Back to the Future in One Week - Implementing a Smalltalk VM in PyPy

Carl Friedrich Bolz, Adrian Kuhn, Adrian Lienhard, Nicholas D. Matsakis, Oscar Nierstrasz, Lukas Renggli, Armin Rigo, Toon Verwaest. Back to the Future in One Week - Implementing a Smalltalk VM in PyPy. In Robert Hirschfeld, Kim Rose, editors, Self-Sustaining Systems, First Workshop, S3 2008, Potsdam, Germany, May 15-16, 2008, Revised Selected Papers. Volume 5146 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pages 123-139, Springer, 2008. [doi]


We report on our experiences with the Spy project, including implementation details and benchmark results. Spy is a re-implementation of the Squeak (i.e., Smalltalk-80) VM using the PyPy toolchain. The PyPy project allows code written in RPython, a subset of Python, to be translated to a multitude of different backends and architectures. During the translation, many aspects of the implementation can be independently tuned, such as the garbage collection algorithm or threading implementation. In this way, a whole host of interpreters can be derived from one abstract interpreter definition. Spy aims to bring these benefits to Squeak, allowing for greater portability and, eventually, improved performance. The current Spy codebase is able to run a small set of benchmarks that demonstrate performance superior to many similar Smalltalk VMs, but which still run slower than in Squeak itself. Spy was built from scratch over the course of a week during a joint Squeak-PyPy Sprint in Bern last autumn.