Mill Computing, Inc. Forums The Mill Tools Simulators Simulation Reply To: Simulation

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Will: “What kind of projects has everyone been involved with previously?”

I’m still involved in 8-bit home/retro computing, where Forth is still a pretty well regarded language, and all the fiddly little implementation decisions have a large impact on performance.

Well before hearing about the Mill, I did create a VM interpreter on the 6502 which has a machine-generated instruction set, AcheronVM[1]. (The fact that anything outside of hand-allocated opcode values is astonishing to people is astonishing to me.) I was trying to come up with some balance between stack-based, accumulator-based (both of which can have great code density), and frame-based (which can bring a lot of expressive power to more complex data activity, and less shuffling than the other two). I settled on a fine-grained, non-hiding sliding register window with both direct register access and a variable accumulator (the “prior” used register can act like an implied accumulator). Within the bounds of 6502 code interpreting it, where no parallel effects can be had as in hardware, it’s a pretty good condensing of high level code representation. Of course, in hardware like the Mill, you can really go out of the box and redo everything. In software, the expense of dispatch is serial and significant.

From my work in Forth and various experiments like that (which I am still using for Commodore 64 hobby game development, and have matured farther offline), I agree that a straightforward Forth-like ABI/interpreter planted on the Mill belt model might not be the best way to go. A Forth which uses traditional memory-based stacks would be simple to write, but wouldn’t have the performance gain of belt-based data. A Forth compiler which reworks the stack operations into dataflow expressions would be much more involved to write (especially if keeping all the ANS Forth standard operations), and there would likely be an impedance mismatch between that which is natural and efficient in traditional Forth, vs what comes out natural & efficient in the compiled Mill code.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how much Forth source code reuse is practical. Older Forth code bases would have a strong representation of ANS standard Forth, but there are many other dialects. I’m not certain what more recent users of Forth go for. Beyond the most basic operations, it is a very plastic language. Even Chuck Moore laments the lack of new Forth language ideas post-standardization. The dialects he uses diverge from the ANS standard.

So if something with a good matchup for the Mill can be designed, I think Forth is a great language for allowing easy, simple bootstrapping of a system, but not necessarily to pull in large existing Forth-language code bases. Given its age, Forth’s memory and filesystem abstractions are next to non-existent, and stuff like threading and networking are often outside its realm completely. Forth applications tend to be system-owning, hitting the hardware & memory space straight.

I’m actually quite interested in being involved in building non-cycle-exact Mill emulators to help bootstrap the user software ecosystem.

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