Monday, April 26, 2010

ABCL on N900

I decided to play a bit with my new mobile toy. The Nokia N900 should be capable of all kinds of things, including running a Java VM. After some googling, I found this page:

The instructions there seemed simple and straightforward, so I did as advised, downloaded the jdk package and extracted it onto the device, and then just copied abcl.jar over and ran it with the incantation that's usually found in the abcl wrapper script. The results are pretty good:

~ $ /opt/OpenJDK-camswl/bin/java -cp /home/user/abcl.jar org.armedbear.lisp.Main
Armed Bear Common Lisp 0.20.0-dev
Java 1.6.0_0 Sun Microsystems Inc.
OpenJDK Zero VM
Low-level initialization completed in 4.436 seconds.
Startup completed in 16.765 seconds.
Type ":help" for a list of available commands.
CL-USER(1): (format t "abcl rules!")
abcl rules!

It runs obviously much slower than on any desktop, the device is not as powerful, and its i/o is slower which hurts autoloading. But it runs, and it is much easier to setup than java ever was on N800 and such, and it also runs much faster than the non-zero VMs on N800 did.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


The other day I received an e-mail from an ABCL user, containing the following:

I took a brief look at cgol. Neat! Interestingly, I tried it in
clisp, sbcl, ecl, cmulisp, and abcl, and it only works in abcl!

For those wanting to play with CGOL too, it's available from the CMU Artificial Intelligence Repository.

Seems like ABCL is Common Lisp conformant enough to be able to run some of the older lisp code available: this source stems from 1993 and is unchanged since - judging by the timestamps in the download archive.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Even better handling of low memory conditions

In previous research, ABCL came out nicely when tested for handling of Stack Overflow (SO) and Out Of Memory (OOM) conditions. See the blog item "out-of-memory: a sad case"; ABCL was classified as one of the few lisps that handled OOM conditions at all, by ending in the Lisp debugger even.

By looking more closely - which we did before the release of 0.18 - it turned out that handling of these conditions was only part of forms executed from REPL. If the same conditions occurred during program execution, the program was simply terminated, just like the other Lisps in the survey.

Of course, when you have a program running into low memory conditions regularly, it makes sense to make more memory available to it at startup. There are a few startup switches for java which allow to set the initial memory amount, most notably:
  • -Xmx: which sets the maximum amount of heap available
    examples: 512m, 1024k, 13m
  • -Xms: like -Xmx but specifies the initial amount
  • -Xss: specifies the thread stack size
These options are only available at startup though. These options can be added to ABCL's startup wrapper script, either after building, or by letting the build add them automatically. If you opt for the latter, you need to add a line like the following to your file (before abcl-0.19.1 this was named

java.options=-Xmx512m -Xss6m

If your program keeps large caches, it may be important to be able to detect OOM conditions, clear some or all of the caches and retry the operation. Other situations where it's good to be able to handle OOM conditions can be thought of. That's why it's important to have your programming environment help you detect these situations.

One of the advantages of running in the JVM is that ABCL itself doesn't doesn't need heuristics to detect these situations: the JVM throws a StackOverflowError or an OutOfMemoryError as appropiate. The only thing ABCL needs to do is handle these errors in appropriate situations.

Starting with 0.18, ABCL has well defined points where it traps the SO and OOM conditions in any Lisp program: HANDLER-BIND (and as a consequence HANDLER-CASE) establishes a try/catch block around the form. This try/catch block makes sure OOM and SO get converted to Lisp errors, for HANDLER-BIND to handle.

The situation isn't perfect: wouldn't it be nice to have a 'low memory' signal which provided an environment with enough memory to allow user-lisp code to run, for example to free up memory held by caches. Even though it's not perfect, ABCL now provides the functionalities which the "sad case" article would lead you to believe it already did.

An option to pursue low memory condition notifications was pointed out by Douglas Miles, one of the people frequenting the #abcl irc channel on, would be to install handlers for the JMX (java management extensions) low memory notifications.