) is often the default tool used to introduce variability to software, because of its simplicity and flexibility, it is infamous for its obtrusive syntax and has been blamed for reducing the comprehensibility and maintainability of software. In this paper, we address this problem by developing a prototype for managing software variation at the source code level. We evaluate the difference between our prototype and CPP with a user study, which indicates that the prototype helps users reason about variational code faster and more accurately than CPP. Our results also support the research of others, providing evidence for the effectiveness of related tools, such as CIDE and FeatureCommander.
Paper.pdf (726K)
Feature modeling is widely used in software product-line engineering to capture the commonalities and variabilities within an application domain. As feature models evolve, they can become very complex with respect to the number of features and the dependencies among them, which can cause the product derivation based on feature selection to become quite time consuming and error prone. We address this problem by presenting techniques to find good feature selection sequences that are based on the number of products that contain a particular feature and the impact of a selected feature on the selection of other features. Specifically, we identify a feature selection strategy, which brings up highly selective features early for selection. By prioritizing feature selection based on the selectivity of features our technique makes the feature selection process more efficient. Moreover, our approach helps with the problem of unexpected side effects of feature selection in later stages of the selection process, which is commonly considered a difficult problem. Our evaluation results demonstrate that with the help of our techniques the feature selection processes can be reduced significantly.
Paper.pdf (319K)
Writing deterministic programs is often difficult for problems whose optimal solutions depend on unpredictable properties of the programs' inputs. Difficulty is also encountered for problems where the programmer is uncertain about how to best implement certain aspects of a solution. For such problems a mixed strategy of deterministic programming and machine learning can often be very helpful: Initially, define those parts of the program that are well understood and leave the other parts loosely defined through default actions, but also define how those actions can be improved depending on results from actual program runs. Then run the program repeatedly and let the loosely defined parts adapt. In this paper we present a library for Java that facilitates this style of programming, called \emph{adaptation-based programming}. We motivate the design of the library, define the semantics of adaptation-based programming, and demonstrate through two evaluations that the approach works well in practice. Adaptation-based programming is a form of program generation in which the creation of programs is controlled by previous runs. It facilitates a whole new spectrum of programs between the two extremes of totally deterministic programs and machine learning.
Most programs today are written not by professional software developers, but by people with expertise in other domains working towards goals for which they need computational support. For example, a teacher might write a grading spreadsheet to save time grading, or an interaction designer might use an interface builder to test some user interface design ideas. Although these end-user programmers may not have the same goals as professional developers, they do face many of the same software engineering challenges, including understanding their re- quirements, as well as making decisions about design, reuse, integration, testing, and debugging. This article summarizes and classifies research on these activities, defining the area of End-User Software Engineering (EUSE) and related terminology. The article then discusses empirical research about end-user software engi- neering activities and the technologies designed to support them. The article also addresses several crosscutting issues in the design of EUSE tools, including the roles of risk, reward, and domain complexity, and self-efficacy in the design of EUSE tools and the potential of educating users about software engineering principles.
We propose program fields, a formal representation for groups of related programs, as a new abstraction to support future software engineering research in several areas. We will discuss opportunities offered by program fields and research questions that have to be addressed.
We study how to effectively integrate reinforcement learning (RL) and programming languages via adaptation-based programming, where programs can include non-deterministic structures that can be automatically opti- mized via RL. Prior work has optimized adaptive programs by defining an induced sequential decision process to which standard RL is applied. Here we show that the success of this approach is highly sensitive to the specific program structure, where even seemingly minor program transformations can lead to failure. This sensitivity makes it extremely difficult for a non-RL-expert to write effective adaptive programs. In this paper, we study a more robust learning approach, where the key idea is to leverage information about program structure in order to define a more informative decision process and to improve the SARSA(lambda) RL algorithm. Our empirical results show significant benefits for this approach.
Paper.pdf (401K)
Managing variation is an important problem in software engineering that takes different forms, ranging from version control and configuration management to software product lines. In this paper, I present our recent work on the choice calculus, a fundamental representation for software variation that can serve as a common language of discourse for variation research, filling a role similar to lambda calculus in programming language research. After motivating the design of the choice calculus and sketching its semantics, I will discuss several potential application areas.
Labels in spreadsheets can be exploited for finding formula errors in two principally different ways. First, the spatial relationships between labels and other cells express simple constraints on the cells usage in formulas. Second, labels can be interpreted as units of measurements to provide semantic information about the data being combined in formulas, which results in different kinds of constraints. In this paper we demonstrate how both approaches can be combined into an integrated analysis, which is able to find significantly more errors in spreadsheets than each of the individual approaches. In particular, the integrated system is able to detect errors that cannot be found by either of the individual approaches alone, which shows that the integrated system provides an added value beyond the mere combination of its parts. We also compare the effectiveness of this combined approach with several other conceivable combinations of the involved components and identify a system that seems most effective to find spreadsheet formula errors based on label and unit-of-measurement information.
Paper.pdf (2.1M)
The principle of causation is fundamental to science and society and has remained an active topic of discourse in philosophy for over two millennia. Modern philosophers often rely on "neuron diagrams", a domain-specific visual language for discussing and reasoning about causal relationships and the concept of causation itself. In this paper we formalize the syntax and semantics of neuron diagrams. We discuss existing algorithms for identifying causes in neuron diagrams, show how these approaches are flawed, and propose solutions to these problems. We separate the standard representation of a dynamic execution of a neuron diagram from its static definition and define two separate, but related semantics, one for the causal effects of neuron diagrams and one for the identification of causes themselves. Most significantly, we propose a simple language extension that supports a clear, consistent, and comprehensive algorithm for automatic causal inference.
Paper.pdf (217K)
Most spreadsheets, like other software, change over time. A frequently occurring scenario is the repeated reuse and adaptation of spreadsheets from one project to another. If several versions of one spreadsheet for grading/budgeting/etc. have accumulated, it is often not obvious which one to choose for the next project. In situations like these, an understanding of how two versions of a spreadsheet differ is crucial to make an informed choice. Other scenarios are the reconciliation of two spreadsheets created by different users, generalizing different spreadsheets into a common template, or simply understanding and documenting the evolution of a spreadsheet over time. In this paper we present a method for identifying the changes between two spreadsheets with the explicit goal of presenting them to users in a concise form. We have implemented a prototype system, called SheetDiff, and tested the approach on several different spreadsheet pairs. As our evaluations will show, this system works reliably in practice. Moreover, we have compared SheetDiff to similar systems that are commercially available. An important difference is that while all these other tools distribute the change representation over two spreadsheets, our system displays all changes in the context of one spreadsheet, which results in a more compact representation.
Paper.pdf (934K)
Many errors in spreadsheet formulas can be avoided if spreadsheets are built automatically from higher-level models that can encode and enforce consistency constraints. However, designing such models is time consuming and requires expertise beyond the knowledge to work with spreadsheets. Legacy spreadsheets pose a particular challenge to the approach of controlling spreadsheet evolution through higher-level models, because the need for a model might be overshadowed by two problems: (A) The benefit of creating a spreadsheet is lacking since the legacy spreadsheet already exists, and (B) existing data must be transferred into the new model-generated spreadsheet. To address these problems and to support the model-driven spreadsheet engineering approach, we have developed a tool that can automatically infer ClassSheet models from spreadsheets. To this end, we have adapted a method to infer entity/relationship models from relational database to the spreadsheets/ClassSheets realm. We have implemented our techniques in the HaExcel framework and integrated it with the ViTSL/Gencel spreadsheet generator, which allows the automatic generation of refactored spreadsheets from the inferred ClassSheet model. The resulting spreadsheet guides further changes and provably safeguards the spreadsheet against a large class of formula errors. The developed tool is a significant contribution to spreadsheet (reverse) engineering, because it fills an important gap and allows a promising design method (ClassSheets) to be applied to a huge collection of legacy spreadsheets with minimal effort.
Paper.pdf (774K)
We present a domain-specific language embedded within the Haskell programming language to build scripts in a declarative and type-safe manner. We can categorize script components into various orthogonal dimensions, or concerns, such as IO interaction, configuration, or error handling. In particular, we provide special support for two dimensions that are often neglected in scripting languages, namely creating deadlines for computations and tagging and tracing of computations. Arbitrary computations may be annotated with a textual tag explaining its purpose. Upon failure a detailed context for that error is automatically produced. The deadline combinator allows one to set a timeout on an operation. If it fails to complete within that amount of time, the computation is aborted. Moreover, this combinator works with the tag combinator so as to produce a contextual trace.
Paper.pdf (164K)
Experimental game theory refers to the use of game theoretic models in simulations and experiments to understand strategic behavior. It is an increasingly important research tool in many fields, including economics, biology and many social sciences, but computer support for such projects is primarily found in custom programs written in general purpose languages.
Here we present Hagl (short for "Haskell game language", and loosely intended to evoke the homophone "haggle"), a domain-specific language embedded in Haskell, intended to drastically reduce the development time of such experiments, and make the definition and exploration of games and strategies simple and fun.
Paper.pdf (135K)
Spreadsheets are popular end-user programming tools. Many people use spreadsheet-computed values to make critical decisions, so spreadsheets must be correct. Proven software engineering principles can assist the construction and maintenance of dependable spreadsheets. However, how can we make this practical for end users? One way is to exploit spreadsheets' idiosyncratic structure to translate software engineering concepts such as type checking and debugging to an end-user programming domain. The simplified computational model and the spatial embedding of formulas, which provides rich contextual information, can simplify these concepts, leading to effective tools for end users.
Paper.pdf (315K)
Spreadsheets are widely used, and studies have shown that most end-user spreadsheets contain non-trivial errors. Most of the currently available tools that try to mitigate this problem require varying levels of user intervention. This paper presents a system, called UCheck, that detects errors in spreadsheets automatically. UCheck carries out automatic header and unit inference, and reports unit errors to the users. UCheck is based on two static analyses phases that infer header and unit information for all cells in a spreadsheet.
We have tested UCheck on a wide variety of spreadsheets and found that it works accurately and reliably. The system was also used in a continuing education course for high school teachers, conducted through Oregon State University, aimed at making the participants aware of the need for quality control in the creation of spreadsheets.
Paper.pdf (548K)
Labels in spreadsheets can be exploited for finding errors in spreadsheet formulas. Previous approaches have either used the positional information of labels or their interpretation as dimension for checking the consistency of formulas. In this paper we demonstrate how these two approaches can be combined. We have formalized a combined reasoning system and have implemented a corresponding prototype system. We have evaluated the system on the EUSES spreadsheet corpus. The evaluation has demonstrated that adding a syntactic, spatial analysis to a dimension inference can significantly improve the rate of detected errors.
Paper.pdf (1.2M)
Continuing our research in explanation-oriented language design, we present a domain-specific visual language for explaining probabilistic reasoning. Programs in this language, called explanation objects, can be manipulated according to a set of laws to automatically generate many equivalent explanation instances. We argue that this increases the explanatory power of our language by allowing a user to view a problem from many different perspectives.
Paper.pdf (272K)
Experimental game theory is an increasingly important research tool in many fields, providing insight into strategic behavior through simulation and experimentation on game theoretic models. Unfortunately, despite relying heavily on automation, this approach has not been well supported by tools. Here we present our continuing work on Hagl, a domain-specific language embedded in Haskell, intended to drastically reduce the development time of such experiments and support a highly explorative research style. In this paper we present a fundamental redesign of the underlying game representation in Hagl. These changes allow us to better leverage domain knowledge by allowing different classes of games to be represented differently, exploiting existing domain representations and algorithms. In particular, we show how this supports analytical extensions to Hagl, and makes strategies for state-based games vastly simpler and more efficient.
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We propose a new focus in language design where languages provide constructs that not only describe the computation of results, but also produce explanations of how and why those results were obtained. We posit that if users are to understand computations produced by a language, that language should provide explanations to the user. As an example of such an explanation-oriented language we present a domain-specific language for explaining probabilistic reasoning, a domain that is not well understood by non-experts. We show the design of the DSL in several steps. Based on a story-telling metaphor of explanations, we identify generic constructs for building stories out of events, and obtaining explanations by applying stories to specific examples. These generic constructs are then adapted to the particular explanation domain of probabilistic reasoning. Finally, we develop a visual notation for explaining probabilistic reasoning.
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The design of hardware-software systems is a complex and difficult task exacerbated by the very different tools used by designers in each field. Even in small projects, tracking the impact, motivation and context of individual design decisions between designers and over time quickly becomes intractable. In an attempt to bridge this gap, we present a general, low-level model of the system design process. We formally define the concept of a design decision, and provide a hierarchical representation of both the design space and the context in which decisions are made. This model can serve as a foundation for software-hardware system design tools which will help designers cooperate more efficiently and effectively. We provide a high-level example of the use of such a system in a design problem provided through collaboration with NASA.
Paper.pdf (380K)
Based on (1) research into mutation testing for general purpose programming languages, and (2) spreadsheet errors that have been reported in literature, we have developed a suite of mutation operators for spreadsheets. We present an evaluation of the mutation adequacy of du-adequate test suites generated by a constraint-based automatic test-case generation system we have developed in previous work. The results of the evaluation suggest additional constraints that can be incorporated into the system to target mutation adequacy.
In addition to being useful in mutation testing of spreadsheets, the operators can be used in the evaluation of error-detection tools and also for seeding spreadsheets with errors for empirical studies. We describe two case studies where the suite of mutation operators helped us carry out such empirical evaluations. The main contribution of this paper is the suite of mutation operators for spreadsheets that can (1) help with systematic mutation testing of spreadsheets, and (2) be used for carrying out empirical evaluations of spreadsheet tools.
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Spreadsheets are among the most widely used programming systems in the world. Individuals and businesses use spreadsheets for a wide variety of applications, ranging from performing simple calculations to building complex financial models. In this article, we first discuss how spreadsheet programs are actually functional programs. We then describe concepts in spreadsheet programming, followed by a brief history of spreadsheet systems. Widespread use of spreadsheets, coupled with their high error-proneness and the impact of spreadsheet errors, has motivated research into techniques aimed at the prevention, detection, and correction of errors in spreadsheets. We present an overview of research effort that seeks to rectify this problem.
Paper.pdf (660K)
We present an error-detection and -correction approach for spreadsheets that automatically generates questions about input/output pairs and, depending on the feedback given by the user, proposes changes to the spreadsheet that would correct detected errors. This approach combines and integrates previous work on automatic test-case generation and goal-directed debugging. We have implemented this method as an extension to MS Excel. We carried out an evaluation of the system using spreadsheets seeded with faults using mutation operators. The evaluation shows among other things that up to 93% of the first-order mutants and 98% of the second-order mutants were detected by the system using the automatically generated test cases.
Paper.pdf (780K)
We present a reasoning system for inferring dimension information in spreadsheets. This system can be used to check the consistency of spreadsheet formulas and can be employed to detect errors in spreadsheets. We have prototypically implemented the system as an add-in to Excel. In an evaluation of this implementation we were able to detect dimension errors in almost 50% of the investigated spreadsheets, which shows (i) that the system works reliably in practice and (ii) that dimension information can be well exploited to uncover errors in spreadsheets.
Paper.pdf (258K)
We present a visual language for strategies in game theory, which has potential applications in economics, social sciences, and in general science education. This language facilitates explanations of strategies by visually representing the interaction of players' strategies with game execution. We have utilized the cognitive dimensions framework in the design phase and recognized the need for a new cognitive dimension of "traceability" that considers how well a language can represent the execution of a program. We consider how traceability interacts with other cognitive dimensions and demonstrate its use in analyzing existing languages. We conclude that the design of a visual representation for execution traces should be an integral part of the design of visual languages because understanding a program is often tightly coupled to its execution.
Paper.pdf (399K)
The Inverse Ocean Modeling (IOM) system constructs and runs weak-constraint, four-dimensional variational data assimilation (W4DVAR) for any dynamical model and any observing array. The dynamics and the observing algorithms may be nonlinear but must be functionally smooth. The user need only provide the model and the observing algorithms, together with an interpolation scheme that relates the model numerics to the observer's coordinates. All other model-dependent elements of the Inverse Ocean Modeling assimilation algorithm, including adjoint generators and Monte Carlo estimates of posteriors, have been derived and coded as templates in Parametric FORTRAN. This language has been developed for the IOM but has wider application in scientific programming. Guided by the Parametric FORTRAN templates, and by model information entered via a graphical user interface (GUI), the IOM generates conventional FORTRAN code for each of the many algorithm elements, customized to the user's model. The IOM also runs the various W4DVAR assimilations, which are monitored by the GUI. The system is supported by a Web site that includes interactive tutorials for the assimilation algorithm.
In previous work we have developed a system that automatically checks for unit errors in spreadsheets. In this paper we describe our experiences using the system in a workshop on spreadsheet safety aimed at high school teachers and students. We present the results from a think-aloud study we conducted with five high school teachers and one high school student as the subjects. The study is the first ever to investigate the usability of a type system in spreadsheets. We discovered that end users can effectively use the system to debug a variety of errors in their spreadsheets. This result is encouraging given that type systems are difficult even for programmers. The subjects had difficulty debugging "non-local" unit errors. Guided by the results of the study we devised new methods to improve the error-location inference. We also extended the system to generate change suggestions for cells with unit errors, which when applied, would correct unit errors. These extensions solved the problem that the study revealed in the original system.
Paper.pdf (680K)
Using spreadsheets is the preferred method to calculate, display or store anything that fits into a table-like structure. They are often used by end users to create applications. But they have one critical drawback - they are very error-prone. To reduce the error-proneness, we purpose a new way of object-oriented modeling of spreadsheets prior to using them. These spreadsheet models, termed ClassSheets, are used to generate concrete spreadsheets on the instance level. By this approach sources of errors are reduced and spreadsheet applications are easier to understand.
In previous work we have tried to transfer ideas that have been successful in general-purpose programming languages and mainstream software engineering into the realm of spreadsheets, which is one important example of an end-user programming environment. More specifically, we have addressed the questions of how to employ the concepts of type checking, program generation and maintenance, and testing in spreadsheets. While the primary objective of our work has been to offer improvements for end-user productivity, we have tried to follow two particular principles to guide our research.
The dominant share of software development costs is spent on software maintenance, particularly the process of updating programs in response to changing requirements. Currently, such program changes tend to be performed using text editors, an unreliable method that often causes many errors. In addition to syntax and type errors, logical errors can be easily introduced since text editors cannot guarantee that changes are performed consistently over the whole program. All these errors can cause a correct and perfectly running program to become instantly unusable. It is not surprising that this situation exists because the "text-editor method" reveals a low-level view of programs that fails to reflect the structure of programs.
We address this problem by pursuing a programming-language-based approach to program updates. To this end we discuss in this paper the design and requirements of an update language for expressing update programs. We identify as the essential part of any update language a \emph{scope update} that performs coordinated update of the definition and all uses of a symbol. As the underlying basis for update languages, we define an update calculus for updating lambda-calculus programs. We develop a type system for the update calculus that infers the possible type changes that can be caused by an update program. We demonstrate that type-safe update programs that fulfill certain structural constraints preserve the type-correctness of lambda terms. The update calculus can serve as a basis for higher-level update languages, such as for Haskell or Java.
Paper.pdf (384K)
Parametric Fortran is an extension of Fortran that supports defining Fortran program templates by allowing the parameterization of arbitrary Fortran constructs. A Fortran program template can be translated into a regular Fortran program guided by values for the parameters. This paper describes the design, implementation, and applications of Parametric Fortran. Parametric Fortran is particularly useful in scientific computing. The applications include defining generic functions, removing duplicated code, and automatic differentiation. The described techniques have been successfully employed in a project that implements a generic inverse ocean modeling system.
Paper.pdf (415K)
We present a spreadsheet debugger targeted at end users. Whenever the computed output of a cell is incorrect, the user can supply an expected value for a cell, which is employed by the system to generate a list of change suggestions for formulas that, when applied, would result in the user-specified output. The change suggestions are ranked using a set of heuristics.
In previous work, we had presented the system as a proof of concept. In this paper, we describe a systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of inferred change suggestions and the employed ranking heuristics. Based on the results of the evaluation we have extended both, the change inference process and the ranking of suggestions. An evaluation of the improved system shows that change inference process and the ranking heuristics have both been substantially improved and that the system performs effectively.
Paper.pdf (282K)
Spreadsheets are widely used, and studies have shown that most end-user spreadsheets contain non-trivial errors. Most of the currently available tools that try to mitigate this problem require varying levels of user intervention. This paper presents a system, called UCheck, that detects errors in spreadsheets automatically. UCheck carries out automatic header and unit inference, and reports unit errors to the users. UCheck is based on two static analyses phases that infer header and unit information for all cells in a spreadsheet.
We have tested UCheck on a wide variety of spreadsheets and found that it works accurately and reliably. The system was also used in a continuing education course for high school teachers, conducted through Oregon State University, aimed at making the participants aware of the need for quality control in the creation of spreadsheets.
Paper.pdf (2M)
Haskell programmers who deal with complex data types often need to apply functions to specific nodes deeply nested inside of terms. Typically, implementations for those applications require so-called boilerplate code, which recursively visits the nodes and carries the functions to the places where they need to be applied. The scrap-your-boilerplate approach proposed by Lämmel and Peyton Jones tries to solve this problem by defining a general traversal design pattern that performs the traversal automatically so that the programmers can focus on the code that performs the actual transformation.
In practice we often encounter applications that require variations of the recursion schema and call for more sophisticated generic traversals. Defining such traversals from scratch requires a profound understanding of the underlying mechanism and is everything but trivial.
In this paper we analyze the problem domain of recursive traversal strategies, by integrating and extending previous approaches. We then extend the scrap-your-boilerplate approach by rich traversal strategies and by a combination of transformations and accumulations, which leads to a comprehensive recursive traversal library in a statically typed framework.
We define a two-layer library targeted at general programmers and programmers with knowledge in traversal strategies. The high-level interface defines a universal combinator that can be customized to different one-pass traversal strategies with different coverage and different traversal order. The lower-layer interface provides a set of primitives that can be used for defining more sophisticated traversal strategies such as fixpoint traversals. The interface is simple and succinct. Like the original scrap-your-boilerplate approach, it makes use of rank-2 polymorphism and functional dependencies, implemented in GHC.
In this paper we present a system that helps users test their spreadsheets using automatically generated test cases. The system generates the test cases by backward propagation and solution of constraints on cell values. These constraints are obtained from the formula of the cell that is being tested when we try to execute all feasible du-paths within the formula. AutoTest generates test cases that execute all feasible du-pairs. If infeasible du-associations are present in the spreadsheet, the system is capable of detecting and reporting all of these to the user. We also present a comparative evaluation of our approach against the "Help Me Test" mechanism in Forms/3 and show that our approach is faster and produces test suites that give better du-coverage.
Paper.pdf (522K)
Although researchers have developed several ways to reason about the location of faults in spreadsheets, no single form of reasoning is without limitations. Multiple types of errors can appear in spreadsheets, and various fault localization techniques differ in the kinds of errors that they are effective in locating. In this paper, we report empirical results from an emerging system that attempts to improve fault localization for end-user programmers by sharing the results of the reasoning systems found in WYSIWYT and UCheck. By evaluating the visual feedback from each fault localization system, we shed light on where these different forms of reasoning and combinations of them complement - and contradict - one another, and which heuristics can be used to generate the best advice from a combination of these systems.
Paper.pdf (934K)
Spreadsheets are the most popular programming systems in use today. Since spreadsheets are visual, first-order functional languages, research into the foundations of spreadsheets is therefore a highly relevant topic for the principles and, in particular, the practice, of declarative programming. Since the error rate in spreadsheets is very high and since those errors have significant impact, methods and tools that can help detect and remove errors from spreadsheets are very much needed. Type systems have traditionally played a strong role in detecting errors in programming languages, and it is therefore reasonable to ask whether type systems could not be helpful in improving the current situation of spreadsheet programming. In this paper we introduce a type system and a type inference algorithm for spreadsheets and demonstrate how this algorithm and the underlying typing concept can identify programming errors in spreadsheets. In addition, we also demonstrate how the type inference algorithm can be employed to infer models, or specifications, for spreadsheets, which can be used to prevent future errors in spreadsheets.
We present a study investigating the performance of a system for automatically inferring spreadsheet templates. These templates allow users to safely edit spreadsheets, that is, certain kinds of errors such as range, reference, and type errors can be provably prevented. Since the inference of templates is inherently ambiguous, such a study is required to demonstrate the effectiveness of any such automatic system. The study results show that the system considered performs significantly better than subjects with intermediate to expert level programming expertise. These results are important because the translation of existing spreadsheets into a system based on safety-guaranteeing templates cannot be performed without automatic support. We carried out post-hoc analyses of the video recordings of the subjects' interactions with the spreadsheets and found that expert-level subjects spend less time and inspect fewer cells in the spreadsheet and develop more accurate templates than less experienced subjects.
Although researchers have developed several ways to reason about the location of faults in spreadsheets, no single form of reasoning is without limitations. Multiple types of errors can appear in spreadsheets, and various fault localization techniques differ in the kinds of errors that they are effective in locating. Because end users who debug spreadsheets consistently follow the advice of fault localization systems, it is important to ensure that fault localization feedback corresponds as closely as possible to where the faults actually appear.
In this paper, we describe an emerging system that attempts to improve fault localization for end-user programmers by sharing the results of the reasoning systems found in WYSIWYT and UCheck. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the reasoning found in each system, we expect to identify where different forms of reasoning complement one another, when different forms of reasoning contradict one another, and which heuristics can be used to select the best advice from each system. By using multiple forms of reasoning in conjunction with heuristics to choose among recommendations from each system, we expect to produce unified fault localization feedback whose combination is better than the sum of the parts.
Paper.pdf (524K)
A huge discrepancy between theory and practice exists in one popular application area of functional programming-spreadsheets. Although spreadsheets are the most frequently used (functional) programs, they fall short of the quality level that is expected of functional programs, which is evidenced by the fact that existing spreadsheets contain many errors, some of which have serious impacts.
We have developed a template specification language that allows the definition of spreadsheet templates that describe possible spreadsheet evolutions. This language is based on a table calculus that formally captures the process of creating and modifying spreadsheets. We have developed a type system for this calculus that can prevent type, reference, and omission errors from occurring in spreadsheets. On the basis of the table calculus we have developed Gencel, a system for generating reliable spreadsheets. We have implemented a prototype version of Gencel as an extension of Excel.
Paper.pdf (693K)
We describe a type-inference algorithm that is based on labeling nodes with type information in a graph that represents type constraints. This algorithm produces the same results as the famous algorithm of Milner, but is much simpler to use, which is of importance especially for teaching type systems and type inference.
The proposed algorithm employs a more concise notation and yields inferences that are shorter than applications of the traditional algorithm. Simplifications result, in particular, from three facts: (1) We do not have to maintain an explicit type environment throughout the algorithm because the type environment is represented implicitly through node labels. (2) The use of unification is simplified through label propagation along graph edges. (3) The typing decisions in our algorithm are dependency-driven (and not syntax-directed), which reduces notational overhead and bookkeeping.
Paper.pdf (217K)
Many scientific applications benefit from simulation. However, programming languages used in simulation, such as C++ or Matlab, approach problems from a deterministic procedural view, which seems to differ, in general, from many scientists' mental representation. We apply a domain-specific language for probabilistic programming to the biological field of gene modeling, showing how the mental-model gap may be bridged. Our system assisted biologists in developing a model for genome evolution by separating the concerns of model and simulation and providing implicit probabilistic non-determinism.
Paper.pdf (199K)
Parametric Fortran is an extension of Fortran that supports the construction of generic programs by allowing the parameterization of arbitrary Fortran constructs. A parameterized Fortran program can be translated into a regular Fortran program guided by values for the parameters. This paper describes the extensions of Parametric Fortran by two new language features, accessors and list parameters. These features particularly address the code duplication problem, which is a major problem in the context of scientific computing. The described techniques have been successfully employed in a project that implements a generic inverse ocean modeling system.
At the heart of functional programming rests the principle of referential transparency, which in particular means that a function f applied to a value x always yields one and the same value y=f(x). This principle seems to be violated when contemplating the use of functions to describe probabilistic events, such as rolling a die: It is not clear at all what exactly the outcome will be, and neither is it guaranteed that the same value will be produced repeatedly. However, these two seemingly incompatible notions can be reconciled if probabilistic values are encapsulated in a data type.
In this paper, we will demonstrate such an approach by describing a probabilistic functional programming (PFP) library for Haskell. We will show that the proposed approach not only facilitates probabilistic programming in functional languages, but in particular can lead to very concise programs and simulations. In particular, a major advantage of our system is that simulations can be specified independently from their method of execution. That is, we can either fully simulate or randomize any simulation without altering the code which defines it.
Paper.pdf (160K)
Spreadsheets are widely used in all kinds of business applications. Numerous studies have shown that they contain many errors that sometimes have dramatic impacts. One reason for this situation is the low-level, cell-oriented development process of spreadsheets. We improve this process by introducing and formalizing a higher-level object-oriented model termed ClassSheet. While still following the tabular look-and-feel of spreadsheets, ClassSheets allow the developer to express explicitly business object structures within a spreadsheet, which is achieved by integrating concepts from the UML (Unified Modeling Language). A stepwise automatic transformation process generates a spreadsheet application that is consistent with the ClassSheet model. Thus, by deploying the formal underpinning of ClassSheets, a large variety of errors can be prevented that occur in many existing spreadsheet applications today. The presented ClassSheet approach links spreadsheet applications to the object-oriented modeling world and advocates an automatic model-driven development process for spreadsheet applications of high quality.
We present a semi-automatic debugger for spreadsheet systems that is specifically targeted at end-user programmers. Users can report expected values for cells that yield incorrect results. The system then generates change suggestions that could correct the error. Users can interactively explore, apply, refine, or reject these change suggestions. The computation of change suggestions is based on a formal inference system that propagates expected values backwards across formulas. The system is fully integrated into Microsoft Excel and can be used to automatically detect and correct various kinds of errors in spreadsheets. Test results show that the system works accurately and reliably.
Paper.pdf (1M)
We introduce a visual specification language for spreadsheets that allows the definition of spreadsheet templates. A spreadsheet generator can automatically create Excel spreadsheets from these templates together with customized update operations. It can be shown that spreadsheets created in this way are free from a large class of errors, such as reference, omission, and type errors. We present a formal definition of the visual language for templates and describe the process of generating spreadsheets from templates. In addition, we present an editor for templates and analyze the editor using the Cognitive Dimensions framework.
Paper.pdf (500K)
In previous work we have designed and implemented an automatic reasoning system for spreadsheets, called UCheck, that infers unit information for cells in a spreadsheet. Based on this unit information, UCheck can identify cells in the spreadsheet that contain erroneous formulas. However, the information about an erroneous cell is reported to the user currently in a rather crude way by simply coloring the cell, which does not tell anything about the nature of error and thus offers no help to the user as to how to fix it. In this paper we describe an extension of UCheck, called UFix, which improves the error messages reported to the spreadsheet user dramatically. The approach essentially consists of three steps: First, we identify different categories of spreadsheet errors from an end-user's perspective. Second, we map units that indicate erroneous formulas to these error categories. Finally, we create customized error messages from the unit information and the identified error category. In many cases, these error messages also provide suggestions on how to fix the reported errors.
Existing spreadsheet systems allow users to change cells arbitrarily, which is a major source of spreadsheet errors. We propose a system that prevents errors in spreadsheets by restricting spreadsheet updates to only those that are logically and technically correct. The system is based on the concept of table specifications that describe the principal structure of the initial spreadsheet and all of its future versions. We have developed a program generator that translates a table specification into an initial spreadsheet together with customized update operations for changing cells and inserting/deleting rows and columns for this particular specification. We have designed a type system for table specifications that ensures the following form of "spreadsheet maintenance safety": Update operations that are generated from a type-correct table specification are proved to transform the spreadsheet only according to the specification and to never produce any omission, reference, or type errors. Finally, we have developed a prototype as an extension to Excel, which has been shown by a preliminary usability study to be well accepted by end users.
We present a program-generation approach to address a software-reuse challenge in the area of scientific computing. More specifically, we describe the design of a program generator for the specification of subroutines that can be generic in the dimensions of arrays, parameter lists, and called subroutines. We describe the application of that approach to a real-world problem in scientific computing, which requires the generic description of inverse ocean modeling tools. In addition to a compiler that can transform generic specifications into efficient Fortran code for models, we have also developed a type system that can identify possible errors already in the specifications. This type system is important for the acceptance of the program generator among scientists because it prevents a large class of errors in the generated code.
This paper describes the design and implementation of a unit and header inference system for spreadsheets. The system is based on a formal model of units that we have described in previous work. Since the unit inference depends on information about headers in a spreadsheet, a realistic unit inference system requires a method for automatically determining headers. The present paper describes (1) several spatial-analysis algorithms for header inference, (2) a framework that facilitates the integration of different algorithms, and (3) the implementation of the system. The combined header and unit inference system is fully integrated into Microsoft Excel and can be used to automatically identify various kinds of errors in spreadsheets. Test results show that the system works accurately and reliably.
Paper.pdf (1M)
The structure of monadic functional programs allows the integration of many different features by just changing the definition of the monad and not the rest of the program, which is a desirable feature from a software engineering and software maintenance point of view. We describe an algorithm for the automatic transformation of a group of functions into such a monadic form. We identify two correctness criteria and argue that the proposed transformation is at least correct in the sense that transformed programs yield the same results as the original programs modulo monad constructors. The translation of a set of functions into monadic form is in most cases only a first step toward an extension of a program by new features. The extended behavior can be realized by choosing an appropriate monad type and by inserting monadic actions into the functions that have been transformed into monadic form. We demonstrate an approach to the integration of monadic actions that is based on the idea of specifying context-dependent rewritings.
Paper.pdf (255K)
We describe the design and implementation of a program generator that can produce extensions of Fortran that are specialized to support the programming of particular applications. Extensions are specified through parameter structures that can be referred to in Fortran programs to specify the dependency of program parts on these parameters. By providing parameter values, a parameterized Fortran program can be translated into a regular Fortran program. We describe as a real-world application of this program generator the implementation of a generic inverse ocean modeling tool. The program generator is implemented in Haskell and makes use of sophisticated features, such as multi-parameter type classes, existential types, and generic programming extensions and thus represents the application of an advanced applicative language to a real-world problem.
Paper.pdf (150K)
In this article we will illustrate with an example that modern functional programming languages like Haskell can be used effectively for programming search problems, in contrast to the widespread belief that Prolog is much better suited for tasks like these.
Paper.pdf (53K)
Existing spatiotemporal data models and query languages offer only basic support to query changes of data. In particular, although these systems often allow the formulation of queries that ask for changes at particular time points, they fall short of expressing queries for sequences of such changes. In this chapter we propose the concept of spatiotemporal patterns as a systematic and scalable concept to query developments of objects and their relationships. Based on our previous work on spatiotemporal predicates, we outline the design of spatiotemporal patterns as a query mechanism to characterize complex object behaviors in space and time. We will not present a fully-fledged design. Instead, we will focus on deriving constraints that will allow spatiotemporal patterns to become well-designed composable abstractions that can be smoothly integrated into spatiotemporal query languages. Spatiotemporal patterns can be applied in many different areas of science, for example, in geosciences, geophysics, meteorology, ecology, and environmental studies. Since users in these areas typically do not have extended formal computer training, it is often difficult for them to use advanced query languages. A visual notation for spatiotemporal patterns can help solving this problem. In particular, since spatial objects and their relationships have a natural graphical representation, a visual notation can express relationships in many cases implicitly where textual notations require the explicit application of operations and predicates. Based on our work on the visualization of spatiotemporal predicates, we will sketch the design of a visual language to formulate spatiotemporal patterns.
Paper.pdf (232K)
Existing solutions to data and schema integration require user interaction/input to generate a data transformation between two different schemas. These approaches are not appropriate in situations where many data transformations are needed or where data transformations have to be generated frequently. We describe an approach to an automatic XML-transformation generator that is based on a theory of information-preserving and -approximating XML operations. Our approach builds on a formal semantics for XML operations and their associated DTD transformation and on an axiomatic theory of information preservation and approximation. This combination enables the inference of a sequence of XML transformations by a search algorithm based on the operations' DTD transformations.
Paper.ps.gz (160K), Paper.pdf (135K)
We demonstrate an approach to transform keyword queries automatically into queries that combine keywords appropriately by boolean operations, such as and and or. Our approach is based on an analysis of relationships between the keywords using a taxonomy. The transformed queries will be sent to a search engine, and the returned results will be presented to the user. We evaluate the effectiveness of our approach by comparing the precision of the results returned for the generated query with the precision of the result for the original query. Our experiments indicate that our approach can improve the precision of the results considerably.
Paper.ps.gz (152K), Paper.pdf (256K)
Many software maintenance problems are caused by using text editors to change programs. A more systematic and reliable way of performing program updates is to express changes with an update language. In particular, updates should preserve the syntax- and type-correctness of the transformed object programs. We describe an update calculus that can be used to update lambda-calculus programs. We develop a type system for the update language that infers the possible type changes that can be caused by an update program. We demonstrate that type-safe update programs that fulfill certain structural constraints preserve the type-correctness of lambda terms.
Paper.ps.gz (164K), Paper.pdf (159K)
We present a visual language for querying and transforming XML data. The language is based on a visual document metaphor and the notion of document patterns and rules. It combines a dynamic form-based interface for defining queries and transformation rules with powerful pattern matching capabilities and offers thus a highly expressive visual language. The design of the visual language is specifically targeted at end users.
Paper.ps.gz (114K), Paper.pdf (193K)
We develop DBMS data models and query languages to deal with geometries changing over time. In contrast to most of the earlier work on this subject, these models and languages are capable of handling continuously changing geometries, or moving objects. We focus on two basic abstractions called moving point and moving region. A moving point can represent an entity for which only the position in space is relevant. A moving region captures moving as well as growing or shrinking regions. Examples for moving points are people, polar bears, cars, trains, or air planes; examples for moving regions are hurricanes, forest fires, or oil spills in the sea. The main line of research presented in this chapter takes a data type oriented approach. The idea is to view moving points and moving regions as three-dimensional (2D-space + time) or higher-dimensional entities whose structure and behavior is captured by modeling them as abstract data types. These data types can then be integrated as attribute types into relational, object-oriented, or other DBMS data models; they can be implemented as extension packages ("data blades") for suitable extensible DBMSs.
Queries about objects that change their spatial attributes over time become particularly interesting when they ask for changes in the spatial relationships between different objects. We propose a visual notation that is able to describe scenarios of changing object relationships. The visual language is based on the idea to analyze two-dimensional traces of moving objects to infer a temporal development of their mutual spatial relationships. We motivate the language design by successively simplifying object traces to their intrinsic properties. The notation can be effectively translated in to a calculus of spatio-temporal predicates that formally characterizes the evolution of spatial relationships. We also outline a user interface that supports specifications by menus and a drawing editor. The visual notation can be used directly as a visual query interface to spatio-temporal databases, or it can provide predicate specifications that can be integrated into textual query languages leading to heterogeneous languages.
Paper.ps.gz (258K), Paper.pdf (443K)
We describe the design of a rule-based language for expressing changes to Haskell programs in a systematic and reliable way. The update language essentially offers update commands for all constructs of the object language (a subset of Haskell). The update language can be translated into a core calculus consisting of a small set of basic updates and update combinators. The key construct of the core calculus is a scope update mechanism that allows (and enforces) update specifications for the definition of a symbol together with all of its uses. The type of an update program is given by the possible type changes it can cause for an object programs. We have developed a type-change inference system to automatically infer type changes for updates. Updates for which a type change can be successfully inferred and that satisfy an additional structural condition can be shown to preserve type correctness of object programs. In this paper we define the Haskell Update Language HULA and give a translation into the core update calculus. We illustrate HULA and its translation into the core calculus by several examples.
Paper.pdf (or here: Paper.pdf )
In contrast to the field view of spatial data that basically views spatial data as a mapping from points into some features, the object view clusters points by features and their values into spatial objects of type point, line, or region, which can then be integrated as abstract data types into a database system. We can apply the ADT idea to model spatio-temporal data and to integrate such ADTs into data models. The basic idea is very simple and starts from the observation that anything that changes over time can be regarded as a function that maps from time into the data of consideration. The integration of spatio-temporal data types into data models supports the definition of a query languages because the interaction between ADT operations and general querying constructs is constrained to a few well-defined places, so that we are immediately able to pose spatio-temporal queries in a straightforward way.
Paper.ps.gz (96K), Paper.pdf (180K)
Integrating spatio-temporal data as abstract data types into already existing data models is a promising approach to creating spatio-temporal query languages. Based on a formal foundation presented elsewhere, we present the main aspects of an SQL-like, spatio-temporal query language, called STQL. As one of its essential features, STQL allows to query and to retrieve moving objects which describe continuous evolutions of spatial objects over time. We consider spatio-temporal operations that are particularly useful in formulating queries, such as the temporal lifting of spatial operations, the projection into space and time, selection, and aggregation. Another important class of queries is concerned with developments, which are changes of spatial relationships over time. Based on the notion of spatio-temporal predicates we provide a framework in STQL that allows a user to build more and more complex predicates starting with a small set of elementary ones. We also describe a visual notation to express developments.
Paper.ps.gz (74K), Paper.pdf (127K)
We have been working on a unit system for end-user spreadsheets that is based on the concrete notion of units instead of the abstract concept of types. In previous work, we defined such a system formally. In this paper, we describe a visual system to support the formal reasoning in two ways. First, it supports communicating and explaining the unit inference process to users. Second and more important, our approach allows users to change the system's reasoning by adding and customizing the system's inference rules.
Paper.ps.gz (92K), Paper.pdf (93K)
We define a unit system for end-user spreadsheets that is based on the concrete notion of units instead of the abstract concept of types. Units are derived from header information given by spreadsheets. The unit system contains concepts, such as dependent units, multiple units, and unit generalization, that allow the classification of spreadsheet contents on a more fine-grained level than types do. Also, because communication with the end user happens only in terms of objects that are contained in the spreadsheet, our system does not require end users to learn new abstract concepts of type systems.
Paper.ps.gz (225K), Paper.pdf (193K)
This paper investigates temporal changes of topological relationships and thereby integrates two important research areas: first, two-dimensional topological relationships that have been investigated quite intensively, and second, the change of spatial information over time. We investigate spatio-temporal predicates, which describe developments of well-known spatial topological relationships. A framework is developed in which spatio-temporal predicates can be obtained by temporal aggregation of elementary spatial predicates and sequential composition. We compare our framework with two other possible approaches: one is based on the observation that spatio-temporal objects correspond to three-dimensional spatial objects for which existing topological predicates can be exploited. The other approach is to consider possible transitions between spatial configurations. These considerations help to identify a canonical set of spatio-temporal predicates.
Paper.ps.gz (239K), Paper.pdf (405K)
We propose to view programs as abstract data types and to perform program changes by applying well-defined operations on programs. The ADT view of programs goes beyond the approach of syntax-directed editors and proof-editors since it is possible to combine basic update operations into larger update programs that can be stored and reused. It is crucial for the design of update operations and their composition to know which properties they can preserve when they are applied to a program.
In this paper we argue in favor of the abstract data type view of programs, and present a general framework in which different programming languages, update languages, and properties can be studied.
Paper.ps.gz (54K), Paper.pdf (120K)
We propose a new style of writing graph algorithms in functional languages which is based on an alternative view of graphs as inductively defined data types. We show how this graph model can be implemented efficiently, and then we demonstrate how graph algorithms can be succinctly given by recursive function definitions based on the inductive graph view. We also regard this as a contribution to the teaching of algorithm and data structures in functional languages since we can use the functional-style graph algorithms instead of the imperative algorithms that are dominant today.
Paper.ps.gz (125K), Paper.pdf (297K)
We propose three extensions to patterns and pattern matching in Haskell. The first, pattern guards, allows the guards of a guarded equation to match patterns and bind variables, as well as to test boolean condition. For this we introduce a natural generalization of guard expressions to guard qualifiers. A frequently-occurring special case is that a function should be applied to a matched value, and the result of this is to be matched against another pattern. For this we introduce a syntactic abbreviation, transformational patterns, that is particularly useful when dealing with views. These proposals can be implemented with very modest syntactic and implementation cost. They are upward compatible with Haskell; all existing programs will continue to work. We also offer a third, much more speculative proposal, which provides the transformational-pattern construct with additional power to explicitly catch pattern match failure. We demonstrate the usefulness of the proposed extension by several examples, in particular, we compare our proposal with views, and we also discuss the use of the new patterns in combination with equational reasoning.
Paper.dvi.gz (32K), Paper.ps.gz (72K), Paper.pdf (203K)
We propose a form-based interface to expresses XML queries and transformations by so-called "document patterns" that describe properties of the requested information and optionally specify how the found results should be reformatted or restructured. The interface is targeted at casual users who want a fast and easy way to find information in XML data resources. By using dynamic forms an intuitive and easy-to-use interface is obtained that can be used to solve a wide spectrum of tasks, ranging from simple selections and projections to advanced data restructuring tasks. The interface is especially suited for end users since it can be used without having to learn a programming or query language and without knowing anything about (query or XML) language syntax, DTDs or schemas. Nevertheless, DTDs can be well exploited, in particular, on the user interface level to support the semi-automatic construction of queries.
Paper.ps.gz (146K), Paper.pdf (108K)
XML is becoming one of the most influential standards concerning data exchange and Web-presentations. In this paper we present a visual language for querying and transforming XML data. The language is based on a visual document metaphor and the notion of document patterns. It combines an intuitive, dynamic form-based interface for defining queries and transformation rules with powerful pattern matching capabilities and offers thus a highly expressive yet easy to use visual language. Providing visual language support for XML not only helps end users, it is also a big opportunity for the VL community to receive greater attention.
Paper.ps.gz (54K), Paper.pdf (120K)
We show how to define recursion operators for random access data types, that is, ADTs that offer random access to their elements, and how algorithms on arrays and on graphs can be expressed by these operators. The approach is essentially based on a representation of ADTs as bialgebras that allows catamorphisms between ADTs to be defined by composing one ADT's algebra with the other ADT's coalgebra. The extension to indexed data types enables the development of specific recursion schemes, which are, in particular, suited to express a large class of graph algorithms.
Paper.ps.gz (127K), Paper.pdf (227K), Long Version.ps.gz (136K), Long Version.pdf (252K)
Maps are a fundamental metaphor in GIS. We introduce several new operations on maps that go far beyond well-known operations like overlay or reclassification. In particular, we identify and generalize operations that are of practical interest for spatial analysis and that can be useful in many GIS applications. We give a precise definition of these operations based on a formal model of spatial partitions. This provides a theoretical foundation for maps which also serves as a specification for implementations.
Paper.ps.gz (96K), Paper.pdf (178K)
In this paper we propose a visual interface for the specification of predicates to be used in queries on spatio-temporal databases. The approach is based on a visual specification method for temporally changing spatial situations. This extends existing concepts for visual spatial query languages, which are only capable of querying static spatial situations. We outline a preliminary user interface that supports the specification on an intuitive and easily manageable level, and we describe the design of the underlying visual language. The visual notation can be used directly as a visual query interface to spatio-temporal databases, or it can provide predicate specifications that can be integrated into textual query languages leading to heterogeneous languages.
Paper.ps.gz (72K), Paper.pdf (188K)
Spatio-temporal databases deal with geometries changing over time. The goal
of our work is to provide a DBMS data model and query language capable of
handling such time-dependent geometries, including those changing continuously
which describe moving objects. Two fundamental abstractions are moving point
and moving region, describing objects for which only the time-dependent
position, or position and extent, are of interest, respectively. We propose to
represent such time-dependent geometries as attribute data types with suitable
operations, that is, to provide an abstract data type extension to a DBMS data
model and query language.
The Voronoi diagram is a famous structure of computational geometry.
We show that there is a straightforward equivalent in graph theory
which can be efficiently computed. In particular, we give two
algorithms for the computation of graph Voronoi diagrams, prove a
lower bound on the problem, and we identify cases where the algorithms
presented are optimal. The space requirement of a graph Voronoi
diagram is modest, since it needs no more space than the graph itself.
Paper.ps.gz (123K), Paper.pdf (252K)
The formal treatment of visual languages is often based on graph representations. Since the matter of discourse is visual languages, it would be convenient if the formal manipulations could be performed in a visual way. We introduce visual graphs to support this goal. In a visual graph some nodes are shown as geometric figures, and some edges are represented by geometric relationships between these figures. We investigate mappings between visual and abstract graphs and show their application in semantics definitions for visual languages and in formal manipulations of visual programs.
Paper.ps.gz (72K), Paper.pdf (67K)
We introduce a visual language for the specification of temporally changing spatial situations. The main idea is to represent spatio-temporal (ST) objects in a two-dimensional way by their trace. The intersections of these traces with other objects are interpreted and translated into sequences of spatial and spatio-temporal predicates, called developments, that can then be used, for example, to query spatio-temporal databases.
Summary.ps.gz (29K), Summary.pdf (15K)
We define a formal model of spatio-temporal partitions which can be used to model temporally changing maps. We investigate new applications and generalizations of operations that are well-known for static, spatial maps. We then define a small set of operations on spatio-temporal partitions that are powerful enough to express all these tasks and more. Spatio-temporal partitions combine the general notion of temporal objects and the powerful spatial partition abstraction into a new, highly expressive spatio-temporal data modeling tool.
Paper.ps.gz (73K), Paper.pdf (256K)
Integrating spatio-temporal data as abstract data types into already existing data models is a promising approach to creating spatio-temporal query languages. In this context, an important new class of queries can be identified which is concerned with developments of spatial objects over time, that is, queries ask especially for changes in spatial relationships. Based on a definition of the notion of spatio-temporal predicate we provide a framework which allows to build more and more complex predicates starting with a small set of elementary ones. These predicates can be well used to characterize developments. We show how these concepts can be realized within the relational data model. In particular, we demonstrate how SQL can be extended to enable the querying of developments.
Paper.dvi.gz (27K), Paper.ps.gz (38K), Paper.pdf (133K)
Spatio-temporal databases deal with geometries changing over time. In general, geometries cannot only change in discrete steps, but continuously, and we are talking about moving objects. If only the position in space of an object is relevant, then moving point is a basic abstraction; if also the extent is of interest, then the moving region abstraction captures moving as well as growing or shrinking regions. We propose a new line of research where moving points and moving regions are viewed as three-dimensional (2D space + time) or higher-dimensional entities whose structure and behavior is captured by modeling them as abstract data types. Such types can be integrated as base (attribute) data types into relational, object-oriented, or other DBMS data models; they can be implemented as data blades, cartridges, etc. for extensible DBMSs. We expect these spatio-temporal data types to play a similarly fundamental role for spatio-temporal databases as spatial data types have played for spatial databases. The paper explains the approach and discusses several fundamental issues and questions related to it that need to be clarified before delving into specific designs of spatio-temporal algebras.
Paper.ps.gz (86K), Paper.pdf (101K)
In this paper we describe the discrete interval encoding tree for storing subsets of types having a total order and a predecessor and a successor function. We consider for simplicity only the case for integer sets; the generalization is not difficult. The discrete interval encoding tree is based on the observation that the set of integers { i| a<=i<=b} can be perfectly represented by the closed interval [ a, b]. The general idea is to represent a set by a binary search tree of integers in which maximal adjacent subsets are each represented by an interval. For instance, inserting the sequence of numbers [6, 9, 2, 13, 8, 14, 10, 7, 5] into a binary search tree, respectively, into an discrete interval encoding tree results in the tree structures shown below:
Paper.dvi.gz (10K), Paper.ps.gz (30K), Paper.pdf (149K)
The effective use of visual languages requires a precise understanding of their meaning. Moreover, it is impossible to prove properties of visual languages like soundness of transformation rules or correctness results without having a formal language definition. Although this sounds obvious, it is surprising that only little work has been done about the semantics of visual languages, and even worse, there is no general framework available for the semantics specification of different visual languages. We present such a framework that is based on a rather general notion of abstract visual syntax. This framework allows a logical as well as a denotational approach to visual semantics, and it facilitates the formal reasoning about visual languages and their properties. We illustrate the concepts of the proposed approach by defining abstract syntax and semantics for the visual languages VEX, Show and Tell, and Euler Circles. We demonstrate the semantics in action by proving a rule for visual reasoning with Euler Circles and by showing the correctness of a Show and Tell program.
Paper.ps.gz (87K), Paper.pdf (97K)
We show how to define fold operators for abstract data types. The main idea is to represent an ADT by a bialgebra, that is, an algebra/coalgebra pair with a common carrier. A program operating on an ADT is given by a mapping to another ADT. Such a mapping, called metamorphism, is basically a composition of the algebra of the second with the coalgebra of the first ADT. We investigate some properties of metamorphisms, and we show that the metamorphic programming style offers far-reaching opportunities for program optimization that cover and even extend those known for algebraic data types.
Paper.dvi.gz (27K), Paper.ps.gz (53K), Paper.pdf (224K)
Haskell Source Files and Related Papers
Currently, there are strong efforts to integrate spatial and temporal database technology into spatio-temporal database systems. This paper views the topic from a rather fundamental perspective and makes several contributions. First, it reviews existing temporal and spatial data models and presents a completely new approach to temporal data modeling based on the very general notion of temporal object. The definition of temporal objects is centered around the observation that anything that changes over time can be expressed as a function over time.� For the modeling of spatial objects the well known concept of spatial data types is employed. As specific subclasses, linear temporal and spatial objects are identified. Second, the paper proposes the database embedding of temporal objects by means of the abstract data type approach to the integration of complex objects into databases. Furthermore, we make statements about the expressiveness of different temporal and spatial database embeddings. Third, we consider the combination of temporal and spatial objects into spatio-temporal objects in (relational) databases.� We explain various alternatives for spatio-temporal data models and databases and compare their expressiveness. Spatio-temporal objects turn out to be specific instances of temporal objects.
Paper.ps.gz (75K), Paper.pdf (69K)
Spatio-temporal databases deal with geometries changing over time. In general, geometries cannot only change in discrete steps, but continuously, and we are talking about moving objects. If only the position in space of an object is relevant, then moving point is a basic abstraction; if also the extent is of interest, then the moving region abstraction captures moving as well as growing or shrinking regions. We propose a new line of research where moving points and moving regions are viewed as three-dimensional (2D space + time) or higher-dimensional entities whose structure and behavior is captured by modeling them as abstract data types. Such types can be integrated as base (attribute) data types into relational, object-oriented, or other DBMS data models; they can be implemented as data blades, cartridges, etc. for extensible DBMSs. We expect these spatio-temporal data types to play a similarly fundamental role for spatio-temporal databases as spatial data types have played for spatial databases. In this paper we consider the need for modeling spatio-temporal data types on two different levels of abstraction.
We demonstrate a systematic way of introducing state monads to improve the efficiency of data structures. When programs are expressed as transformations of abstract data types - which becomes possible by suitable definitions of ADTs and ADT fold operations, we can observe restricted usage patterns for ADTs, and this can be exploited to derive (i) partial data structures correctly implementing the ADTs and (ii) imperative realizations of these partial data structures. With a library of ADTs together with (some of) their imperative implementations, efficient versions of functional programs can be obtained without being concerned or even knowing about state monads. As one example we demonstrate the optimization of a graph ADT resulting in an optimal imperative implementation of depth-first search.
Paper.dvi.gz (29K), Paper.ps.gz (55K), Paper.pdf (239K)
Haskell Source Files and Related Papers
In this paper we introduce visual graphs as an intermediate representation between concrete visual syntax and abstract graph syntax. In a visual graph some nodes are shown as geometric figures, and some edges are represented by geometric relationships between these figures. By carefully designing visual graphs and corresponding mappings to abstract syntax graphs, semantics definitions can, at least partially, employ a visual notation while still being based on abstract syntax. Visual semantics thus offers the "best of both worlds" by integrating abstract syntax and visual notation. We also demonstrate that these concepts can be used to give visual semantics for traditional textual formalisms. As an example we provide a visual definition of Turing machines.
Summary.ps.gz (31K), Summary.pdf (20K)
Although maps and partitions are ubiquitous in geographical information systems and spatial databases, there is only little work investigating their foundations. We give a rigorous definition for spatial partitions and propose partitions as a generic spatial data type that can be used to model arbitrary maps and to support spatial analysis. We identify a set of three powerful operations on partitions and show that the type of partitions is closed under them. These basic operators are sufficient to express all known application-specific operations. Moreover, many map operations will be considerably generalized in our framework. We also indicate that partitions can be effectively used as a meta-model to describe other spatial data types.
Paper.ps.gz (80K), Paper.pdf (92K)
Functional programs, by nature, operate on functional, or persistent, data structures. Therefore, persistent graphs are a prerequisite to express functional graph algorithms. In this paper we describe two implementations of persistent graphs and compare their running times on different graph problems. Both implementations essentially represent graphs as adjacency lists. The first structure uses the version tree implementation of functional arrays to make adjacency lists persistent. An array cache of the newest graph version together with a time stamping technique for speeding up deletions makes it asymptotically optimal for a class of graph algorithms that use graphs in a single-threaded way. The second approach uses balanced search trees to implement adjacency lists. For both structures we also consider several variations, e.g., ignoring edge labels or predecessor information.
Paper.ps.gz (60K), Paper.pdf (68K)
The effective use of visual languages requires a precise understanding of their meaning. Moreover, it is impossible to prove properties of visual languages like soundness of transformation rules or correctness results without having a formal language definition. Although this sounds obvious, it is surprising that only little work has been done about the semantics of visual languages, and even worse, there is no general framework available for the semantics specification of different visual languages. We present such a framework that is based on a rather general notion of abstract visual syntax. This framework allows a logical as well as a denotational approach to visual semantics, and it facilitates the formal reasoning about visual languages and their properties. We illustrate the concepts of the proposed approach by defining abstract syntax and semantics for the visual languages VEX, Show and Tell, and Euler Circles. For the latter we also prove a rule for visual reasoning.
Paper.ps.gz (80K), Paper.pdf (95K)
We propose a separation of visual syntax into concrete and abstract syntax, much like it is often done for textual languages. Here the focus is on visual programming languages; the impact on visual languages in general is not clear by now. We suggest to use unstructured labeled multi-graphs as abstract visual syntax and show how this facilitates semantics definitions and transformations of visual languages. In particular, disregarding structural constraints on the abstract syntax level makes such manipulations simple and powerful. Moreover, we demonstrate that - in contrast to the traditional monolithic graph definition - an inductive view of graphs provides a very convenient way to move in a structured (and declarative) way through graphs. Again this supports the simplicity of descriptions for transformations and semantics.
Paper.ps.gz (54K), Paper.pdf (57K)
In many geographical applications there is a need to model spatial phenomena not simply by sharp objects, but rather through indeterminate or vague concepts. To support such applications we present a model of vague regions which covers and extends previous approaches. The formal framework is based on a general exact model of spatial data types. On the one hand, this simplifies the definition of the vague model since we can build upon already existing theory of spatial data types, on the other hand, this approach facilitates the migration from exact to vague models. Moreover, exact spatial data types are subsumed as a special case of the presented vague concepts. We present examples and show how they are represented within our framework. We give a formal definition of basic operations and predicates which particularly allow a more fine-grained investigation of spatial situations than in the pure exact case. We also demonstrate the integration of the presented concepts into an SQL-like query language.
Paper.ps.gz (87K), Paper.pdf (117K)
Graph algorithms expressed in functional languages often suffer from their inherited imperative, state-based style. In particular, this impedes formal program manipulation. We show how to model persistent graphs in functional languages by graph constructors. This provides a decompositional view of graphs which is very close to that of data types and leads to a ``more functional'' formulation of graph algorithms. Graph constructors enable the definition of general fold operations for graphs. We present a promotion theorem for one of these folds that allows program fusion and the elimination of intermediate results. Fusion is not restricted to the elimination of tree-like structures, and we prove another theorem that facilitates the elimination of intermediate graphs. We describe an ML-implementation of persistent graphs which efficiently supports the presented fold operators. For example, depth-first-search expressed by a fold over a functional graph has the same complexity as the corresponding imperative algorithm.
ML-Source.tar.gz (7K), for an improved implementation, have a look at the Functional Graph Library
Active patterns apply preprocessing functions to data type values before they are matched. This is of use for unfree data types where more than one representation exists for an abstract value: In many cases there is a specific representation for which function definitions become very simple, and active patterns just allow to assume this specific representation in function definitions. We define the semantics of active patterns and describe their implementation.
Paper.dvi.gz (30K), Paper.ps.gz (57K), Paper.pdf (245K)
After more than a decade of research, visual languages have still not become everyday programming tools. On a short term, an integration of visual languages with well-established (textual) programming languages may be more likely to meet the actual requirements of practical software development than the highly ambitious goal of creating purely visual languages. In such an integration each paradigm can support the other where it is superior. Particularly attractive is the use of visual expressions for the description of domain-specific data structures in combination with textual notations for abstract control structures. In addition to a basic framework for heterogeneous languages, we outline the design of a development system that allows rapid prototyping of implementations of heterogeneous languages. Examples will be presented from the domains of logical, functional, and procedural languages.
Paper.ps.gz (66K), Paper.pdf (63K)
A new data structure is presented which facilitates the search for shortest paths in spatially embedded planar networks in a worst-case time of O(l log r) where l is the number of edges in the shortest path to be found and r is an upper bound on the number of so-called ``cross edges'' (these are edges connecting, for any node v, different shortest path subtrees rooted at v's successors). The data structure is based on the idea to identify shortest path subtrees with the regions in the plane they cover. In the worst-case the space requirement is O(rn), which, in general, is O(n^2), but for regularly shaped networks it is expected to be only O(n\sqrt(n)). A decomposition of graphs into bi-connected components can be used to reduce the sizes of the trees to be encoded and to reduce the complexity of the regions for these trees. The decomposition also simplifies the algorithm for computing encoding regions, which is based on minimum link paths in polygons. Approximations for region boundaries can effectively be utilized to speed up the process of shortest path reconstruction: For a realistically constrained class of networks, i.e., networks in which the ratio of the shortest path distance between any two points to the Euclidean distance between these points is bounded by a constant, it is shown that an average searching time of O(l) can be achieved.
Algorithms can be regarded as instructions for building and/or changing
data structures. In order to describe algorithms visually we need (i) a
visual representation of data structures, and (ii) a (visual) representation
of modifications.
The variables i and j below the array denote indices which
are interpreted by (nested) loops over A: Here, by default, the
first loop for i ranges from 1 to n, and the inner loop for
j
runs from n down to i. The lower bound of this loop is given
by the condition under the arrow, j> i, which also specifies
the direction of the loop (> means descending). The condition above the
arrow restricts the action described by the right side: The array elements
y
and z are only exchanged if y< z. Since the label
z
is located directly adjacent to y both labels are interpreted as
adjacent array elements.
The icon above the box describes how to apply the defined function.
The action rule inside the box initially binds x to A[1]
(since the label x is located at the beginning of the array icon)
and describes three array comprehensions: [a \in A | a<
x],
[b \in A | b=x], and [c \in
A
| c> x]. The pattern on the the right side appends the three
new arrays defined by the array comprehensions where the quicksort function
is recursively applied to the first and to the third one.
Observing that networks are ubiquitous in applications for spatial databases, we define a new data model and query language that especially supports graph structures. This model integrates concepts of functional data modeling with order-sorted algebra. Besides object and data type hierarchies graphs are available as an explicit modeling tool, and graph operations are part of the query language. Graphs have three classes of components, namely nodes, edges, and explicit paths. These are at the same time object types within the object type hierarchy and can be used like any other type. Explicit paths are useful because ``real world'' objects often correspond to paths in a network. Furthermore, a dynamic generalization concept is introduced to handle heterogeneous collections of objects in a query. In connection with spatial data types this leads to powerful modeling and querying capabilities for spatial databases, in particular for spatially embedded networks such as highways, rivers, public transport, and so forth. We use multi-level order-sorted algebra as a formal framework for the specification of our model. Roughly spoken, the first level algebra defines types and operations of the query language whereas the second level algebra defines kinds (collections of types) and type constructors as functions between kinds and so provides the types that can be used at the first level.
Paper.ps.gz (123K), Paper.pdf (147K), Long Version (Report).ps.gz (156K), Long Version (Report).pdf (181K)
This thesis investigates the integration of graph structures into spatial
databases. We consider three different perspectives:
We propose to use order-sorted algebras (OSA) on multiple levels to
describe languages together with their type systems. It is demonstrated
that even advanced aspects can be modeled, including, parametric polymorphism,
complex relationships between different sorts of an operation's rank, the
specification of a variable number of parameters for operations, and type
constructors using values (and not only types) as arguments.
Paper.dvi.gz (16K), Paper.ps.gz (44K), Paper.pdf (221K)
We encourage a specific view of graph algorithms, which can be paraphrased by "iterate over the graph elements in a specific order and perform computations in each step". Data structures will be used to define the processing order, and we will introduce recursive mapping/array definitions as a vehicle for specifying the desired computations. Being concerned with the problem of implementing graph algorithms, we outline the extension of a functional programming language by graph types and operations. In particular, we explicate an exploration operator that essentially embodies the proposed view of algorithms. Fortunately, the resulting specifications of algorithms, in addition to being compact and declarative, are expected to have an almost as efficient implementation as their imperative counterparts.
Paper.dvi.gz (24K), Paper.ps.gz (55K), Paper.pdf (246K)
We present a functional DBPL in the style of FP that facilitates the definition of precise semantics and opens up opportunities for far-reaching optimizations. The language is integrated into a functional data model, which is extended by arbitrary type hierarchies and complex objects. Thus we are able to provide the clarity of FP-like programs together with the full power of semantic data modeling. To give an impression of the special facilities for optimizing functional database languages, we point out some laws not presented before which enable access path selection already on the algebraic level of optimization. The algebraic way of access path optimization also gives new insights into optimization strategies.
Paper.ps.gz (68K), Paper.pdf (217K)
last change: October 11, 2018 | Martin Erwig erwig@oregonstate.edu |