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Conference on Domain-Specific Languages, 1997

Experience with a Language for Writing Coherence Protocols

Satish Chandra and James R. Larus, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Michael Dahlin, University of Texas, Austin; Bradley Richards, Vassar College; Randolph Y. Wang and Thomas E. Anderson, University of California, Berkeley


In this paper we describe our experience with Teapot [7], a domain-specific language for writing cache coherence protocols. Cache coherence is of concern when parallel and distributed computing systems make local replicas of shared data to improve scalability and performance. In both distributed shared memory systems and distributed file systems, a coherence protocol maintains agreement among the replicated copies as the underlying data are modified by programs running on the system.

Cache coherence protocols are notoriously difficult to implement, debug, and maintain. Unfortunately, protocols are not off-the-shelf items, as their details depend on the requirements of the system under consideration. This paper presents case studies detailing the successes and shortcomings of using Teapot for writing coherence protocols in two systems. The first system, loosely coherent memory (LCM) [16], implements a particular type of distributed shared memory suitable for data-parallel programming. The second system, the xFS distributed file system [9], implements a high-performance, serverless file system.

Our overall experience with Teapot has been very positive. In particular, Teapot's language features resulted in considerable simplifications in the protocol source code for both systems. Furthermore, Teapot's close coupling between implementation and formal verification helped to achieve much higher confidence in our protocol implementations than previously possible and reduced the time to build the protocols. By using Teapot to solve real problems in complex systems, we also discovered several shortcomings of the Teapot design. Most noticeably, we found Teapot lacking in support for multithreaded environments, for expressing actions that transcend several cache blocks, and for handling blocking system calls. We believe that domain-specific languages are valuable tools for writing cache coherence protocols.

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