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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S028129/1
Title: SCOPE: Scoped Contextual Operations and Effects.
Principal Investigator: Wu, Dr N
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Microsoft National University of Rosario (UNR) Tohoku University (Japan)
University of Edinburgh University of Leuven
Department: Computing
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 October 2019 Ends: 30 September 2021 Value (£): 262,413
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Fundamentals of Computing
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
17 Jan 2019 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel January 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Language is undoubtedly the most formidable tool that humanity has

ever wielded. While most spoken languages evolved organically through

the common exchange of ideas and interactions of people, the best

programming languages have been carefully crafted to

communicate the solutions of problems with fluency and precision to

computers. Humans understand that the interpretation of a sentence is

affected by its surrounding context, and the extent of its

influence determines its scope. The SCOPE project caims to translate

and transfer these concepts to the field of programming languages, and

enrich the range of tools at the disposal of the next generation of

language designers.

In the realm of software engineering, the most critical task is to

predict and control the effects that an application will perform.

Effects have proven difficult to master: their interactions are often

complex and chaotic with unpredictable interference. To maintain

control, software engineers often employ domain-specific languages

(DSLs) that consist of operations which can be composed and

interpreted to produce desired effects within a particular domain.

An application developed as a block of monolithic code is soon

impossible to manage and understand effectively. Instead, engineers

work with smaller languages and libraries that deal with their own

specialised tasks. As such, DSLs are ubiquitous in software

engineering. They manifest themselves in every programming context

ranging from small libraries and frameworks to programming languages

in their own right.

However, as requirements and expectations have become increasingly

diverse, modern applications and their DSLs must be given multiple

interpretations. For instance, they must be analysed to understand

energy requirements, vulnerability to side-channel attacks, efficiency

in space and time, and interaction with resources.

Adding a new interpretation normally incurs a tremendous engineering

effort, either requiring considerable refactoring to calculate and

record more information, or the design of new compilers and program

analysis tools. This is clearly a costly and tedious exercise that can

quickly become overwhelming. This problem is exacerbated by the

presence of multiple interacting languages, where each one requires

its own tools and interpretations. There is therefore a pressing need

for new programming language techniques that support the developers

who must face these difficult challenges.

An exciting development in programming language research that offers

help has been the innovation of algebraic effect handlers, a

technique that allows programmers to describe and manipulate the

interaction of language features in a modular and sophisticated

manner. The main insight of the technique is to focus on a clean

separation between the syntax and the semantics of a language and to

give the semantics in a structured approach. When operations and their

effects are separated, it is easy to give different interpretations of

code. The modularity and conceptual simplicity of the methodology has

attracted much academic and industrial interest and has

quickly spread to encompass implementations in many different

languages and for a variety of purposes.

Unfortunately, not all useful operations are algebraic, and even some

of the most fundamental programming language constructs fall outside

of what can be handled by the approach. Yet there is hope: the goal of

the SCOPE project is to broaden the effect handlers technique to

embrace operations that are sensitive to scope and

context, thus covering a wide range of useful constructs. Extending

our understanding of algebraic effects in this way would not only be

important for the significant theoretical insight that will be

provided, but also for the practical benefits of helping software

engineers to use algebraic effect handlers

to design and manipulate DSLs.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk