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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R032351/1
Title: Verifiably Correct Transactional Memory.
Principal Investigator: Derrick, Professor J
Other Investigators:
Struth, Professor G
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
ARM Ltd De Paul University University of Augsburg
University of Paderborn University of Queensland Victoria University of Wellington
Department: Computer Science
Organisation: University of Sheffield
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2018 Ends: 31 August 2022 Value (£): 406,411
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Fundamentals of Computing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Electronics Information Technologies
Related Grants:
EP/R032971/1 EP/R032556/1
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
01 Mar 2018 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel March 2018 Deferred
02 May 2018 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel May 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Multi-core computing architectures have become ubiquitous over the last decade. This has been driven by the demand for continual performance improvements to cope with the ever-increasing sophistication of applications, combined with physical limitations on chip designs, whereby speedup via higher clock speeds has become infeasible. The inherent parallelism that multi-core architectures entail offers great technical opportunities, however, exploiting these opportunities presents a number of technical challenges.

To ensure correctness, concurrent programs must be properly synchronised, but synchronisation invariably introduces sequential bottlenecks, causing performance to suffer. Fully exploiting the potential for concurrency requires optimisations to consider executions at low levels of abstraction, e.g., the underlying memory model, compiler optimisations, cache-coherency protocols etc. The complexity of such considerations means that checking correctness with a high degree of confidence is extremely difficult. Concurrency bugs have specifically been attributed to disasters such as a power blackout in north eastern USA, Nasdaq's botched IPO of Facebook shares, and the near failure of NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission. Other safety-critical errors have manifested from using low-level optimisations, e.g., the double-checked locking bug and the Java Parker bug.

This project improves programmability of concurrent programs through the use of transactional memory (TM), which is a concurrency mechanism that makes low-level optimisations available to general application programmers. TM is an adaptation of transactions from databases. TM operations are highly concurrent (which improves efficiency), yet manage synchronisation on behalf of a programmer to provide an illusion of atomicity. Thus, by using TM, the focus of a programmer switches from what should be made atomic, as opposed to how atomicity should be guaranteed. This means concurrent systems can be developed in a layered manner (enabling a separation of concerns).

The attractive set of features that TM promises means that TM implementations are increasingly being incorporated into mainstream systems (hardware and software). Since the adaptation of transactions from database theory in the mid 1990s, software TM implementations are now available for all major programming languages. Recent advances include experimental features in compilers such as G++ 4.7 that directly enable compilation of transactional code; standardisation work to include TM within C++ is ongoing. There is extensive research interest in hybrid TM within both academia and industry to make best use of, for example, TM features in Intel's Haswell/Broadwell and IBM's Blue Gene/Q processors.

The high level of complexity, yet wide-scale applicability of TM means that implementations must be formally verified to ensure dependability and reliability.

This project addresses some of the main challenges surrounding TM, and takes the key steps necessary to facilitate wide-scale adoption. Namely, we deliver theoretical advances in our understanding of TM correctness; methodological advances in verification techniques for TM; and pragmatic advances via the development of application-aware TM designs. Verification tools will support each of these steps. We therefore set the following objectives:

O1. Develop foundations for TM correctness (atomicity and interaction guarantees) under different execution models and relate these to client correctness.

O2. Mechanically verify correctness of TM implementations, and develop principled proof techniques.

O3. Design TM implementations that provide better performance under current and future multi-core hardware.

O4. Develop tool support to simplify mechanised verification of TM and automated checking of client programs that use them.

Overall, we will improve the dependability, performance, and flexibility of TM implementations.

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Organisation Website: http://www.shef.ac.uk