docs/user/pir/pmcs.pod - Programming Parrot PMCs.
This document covers programming with Parrot's PMCs from the user's perspective.
To run the example code in this article, you'll need to obtain a copy of Parrot and build it for your system. For information on obtaining Parrot, see http://www.parrot.org/. Instructions for compiling Parrot are available in the Parrot distribution itself. All code examples in this article were tested with Parrot 0.8.1
As mentioned by Alberto Manuel SimÃµes in TPR 2.3,
Parrot is a register-based virtual machine with 4 register types: Integer,
Number and PMC.
PIR registers are referenced by a
a capital letter signifying the register type followed by the register number (
$S15 is String register number 15).
Parrot programs consist of lines of text where each line contains one opcode and its arguments.
Each subroutine will have as many registers available of each basic type (int, num, string, and pmc) as necessary; a simple subroutine will only need a few whereas complex subroutines with many calculations will need a larger number of registers. This is a fundamental difference from hardware CPUs (and the original design of Parrot), in which there are a fixed number of registers.
PIR also provides for a more "natural" syntax for opcodes than the standard assembly language
Rather than writing
0 to assign a zero to the $I1 register,
you may instead write
$I1 = 0.
PIR also provides easy syntax for creating named variables and constants,
passing parameters to subroutines,
accessing parameters by name,
Now, on to business ...
Integers, strings, and floating point numbers are common data types in most programming languages, but what's a PMC? PMC stands for "PolyMorphic Container". PMCs are how Parrot handles more complicated structures and behaviors, such as arrays, hashes, and objects. anything that can't be expressed using just integers, floating point numbers and strings can be expressed with a PMC.
Parrot comes with many types of PMC that encapsulate common, useful behavior.
Many of the PMC type names give clues as to how they are used. Here's a table that gives a short description of several interesting and useful PMC types:
PMC type Description of PMC -------- ------------------ Env access environment variables Iterator iterate over aggregates such as arrays or hashes Array A generic, resizable array Hash A generic, resizable hash String Similar to a string register but in PMC form Integer Similar to an int register but in PMC form Float Similar to a num register but in PMC form Exception The standard exception mechanism Timer A timer of course :)
Before I take a closer look at some of these PMC types, let's look at a common thing that people want to know how to do -- read command line arguments. The subroutine designated as the main program (by the
:main pragma) has an implicit parameter passed to it that is the command line arguments. Since previous examples never had such a parameter to the main program, Parrot simply ignored whatever was passed on the command line. Now I want Parrot to capture the command line so that I can manipulate it. So, let's write a program that reads the command line arguments and outputs them one per line:
.param directive tells parrot that I want this subroutine to accept a single parameter and that parameter is some sort of PMC that I've named
args. Since this is the main subroutine of my program (as designated by the
:main modifier to the subroutine), Parrot arranges for the
args PMC to be an aggregate of some sort that contains the command line arguments. We then repeatedly use the
shift opcode to remove an element from the front of
args and place it into a string register which I then output. When the
args PMC is empty, it will evaluate as a boolean false and the conditional on line 4 will cause the program to end.
One problem with my program is that it's destructive to the
args PMC. What if I wanted to use the
args PMC later in the program? One way to do that is to use an integer to keep an index into the aggregate and then just print out each indexed value.
Line 4 shows something interesting about aggregates. Similar to perl, when you assign an aggregate to an integer thing (whether it be a register or local variable, but as was explained before, a local variable is in fact just a symbol indicating that is mapped to a register), Parrot puts the number of elements in the aggregate into the integer thing. (e.g., if you had a PMC that held 5 things in
$P0, the statement
$I0 = $P0 assigns 5 to the register
Since I know how many things are in the aggregate, I can make a loop that increments a value until it reaches that number. Line 10 shows that to index an aggregate, you use square brackets just like you would in Perl and many other programming languages. Also note that I'm assigning to a string register and then printing that register. Why didn't I just do
print args[$I0] instead? Because this isn't a high level language. PIR provides a nicer syntax but it's still really low level. Each line of PIR still essentially corresponds to one opcode (there are cases in which this is not the case, but those will be discussed later). So, while there's an opcode to index into an aggregate and an opcode to print a string, there is no opcode to do both of those things.
BTW, what type of aggregate is the
args PMC anyway? Another way to use the
typeof opcode is to pass it an actual PMC:
When you run this program it should output "ResizableStringArray". If you assign the result of the
typeof opcode to a string thing, you get the name of the PMC type.
Now, let's get back to that table above. The
Env PMC can be thought of as a hash where the keys are environment variable names and the values are the corresponding environment variable values. But where does the actual PMC come from? For the command line, the PMC showed up as an implicit parameter to the main subroutine. Does
Env do something similar?
Nope. If you want to access environment variables you need to create a PMC of type
Env. This is accomplished by the
new opcode like so:
$P0 = new 'Env' After that statement,
$P0 will contain a hash consisting of all of the environment variables at that time.
But, both the keys and values the
Env hash are strings, so how do I iterate over them as I did for the command line? We can't do the same as I did with the command line and use an integer index into the PMC because the keys are strings, not integers. So, how do I do it? The answer is another PMC type--
Iterator PMC is used, as its name implies, to iterate over aggregates. It doesn't care if they are arrays or hashes or something else entirely, it just gives you a way to walk from one end of the aggregate to the other.
Here's a program that outputs the name and value of all environment variables:
Lines 3 and 4 create my new PMCs. Line 3 creates a new
Env PMC which at the moment of its existence contains a hash of all of the environment variables currently in the environment. Line 4 creates a new
Iterator PMC and initializes it with the PMC that I wish to iterate over (my newly created
Env PMC in this case). From that point on, I treat the
Iterator much the same way I first treated the PMC of command line arguments. Test if it's "empty" (the iterator has been exhausted) and shift elements from the
Iterator in order to walk from one end of the aggregate to the other. A key difference is however, I'm not modifying the original aggregate, just the
Iterator which can be thrown away or reset so that I can iterate the aggregate over and over again or even have two iterators iterating the same aggregate simultaneously. For more information on iterators, see "docs/pmc/iterator.pod" in parrot
So, to output the environment variables, I use the
Iterator to walk the keys, and then index each key into the
Env PMC to get the value associated with that key and then output it. Simple. Say ... couldn't I have iterated over the command line this same way? Sure!
Notice how this code approaches the simplicity of the original that destructively iterated the
args PMC. Using indexes can quickly become complicated by comparison.
That's really beyond the scope of this article, but if you're really interested in doing so, get a copy of the Parrot source and read the file
docs/vtables.pod. This file outlines the steps you need to take to create a new PMC type.
I'll conclude with a few examples without explanation. I encourage you to explore the Parrot source code and documentation to find out more about these (and other) PMCs. A good place to start is the docs directory in the Parrot distribution (parrot/docs)
Jonathan Scott Duff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
* Alberto SimÃµes