Inko Progress Report: July 2022

Published on by Yorick Peterse

In last month's progress report I talked about wrapping up the work on MIR. I'm pleased to report that not only is the work on MIR finished, I was also able to wrap up the compiler phase that turns MIR into bytecode. This means that for the first time in over a year both the compiler and VM are in a working state again.

In it's current state, Inko is able to run basic programs without outright crashing. That may sound a bit odd, but considering a lot has changed, I am pleasantly surprised that thus far I've only encountered small issues here and there, opposed to fundamental problems requiring a lot of work to resolve.

That's not to say there are no bugs at all. For example, when pattern matching against certain values we may decrement reference counts for the value more than we increment the counts, resulting in integer overflows. I also found (and resolved) various bugs that would result in segmentation faults. Most of these bugs were caused by the compiler, such as due to it generating code that used the wrong method IDs/offsets for method calls.

Another bug was a classic case of "it's technically correct, but still broken": when pushing a value into an Array using its push method, the pushed value would be dropped before returning from push, because the compiler wasn't aware the intrinsic used for pushing values into an Array takes ownership of the value. The solution was to introduce a "moved" intrinsic which marks a value as moved, preventing it from being dropped when it goes out of scope, then using this intrinsic where needed.


Performance wise there's a lot of work to do. Method calls in particular are more expensive than necessary, as the data structures used to represent call frames are heap allocated and released for every frame/method call. This means that 1000 method calls require at least 1000 heap allocations, and 1000 releases. For now this isn't a priority though, as I'm more concerned with making everything correct rather than making it fast. After all, you can have the fastest VM on the planet, but if it crashes every two lines it's not useful.

The long term plan is to switch Inko from an interpreted language to a compiler language. Initially I thought about compiling to C, but the more time I spent looking into this, the more I realised it may be better to use a library such as Cranelift and compile straight to machine code. The summary is that this would allow us to avoid the many footguns of C, and not by restricted by the limitations of C and its various compilers. This is of course a lot of work, so it's not something I'll actively pursue at least for a while.

Plans for August

In August I'll continue work on resolving bugs, rewriting the documentation, updating all unit tests for the standard library, and any other work necessary for the upcoming release. My aim is to release a new version by the end of September.

If you'd like to follow along with the progress made, consider joining the Matrix channel or the #inko channel in the /r/ProgrammingLanguages Discord server. If you'd like to support Inko financially, you can do so using GitHub Sponsors.